What is Energetic Herbalism?
In the vast wide world of herbal medicine there are many ways to practice and orient yourself, from community herbalist to advanced clinical practitioner. Countless numbers of indigenous peoples the world over practice forms of medicine that incorporate plants into their healing modalities, and this is much of where herbal knowledge as we know it today comes from.
Energetic medicine in herbalism in particular looks to access, understand, and gently inspire change in the basic essence of our being: our energy. Our energetic fields affect many aspects of our physical bodies and emotions, and vice versa with our physical bodies and emotions affecting our energy. In my field of practice, we believe that energy is at the root of our being, and our energy is sometimes described as our most basic selves. Energy can be greatly impacted by what types of activities and behaviors we engage in in our lives, and our physical health can depend on the health of our energy spirals.
My teachers Karyn Sanders and Sarah Holmes of the Blue Otter Herb School in Northern California teach that our energy has the potential to spiral uninterrupted throughout our bodies. This is an example of a healthy expression of energy, and everyone’s energy has the possibility to look like this. However, emotional upset, trauma, unhealthy or outdated coping skills, and patterns can create disruptions in this energy. The practice of energetic herbalism seeks to encourage a healthy spiral of energy throughout the body. We do this through the subtle use of the healing plants by way of low dosing with tinctures, teas and essences.
Essences of any kind are vibration medicine. This type of medicine tends to reach, and create shifts in, our energy or emotional bodies first. Once these shifts occur, they have the potential to reverberate change out into our physical bodies. A flower essence is made by placing the flower of a plant into a clear bowl of water and situating it where the sun can touch it. This allows the flower to transfer its vibration into the water, and what you have left is preserved and used in energetic application as a flower essence. These types of essences tend to work on the emotional body, while gems essences, made in a similar way, tend to ground us and work on bringing us into our physical bodies. Environmental essences, made from capturing the essence of a place, are more likely to assist during transition and times of change. All of these capture the spirit of flower, plant, place, gem, and so forth without needing to take physical samples. Essences are vital to an energetic practice and are seldom contraindicated because of the way they so gently, yet profoundly, work in the body.
Low dosing with tinctures is something that practitioners in many fields of medicine and holistic healing use as a way to access the spirit of the plant in a more powerful sense rather than what we call ‘physical’ dosing (higher than 10 drops), which has the potential to create a more physical reaction in the body. Low dosing can have a more profound effect on the energy, spirit, and emotional state of a person since the energy and spirit of the plant is more present than its own physical body. I formulate medicine for my private clients to meet their needs, and typically use low drop doses of tinctures and essences.
Energetic Herbalism seeks to create balance within the body, mind, spirit, and heart. It is both holistic, which means we are looking at the whole person, as well as trauma-informed. Trauma-informed care means that the lens with which I look at a client or case acknowledges and considers the impact trauma has had, and continues to have, in their life and their reactions in life. In trauma-informed care we consider how a person’s lived experience and trauma may affect the way that they receive (or have difficulty receiving) care. As herbalism is about treating the whole person acknowledging privilege and oppression becomes a major part of the healing process because it allows us as practitioners to further see what is happening in a person’s life and the way they are experiencing the world. We live in a capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal world and so having privilege in one of these areas or experiencing oppression due to one of these factors can greatly influence our experience of society and life in general.
Ultimately the type of healing offered by energetic herbalism can be supportive to Western Biomedicine because we exist in a dynamic of interdependence. We rely on Western Biomedicine to save lives and provide the tools necessary to deal with crises of our physical forms. We, in herbalism, are the spaces in between, where Western Biomedicine may not have the tools to treat or provide continued support. It is the goal of my practice to bring as much balance into my clients’ lives as possible. We are looking holistically, we are looking from an anti-oppression framework, we are using harm reduction, we are trauma-informed. We are here to do the emotional and mental health work that Western Biomedicine so often does not incorporate into their models of care. What we do is so different from what Western Biomedicine provides and yet we must provide different models of care in order to strive for greater balance within the healthcare system in hopes of meeting more people’s needs.
Other areas of holistic healing nicely complement this work because of their supportive nature and overlapping similarities. Acupuncture, somatic movement therapy, and massage therapy for example work well alongside energetic herbalism because they too are looking at patterns and energy currents in the body with an aim to create movement, while incorporating body work into the mix. In the current form of “Wellness,” these can seem inaccessible and often are in many cities. However, there are often affordable options for these modalities as well, such as community acupuncture or practitioners who work on a sliding scale, which you can find some of here.
For another example, in managing chronic pain, acupuncture, energetic herbalism and massage can create a more powerful cumulative effect in progress and recovery than one modality can alone. While acupuncture creates movement in the energy currents, massage can stimulate the lymphatic fluids and provide muscular relief, while herbs have the potential to shift the patterns that created pain in the first place. Art therapy or talk therapy create opportunities for accessing and articulating the way you feel, along-side herbal medicine this might look like an accelerated unraveling of trauma or healing while discussing trauma.
In energetic herbalism, the plant allies are working with your energy as a person; they are teaching us new ways of being and new ways to pattern our emotions and behaviors. Herbs have tools to help us heal from trauma, to re-pattern, and to let go of things that are ready to be retired in our worlds. This type of herbalism applied alongside any alternative healing modality which also encourages embodiment and awareness of our patterns has the potential to amplify the effects of both therapies.