HERBS FOR HEARTBREAK
It’s been a little over a week and you still haven’t slept through the night or eaten a decent meal. That same sad song has been on repeat for days now, becoming the only shoulder you want to lean on as the tears fall. Memories of time shared together haunt the hours and fog your thoughts. There seems to be no escape from the heaviness of loss. No way around it, but straight through the ugly shadows of ache without any comfort in sight.
Some relationships become so special to us, so important to the core of our identity, that our internal world shatters when they end. We are left with pain and longing, confusion and obsession, and maybe even the agonizing hope that what’s happening isn’t really happening.
Breaking up isn’t an isolated event or even a transient experience. It takes a long time to untangle one life from another, and the slow transition alters your course. Becoming separate from your partner can feel like a death, and truth be told, heartbreak is simply grief in disguise: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and with some time, acceptance. Throughout this natural grieving process our stress hormones can increase, causing all sorts of unwanted effects, from general despondency to full-on panic attacks. We lose the sleep and nourishment we need to heal, leading to emotional exhaustion, muscle tension, and lowered immunity against viruses and infection.
Turning to alcohol or sleeping aids may be a common path for someone during times of heartbreak, but relying on these alone to self-medicate can quickly take a toll on the body and mind. Pushing yourself into patterns of dependency, when self-care is really what’s needed, can invite chronic grogginess, dehydration, emotional numbness, digestive upset, cognitive instability, susceptibility to illness, isolation, more insomnia, and magnified anxiety. Alcohol and pharmaceuticals are strong Band-Aids that may hide the wound, but they certainly won’t heal it. Fully surrendering to grief and allowing yourself to experience the transformation is essential to finding wholeness again.
Thankfully, there are plant allies growing all around us that support our whole being without causing harm. While herbs won’t make the pain or sadness disappear, they will make the grieving process endurable,allowing you to transition to a stronger place, faster and healthier. Herbs can help through the stages of grief by calming nerves, quieting upsetting thoughts, relaxing muscles, stimulating healthy digestion, boosting the immune system, and encouraging deep, restful sleep. They work to strengthen the body’s innate coping abilities and can carry you through the day-to-day with less suffering and fragility.
Before we get into specific herbs, there are a few things to know about herbal medicines. The preparations are diverse and can include teas, tinctures (also known as alcohol extracts), syrups, ointments, aromatherapy, poultices, and more. For the herbs below, I like to make tinctures and teas, along with the occasional syrup. The standard dosage for most tinctures is 3 to 4 dropperfulls, up to 3 times a day when needed. This is a gentle yet effective mode of healing that works with the body, rather than overpowering it. Herbs should never make you feel drugged, and if they do, take a smaller dose next time.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is my favorite calming herb for any stressful situation, but it’s especially helpful for grief. Skullcap stops the cycle of circular thoughts and unshakable emotional tension. Take this plant as a tincture or a tea when you just can’t stop thinking about the breakup and your former love. You will feel the haze of obsession melt away and clarity return, allowing you to focus on work, school, and hobbies that bring you pleasure or catharsis. Skullcap also eases debilitating sadness by softening nervous edginess and relaxing tight muscles. It’s great for headaches that accompany a long cry. The bitter flavor helps encourage hunger and stimulates digestion, which can become sluggish during times of stress. Plus, skullcap is nutritive to the nervous system and can be taken daily to restore and strengthen your response to stress in the future. This is an herb that everyone should have in their medicine chest.
Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a wonderful and potent sedative herb for most people when sleep seems impossible. I like to take 3 to 4 squirts of the tincture on sleepless nights. Within minutes, I am in a deep sleep, feeling fresh and well rested the next morning––not dazed or hungover. This herb can be taken along with skullcap for the added benefit of quieting obsessive thoughts before bed. For some people, however, valerian can have the opposite effect, causing more anxiety. If this happens to you, valerian is not the right herb to use, and hops or skullcap alone can be taken instead.
Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna) are recommended by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar as an all-purpose tonic for the heart, both physiologically and emotionally. Rosemary says, “Hawthorn helps the heart flower, open, and be healed,” while also gently stimulating or slowing its activity as needed. These berries have a high concentration of antioxidant bioflavonoids, and they taste nice too. Take as a tincture, syrup, or jam.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) offers gentle immune-boosting properties to help you combat colds, flu, and other sicknesses that can creep in when the body becomes stressed. They taste delicious and can be used as a tincture, syrup, or tea.
Rose hips (Rosa spp) are the fruits produced by roses. They provide one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the plant world, even boasting levels many times higher than citrus fruit. This is another wonderful immune supportive herb that tastes similar to tart cranberries. They can be used in teas, syrups, and jams.
Some other herbs that can be helpful include lemon balm, chamomile, rose, borage, St. John’s wort, eleuthero root, passionflower, damiana, and kava kava.
The most important thought to hold in your mind during this difficult time is that losing love creates space in life for possibilities to grow and for new love to enter. So, hang in there with an open heart and a grateful spirit. A beautiful rush of opportunity is just waiting to flow into your world.
“Heart Be Well” Immune Support Syrup Recipe
This is the perfect immune boosting and heart lifting formula to support your health through heartbreak and grief. You can add a teaspoon of syrup to Skullcap tea each morning, drizzle it over pancakes, ice cream, or just take it straight by the spoonful. It’s easy to make and tastes wonderful. Take a teaspoon or two daily to support your heart and immune system during times of heartache.
• 3 cups cold water
• 1/2 cup organic elderberries
• 1/2 cup organic hawthorn berries
• 1/4 cup organic rose hips
• 1 organic cinnamon stick
• 3/4 to 1 cup raw local honey
• 1.5 ounces brandy (optional preservative)
1. Combine herbs with cold water in a pot and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and allow herbs to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and mash the berries in the liquid mixture.
4. Strain the herbs through cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.
5. Measure the liquid and add an equal amount of honey.
6. Gently heat the honey and juice for a few minutes until well-combined, but do not boil!
7. Stir in brandy if you’d like and pour the finished syrup into sterilized glass bottles.
8. Label and keep refrigerated for up to 6 months.