Catching Your Flow with Herbs

By Lise Wolff

Have you ever considered what a miracle your body is? Everyday it works with what it has been given, breaking down, building up, transporting, transforming, synthesizing, momentarily holding onto, expelling and otherwise utilizing what is moving through it at the moment. Of course, during all this cell activity there is waste material. People who are concerned with cleansing like to call these ‘toxins,’ but generally they are really not problematic as long as the body moves the waste along smoothly and synthesizes or disposes of it properly and efficiently before it has had time to become ‘toxic.’ As Susun Weed, one of my teachers years ago, pointed out, if you didn’t have toxins (waste) running through your body, you’d be dead. Point taken.

So what is the key to good health? Flow. There are many channels that flow through your body. Lymph fluid, urine, feces and blood are the most obvious. Meridians are the more subtle energetic channels. Even emotions need to flow. Any psychologist will tell you that depression is about being stuck and not moving through feelings.

The kidneys, liver and spleen filter and clean the various fluids. The skin, lungs, bowels, kidneys are your organs of elimination. All of these must be in balance to appropriately eliminate the byproducts of all of your body’s activity. Accumulation of debris results in gallstones, kidney stones, gout, plaque, blood clots, headaches, calcium deposits, tumors, fibroids, cysts, swollen glands, hardened stools, mucous and even water build-up (edema). Obvious symptoms of hidden and not so hidden chronic stagnations are pain and/or fatigue. Most people have some form of accumulation, but it is only when it impairs our quality of life that we notice.

As an herbalist, my job is to help choose the substance that will gently facilitate the body’s flow. As a practitioner, I respect and follow the body’s innate ability and desire to heal and bring itself back into balance. I usually get called to consult when the body has gotten stuck somewhere, causing some sort of chronic symptom. Symptoms are powerful clues as to where in the body there may be stagnation. Once I have found the appropriate remedy and the body’s flow has resumed, the symptoms usually disappear, the person feels better, and I then wean them off the remedy so that the body will maintain its own flow. Only when and if it gets stuck again do I intervene.

Let’s use the example of a common cold. A woman came to my office several years ago with very little indication of illness. Just a small, dry cough. Did I use Echinacea to suppress or goldenseal to kill whatever was trying to manifest? Absolutely not. I believe that although inconvenient, getting a cold once a year is beneficial to the immune system. The immune system is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it occasionally, it atrophies. Only if it gets stuck in its process and becomes chronic do I intervene.

The client explained that normally her version of sickness involves getting bronchitis for two weeks. She was training for a triathlon and really wanted to avoid being flattened and set back. I explained to her that I would not stop her body’s process. The rule of thumb is that if something is suppressed, it usually comes back bigger and badder than if you had just allowed it to move though, and I would help it to move through its process faster.

That night, she went home and took three drops of the remedy. She fell into a deep sleep (a good sign that the body is ready to focus and work on healing itself), waking up three hours later with a sweaty fever of 101. Fevers are a natural way for the body to cook something it would like to get rid of. A few hours later she remembered that we were trying to push something through. She took three more drops and boom! Asleep. She woke up the next morning without a cough or fever or anything, and no bronchitis that winter.

I now recognize that three drops of a tincture is usually a pretty hard shove to the body. I try to keep the dosage down to one or two drops two times a day to be more gentle in stimulating flow without dramatics.

So how to encourage flow? Spring seems to encourage the desire to wake up and move. But of course flow should be encouraged year round for all the things we recognize as part of being healthy, such as steady energy, good digestion, sound sleep and a positive and focused mind. Eating a diet which is plentiful in organic fruit and vegetables, getting regular exercise and letting go, either in attitude or situation, of anything that stresses you out for too long a period of time, are fine ideas that I try to follow in my own life to maintain good health.

But of course, I am expected to make herbal suggestions. Dandelion is a traditional spring tonic said to ‘clean the blood’, as that was of concern in times past when winter diets were heavy in dried and fatty energy food, before produce was readily available in the winter, as it is now. Burdock root and yellow dock were also classified as blood cleansers. In truth, these herbs strengthen and tone the kidneys and liver, which filter and clean the blood. Red clover, also known as a blood cleanser, encourages the flow of lymph fluid. Some nice, all-around good-for-you teas that I drink occasionally are plantain, violet, nettles, oatstraw and alfalfa. All of these herbs are also very high in nutrients. The key to using herbs as beverages for good health is switching around the various herbs you drink. Herbs cause what they cure and cure what they cause. You do not want to bring on the symptoms of a particular medicinal by taking it everyday. Remember, if you feel drawn to drinking herb teas for general health or the pure joy of it, rotate, rotate, rotate!