loving in the war years: day twenty two

a day of mothering: milky oats

trauma and grief
have actual effects, not just on the heart or the mind, but on the body as well. and more often than not, when trauma and grief are mixed with stress, a body has almost no choice but to move into a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ state.

or, in other words, extreme stress can cause extreme reactions–even if you are not physically under threat (like, from a lion). you may feel like you are, however, and so you become highly anxious, snappish, have insomnia, and maybe always feel like you drank too much coffee. or, conversely, you’re sluggish, sleep all the time, have no interest in life, and like it wouldn’t matter how matter how much coffee you drank, you’ll never be able to move again. or you’re too fearful to move, or all you want to do is move. or a combination of all these things, just depending on the time of day.

the thing is though, is that when it comes to grief and trauma, the fight, flight or freeze state doesn’t ramp up and then work back down again as it would with a lion. because grief and trauma stay with us, because grief especially never really ‘goes away,’ you can stay in fight, flight or freeze for decades. needless to say, you’re body is not built to handle that sort of stress for that long.

enter milky oats.

milky oats come from the same plant that gives you your morning breakfast. they are the tops of oat plant, and provide concentrated nutrition. within that nutrition, they also work to revitalize your very overworked body, you’re body that just seems to be too tired to work its way out of the hyper-vigilant state it’s in. too tired to do anything but be anxious or stressed.

milky oats is a long term herb, one that works best the longer you take it. it is an herb you build into your routine, that you have a relationship with. in these days when people are used to desperately searching for the miracle herb that ‘helps,’ many don’t find much use for milky oats. people have been trained by pharmaceutical companies to expect immediate relief from whatever ails them. milky oats doesn’t generally immediately help (although on some it does). and even when you take it long term, you don’t generally just wake up one day and know you feel better. the effects are so gentle, so nourishing, it tends to be more like one day you notice that you’ve taken the stairs every day that week instead of the elevator. you just sort of slip back into feeling ‘normal’ again. not the immediate relief many need (there are other herbs for that), but definitely long term healing.

it’s best to take a tincture when it comes to milky oats, so you can get the full benefit of the ‘milk.’ and the highest quality milky oats tinctures are cloudy green in color. but there is benefit to drinking a cup of dried oat tops or oat straw (the stalk/leave of the plant) tea. Susun Weed talks about the benefits of oat straw here. and you can read more about milky oats here (scroll down past the nettles information) and here.

it’s often very difficult to fit in a new daily routine in your life, but if you think of milky oats as less of a ‘routine’ and more of a small moment of daily mothering, i’ve found i rarely forget to take my tincture when i need to. in times of mourning and grief, even taking 30 seconds to drop a few drips of tincture into some water can be enough care taking to help you get through one more day.

loving in the war years: day sixteen

a day of mothering: motherwort

i didn’t know anything about motherwort the first time i tried it. motherwort is not one of those flashy herbs that ‘they’ promise is the next cure all. don’t get me wrong, it’s an herb you can find in whole foods or your local health food store. but it’s never been one of those herbs that is supposed to cure cancer, relieve migraines or add 20 years to your life.

that’s probably because motherwort is most closely associated to women’s health. it does a lot of good things for things like menstrual cramping and PMS and helping with cramps after giving birth.

but even more so, it is a ‘comforting’ herb. one that helps a lot with heavy anxiety and whirling brain. but most of all, it helps with a broken heart. from herbalist susun weed:

In addition to its health-promoting effects on the uterus, motherwort heals the heart. It is, in fact, one of the world’s best heart tonics. Its name means “lion hearted” or “strong hearted.” Daily use helps new blood vessels grow to the heart. I call it “a bypass in a bottle.” (Yes, motherwort increases vascularization to the uterus as well, so daily–but not occasional–use is contra-indicated for women with endometriosis or fibroids.) A dose of 10-20 drops, taken several times a day, can lower blood pressure, improve heart action, and strengthen electrical activity in the heart.

