Wild medicinal mushroom foraging, harvest and the soup I made…..

My first thrilling foray into mushroom hunting. I cooked about 10 pounds of them today. They’re amazing I didn’t even pick a third of what was there. I’m so excited these are highly medicinal and delicious both. Medicinal mushrooms have been helping me a lot every fall — the rest of the year I can’t even eat them, actually, but during the fall I need them. This is mushroom season, so we see that my body is in synch with nature…something I learn about more and more every year with the passing of the seasons.¬† (some posts on seasonal changes here) And this one is good for this time of year especially:¬†¬†S.A.D? (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or might we be fighting¬†nature?


Chicken of the wood mushroom soup. Had a bowl for breakfast and a bowl for lunch. I froze the rest of the cooked mushrooms in single meal serving size to be added to whatever food is asking for mushrooms!  Delicious!

And so satisfying to¬† forage and harvest my own wild medicinal mushrooms! After my yoga teacher training I hope to train formally in plant medicine/herbalism. I’m already an amateur…if I can still be called that given I’m healing my whole entire body/mind/spirit with the help of plant medicine. They guide the way at this point. I listen and follow. Beautiful!!

Here is a nice short video on this particular mushroom. Chicken of the Woods:

More posts on herbs and plant medicine here.


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Healing plants: mineral rich herbs for nourishment etc

My primary relationships right now are with the plants that are healing me. It’s an all encompassing love affair. What humans have never been able to give me, these plants are offering. Plant spirit medicine is for real. we are all one. nature is inherent to how we evolved. Whether we use the language of spirit or not, the fact is we’re in relationship with all that is alive on the planet. When we pay attention to those relationships we come into alignment with all of life.

It’s hard for me to understand when people don’t believe plants (herbs etc) can heal. Anyone who’s ever tried marijuana has got to understand that plants can indeed be very powerful. The fact is they’re endlessly diverse from a biological perspective and so they can help and support in endless ways.

For the record, I do not ingest plants that are traditionally considered hallucinogenic or highly psychoactive anymore and have not since I was a very young woman. I do, however, have a sensitivity such that I seem to have such relationships with all plants (foods etc) that aren’t generally thought of in that manner. I tend to feel the energies of the foods I eat and really everything I put in my body, so that is no surprise to me, but it’s not something most people talk about. It’s been a wonderful thing to connect with plants that are helping me heal. Many plants as ordinary as chamomile work for me in this way. Plants that are not considered herbal but food does too.

I generally do not recommend traditionally hallucinogenic plants for folks who have histories with naturally occurring altered or extreme states (to be clinical Рthat which gets diagnosed quite often as psychosis or mania). This is mostly because folks with access to those realms of the psyche generally don’t need additional help getting there with the use of these sorts of entheogenic plants and it can backfire pretty badly for that reason. Best to find those of us who know those realms and learn to heal together. See (video):  A message to those labeled by psychiatry

an example of a morning making medicine and nourishment:

IMG_20180607_092729_724Three infusions going right now: horsetail, red clover and a mix of oat straw and nettle. These are all mineral rich herbs. I’m taking bugleweed (tincture) for hyperthyroid¬†(as I did in 2014¬†— it’s much trickier this time around) Anyway bugleweed is a metal chelator. Removing some heavy metals¬† can be a good thing.¬† Unfortunately it can also strip needed metals important minerals too when taken regularly. (photo is the red clover and oat straw/nettle. The horsetail is actually decocting on the stove (simmering)…. All these herbs keep my body healthy with lots of needed minerals.

What I love about herbal medicine is that it’s really about nourishment. It’s about feeding and healing the body/mind and spirit. Plants can do so much more than most (modern) people realize.

Oh! Mineral rich herbs tend to be quite soothing to the nervous system too. I didn’t used to tolerate them some years ago when I was coming out of the first drug induced brain injury. But now oat straw and milky oat seed are wonderfully soothing and calming and healing to the injured nervous system. Those of us with hypersensitivities caused by the psych drug withdrawal need to be careful. I didn’t tolerate these herbs for some years. Go slow and trust yourself. If they’re not helpful, they’re not helpful. I always had an intuitive sense that they would someday be helpful but if you don’t then trust that too. It’s in learning about our own body and it’s particular needs that true healing happens.


The human animal has a life of it’s own. Awareness cannot control or change the story in the ways we might like. It can watch and provide container. We watch and learn about this unique individual body. With acceptance, in this way, we learn about the organism that is the human species.

The truth is paradoxical and consciousness holds it all. Non-attachment means being able to utilize systems, frameworks and narratives when it makes sense while being able to let go as soon as it does not. Does it work for you? You’re the only one who can say. Does it work for me? I’m the only one that can say. Fluidity means these things can ultimately come and go like we’re swimming in ideas, concepts and frameworks.


