Herbs for Resilience

A Grieving Warrior figurine that my mother gave me sits amongst forget-me-not flowers in my garden.

We find ourselves, as humans on this beautiful planet, in a state of uncertainty, fear, anxiety and much that is unknown. Certainly, those of us alive today have never experienced anything like the impact of COVID-19. But the truth is, a great deal in life is out of our control.

People are scared. People are questioning. For those of us with post-traumatic stress disorder, these times have brought up many challenges. I want to tell you about my PTSD, and how I strive for resilience. 

Firstly, my PTSD has been a long journey. It’s also been a hidden gift. It really hit 12 years ago. I’m a mom, and I have found this quote to be fundamentally true:

 “Making the decision to have a child–it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

-Ellen Cantarow

I have two beautiful and precious sons. Yes, they are my heart. Twelve years ago, my younger son almost died. When he was 10 years old, he almost died a second time. The in-between-times were immensely hard. I was there for both those near death events. They are etched in my mind. I can close my eyes and relive those horrible episodes, see them happening over and over. And each time I’m powerless, just as I was the first time.

This is an essay I wrote many years ago. If you want, you can also skip this section and go straight to the herbs below.


Rising

When my son was two, he got sick. I don’t mean the cold or flu type of sick; I mean the type of sick where we were life flighted to another state sick. From there it was a series of devastating events and diagnoses. At many points during the next 2½ years, I didn’t know how I would deal with the things that were happening to my beautiful little boy. How does one cope with such devastation? But the fact is, I rose. Every. Single. Time. Not always gracefully. Mostly I rose with a bone tiredness that threatened to pull me under. Sometimes I rose with a burning anger. Some days I didn’t know how I would even be able to get out of bed, much less face the unknown and terrifying days that lay ahead. There were times I felt my grief would literally make my heart stop. But I rose. I rose for those massive nighttime seizures, for the trips to different children’s hospitals, for the many painful and frightening tests my son had to endure over the years. When we needed to make a decision for him to have brain surgery, I rose.

I rose like I never knew I could. I found strength inside myself that I could not believe I had. And I did that over and over and over again. It reminds me of a point in both of my labors. A point when I didn’t know how I could go on. When things felt so painful, so overwhelming that I was sure I could not get that baby out. And yet those contractions still came, and I still had to roll with them. They both came out, those boys, and that taught me something about my strength.

That was how my son’s sickness was. Just when I was absolutely positive I couldn’t handle one more thing, not a single thing, there it would be: usually a big huge monster thing that would threaten to rip my heart out. And I would rise. I had no idea how strong I was, how strong I am. 

Many people told me they didn’t know how I did it. “You are amazing”, they said. The answer is I had to. It wasn’t optional. The answer is you would do it too. You would rise for your children. You have a strength that you cannot even imagine, and if you need it, it will be there. YOU will be there.

Two years after his surgery, my son is doing well. We all are. But sometimes I panic. Sometimes I feel that old feeling, where I’m sure at any minute I’m going to crawl right out of my skin because I just can’t stand it anymore. It could be another of his still present seizures; it could be something at home or work. I ramp up fast. These times, I try to remind myself that it is all really OK, that I don’t need to rise, not like that, not right now. If I am lucky and blessed, I’ll never have to rise like that again. But if I ever have to, I know I will. I will rise.

Elaine Sheff


Recovery

Through those years, and the years that came after I learned a lot about trauma, and a lot about resilience. One of the deepest gifts these experiences have given me is a tremendous amount of compassion, which I try to express as kindness. We never know what someone else has been through, what their story is. The truth is EVERY SINGLE PERSON has their own pain and has experienced loss and suffering. We know that life is uncertain. It sounds like a cliché, but it is a fundamental truth. We never know what life will bring, or how long we, or those we love, have on this earth. COVID-19 has brought this fact to the forefront for many people. It’s uncomfortable, and potentially devastating. This impermanence is hard to look at straight on. So how do we cope? I have developed many tools. I meditate, do yoga, exercise, eat well, spend time in my garden and in the woods. One of my most powerful tools has been herbal medicine.

