Depression cuts the ground from under one’s feet!

 (I wrote this article originally for Herbgeek.com)

Through my work as a herbalist, I have noticed that many of my patients and especially those suffering from depression, anxiety and stress seem to lack what we call in France ‘ancrage’. Literally translated this means anchoring, which I prefer in a way to the word ‘grounding’ as anchoring conjures up more than just a connection to the earth but the feeling of being nestled deeply and securely in oneself, the solar plexus is the home to the centre of one’s being, the place of inner calm, peace and centeredness. Having one’s feet firmly on the ground and living in the physical body seems to be harder than it looks for people today, there is a general disconnection with oneself and nature…we are part of the natural world are we not? ImageThis disconnection results in a loss of self that is highlighted in many forms of depression, vital life energy, that which ‘animes’ or in English, ‘brings to life’, dwindles and the depressed person has trouble finding enough of this energy to dress and feed himself, let alone create his life.

An extreme case of this lack of ‘ancrage’, that I witnessed in one of my patients was a thirty year old woman who just wasn’t there, she was unable to take hold of anything that was said to her, I could feel her absence it was palpable, as if she was hovering above her body, when asked a question her replies were off the subject as she was so not there she wasn’t able to really hear what was being said to her. This person had lost her mother in an accident at the age of fourteen and the shock had pushed her out of her physical body, a survival technique that had its use at the moment of the shock, however sixteen years later, she was still disconnected from herself and the world in which she lived, what had been a survival technique at the time was now preventing her from ‘living’. This is a severe case, where the person was completely removed from her physical self, however many people live out their lives in their minds. I would say we are all to some extent suffering from this disconnection to ourselves as our lives move further and further away from nature and evolve more and more around virtual communication, stationary activities, sterile environments, we look for sense outside ourselves and forget to hear that inner, unique resonance that is ‘I’.

“The more we stay in our minds the more we think, the more we think the more we stay in our minds, the more we are in our minds, the less grounded we are, the less grounded we are, the less happy we are.”

The feeling of being ‘anchored’ in oneself is not as ‘subtle’ as it may appear, once grounded and reconnected there is a real and tangible feeling of being in one’s rightful place, at home in oneself and really here on earth. This feeling brings about a more positive outlook and more confidence in life. A distance appears from what is ‘oneself’ and the thoughts, actions, noises and stresses of life, a distance that helps one to let go of things and thoughts more easily and at the same time accept life, there is less resistance and as we all know ‘what resists persists’.

So, how to go about helping a depressed person to feel more grounded and centred within themselves?

There are many different techniques for ‘grounding’, such as dance, gardening, walking in nature (preferably bare footed), meditation, yoga, Tai chi, massage, swimming in rivers or the sea, to name but a few. These are things that can be slowly integrated into work on lifestyle changes with someone recovering from depression.

However the depressed patient, who hasn’t yet got to the stage where he or she is ready to take on new activities (low motivation) but may greatly need to feel that base foundation of connection with self, could benefit from plant medicines that help to ground, centre and align. Plants that stimulate and re-activate adrenal action are also recommended as adrenal exhaustion is often linked to a lack of grounding in the physical body. The adrenal gland’s contribution to our physical health and general vitality is very important, they are connected to the root chakra, a lack of grounding means that the natural energy cycle that triggers the adrenals into action lacks conviction and there is a gradual depletion and imbalance of adrenal energy.

These propositions would of course be part of a long-term treatment that addresses the different aspects that make up this complex state of imbalance, known as ‘depression’.

 Plants that ground and align

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

The name valerian comes from the Latin word ‘valère, meaningI am worth.

It took me a long time to really get to know this plant; in retrospect I think I was approaching it in the wrong way. I was surprised when I did eventually make the connection to find that it was a lot more subtle and gentle with a certain finesse to its action that I was not expecting.

I use valerian root for people who are mentally all over the place, people who cannot sleep because their mind is running or who are overly nervous or even hysterical with uncontrolled thoughts and panic. It gently brings a person back into their body, gathering up dispersed consciousness and calmly bringing it down to a safer place within (antispasmodic action on the solar plexus region), where the phase of deeper sleep is increased and an appeasement is found.

Wilhelm Pelikan in his work called ‘Man and medicinal Plants’ based on his studies with Rudolf Steiner states ‘Valerian brings the cosmic down into earth and not the earth into the cosmic’.

The roots are the part used and my experience is that they connect us very much to our own roots (both in the sense of physical grounding and our genealogical roots) enabling us to contact a deeper, more solid sense of ‘ancrage’.

Tincture of the fresh roots;

5 to 10 drops in the morning (to be repeated during the day if necessary) for depression and stress.