Contrary to what people often imagine surrender, acceptance and lack of resistance is not the same as inaction. In fact surrendering can instead lead to clear, decisive and inspired action that would otherwise not be possible.


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Herbs heal the nervous system (and soul) in profound ways

Photo: Mimosa or Albizzia tree in flower

Update Sept. 2016: I had reason to remember this post today since I’m off to a local’s house to pick up some branches so that I can harvest the bark. I’m very excited to have some local bark. This is a lovely herbal medicine that I am now using in a formula from Chinese Medicine that helps soothe the soul. A shen tonic which includes polygala, poria, astragulus, licorice, and reishi. Yes, I’m now learning a bit about chinese herbalism and I can finally do formulas because I continue to heal and am no longer so hypersensitive.¬†

Yesterday I started the day harvesting flowers from trees in my neighborhood. Flowers that help heal my nervous system. What joy.

Read about mimosa on herbalist Jon Keyes blog: Mimosa, the happiness tree. He did a really great little write-up just a week or so ago.

Oh, and for those who have histamine issues I did a bit of googling and discovered that mimosa/albizia is a potent mast cell stabilizer too. So it’s another natural way of healing histamine intolerance too. These things are all linked up and related. Because it’s also really helping my nervous system and PTS-like symptoms. It feels like it’s gently rewiring me. Here is a study:¬†Anti-allergic activity of standardized extract of Albizia¬†and here is my collection on histamine intolerance: Histamine intolerance round-up

I use a lot of different herbs in rotation. I generally don’t use any¬†one herb¬†daily. My body doesn’t like that. Mimosa is the newest addition. The bark and flowers are quite different and I am using both. I am lucky to be able to harvest my own.

I keep saying I’ll write more about my adventures with herbs because they’ve become such a beautiful and profound part of my healing journey. Honestly it’s like developing relationships with different beings as they help infuse me with wisdom that continues to help me heal. I promise¬†I will at some point try to articulate more. For now I will continue share tidbits with you while I come to more deeply understand my experience.

Important updated note: I did not tolerate most herbs that impact the nervous system for a few years when the psych drug withdrawal syndrome was at its worst. Some people develop severe sensitivities in withdrawal and should be very careful about introducing any herb or supplement. I remain sensitive to most supplements but do quite well with carefully selected herbs. I also try baby doses when starting because there are certainly herbs that I do not and cannot take as well. Go slow and let your body be the expert. I always introduce only one at a time and never start with anything that’s been compounded. I like making teas myself with loose dried herb so that I can very carefully adjust dosing as necessary.

Another updated note:¬†I find the bark of the mimosa more grounding and the flowers more uplifting…they’re not totally interchangeable…I’m starting to move towards the bark more and the flowers less for what my needs are right now. ¬†What I need, of course, changes day to day and I’m still getting to know this delightful plant. Again, experiment and see what you body/mind needs.

Another update: Lots of people have asked me where to purchase this herb. Unfortunately it’s not widely available as dried herb in the west. Iti’s more commonly used in Chinese medicine. I did find this tincture made by a reputable herbal company.¬†Herb Pharm Albizia Extract for Nervous System Support¬†

Here are a couple of¬†posts that touch on herbs. I’ve mostly concentrated on herbs that help heal the nervous system, but I eat and drink many healing herbs of all kinds. Cooking herbs and spices, too, are part of my healing medicine. Good food is medicine. It continues to be a joy to learn more and more about our connection to nature and well-being through food.

I have to say harvesting your own food and medicine is particularly satisfying.

More posts on Herbs and healing and mental health

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Folk Counseling

By Jon Keyes

bamboo A little over a hundred years ago Sigmund Freud initiated the field of psychology, the practice of helping people work through emotional distress by talking and exploring hidden subconscious depths. Early psychoanalysts felt that this exploration could lead to insight that would bring cathartic emotional release and integrative transformation.

Along with psychiatric medications many in the West consider psychotherapy the gold standard for the treatment of mental health conditions. In the modern world, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of cognitive behavioral therapy as the best ‚Äúevidence based‚ÄĚ style of counseling to help people work through conditions such as anxiety, phobias and depression.

We tend to see things through the lens of our modern westernized experience, but these methods of helping people in distress are actually quite new and unique to this time period. Historically and cross culturally, a wide variety of techniques are used to help people heal while counseling may only play a small part in the process.

Hearthside Healing

Each culture has developed unique tools for helping people manage emotional suffering. In China, the practice of qi Gong with its flowing movements, static postures and vocal intonations, form the basis of healing emotional distress. In India, special mantras, rituals, dietary practices and the use of herbs form the basis of healing. In some parts of latin America and Africa, elaborate shamanic rituals, exorcisms, and plant entheogens are employed as a way to help people heal.

