” Herbs are powerful aids in the practice of yoga…They are useful not only for treating diseases and for rejuvenation but for awakening all our higher faculties.” Dr. David Frawley, The Yoga of Herbs.
I want to share a little background of how this warming, healing tea came to be – and how in conjunction with yoga practice (and even without!) it can be used to soothe even the most disgruntled tummy.
While most of you know me as a wild food enthusiast, I’m also a yoga teacher. And for the past three years I’ve been completing my yoga therapy certification – meaning I’ve been exploring the many ways yoga can be used to support health, recover from illness and manage chronic disease. And through my recent herbalism studies and apprenticeship with herbalist Betty Norton, I’ve been discovering the many ways plants can do the same. So its become obvious through both fields of study, that fusing the therapeutic benefits of herbs with the therapeutic benefits of yoga – just makes good sense.
After all, both have been demonstrated to offer profound benefits for physical and emotional health, from supporting digestion and detoxification, balancing hormones, reducing inflammation and boosting our immune system to soothing anxiety and creating feelings of well-being!
And besides, it isn’t anything new. Herbs and herbal medicines have been used in yoga for thousands of years. References in ancient Tantric and Vedic texts to the use of herbs and sacred plants abound.
In yogic tradition the physical and subtle body is likened to a tree with different branches and different herbs were believed to interact with these branches in specific ways. Some cleansed and vitalized, others nourished and balanced the chakras and others facilitated the flow of prana through the bodies energy channels (or nadi’s).
And according to Dr. David Frawley, some plants (especially wild ones) were believed to be particularly high in prana or life-giving essence (often called soma) which extended longevity and created “an exhilarating effect that promotes healing and transformative processes on all levels”.
I find this especially intriguing because many plants with similar medicinal qualities to those used by yogis (and even direct relatives) grow all around us today. And because our bodies, like trees, are subject to the same energetic forces and seasonal cycles that flow through the landscape we live in, I personally believe that consuming locally growing plants can bring us into “healing harmony” with our direct environment.
So from wild botanicals to backyard weeds to garden herbs, I’ve been exploring the many ways common seasonal plants can be used in simple teas, infusions, tinctures, salves and essential oils to support therapeutic yoga practice.
For example, digestive aliments are epidemic today. This is pretty bad news considering that over 80% of our immune system is housed in our gut, and that digestive health shapes every aspect of our emotional and physical well-being. But the good news is that both yoga and herbs have been shown to be effective in helping manage everything from irritable bowel syndrome to heartburn, to our ability to digest and detoxify.
In yoga, certain postures and breathing techniques work to stimulate the fiery metabolic energy of digestion (agni). This assists the body to assimilate food while eliminating wastes and toxins (ama). So before a digestive enhancing practice that massages, compresses and opens the abdominal area (more on this later) I’ll use wild local plants and herbs like Wild Fennel, Chamomile and Dandelion which are renowned for their digestive supporting abilities.
(left to right) Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Wild Fennel, Dandelion
I might take a few drops of Dandelion root tincture or drink Fennel, Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Wild Violets in a tea – all of which are known to support the digestive organs, aid metabolic processes and the elimination of waste products.
Chamomile and Lemon Balm are also known to calm the nervous system, which helps when digestion is adversely affected by stress. Restorative yoga and meditative practices help calm nervous agitation and an overactive parasympathetic nervous system. So whenever I (and my belly) get particularly stressed out I use a combination of gentle relaxing postures in conjunction with mild sophoric plant tinctures (like California Poppy and Wild Lettuce) to help me chill – and get some sleep.
California Poppy, Wild Lettuce
Another fascinating way to utilize yoga and herbs is in harmony with seasonal and astrological cycles. Early herbalists observed the connection between time of year, celestial cycles and cycles of plant growth. They believed that the same cycles that affect plant growth affect our bodies as well, so they correlated systems of the body with certain planets, which governed specific medicinal herbs.
For example, last month was governed by Leo (July 23rd August 22nd) which oversees the cardiac system and upper back – so I practiced heart openers and backbends (Cobra and Bridge) in conjunction with heart supporting herbs like Calendula and Hawthorn.
This month is Virgo (August 23rd to Sept 22nd) which governs our abdomen, intestinal track and digestive organs, so using Fennel ( A Virgo ruled herb) long renowned for it’s tummy soothing abilities is one obvious choice. (For more info on Fennel click here). I’ll also be consuming Dandelions, Plantain and Yellow Dock in salads and pestos, all of which help cleanse the body and remove toxins from the internal organs.
And while it all sounds a bit woo, I’m excited by the possibility that we can integrate ancient astrological knowledge with herbal and yogic traditions to achieve optimum levels of health, vitality and well-being.
So in tandem with the celestial and seasonal cycles of the natural world – I offer you an autumnal recipe for a digestion enhancing wildcrafted tea. It utilizes the plants growing around you right now under the auspices of Virgo – which of course governs the entire digestive process.
In yoga, the digestive system is under the dominion of the third chakra, the centre of command and control. This is the home of our gut feelings, and it not only gives us the will power and strength to carry out our intentions – it helps us fully digest the physical and emotional experiences of life.
(left to right) Supine Twist, Knee to Belly, Boat, Bridge
So get in touch with power of your third chakra – and the energy of the season. This month, drink this tea before a practice of digestion enhancing postures like Pawanmuktasana (knees to belly) and gentle twists (like Bharadvaja) which compress and massage the abdominal area. Belly opening postures like Bridge and Bow pose can be used to help bring blood flow to the internal organs. And if your’e looking to fire up the empowering energy of the solar chakra, try Boat or Breath of Fire.
Autumn Herbal Tea For Digestion
Note: This is a list of local herbs and wild plants that promote good digestion (besides many other good things). Since this tea or infusion is meant to be “wildcrafted” you may not find all of the ingredients nearby, so just use the plants from the list that are growing near you. This will help bring you into harmony with the seasonal and energetic forces of your local landscape.
Ingredients (To make a one pot or about 16 ounces of tea)
About a tablespoon of:
-Fennel fronds, blossoms and seeds
–Mint (Wild if you can find it)
–Lemon Balm leaves
–Queen Anne Lace blossoms
–Chrysanthemum and/or Sea Aster blossoms
-2 cups of hot water
-Muddle your plants (meaning gently crush them with a mortal and pestle or the back of a wooden spoon)
-Remove water from heat then place your herbs in the hot water
-Let infuse for 10 -15 minutes
-Strain and drink
Note: Starting this October I’ll be offering a series of yoga classes that will utilize locally growing common plants and herbs. If you live in Victoria and are interested in participating or learning more – send me an email here.