5 to 30 drops before bed for insomnia.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica, Angelica sylvestris)

ImageAlthough most people talk about Angelica archangelica when talking and writing about this plant, I use the latter for making tinctures and hydrosols (Angelica sylvestris)as it grows wild around my home and the former I buy as an essential oil. Angelica has similarities with valerian in that it has a long hollow stem that leads us down to the roots, the signature for plants with this structure is often considered as plants that help in ‘journeying’. I see them as plants that help align, making the connection between the lighter part of ourselves connected to our original source (essence) and our roots or material grounding. Like valerian, angelica helps those people who have difficulty coming into their physical bodies, I use the essential oil of the roots for this, a drop every morning for 21 days, rubbed into the sole of the foot and one drop rubbed between the hands. The grounding effect is more or less instant, as if suddenly the body recognises the connection (the plug has been put back into the socket) and at the same time it seems to strengthen both the physical body and the spirit, bringing vitality back to the organism!

Angelica root tincture or hydrosol can also be used internally.

*Do not use the essential oil on the skin before going out in the sun, as it can be photosensitive.

Common hogweed (Heracleum spondilyum) This plant is often mistaken for Angelica, it belongs to the same botanical family, the Apiaceae family, grows to a similar size and has a large creamy white umbel inflorescence and long, empty stalk…hogweed is hairy though, unlike Angelica.

There is very little modern literature that refers to this plant, although perhaps more in France than in Anglo-Saxon speaking countries. It grows very abundantly where I live and it seems a pity to ignore such a forceful and strengthening member of the local flora. In comparing Angelica and Hogweed, I feel that the former is more feminine in its resonance and Hogweed more masculine. They ground, align and revitalise and both have in the past been referred to as European ginseng but Angelica works in a more balanced way, between its tonic action and its capacity to calm serious nervous stress (interesting to note that angelica contains valerianic acid). Hogweed on the other hand doesn’t have the Latin name of Heracleum (from Hercules) for nothing; this plant (the roots) is a real tonic for combatting chronic tiredness and a lack of physical motivation, it wakes up the life force that empowers us to take part in the world, it was for this reason used for problems related to masculine impuissance. Its common name in France is “Patte d’ours” meaning ‘bears feet’ due to the resemblance of its leaves.  Emblematic of grounding forces and strength, bears spend winter hibernating, their metabolism slows down and they resonate with the internal processes of nature and the earth. They then emerge with the renewal and re-birth of spring, a new found energy born from a place of deep grounding – true vitality can only manifest from a solid base.                                                    Tincture of the fresh roots 10-30 drops three times per day.    Image

Plants that nurture and support

Nettle (Urtica dioica) Nettle is a very nurturing and nourishing plant but it is perhaps its high iron content and strong connection with nitrogen and the soil that give it its powerful, deep supporting action. My experience with nettle for grounding, supporting and reinstalling an earthed resonance is funnily enough in using nettle hydrosols. Hydrosols are in my opinion useful plant medicines when wanting to use a plants inherent vibrational message; nettle hydrosol carries this deep, earthy, nourishing and rhythmic force. Nettles themselves contain nitrogen and love to grow in nitrogen rich soils. There is an earthiness about the nettle plant in its physical structure, which is made very evident when it is made into a fermented extract for use in the garden, where it takes on an  aspect  very reminiscent of cow dung.

Nettle also has a high iron content (and vitamin C which helps its absorption), which along with its high chlorophyll content makes it a great blood builder. This resonance with the blood is important when working on grounding and centring, as the blood is the carrier of our incarnation and materialisation. Rudolf Steiner described nettle as being, “permeated by the force of iron, linked to man’s rhythmic organisation”, the body’s subtle respiration and circulation, vital to overall health is imprinted in the message that nettle brings us.

Nettle hydrosol bears the signature of iron and its connection with nitrogen regardless of the fact that the molecules may not be present, this message seems to be stronger in hydrosol form and this is why I use it when working on ‘fine tuning’ rather than the purely ‘physical’ level. However nettle leaf tincture or tea will also do the job and may also be the better choice in some cases, depending very much on where the emphasis needs to be, is it a re-adjustment that is needed from the plant’s vibratory message or is the importance on the actual physical depletion, where nettle’s adaptogenic qualities and adrenal support are the priority. The two can also be used together as hydrosols incorporate very well into both tinctures and teas.

Hydrosol : 1 teaspoon to 1 desert spoon 3 times per day

Tincture : 10-30 drops three times per day

Image

Scott’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) Pine’s supporting and giving nature has made it one of my favourites, gently but solidly helping out at the moments when one really does need a shoulder to lean on.

Pine is an adrenal cortex stimulant and a very supportive medicine. I am a great fan of its essential oil, a drop rubbed onto the adrenal glands every morning for at the most seven days (three days is usually enough) to re-activate fatigued adrenals. Its ‘cortisone-like’ effect has a re-triggering action; the adrenals will then go on and function more fully independently.

The uprightness of pine combined with its supporting action make it a great allay for aligning oneself gently and with a feeling of security. The flower essence is used for feelings of guilt and self-reproach; depressed people often feel worthless and may even blame themselves for others problems. Pine’s gentle supporting strength gives us the feeling we are worthy of love and acceptance from ourselves and helps to stop feelings of self punishment.