Our modern forms of helping people in emotional distress (talk therapy and medications) have largely supplanted more traditional forms of healing. In some cases this is a continuation of oppression and colonization that has gone on for hundreds of years.

teaIndigenous healing practices are denigrated and seen as unscientific, based on superstitions, or as an adjunct to the proper, modern way of helping people in distress. In this way, we have ignored and suppressed folk methods of healing that are often highly effective.

Traditionally, helping people heal from distress has long been the domain of wise women and men acting as kitchen herbalists and hearthside healers. The simple practice of offering rest and comfort, a cup of tea and a listening ear is what I call folk counseling. It is the oldest and most basic form of helping someone when they are down, confused, distressed and overwhelmed. No heroic rituals or complex medicinal formulas are needed.

Principles of Folk Counseling

At the core, folk counseling is a way of helping people to heal based on a few principles. Folk counseling is…

Based primarily on nourishment.

At the core of the practice of folk counseling is the idea that we don‚Äôt need to be healed, or need repeated cleanses or elimination of ‚Äúbad‚ÄĚ parts of ourselves. Instead, folk counseling is about nourishing a person so that they can live life optimally. Traditional psychotherapeutic tools emphasize exploring and analyzing past trauma as a way of releasing old wounds and healing. Many folk traditions emphasize the importance of nourishing diet, herbs and spiritual techniques for moving through periods of distress.

Honors neurodiversity.

There is a wide variety of human experience and many different ways of processing life. In most traditional healing modalities, a person is seen as being born with an underlying temperament, or constitution. Some run hot, some cold. Some have a more heightened nervous system, others appear more slow and calm. These are differences to be celebrated and not pathologized. Folk counselors celebrate this diversity, just as they celebrate the diversity of plants and tress growing outside their home.

Honors traditional ways of helping people in distress.

In this era of ‚Äúevidence based medicine‚ÄĚ, there is a strong emphasis placed on offering assistance that has been tested by randomized control studies (RCTs). This has led us to primarily honor medications and specific therapies (CBT) as the main acceptable approaches to ‚Äútreating‚ÄĚ people in distress. But this ignores a wide variety of traditional and indigenous ‚Äúfolk‚ÄĚ healing traditions. Folk counseling allies itself with the widely divergent and unique ways of helping people integrate and heal from emotional distress.


Healing is based on creating an alliance where the counselor is not the expert and both people are working together towards integration and healing. Though a counselor may have gained quite a bit of knowledge from studies, the individual seeking assistance is the only one who is truly an expert of their life and current distress.

A nature based practice.

Traditionally, healing often comes from the simple weeds and herbs from the land nearby, from walking in the forests and meadows, from listening to the stories of the plants and the trees. From the Japanese tradition of ‚Äúforest bathing‚ÄĚ to the Amazonian tradition of apprenticing with local plants, the importance of nature in the healing process is a common time honored and cross cultural tradition.
Based in social justice.

tea2When talking about ‚Äúfolk‚ÄĚ, we mean the simple everyday people who live in this world. Many of them have been oppressed by outside forces that have harmed their way of life. Throughout the world, indigenous populations have been persecuted by governments and corporations who have stolen their land, used it to extract resources or forced people into servant and slave labor.Folk counseling is based on an underlying principle of resistance to these forces. Much of the distress and illness found today is due to the unrelenting pressures of capitalism and modernity. Part of the work of folk counseling is addressing the ecological, social and economic injustices that happen on a global as well as individual level.

Based in love. Yes, at the core, folk counseling is based on the principle of love. That means that when we are listening to someone who is in pain, we are listening with our full hearts, showing unconditional positive regard towards the people we work with. That does not mean that a folk counselor doesn’t have boundaries, or may choose not to work with certain people, but it means that the core energy in the process is one of offering heartfelt support and compassion.


As we move deeper into the 21st century, we are experiencing ever greater levels of emotional distress. Mental health issues have exploded and increasingly we are medicating ourselves to manage this distress. The process of ever-increasing population, overcrowding, competition for remaining resources and unstable agriculture and water systems, have led to an epidemic of mental illness. More than ever we need to look to our ancestors and to indigenous cultures to see how to regain balance, how to find healing. Folk counseling is a way of returning to the simple and time-honored traditions of healing that have served us for thousands of years.

jonJon Keyes, LPC, is a therapist and herbalist who lives in Portland. Jon is deeply interested in exploring holistic and traditional ways of integrating and healing from emotional distress. He can be found at www.hearthsidehealing.com

More by Jon Keyes on Beyond Meds here

Healing is relationship, healing is radical community building

communityPlants both as food¬†and medicine continue to be an important part of my healing process. I like what Wendell Berry says about herbalism because it’s very much in keeping with the “everything matters” meme I often mention. Everything matters because everything is in relationship with everything else in our environments and our lives. Systems of healing that include herbalism understand this fact. Indigenous and shamanistic cultures understand this fact. We need to return to our roots while embracing and safely utilizing all we’ve learned while we forgot about them too.

