Notes from the Apothecary: Relaxation Special
There’s no getting away from it: things are pretty stressful right now. The pandemic situation is something we’re potentially stuck with until there’s a vaccine, plus on top of that, there’s a whole lot of unrest in the world. Finding time to relax and unwind has never been more important. That’s why I decided to dedicate this issue of Notes from the Apothecary to plants and herbs that help alleviate daily stresses.
Remember, herbal remedies are a form of complementary therapy and should NEVER replace existing medication or treatments. You should always take advice from a medical professional, especially if you are already taking medication as some herbs and medicines can interact negatively.
Having a cup of chamomile tea to soothe the nerves is such a common thing. But does it really work? There certainly seems to be a strong correlation between chamomile and a good night’s sleep, with chamomile being cited as relaxing users so that they could slip into an easy sleep. Chamomile blossoms are available at many herbalists and whole food stores. Make chamomile tea for relaxation by steeping the blossoms in hot water then straining the resulting infusion. Some people like to sweeten theirs with honey.
Chamomile may trigger allergies in certain people, usually linked to those who suffer from pollen allergies. If you have allergies and have never taken chamomile before, check with a doctor first. Chamomile is also not recommended for kids of 5 and under.
Magically, chamomile is linked to purification and protection. Folks have walked on chamomile for centuries, either as a strewing herb (an herb strewn among reeds on the floor to make them smell nice) or a lawn. Being trodden down only makes it come back stronger, so use chamomile to bolster your own resilience and determination to get through tough times.
Lavender has long been used as a sleep remedy, and in aromatherapy to aid relaxation. Lavender may also have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and insecticidal properties. We use it in a spray to help keep the headlice away when the kids are at school!
Lavender oil was put into capsules and used to treat anxiety as part of a study. The results showed that patients treated with the lavender capsules did tend to perceive a drop in anxiety. For use in the home, you can use lavender oil in a diffuser or warmer, or put a couple of drops on a tissue which you then slip inside your pillow case to help you drift off after a stressful day. Consult a doctor if you are taking medications which already cause sleepiness, or are for reducing blood pressure, as lavender may interfere.
Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, may have stress reducing properties and is, like lavender, linked to reduced anxiety. You can drink lemon balm as a tea, although have the water just off the boil to avoid destroying the delicate oils. You can also steep Melissa leaves in spirit to make a tincture, or simply rub fresh leaves on your pulse points.
The smell is lemony and fresh, bringing a sense of invigoration and renewal. Use lemon balm to help lift you out of despondent spells and raise your energy levels.
Melissa is a Greek word for “bee”, and lemon balm is a great attractor of bees. Melissae were priestesses of Demeter in ancient Greece, but the cult of the bee may stem from older, Minoan beliefs.
A daily bowl of oatmeal or porridge is full of carbs for energy and fibre for the gut, but it may also help manage the mood. Oats can help stabilise blood sugar and avoid those dips and crashes that can leave you feeling so miserable during a busy day. It may also promote healthy gut flora (bacteria) which has a direct impact on your mood.
More interestingly, eating oats regularly may help to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a mood balancing neurotransmitter associated with feeling good. Many anti-depressants work by promoting the amount of serotonin sloshing around in your system. These are Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors or SSRIs, and can be very useful or those suffering with depression or similar conditions. Eating oatmeal doesn’t replace a prescribed anti-depressant, but it may naturally and gently boost serotonin, particularly when eaten every day.
As an added benefit of oats, if you have itchy or irritated skin, an oatmeal bath can be very soothing. No don’t fill your bath with porridge! Put some oats or oatmeal in a small muslin bag or similar (I used the end of an old, clean stocking with a bit of string around it) and let it dangle into warm bath water while it’s filling. The water will become a sort of oaty-emulsion that feels silky and soothing on the skin.
Oats are a symbol of the harvest, physical or metaphysical, and make a beautiful and evocative altar decoration. Scatter oats for enhancing boundaries or visualising protection. I’ve been known to offer oatcakes and goat’s cheese to my lady Brigid at Imbolc.
What plants have you found useful to help you with stress?
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.