"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." -- Audre Lorde
Self-love and self-care are revolutionary. Our mental, emotional, and physical well-being; how we show up in the world; how we interact with those around us---so much is dependent on how we care for ourselves. No one feels great after several nights of scant sleep, days of junk food, weeks of stress, or mental cycles of self-loathing. It’s nearly impossible to be present for our lives if we don’t care for ourselves, and (in the words of RuPaul), if we don’t love ourselves, how in the hell are we gonna love somebody else? But how do we allow ourselves to be loved? How do we practice self-care? Let’s begin by looking to our herbal allies for the answers. Here are 5 ways to involve herbs in your self-love practice:
1. Grow them! One wonderful way we can learn to care for ourselves is to care for a plant, which, much like us, requires basic needs like sunlight and water and mineral rich soil. Plus, there have been studies done that show if a plant hears soothing music and/or is spoken to with love and positivity, it thrives— sound familiar? When you water your plant, and whisper loving words of encouragement, check in with yourself, too. Have you met your basic needs for the day? Water? Food? Kind thoughts? Beautiful music? Becoming a plant-parent is a relationship of reciprocity. With the responsibility of caring for another life comes the need to show up for ourselves as well. In addition, gardening or even just having house plants has been linked with increased levels of contentment and happiness. Why not grow an herb like lavender, mint, or aloe? When you harvest the medicinal parts of your plant, you’ll be harvesting your own loving care.
2. Consume them! Nourish your body the way nature intended. Herbs are powerhouses of the nutrition that we desperately need! For example, nettles are alkalizing, anti-inflammatory, and have a high iron and mineral content. Try making an overnight infusion(tea steeped and covered over 8+ hours) and drinking the next day. Chamomile or tulsi tea will help to soothe frayed nerves. Make pesto for dinner with basil, wild greens, and garlic for a carminative, oxygenating meal. Add ginger and chai spices to baked goods or a creamy dessert to help build digestive fire. Elderberry syrup on pancakes is a delicious immune booster. Black pepper helps us absorb more vitamin and minerals from our food. The combinations and possibilities are endless!
3. Connect with your culture! Every culture, from every area of the world, at one time used herbs and herbal medicine in their cuisine and healing practices. Using herbs traditional to your culture is a potent and fulfilling way to reconnect to your cultural heritages. Ask elders in your family or of your culture, or do some research if you aren’t already familiar with these traditions. Oftentimes some semblance of these traditional herbal uses are still represented in modern day food or practices. Cooking with ancestral herbs is a great, tasty way to honor your roots. If you do any magic around ancestry, incorporating ancestral herbs can aid with depth of connection. If you’d like to honor your lineage with an altar, consider adding to it with herbs and plants associated with your heritage, as these herbs were used by our ancestors, and are woven into the very fabric of our DNA.
4. Expand emotional resilience! There’s a veritable laundry list of herbs that are helpful for calming the nervous system and therefore reducing stress and anxiety. Many of them fall into the categories of adaptogens or nervines. Adaptogens help to increase the physical and emotional body’s ability to adapt to the effects of stress, and nervines have a calming, stimulating, or tonic action on the nervous system, which can be helpful in cases of anxiety, tenseness, and digestive upset, to name just a few. Incorporating one or a few of these herbs into your life can be game changing! Using flower essences or extremely low doses of herbs impart their healing frequencies in an emotional/spiritual way, and these may be used for many different specific emotional or spiritual malaises. For example, taking a low dose of a yarrow tincture or a yarrow flower essence will help to affirm and maintain healthy energetic boundaries. Buttercup or Larch flower essences are both used to regain self-esteem and self-love.
5. Soothe your skin! While not all self-care practices look like spa day, some definitely do! Herbs work wonders topically as well as internally. Practicing herbal body oiling—essentially, massaging yourself with oil that’s been infused with herbs—is a luxurious way to connect with your physical self and to stimulate necessary lymph flow. Oiling will also help to keep skin supple, hydrated, and smooth. If you infuse the oil with herbs like ginger, mugwort, or St. John’s Wort, oiling can help with nerve and muscle pain, too. Soaking in an herbal epsom salt bath with choice herbs can also aid in pain relief, skin health, and natural detoxification. Using a hydrosol (distilled herbal water mixed with naturally occurring oils) as a facial spray or toner is another way to refresh skin while reducing inflammation. Herbal salves serve as yet another moisturizing and healing vehicle for herbal intervention; for example, try an arnica salve for bruising, a plantain salve for bug bites or drawing out splinters, and a comfrey salve for torn muscles or sprains.
Plants and herbs love us unconditionally, despite all we’ve put them through. They nourish us with minerals, vitamins, flavonoids, carbohydrates, and oxygen, making it possible for us to exist on this planet. They heal cuts, bruises, and imbalances in our bodies and on a spiritual and emotional level. They grow, against all odds, through cracks in the sidewalk, under extreme conditions, despite pollution, and offer themselves to us with unyielding love.