Herbalism is based on relationship ~ relationship between plant and human, plant and planet, human and planet. Using herbs in the healing process means taking part in an ecological cycle. This offers us the opportunity consciously to be present in the living, vital world of which we are part; to invite wholeness and our world into our lives through awareness of the remedies being used. The herbs can link us into the broader context of planetary wholeness, so that whilst they are doing their physiological/medical job, we can do ours and build an awareness of the links of mutual relationships. ~ Wendell Berry

For now our society remains seriously disconnected. Trauma is a symptom of disconnection. ¬†Psychiatry too often ignores trauma because, it, too, is disconnected. We don’t know how to take care of one another and therefore we don’t know how to take care of ourselves. We get this from our parents and we pass it on to our children if we don’t become conscious. Healing requires learning how to do these things as a species not just as individuals. In the end healing is radical community building. I touch on that idea at the end of this post.

More posts that speak to this relational understanding:

Posts on herbalism:

Restoring Balance with the Plant World

By Jon Keyes


As an herbalist, I think of how humans interact and relate to plants everyday.  Mainly we interact with plants through our diet.  Our morning cereal, a sandwich, tea, beans, rice and salad all come from plants.  Even meat comes from animals that ate plants.  In essence, our very survival comes from plant life.  Though plants represent the source of our sustenance, we have become deeply out of balance in our relationship with them.  We have shifted from a diverse and varied plant diet to one that includes just a few highly processed plants.  This is leading not only to a  breakdown in our physical and mental health, it is leading us to ecological catastrophe as well.


In the U.S., 25 billion dollars a year is spent to subsidize the production of just a few commodity crops with an overwhelming emphasis on wheat, corn and soy.  Essentially farmers are paid to produce an enormous amount of just a few crops.  These crops are then processed and turned into dense high calorie foods that are the staple of most modern diets throughout the world.  Look through most grocery shelves and you will find food containing these main three crops.  Chips, crackers, sodas, candy, salad dressing, snack bars, energy drinks are all mainly derivatives of these three crops.  Industrial meat is also primarily being produced by feeding animals enormous amounts of these three crops; so when we are eating meat we are essentially again eating these three foods.

5439518073_f679a9acff_oWheat, corn and soy are often processed in a way that they are calorie filled and energy dense.  A soda with corn syrup along with a wheat and soy filled Big Mac contains over a thousand calories.  Eating a diet saturated with these foods has led to an epidemic of obesity and has helped to increase physical and mental health maladies.  Because these crops are subsidized, we have made them cheap to consume and so the poorest amongst us are pushed towards eating the least nutritious and most unhealthy foods.   We have essentially engineered a society built on eating the processed form of just a few plants; and we are making ourselves fatter, sicker and more emotionally unhappy.


As an herbalist, I sometimes see this from a different perspective.  Modernity in many ways is a tale of a shifting relationship between humans and the plant kingdom.  Prior to the 19th century, most people ate the plants that were harvested locally.  Often there was a rich diversity of local crops and wild harvested foods.  People ate a diverse array of roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits and meat.  Wild animals and fish ate food from the streams, meadows and forest and offered a complex array of nutrients to help us thrive.   People from earlier times faced periodic depravation through poor weather and flooding, and this insured that population didn’t increase excessively and place too heavy of a burden on the environment.

In the 20th century, we superseded this ancient method of eating primarily local food and shifted to a global system that embraced the production of immense monocrops to feed increasing numbers.¬† Population levels exploded, dependent on just a few species of plants- wheat (Triticum aestivum), soy (Glycine max) and corn (Zea mays).¬† Through our intense dependency on these few species, we have not only made ourselves sicker, and ‚Äúmadder‚ÄĚ,¬† we have exponentially grown in numbers to create an immense burden on the natural 1473026601_36c5e40166_bresources of the planet.¬† We require increasing amounts of land, timber, soil, fresh water, coal, oil and gas to survive.¬† Our utter dependence on these few plants have created an immense imbalance that is showing up not only as obesity, inflammatory diseases, depression and anxiety but also is showing up as clear cuts, mountain top removal, extinctions, polluted oceans, air, streams and climate change.¬† A simple shift to embracing just a few plant species has engendered a radical change in our planet- one that is literally leading towards apocalyptic possibilities.

