Herbs for Heartbreak

This article originally appeared in North Journal Issue #10

When it comes to knowing how to go about that healing process, most people would probably turn to drinking, partying, anything to switch off the cycle of thoughts going through your brain and take the edge off for a while. While escapism initially might seem to do the trick, it’s not really helping your body or mind cope with the realities of heart break and there are other options out there which won’t leave you with the mother of all comedowns. For thousands of years herbs have been used in times of emotional stress to help calm and strengthen the nervous system, allow restful sleep and promote feel-good vibes. When you’re probably on a fried chicken, whiskey, and ice cream diet, it’s more important than ever to be getting proper sleep, eating well and taking it easy on yourself. Herbs are there in myriad forms to help.  

THE HERB IS THE WORD 

It’s incredible how many plants are out there willing to lend their tiny green hands in helping us humans overcome all manner of maladies. When it comes to mending a broken heart, hawthorn is one such generous herb which herbalist Rosemary Gladstar describes as helping the heart to “flower, open, and be healed.” Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna) have been utilised for centuries to create heart tonics, which support both the physiological as well as emotional health of the heart. Recent studies have shown the significant benefits of hawthorn in optimising cardiovascular and circulatory function as well as gently lowering blood pressure. The berries and leaves can be used to create syrups, tinctures and brewed as a tea. 

Another known heart healer is lemon balm (Melissa officianalis). According to Dorothy Hall, “the learned scholars of ancient times”  prescribed lemon balm as a strong blood and heart restorative and in herbal folklore, lemon balm was used in love spells to heal a broken heart and attract romantic love. Ancient healers also employed this herb to enhance concentration, helping to clear the mind of that characteristic fog which descends in times of grief, soothe frazzled nerves and “uplift the spirits”.

The ancients, as always, were onto something here. Today the herb is used widely to treat anxiety and insomnia and enhance cognitive function. Loss of appetite is also common in times of stress, caused by that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. A warm cup of lemon balm tea helps ease you back into healthy eating patterns by soothing gastrointestinal upsets caused by emotional stress. Interestingly enough, if your deadbeat ex also gave you herpes, creams and ointments infused with the herb have been shown to relieve symptoms and speed up healing. It really is the ultimate break-up herb. 

SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM

For thousands of years smoking has been used as a ritual for spiritual purpose, as medicine, and for recreation. Herbal smoking blends which contain no tobacco or marijuana use a variety of non-addictive plants which calm and soothe the nerves, as well as support lung and respiratory function. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a herb often employed in these blends. Essentially used as a mild sedative, skullcap is widely known as a soothing herb, effective in healing emotional stress. It’s said to aid relaxation and stop the circular thoughts that occupy a mind overcome with grief. It also nourishes the nervous system, helping you cope with stressful situations as they arise. 

Other herbs commonly seen in these blends include yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), a herb which improves mental clarity and focus, damiana (Turnera diffusa) an antidepressant which promotes relaxation and consciousness opening, and lobelia (Lobelia inflata) which offers relaxation, mental clarity and heightened focus. 

RITUAL HEALING

Ah sage. Known for millennia as a cure-all herb, it’s name Salvia officinalis derives from the latin “salvere” or “saviour”. Sage has powerful healing properties; you can use it to clean teeth, darken hair, treat anxiety, inflammation, indigestion, as an antiseptic - I could go on.

Perhaps one of the most well known uses today is smuding with a bundle of dried white sage. Many cultures through history have burned herbs and natural resins as a purification ritual in ceremonies. Different plants were thought to banish evil spirits, disease, and negative energy. The Native American Indians employed white sage in ceremonies, to purify, cleanse, and create a protective field around a person or space by wafting around the smoke from a burning bundle of leaves. It’s said that if the smudge stick emits a larger plume of smoke, there is much negativity surrounding a person or place. The lighter the smoke, the less the smudge stick has to deal with and get rid of. 

Use a white sage bundle to clear a space where stagnant energy may be residing; for example a room in your house where you had a fight or a distressing situation took place. You can walk around the house slowly, wafting the smoke into different areas with a feather or your hand. Don’t forget to guide it out a window at the end so it doesn’t hang around. Another beautiful ceremony involves getting a friend to gently waft the healing smoke around you to help cleanse you of the cobwebs from the past, leaving your spirit refreshed and ready to take on life yet again. 

Rituals such as smudging or even simply drinking a cup of tea have an enormous benefit on emotional well being, even if you just believe it’s a placebo effect. It’s the fact you are taking time to honour and treat yourself, in anyway, that matters. Whether it’s listening to music, swimming in the ocean, or enjoying any of the rituals above, these shy gestures of comfort to yourself will put you well on your way to healing a wounded heart. Be good to yourself. 

Illustrations by Mia Taninaka