Everything has energy. Me, you, the sun, the earth and plants are all energetic. It’s helpful to understand this before diving into herbal medicine and choosing herbs for yourself or others. Learning how to balance the body’s energy with a plant’s energy is taking a holistic approach to herbalism. In my experience this is the most effective way to practice herbal medicine.
Identifying the six tissue states.
Matthew Wood is a well known herbalist who created a system based off of Greek and Chinese medicine for identifying the temperature of tissues (hot, cold, damp or dry) and the two tissue states (tense or relaxed) in order to know what balancing herb to use. This might seem confusing at first but hang in there with me! Knowing the different tissue states will help you choose the best remedy.
Heat • irritation, overstimulation, hot or warm to touch, red skin
Cold • depression, under stimulation, paleness
Dryness • atrophy (decrease in muscle mass, degeneration, immobility)
Dampness • stagnation
Tension • constriction (wind in traditional Chinese medicine)
Relaxation • atony (lack of energy and tone, muscle weakness
Matching herbs to tissue state versus just matching herbs to diseases or conditions will yield far better results in restoring balance in the body. Now when you look up an herb and see it’s energetics listed you’ll understand when and why to use that specific herb.
Cooling • balances heat
Suggested balancers: citrus, lavender, lemon balm, elderberry, ginseng, black walnut, bee balm, catnip, chickweed, chamomile, cleavers, dandelion, goldenrod, echinacea, fennel, hibiscus, linden, lemongrass, milk thistle, turkey tail, marshmallow root, holy basil, oat straw, nettle, mullein, purslane, peppermint, clover, raspberry leaf, aloe vera, goldenseal, gotu kola, plantain, shepherd’s purse, skullcap, rose, spearmint, St. John’s wort, wild yam, yarrow, willow, yellow dock
Warming • balances cold
Suggested balancers: saffron, angelica, mama, cat’s claw, cardamom, juniper, oyster mushroom, sage, oregano, vanilla, savory, bayberry, argan
Heating balances depression and cold
Suggested balancers: turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne, pepper
Neutral • does not move the body’s energies strongly in any direction
Suggested balancers: ginseng, ginkgo, chanterelle, lion’s mane, lobelia, peaches, shiitake, myrrh, gotu kola, licorice
Drying • balances excess moisture
Suggested balancers: arnica, ashwaganda, reishi, olive leaf, cinnamon, calendula, cleavers, hops, hibiscus, lemon balm, oregano, nettle, peppermint, raspberry leaf, reishi, St. John’s wort, thyme, rosemary, yarrow,
Moistening • balances dryness
Suggested balancers: parsley, artichoke, ginseng, chickweed, oatstraw, purslane, licorice, marshmallow root, wild yam, violet, slippery elm, mullein
Nourishing • provides nutrients, does not move the body’s energies strongly in any direction
Suggested balancers: astragalus, dandelion, chickweed, horseradish, nettle, oat straw, rosemary, milk thistle, spearmint, red clover, wild yam, yellow dock, motherwort, burdock
Keep in mind that combining herbs with opposite energies can counteract and restrain each other which keeps you from achieving results (example: moistening + drying). For this reason it’s good to use one herb at a time instead of combining several herbs together risking counteraction until you’re more with familiar with matching herbs to tissue states.
Let me leave you with a couple examples of how to match herbs to tissue states.
- I have an elevated body temperature and wet cough. My tissue state is hot and damp so I will want to balance it with a cool, drying herb like peppermint. I can do this by drinking a cup of peppermint tea that has cooled or applying a drop of peppermint essential oil to the bottoms of my feet or spine.
2. I’m coming up with a remedy to give to my mother who has cold extremities and arthritis in her hips. I will want to choose a combination of herbs that are warming and moistening. I look up the energy of some herbs and see that ginger is warming and drying so I’ll either suggest a tea made with fresh ginger or a tincture of ginger and turmeric which is also warming and slightly drying.
It is helpful to have some resources at hand to look up energies of herbs. A few of my favorites are The Modern Herbal Dispensatory or The Herbarium by Herbal Academy which is an online library of education and plant profiles also known as monographs.
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*Disclaimer: the information provided is for educational purposes only and not meant to treat or diagnosis disease. Please do your own research regarding safety and usage of herbs especially if pregnant, nursing or on medication.