On a psychological level, this intense overreliance on three plants have made many of us feel increasingly depressed and anxious.  Our use of the processed form of these plants for the bulk of our calories- in the form of cold cereal, donuts, candy bars, soft drinks, biscuits, chips, sauces and industrial meat has led to physiological changes that stimulate mental health problems.  Food sweetened with corn syrup spikes our6375782633_22f856528f_bblood sugar levels.  Spikes in blood sugar levels stimulates a response from our hypothalmus, pituitary and adrenal glands to secret more stress hormones and adrenaline that make us feel wired and anxious.  If there is a susceptibility to extreme states, it is more likely that these foods will increase our anxiety and lead to a greater possibility for complex nervous system disorganization in the form of hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.

We have increasingly taken to ‚Äúmedicating‚ÄĚ processed food disorders¬† with the concentrated form of other plants.¬† We use tobacco (Nicotiana), coffee (Coffea), cocaine (Erythroxylum coca), cane sugar (Saccharum) and heroin and other opioids (Papaver somniferum) to help stimulate and calm our body due in part to suffering from the effects of the processed form of wheat, corn and soy.¬† So we use one set of plants to manage the symptoms of overuse of another set of plants.


We also increasingly turn to completely synthetic ways to manage our emotional states that are in part engendered by this lopsided diet.  Methampehtamine and MDMA are industrially created street drugs but we also increasingly turn to psychiatric drugs such as xanax, prozac, effexor, ritalin, adderall, zyprexa and seroquel to stimulate and sedate ourselves.  20 percent of Americans now are prescribed a psychiatric drug to manage mental health issues.

I want to stress that mental health issues such as severe anxiety, depression and extreme states are not solely caused by a poor diet.  But I do want to honor that this modern diet, coupled with balancing these moods with concentrated addictive plants and synthetics go a long way towards destabilizing and damaging good mental health.    The massive population boom caused in part by the Green Revolution and global monocrops of wheat, corn and soy, has led to a more competitive, frantic and traumatic world that helps create tremendous stress and exacerbates emotional distress.  Because the poor have few choices, they face the brunt of this blow, forced to purchase low priced and low quality food that increases misery and suffering.

There are few easy answers to these problems.  At a core level, I see many of the problems of modernity as based on how we relate to the plant kingdom.  We have chosen to damage the soil and repeatedly plant monocrops of a few plants throughout the world.  Because the soil is so depleted, we add enormous amounts of fertilizer and pesticides to prop up these crops.  We are in a precarious state with our relationship with the Earth and the plant world, and a lot of that imbalance is showing up in our declining mental health.

Trying to find ways through this deep imbalance is extremely challenging.¬† But one of the ways is to try and 2890854806_8028c69747_oreturn to eating a more varied, more local and more wild diet, filled with nutrient dense food with a wide variety of plant life.¬† By shifting towards a diversified plant based diet, and away from one dependent on the concentrated industrialized form of ‚ÄúThe Big Three‚ÄĚ, our mental health will improve and our load on the planet will decrease. ¬† Moving towards eating less¬†industrialized and more organic food, where crops are grown in smaller more diversified lots with greater attention and care will also help shift the equation.¬† Growing food in our backyards and working with local farmers is part of this revolution.

On a deeper level, taking time to acknowledge our relationship to the plant world by slowing down and connecting to the plants is a key part of the healing process as well.  Connecting to the plant world in gardens, forests and meadows can also be part of the  work.  As an herbalist, I recommend taking herbs in tea form to really get to know the look, scent and taste of an herb.   Essentially, it is key to remember that our relationship with plants is a spiritual one.   They are our sustenance, our healers and our homes.   We can repair our relationship by showing greater care, attention and love when we connect to plants.  Making prayers or just giving thanks before a meal can help us remember our relationship and all that plants offer us.

Seeing our mental health as part of a more global ecological picture where how we eat and the food we grow and buy has a direct effect not only on our mental health, but on how we can heal some of the wounds we have inflicted on our relationship with the planet.  The global ecological and environmental trauma that is occurring is mirrored in the trauma that we experience in our own lives- the disconnection, the isolation, the lack of the sacred.  We can help to heal ourselves in part by re-envisioning how we work with the plant kingdom, feed ourselves and live with the land.


jonJon Keyes is a licensed professional counselor working in private practice at Hearthside Healing in Portland Oregon. Jon also has worked part-time in an inpatient psychiatric setting.  Jon is interested in exploring alternative and holistic ways of helping people in emotional distress and crisis.

More by Jon Keyes on Beyond Meds here


What is Mental Health Herbalism?

teaBy Jon Keyes

Mental health herbalism is the practice of working with herbs and other plants to improve well being, develop keener insight into patterns of imbalance and to reduce emotional distress.  As a licensed professional counselor and herbalist, I often incorporate the use of herbs for helping people to get stronger and feel better.  I have seen herbs improve mental health and I have also seen herbs bring profound insights that help a person work through emotional knots.  Plants not only work on a physical level, they are able to transform people emotionally and spiritually as well.