New research showing that the heart has the same memory cells found in the brain may lead us to another use of motherwort: to help relieve heartache, especially from childhood injuries. Let motherwort ease your bad memories and open you to more joy. Try 5-10 drops before meditating and see what happens.

i am lucky enough to be in a place where motherwort grows prolifically. so i’ve seen motherwort out relaxing in the sun, been able to gather her fresh. and there’s a certain line of thinking in herbalism that some herbs sort of ‘look like’ or ‘mimic’ the area of the body it works best at healing or the action it takes on the body. you can definitely see this principle at work with motherwort. It is a lovely flower that you can’t mess with–there are prickers all over the flower area that hurt when you touch and get imbedded in your skin if you grab too hard. our boundaries are important, and if somebody grabs too hard, it’s ok to prick them till they leave you alone. they’ll know next time to treat you more respectfully and with more care.

a lesson we could all learn, one that we hopefully learn from motherwort as she helps us to heal from trauma and pain.

you can read more about motherwort here. and watch a video about motherwort here.


loving in the war years: day five

A day of mothering…


I’ve never been much of a fan of roses. Mostly it’s the smell. Growing up the late 70s meant babysitters and aunts dragged me along to one Avon party or another, and rose candles, perfume, lipstick or nail polish were plastered on me to the delighted coos of the women in the room. Isn’t she adorable? Isn’t she sweet? Meanwhile, I’d see the fingernails that I couldn’t bite or feel the oppressive sweet smell that reminded me of funerals, even at that age.

Rose is a heavy scent. One that stays in the room long after the person wearing it has left. I don’t find the flowers very pretty and the expense of a dozen roses never seemed reasonable or a romantic show of affection.

But when you are a good herbalist, you learn about the plants that are around you. The ones that are plentiful and won’t harm the ecosystem if you remove a handful. Why would you pay the expense, hurt the environment, and possibly take healing resources away from one community, if you have an herb in your own community that will do the same job?

So I decided to work with wild roses, as they are fairly common in my area. To my amazement, it was like they were waiting for me to finally pay them attention. Everywhere I turned, I found myself surrounded by roses, for weeks and weeks. Wild roses in the back of the car after clipping some on a walk. Wild roses in the mail after a friend heard I was interested in them. Wild roses in salves, wild roses in lotion, wild roses in the brandy I had left over from a party. I even noticed for the first time that the massive bush in my neighbors yard was a wild rose bush. I’d always paid attention to the birds rather the branches they sat on.

I don’t know what brought these flowers into my life after I had worked so hard to avoid them. But once they got in, I finally realized why herbalists especially love them.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a hard time taking a deep breath. I’ve been tested for heart attacks, asthma, pneumonia, allergic reactions, I even had a frustrated doctor give me an inhaler and told me if it worked he’d give me a refill. Unstated: now get out and leave me alone.

Needless to say, the tight breathless feeling never went away. It got easier to deal with, it got to the point I hardly noticed it sometimes. But then for some reason it’d be back, and I couldn’t take a deep breath and my chest felt like a vice.

As wild roses spent more time in my life, that weird heavy tight chest seemed to ease a little. I barely noticed at first. But then for unrelated reasons, I started taking a tincture of rose. And almost immediately, within about 30 minutes, the chest thing was gone. And for the first time in as long as I could remember, I could take a long lovely deep quiet breath.

I talked with an elder herbalist about how weird this experience was and what it could possibly mean and they shared with me that rose is a wonderful herb for anxiety and stress, which I knew. What I didn’t know, was that rose is great for moving ‘stuck’ anxiety/stress/emotions. So, for example, that stressor that you were too young to have words for? Like, say, a scary or abusive parent or bullying that you couldn’t tell anybody about? The stress from that very often stays stuck in your body if you don’t have other ways to deal with it. Those of us who have grown up in high-stress environments can carry that ‘stuck’ energy around with us not really knowing that there’s any different way to feel or be. It’s just normal.

The only reason I had any idea that not being able to take a deep breath might not be a good thing was because I had seen heart attacks on TV and worried I might be having one. When the doctors gave the all clear and I didn’t drop dead, I assumed it must be asthma or any of the other explanations doctors gave me. But what was more likely going on was that I was having panic attacks that had no place to go except inward. A typical ‘good girl’ response to stress. Keep swallowing it all down until it’s too big to hold anymore.

Taking the rose has not only cleared up this ‘panic attack’ feeling, but has also helped to release just regular old tension from work days or sitting on the computer too long. It helps me to live more in the moment–when I’m stressed and need to cry or yell or ‘speak’ what I’m feeling into existence, instead of stuffing those feelings, I feel them, and then let them go. It’s ok.

And oddly enough, as I’ve worked more with rose, I’ve grown to enjoy the smell much more. When I smell rose now, I anticipate the wave of relaxation that always comes within minutes, sometimes seconds. Life, where oppressive death used to be.

As I continue my time of Mourning, I take just a few drops of rose tincture daily, as a reminder that to mourn, you need to care for and replenish yourself. And also to gently move whatever hurt, whatever loss, whatever tension I’ve been gripping too tightly along. It’s ok to let go. It’s ok.

It’s ok.

Here is a lovely essay to learn more about rose, if your interested. And this is a great herbalist that I get my rose tincture from.