Along my personal journey, I have used many plants and herbs, in many ways. I’ve used them as teas, tinctures, flower essences, essential oils and homeopathic remedies. I’ve used them as incense, meditated with them, drawn them, grown them, hugged them, laid on the ground and simply been graced by their presence. During the past years, plants have supported me, soothed me, and, honestly?  Plants saved me. I know it isn’t the same for everyone, but for me, herbs connected me back to myself, to nature, to the universal source. They were my bridge to being grounded, a bridge back to my true self. 

I offer the following herbal categories and recipes to you, for different times, based on changing needs and my experience of ebbs and flows with PTSD. Resilience isn’t a destination, it’s a continual journey. I try to think like a tree – there will be storms, frost and drought. But, remember love, the sun will come again. Gentle rain will fall. We are inherently resilient. I offer a suggestion, if you are drawn to it, to let the plants help you. Here are some ways they can.

In my experience, herbs help on many levels. Although these are mostly physical categories, I strongly believe that each herb helps in deeper ways as well, sometimes in ways that we can’t fully name or understand, and I don’t believe we need to. Herbs can shift us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I believe they can change the underground current of our lives in gentle and subtle ways. 

Note: Please research any herb before using it.  If you are pregnant, nursing, on medications or have a health care issue, please talk to your doctor before using herbs. I have found herbs that act on the nervous system to be quirky. This means that one herb can be a perfect fit for one person and another person might experience the exact opposite reaction.

Herbs for Resilience:

Adaptogens: help the body and the mind adapt to stress and maintain balance. Many adaptogens are also antidepressant and/or immune supportive. They can be used for extended periods of time and are particularly helpful for long term stress or trauma. 

  • Herbs: Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus), Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), Red ginseng (Panax ginseng), Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Aralia nudicalis, Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula)

Nervine Relaxants: gently calm the nerves. They can take the edge off anxiety and soothe stress. Taking them throughout the day (instead of just at night) can help us maintain a sense of centeredness all day.

  • Herbs: Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.), Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), Oat seed (Avena spp.) (fresh), Hops (Humulus lupulus), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Linden (Tilia spp.), Kava (Piper methysticum), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Blue vervain (Verbana hastata), Damiana (Turnera diffusa), Black Cohosh (Actea racemosa), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Wood betony (Stachys officinalis), Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina or P. piscipula)

Nervine Tonics: These herbs can generally be used over long periods of time to strengthen and support the nervous system. Please note that St. John’s wort should be avoided if one is using prescription medications.

  • Herbs: Oat seed (Avena spp.) (fresh), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Damiana (Turnera diffusa)

Sedatives: help relax us and can induce sleep.

  • Herbs: Valerian (Valeriana spp.), Hops (Humulus lupulus), Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina or P. piscipula)

Herbs for the Heart: have a calming effect on the heart and cardiovascular system. They can support the physical heart, and the following herbs also support the emotional heart and our innate inner wisdom.

  • Herbs: Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Linden flower (Tilia spp.), Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), Rose (Rosa spp.)

Herbal Recipes for Resilience:

Nervine Tonic Tincture  

  • 3 oz Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) (Siberian Ginseng)
  • 2 oz Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)
  • 2 oz Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
  • 1 oz Oat seed (Avena spp.), fresh milky seed tincture
  • ½ oz Vegetable Glycerin

Description: This formula can be used as a daily support for stress, energy and mental acuity. Dosage: 60-90 drops 3 x a day.

Stress Relief Bath

  • 2 cups natural salt (sea salt, epsom salt, Himalayan salt, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon beet powder
  • 30 drops Lavender (Lavandula spp.) essential oil
  • 30 drops Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) essential oil
  • 30 drops Geranium (Pelargonium gravolens) essential oil
  • 10 drops Chamomile (Matricaria chamomile) essential oil

Directions: Mix ingredients well and store in an airtight glass jar. Unplug the phone and light a candle. Put on some relaxing music. Draw a hot bath and slip into it. Add 2 tablespoons Stress Relief Bath Blend, sit back, breathe and relax!

