Think back to the last time you had a quiet moment to yourself to reflect on your appreciation for something or someone in your life. For me, a sense of gratitude comes from deep inside. It does not wash over me, but rather is stirred from the heart. A complete focus is required, as well as a vulnerability, and the effect is immediate. A tranquility sweeps through me and a subtle feeling of joy embraces me.
Melody Beattie, a best-selling author of many self-help books, wrote, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” It is a beautiful idea that health and wellbeing can be a consequence of something as simple as gratitude. In fact, studies have shown a correlation between the two. In one study, counting blessings resulted in a decrease of systolic blood pressure in hypertensive participants. In another study,gratitude predicted greater sleep quality, less time to fall asleep, and increased sleep duration.
The key to observing gratitude is to open your heart and center yourself. In celebration of Herbalist Day on April 17, a holiday that is meant to express appreciation for herbalist friends and teachers, we take a look at four herbs that will help you do just that.
If gratitude begins with centering yourself and focusing, we look to herbs that nurture concentration. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is known for sharpening mental focus. The ancient ginkgo tree is well-known not only for its longtime medicinal use, but for its longevity as a species. Considered a “living fossil,” the tree is widely known as perhaps the oldest continuous species of any kind; fossils of the plant have been dated to over 250 million years old, making it likely that it was a food source for dinosaurs.
Gingko improves cognitive focus in part by improving the synthesis and turnover of neurotransmitters. As a circulatory tonic, Gingko supports circulation throughout the body to improve the flow of nutrients, oxygen, chemicals, hormones, and immune cells. Ginkgo is well-suited for persons facing circulatory deficiency as well as hypertension.
In Western herbalism, ginkgo is seen as having an affinity for the head, brain, and the circulatory system; the standardized extract in particular shows antioxidant actions in the brain. Vasodilator herbs such as Gingko help dilate the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is uplifting and joyful, guiding open the heart to feel gratitude and a yearning for emotional connection. The heart is the processing center for the nervous system and stores our life experiences and memories. As an adaptogen, holy basil can help put one in a state that allows for the ability to expand knowledge. As a nervine, holy basil is initially stimulating, but then brings a calm and reassuring sense of solidity and groundedness that helps quiet the mind, collect distracted thoughts into focus, and give one a sense of resilience for the long haul.
As a member of the rose family, wild cherry (Prunus serotina) is an ally for the heart and sacral chakras, as it is sweet, loving, nurturing, and sensual. It helps open the heart, making space to lovingly communicate with and receive from others. Our hearts are much more than mechanical pumps; they are powerful sensory organs and nervous system receptors tuned toward love, compassion, and oneness, and they receive emotional input of all kinds every minute of the day.
As such, their physical health is affected by the myriad of life experiences and emotions processed by the heart and stored in the heart’s “memory.” We’ve all seen or felt the physical effects of a deeply broken heart – our heart hurts. Heartbreak, stuck emotions, depression, grief, and trauma can manifest as physical heart ailments, from coronary disease to weak hearts to blockages. The rose family, particularly hawthorn and rose, excels at gently nourishing, healing, soothing, opening, and protecting our energetic hearts allowing us to participate genuinely in practices of gratitude.
Download a free Wild Cherry Plant Monograph from The Herbarium here.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a calming nervine and is used much like rose, and often with rose, to heal, open, and protect the energetic heart. This is helpful because the heart chakra is the balance point, or gate, between the lower and upper chakras (the external/physical/matter and internal/mental/spirit). If the heart chakra is blocked, we feel the mind and body as separate, not unified, and can feel isolated, disconnected, unworthy of love, and have difficulty expressing emotions like appreciation. If the heart chakra is too open, we may withhold our emotions to manipulate others or offer love only with conditions attached. Physically, we may suffer from high blood pressure or heart disease. If the heart chakra is balanced, we feel harmonious, and feel a deep well of unconditional love, compassion, and trust for ourselves and others.
Hawthorn is used by herbalists as a wonderful plant ally for the heart. It is considered to be a trophorestorative that helps to nourish and balance the heart. Emotionally, hawthorn may be soothing and healing.
Try our Winter Solstice Heart Tea here.
As herbalists we have a responsibility to pass information onto others and to empower them on their herbal path. While gratitude for these people can, and should be, practiced every day, Herbalist Day is a special occasion to say thank you to those who have helped you on your own journey. On Monday, April 17, you will find us carving out time in our day to write cards to our mentors and friends.
We encourage you to join us with the Herbal Academy’s free, downloadable thank you cards designed just for Herbalist Day 2017.
Marlene Adelmann is the Founder and Director of the Herbal Academy, international school of herbal arts and sciences, and meeting place for Boston-area herbalists. Through the school, Marlene has brought the wild and wonderful world of plant medicine to thousands of students across the globe. Learn more about the Herbal Academy at theherbalacademy.com.
Herbal Academy. (2016). Herbarium monographs: Gingko, Holy basil, Wild Cherry, Hawthorn [Membership-only Website]. Retrieved on 03/24/2017 from herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/
Wooda, A., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66, 43–48.
Shipon, R. (2007). Gratitude: Effect on perspectives and blood pressure of inner-city African-American hypertensive patients. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University.
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