Many of us are aware that certain herbs can help with certain mental health symptoms.  People talk about St. John’s Wort for depression or valerian for insomnia.  In my approach to mental health, I think about working with herbs a little differently.   Instead of just taking an herb or a formula for a condition, my hope is to encourage a shift in how we think about herbs in general.  When I think of herbs, I am not thinking strictly of the herbs you would find in a health food store, but all plants in general.

The food we eat everyday is generally made up of plants, or come from animals that eat plants.  The framing of our houses are made of wood from trees.  We care for plants in our home and in our gardens.  We walk in parks and forests and encounter plants everywhere we go- even if we just see weeds coming up through the sidewalk.  Plants not only offer medicine; they offer the oxygen we need to breathe, the homes we live in and the food we eat everyday.  On a deep level, the plant kingdom provides the basis for our survival and for our growth and wellbeing.

When working with herbs for mental health, it is important to keep that in mind and see all plants as potentially healing.  We tend to think of herbalism as the process of ingesting an herb to receive healing.  In essence we often think of herbs much like we think of drugs- as a medicine to take to get a result.  We often take herbs with little thought for what they look, smell and feel like.

Instead, my hope is to help people to shift their conception of what it means to ‚Äútake herbs‚ÄĚ. ¬†Instead of simply seeing them as another substance to take to feel better, I like to think of herbs as potential healing allies.¬† That means the process of getting to know an herb takes on a much deeper level of importance.¬† Growing herbs that you take, gathering them in the wild, sifting your hands through dried herbs, smelling their aroma in a garden or in a tea, seeing the beauty of plants and trees in nature, honoring what they have to give by giving thanks are all ways of developing a friendship with a plant. ¬†Through that process of developing a ‚Äúfriendship‚ÄĚ, there is a greater potential for transformation and loosening the blockages that contribute to dis-ease.

Whether you are experiencing depression, insomnia, anxiety, confusion or extreme mental states, that alliance with specific plants becomes the foundation for the healing journey.  Those friendships will help bring you home.  In essence, the process of   connecting with herbs and incorporating them in your daily life becomes more important than the specific result an herb will produce chemically in the body.  The process is more important than the result.

In modern society, we are very results oriented.  We want pain to go away.  We want fatigue to disappear.   We want illness and suffering to be alleviated.  Now.  We are willing to take enormous amounts of analgesic, stimulant and allopathic drugs to stop symptoms and get a result- today.  And though drugs are often very powerful and deliver almost instant results, we are left with increasing repercussions of walking that path.  All drugs inevitably have side effects.  That is especially the case with psychiatric drugs.

A tranquilizing benzodiazapene such as ativan or xanax will do a hell of a job in immediately calming a person.  Man, pop one of those and it feels like you just drank a few beers.  All the panic and anxiety melt away.  But the drug wears off and soon all those edgy uncomfortable feelings come back.  Well, just take another one.  Soon the body becomes habituated to the drug.  Worse-needs it.  And after a while if you don’t take it your body rebels, starts to feel extremely uncomfortable and then nightmarishly distressed.


The drug has rearranged the body’s neurochemistry to depend on a drug to target GABA receptors and induce a calmative effect.  Without the drug, the nervous system goes into shock.  It can no longer naturally produce the calmative agents that will help relax the body naturally.  In essence, the body is stuck dependent on those drugs for coping, and without them, life becomes truly unbearable.

Our desire for results, now please, has led to a society dependent on pills for managing emotional distress.  Right now, 20 percent of Americans take psychiatric drugs for their mental health.  Prior to the 60’s the idea of taking a daily drug for mental health was almost unheard of.  But we have become a culture obsessed with speed, efficiency and results.  Psychiatric drugs fit well into a culture that doesn’t have time to slow down and see what’s wrong, to take the time to make changes, to dig in deep and listen to our troubled hearts.

Herbs offer a very different way of approaching distress.  They are made of numerous constituents that have a much more complex effect on the body.  Except for a few specific cases, they tend to act much more gently than drugs and don’t often produce strong overpowering effects. And again, except for a few herbs, they tend to have few side effects and can be easily stopped if they don’t feel good.  And at the core, they are generally nutritive.  They are filled with vitamins, minerals and specific constituents that strengthen and improve health and well being.  This is a very different approach from a drug based approach to mental health.  While psychiatric drugs tend to cause a quick shift in consciousness by altering neurological pathways, herbs tend to nourish the body to help it to naturally strengthen the body’s inherent ability to manage stress and trauma.