Herbal Calm Tincture                                                                

  • 2.5 oz Valerian (Valeriana spp.)                                                                
  • 2 oz Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)                        
  • 1.5 oz Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)                                                   
  • 1 oz California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)                         
  • 1 oz Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)                                                      
  • 1 oz Betony (Pedicularis spp.)                                                                    
  • 1 oz Vegetable glycerin        

Description:  For episodes of pain or insomnia. Can be double dosed if sleep or pain reduction are not achieved within 10-20 minutes. Do not use while driving or needing good concentration. Dosage: 60-90 drops in the evening or with pain or insomnia. 

Relaxing Tea 

  • 1 part of each of the following: (by weight)
  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomile) 
  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria) 
  • Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Description: A calming and soothing tea, this blend can be used any time of the day. It makes a nice after dinner tea and will also aid in digestion. Dosage: Use ¼ ounce herbs by weight per cup of boiling water. Steep for ½ to 2 hours and strain. Enjoy 1-3 cups a day!

Adrene Support Tincture

  • 2.5 oz Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) 
  • 1.5 oz Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) 
  • 1.5  oz Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) 
  • 1 oz Rosemary herb (Salvia rosmarinus)
  • 1.5 oz Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) whole plant
  • .5 oz Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum spp.) 
  • 1 oz Vegetable glycerin 

Description: for periods of overwhelm, overwork or long periods of stress. Dosage: 60-90 drops 3 to 5 x a day                                                    

Heart Opening Formula

  • 1 ounce Rose petal tincture (Rosa spp.)
  • 1 drop Rose quartz gem essence
  • 1 drop Rose flower essence
  • 1 drop Rose essential oil (Rosa spp.)

Description: This blend combines the traditional tincture of rose petals with vibrational medicines and essential oil. I love the energetic layers we can create in a formula by using a single plant in many ways. Dosage: shake well and take a single drop to open the heart and welcome love and compassion for all (including yourself).

Follow Your Dreams Formula

  • 1 part Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
  • 1 part Rose petals (Rosa spp.)
  • 1 part Motherwort herb (Leonurus cardiaca)
  • ½ part Mugwort herb (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • ½ part Rosemary herb (Salvia rosmarinus)

Description: This formula can be made into a tea, capsule or tincture. Use it when journaling, meditating, before bed, before good conversation or when working on your heart’s desire. Dosage: 1 cup of tea, 2 capsules or 60 drops of tincture up to 3 x a day.

My Wish

My deepest wish for myself has been to come back to a point in my life when my son is well enough that I can have some emotional slack. I have yearned for the wonderful opportunity to focus on my own dreams, hopes and goals. Interestingly, in the time of COVID-19, it seems like that space is starting to slowly emerge for me. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to wake some mornings and feel joy and excitement for the day ahead. If you have ever been in a similar place, I wish this for your too, dear one. May the clouds part and may you feel the sun on your face.

About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 30 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, Montana, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. She is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and teaches workshops, and at conferences, both nationally and internationally. Elaine has an International Certification in Aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. She has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. Elaine has written for publications including the Journal of Medicinal Plants and their Applications, Mamalode and AromaCulture magazine. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences including the Traditions in Western Herbalism ConferenceMontana Herb GatheringNorthwest Herb SymposiumMidwest Women’s Herbal Conference, Spokane Herbal Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference.You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons. If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants, you can connect with Elaine, and Green Path Herb School via the Green Path Website or through social media: FacebookYouTubePinterestTwitter, or Instagram. You can find out more about Elaine and her life work at GreenPathHerbSchool.com.

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6 Comments on “Herbs for Resilience

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story Elaine – it is truly inspiring and comforting to know that even when things seem impossible and hopeless, a way through emerges and life becomes joyous again. I can relate to your love of nature and herbs as support and also feel a deep connection with everything natural, using meditation, reiki, yoga, pilates, music, art, gardening and exercise in nature to connect and am always so grateful for your wonderful herbal recipes and advice which have helped me and my family countless times. My two daughters have had continuous health issues over the years and your Herbs for Resilience article will come in so useful. Wishing you and your family and your very brave son continued health and happiness.

    • Thanks, Denise, for your heart-felt response. I really appreciate it! Elaine

  2. Thanks for you sharing your experience. I use many of these for my C-PTSD and I also want to encourage you to look at Magnolia extract. That is one that I have been using for my PTSD with phenomenal results.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Ethan! I will absolutely check it out. Warmly,
      Elaine

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