 * Pine essential oil can be irritating to the skin in sensitive people, if this is the case add to carrier oil before applying.

 ImageGrounding essential oils

It is interesting to note that many of the essential oils that are used for grounding were those used in rituals and spiritual practices throughout history, re-enforcing the importance in being well grounded in order to be well connected to one’s soul.

Sesquiterpenes give what is called a ‘base note’ in aromatherapy and are contained in many roots and woody parts of the plant, they are the essential oil constituent found most commonly in grounding oils.

Nard (Nardus jatamansi) essential oil contains 60% sesquiterpenes and has a very earthy smell of forest floors that brings us right down into our lower bodies liberating at the same time the over stimulated mind. In this grounding action there is also a re-harmonising effect that is felt throughout the organism from the toes up to the head and which transmits warmth, comfort and security. It is interesting to note that Nard belongs to the same botanical family as valerian.

Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) with 30% sesquiterpenes has a strong relationship with the material world; it conveys stability and grounding as well as stimulating physical and psychological force during periods of chronic tiredness, stress and mental agitation.

Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) contains up to 70% sesquitepernes and acts as a link between a solid base foundation that connects to a naturally held spine, neck, shoulders and head. Its action procures the feeling of safety, being well anchored on earth with a solid psyche.   Image

Sandalwood (Santalum album) with up to 50% sesquiterpenes, sandalwood unifies all aspects of the self thus helping to relieve stress, nervousness, mental dispersion and nervous exhaustion. It opens the solar plexus and helps us feel at home, balanced and harmonious within ourselves.

These essential oils can be used daily as described for Angelica – a drop on the sole of the feet or in a carrier oil (15% dilution) and massaged into the whole foot. I find that massaging one’s own feet is very healing, it is something that can be done without the help of anyone and it is about taking the time to take care of oneself. Due to all the nerve endings in the feet, an instant sense of detent and relaxation is felt and stress and anxiety are reduced. The feet are also the home of many ‘proprioceptors’, the sensory receptors that give us information about what is going on in our bodies and help us to know where we are in space and time, working on fine tuning our physical balance helps alignment, grounding and inner balance. 

Tree essences I have found that the trees that help when working on structure, alignment, centring and grounding all have a great strength to them but this strength is conveyed in a very warm, supporting way…true anchoring and strength manifest by gentleness and a loving tenderness.

Oak tree essence: Oak trees are well known for their deep roots, it is said that they grow as deeply downwards as their branches do upwards. Their strong, thick trunks link their earthy roots to their sky bound branches symbolising a healthy alignment between being well grounded and connected to spirit. Oak tree essence helps find stability, balance and strength, an anchoring in the here and now.

 Image

Yew tree essence:  Yew is also a very grounding tree, its branches can grow into the ground, its wood is incredibly hard and was used to make shields. The rune Ihwaz represented by the yew tree symbolised protection and defence against unwanted outside influences. Yew trees are amongst the oldest living trees and when the central trunk dies the tree lives on. Yews grounding energy is so strong it takes one beyond grounding the physical body to a sense of integration with the land, a deeper personal connection to nature.

“Our organisms are permanently looking for the perfect sonority of the coherence that they innately recognise”. 1

Depression can take on as many different forms as there are people suffering from it but one thing that I believe is common to many forms of depression is an inner feeling of some sort of loss of self or lack of coherence. As part of an overall treatment, plant medicines can help re-establish a connection with our roots and with nature and thus help relieve the epidemic touching modern man at the moment, described so well in the film ‘Numen’ by Tieraona Lowdog as ‘soul sickness’.

(1) Tryptik by Caroline Gupta, ESpace S’onOR editions

References

Les Hommes et les Plantes Médicinales by Wilhelm Pelikan Triades editions

L’Herboristerie by Patrice de Bonneval Desiris editions

Le Livre de Bonnes herbes by Pierre Lieutaghi Actes Sud editions

Huiles Royales, Huiles sacrées by Jutta Lenze Le Mercure Dauphinoise editions

Précis de Phytotherapie by Christian Escriva Editions Promonature

L’Aromathérapie énergétique by Lydia Bosson Editions Amyris

Les Plantes Sauvage

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4 Comments

  1. Connie Page said,

    January 5, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Love this blog. Interesting to learn about the energetic properties of herbs and oils.

  2. July 31, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Do you have any video of that? I’d like to find out some additional information.

    • August 1, 2014 at 6:47 am

      Sorry no videao but I am continuing to work on the subject ad will post as things develop.

  3. August 19, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I love reading you blog and wish i could pick your brain of knowledge but my question about this specific entry is this; Are you saying you use all of these specific herbals together? I was a little confused. I am asking because i had been prescribed cymbalta for neurological pain and migraines after 4 months i took myself off because it caused more intense migraines and depression


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