Deep nourishment with herbal therapy is a slow process.  When someone is feeling deeply depressed and anxious, there are usually a number of reasons.  We live in a world that is increasingly stressful.  That stress impacts our ability to cope and can lead to increased emotional distress.  Poor family and work relationships, unhealthy diet, poor sleep habits, overwork, poverty and poor living conditions all impact emotional health.  Underlying trauma from childhood or from abuse in one’s life can deeply impact a person’s ability to be happy and thrive.  Working through these issues and making lifestyle changes take time and conscious effort.  There is no shortcut to emotional wellbeing.

Herbs are a powerful adjunct to this path to greater wellness.  They not only nourish core strength, they also offer a way of looking at life that is deeper, slower and essentially more healthy.  Sit under the tall branches of a cedar.  Grow rosemary in a window sill planter.  Take in the scent and beauty of a lavender plant.  Sip a warm cup of linden tea.  Take a bath with drops of rose oil.  Light a small stick of sage.  These are all ways of remembering how to move more slowly, more beautifully, more in relationship and harmony.  By slowing down, we can also take time to reflect on where we may be out of balance, what may need to change.  We are no longer suppressing.  We are engaging, forging relationships with plants and with our own hearts.  Listening more closely.  Finding out what has gone wrong and how we can repair and walk a good road again.

jonJon Keyes is a licensed professional counselor working in private practice at Hearthside Healing in Portland Oregon. Jon also has worked part-time in an inpatient psychiatric setting.  Jon is interested in exploring alternative and holistic ways of helping people in emotional distress and crisis.



More about herbs on Beyond Meds:

My growing herb list: healing with plants

I was¬†asked a while back when I was in the very early stages of my herbal medicine experiments what herbs I was having success with…at the time¬†I didn’t feel confident sharing much information. Now I’m feeling a bit more able to articulate what I’m up to. ¬†I wrote an early draft of this post for a health group I’m part of. This is an edited version with additional information.

I’ve learned a lot but the information I share is very much what I’ve learned in a very personal quest and I don’t recommend anything in particular for any¬†given reader¬†reading this blog. In fact I need to make it very clear that some of these herbs, if taken when in acute psychiatric withdrawal could very well exacerbate things. Timing is everything. I’m four years into rebuilding from the devastating damage the drugs left me with. A year ago, or two or three, I would not have tolerated what I’m doing now. We’re all different and certainly many people don’t ever develop the sensitivities I and many others do. So it’s likely if you don’t have multiple sensitivities experimenting with herbs would be safer. Some herbs are truly very safe for almost everyone. Others some folks need to be careful with. The scope of this post does not detail this issue, so please do your own research or work with an herbalist.

I’ve been taking herbs and adding more into my diet in a somewhat systematic fashion now and seen great improvements in my well-being for a few months and it’s become¬†clear that one of the things I’m doing¬†is simply ingesting mega doses of a wide variety of anti-inflammatory compounds on a daily basis. I’m rotating many different herbs, mostly by way of teas, and adding to my collection too, all the time. I’m getting better at a clip and it’s very exciting.

Some of these herbs I learned about from Susun Weed, a master herbalist and wonderful human being, both. She has lots of information about the nutritive value of herbs and they are astonishing nutrient powerhouses. I can’t take vitamins and minerals in supplement form due to multiple sensitivities so I think some of these highly nutritional herbs are helping me on that count too. Here is an article about nourishing infusions from Susun Weed.¬†I’ve learned a whole lot from her and experimented (cautiously) with her recommendations. I’ve gone beyond her recommendations too, however, and found information from multiple sources and use some herbs that she doesn’t seem to commonly use as well.

I am using a lot of herbs that are categorized as “nervine” herbs. They support the nervous system. I find that they are truly profoundly healing. Psychiatric drug withdrawal syndrome, is among other things, an autonomic nervous system injury.¬† The herbs are healing in a very literal sense in that they don’t just soothe the nervous system — I can feel them building it. I don’t have to use the herbs in an ongoing way the way pharmaceuticals are used and what’s more I find that if I meditate after taking them I can process old traumas and shadow content from my psyche in such a way that old traumatic stuff moves through and is healed. Truly astonishing and wonderful. I don’t expect everyone would find this to be true for them, but I’m very grateful that it works this way for me. As I suggested earlier, there was a time when taking the herbs would have been too much for my nervous system and taking them would have been detrimental. Again, timing is everything.

I find that I use some herbs only occasionally and others almost daily for short periods of time. I don’t take anything daily for more than a week or so, I guess. This is determined by what my body wants not by any intellectual process.

Some of the herbs are very potent and I need to use them cautiously…some are simply healthy beverages that pack a nutritional punch….I imagine everyone’s list would look different…I don’t recommend anyone take anything off my list without doing your own research or consulting an herbalist.

So I’m sharing the developing list with you all here. I want to say that I research each herb and then based on particular medicinal properties that may be helpful to me and my particular issues I try them…many of them are simply like having good food and in fact I cook with a lot of herbs with wonderful medicinal properties as well. Think basil, sage, cumin, parsley, dill, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, garlic, mint etc. Yes, they are all wonderfully nutritive and anti-inflammatory too. We grow many in our garden.

Some of the¬†herbs were at one time in that zone of being risky but are no longer…so that’s, I guess, indicative of me healing…not sure how or why these things change…

I follow my intuition and it’s gotten to have¬†quite the impressive capacity when it comes to knowing just what I need and when…it’s kind of an awesome mystery that is unfolding.

this is the list:

I’ve marked the ones that are uber potent for me with a notation…

  • Motherwort
  • Lemon Balm
  • Chamomile
  • Skull Cap
  • Catnip
  • Hawthorne Berry
  • Nettle leaf
  • Black Cohosh
  • St. John‚Äôs Wort (very carefully and rarely)
  • Feverfew
  • Valerian (very carefully and rarely)
  • Bugleweed (very carefully and rarely — this started my adventure when I was diagnosed with hyper-thyroid which I no longer have as a result of treating it with herbs. I didn’t need to take the bugleweed as much as it was prescribed to successfully lower my hyper-thyroid…I listened to my body rather than what the routine prescription was. I’m not taking it at all anymore now. It’s a doozy in my body, but it did help lower the thyroid hormone. It has other benefits as well — for other people — but it’s not an herb that my body likes all that much)
  • Eleuthero (very carefully and rarely)
  • Oatstraw
  • Red Clover
  • Passionflower
  • Hops
  • Slippery Elm Bark
  • White peony
  • Holy Basil
  • Nigella Sativa (seed and oil) ¬†— I’ve been very reactive to this at certain times and need breaks from time to time still
  • Fennel seed (I eat the bulbs and greens quite often too and have for a long time)
  • Dandelion root
  • Rooibos
  • Raspberry leaf

on the agenda:

  • NEEM
  • Boswellia
  • Calamus Oil

Don’t forget the herbs you can cook with I mentioned above…basil, sage, cumin, parsley, dill, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, garlic and mint etc.

So many more to try!! And it’s likely I’ve missed a few.

I also pick and eat wild dandelion at this time of year. It’s delicious. I buy it in the health food store the rest of the year. I’m able to pick wild nettle locally at this time of year as well, but I’ve only managed to get out and do it once. Dandelion is everywhere, it’s harder to get to nettle patches for me. Actually there are a lot of herbs that grow locally and I hope to learn to identify and harvest many more.

¬†Updated note:¬†I’ve been continuing my adventures with herbs since I wrote this piece. They are phenomenal allies. I use fresh dried herb and make teas so that I can very carefully slowly sip and savor and discern the experience. I have thus learned how to know which herb is appropriate when…this is not about taking the same thing day after day after day…it’s about being in relationship with the plants…it’s lovely.

Other posts that talk about plant medicine:

Please do not attempt to discontinue psych drugs without first very carefully educating yourself on the risks involved so that you might minimize the chances of developing grave iatrogenic illness if you decide to withdraw: Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal and Protracted Withdrawal Syndrome Round-Up

I’m thrilled…lab work proves I’m doing it right! (thyroid issues and herbs)

Herbal medicine for the win!

I tested hyperthyroid about 6 weeks ago…it made my iatrogenic nervous system chaos far worse.

I took herbs (mostly a variety of different but particular nervine herbs which I made into teas and sipped therapeutically throughout the day) and did yoga, concentrating on a few poses for supporting my thyroid and also emphasized certain healthy foods in my diet.

A few days ago I sensed I no longer needed the herbs (I continuously intuitively took what I needed, not what is generally prescribed by herbalists, even…I totally listened to my body and the energetics of the herbs) So I stopped the herbs a few days ago as they seemed to no longer be needed and in fact were not agreeing with me anymore and so I stopped them over the course of a few days.

Today it’s been 6 weeks since I last tested and my thyroid test came back NORMAL. I’m off the medicinal herbs and feeling much better. A regular doctor would have put me on pharmaceuticals that are dangerous and have potentially serious side-effects. I would not have been allowed to play with my dose and intuit what I needed like I did with the plants. THIS is what healing can look like. I will stay attuned and continue to learn about what my body needs and test again if I feel I need to do that.

The best part is I’m feeling better than ever. It seems that course of nervine herbs helped heal my nervous system in general. HEAL is the operative word. I am not taking them at this point. They did their job and when it was done they let me know it was done. I was able to know by tuning into the energetics in my body. That is how¬†plant medicine works.¬†¬†The proof is in the lab result I just got this morning.

Related posts:

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