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Grieving and Ritual with Herbs, Teas, and Essential Oils

31 October 2019

Grief is something I’m all too familiar with, and something I’m passionate about protecting. One of my greatest frustrations is people who think that grief needs to be worked through on a timetable or that it ever goes away. It is a much sharper pain, in the beginning, one that dulls into an ache that surges and flows like a tide as life inevitably goes on.

There are dangers when grief is fresh; Takutsubo cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as broken heart syndrome or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is very real. I have personal experience with it from when my father died in hospice. Add in the obvious increases of anxiety, depression, and suicide in the wake of grief, and the first few months are a time when the newly grieving need the most support. Grief counseling is always my first suggestion along with attending some sort of support group.


However, it’s those silent moments at home that allow grief to dig in its claws. For those times I highly recommend self-care in the form of devotional ritual. This can be many things: Catholics may light a white candle by a picture; Jewish members may perform mitzvot (commandments) during sholshim (the thirty days following burial); Shinto practitioners practice kichi-fuda, a day of intense mourning, followed by matsuri, or grave maintenance and visitations, light incense and leave flowers.


For many, I would simply encourage them to sit in silence with their grief, let it do its work, and even greet it with herbs, teas, tinctures, and essential oils that will mark its importance. It might seem strange to some that I recommend this when so many encourage us to “just get out there,” but busying ourselves with life before we’re ready doesn’t honour our grief, nor does it honour those from whom we’ve been separated. Sitting in silence, letting your heart fill with grief and feeding it these aromatics to calm it, may prove much more beneficial in the long run. Denying grief only makes it more persistent.


I’ve compiled a list of highly recommended herbs, teas, tinctures, and essential oils that work medicinally and psychosomatically to ease grief and mourning, along with a few recipes and recommendations on how they can be used. I also include a few links to products I know are wonderful. As always, there is a disclaimer: do your own research into whether they are safe for you. Many of them have medication interactions, may aggravate allergies or medical conditions, or may even be dangerous to animals and small children. Use them wisely and with love.


Note: The herbs and oils listed below can be used in teas, diffusers, incense, anointing, inhalers, bath salts, or candles as appropriate. Again, please do your own research to determine what is safe for you to use and how.


Herbs, Leaves, Flowers, Fruit & Roots


Bergamot: powerful anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and restorative energy; can be used as either a tea or oil

Borage: alleviates stress, mental exhaustion, and depression; best in a tea or tincture

Chamomile: soothes feelings of abandonment and brings peace and comfort after the loss of a loved one; best in a tea

Elderberries: supports immune system function, which drops during times of great stress; best in a tea or syrup

Ginger: encourages us to actively pursue goals stuck in our subconscious; best in a tea or syrup

Grapefruit: the fragrance dispels anger and blame, and eases frustration; can be used either in a tea or oil

Hawthorne berries: supports cardiovascular function and contains antioxidants; best in a tea, tincture, or syrup

Kunzea: helps heal trauma of the news when loss is unexpected; best in a tea

Lavender: alleviates the burden of guilt, shame, and unresolved pain; can be used either in a tea or oil

Lemon: clears the mind of dark and muddy thoughts; can be used in either a tea or oil

Lemonbalm: mild sedative that works with depression, anxiety, and tension headaches; best in a tea

Linden blossoms: alleviates tension and stress, particularly when you feel others lack appropriate compassion for you or your loved one; best in a tea

Motherwort: calmative, rather than a sedative, to assist while maintaining a clear head and ability to function; best in a tincture

Passionflower: alleviates constantly circulating and unhealthy thoughts; best in a tea or tincture

Rose: heals despair, soothes grief and shock, releases traumatic injury, and serves as a source of comforting self-love; can be used either in a tea or oil

Rosehips: one of the highest sources of Vitamin C to support immune system function; best in a tea or syrup

Valerian root: promotes healthy relaxation and sleep; **can cause the opposite effect in some people**; best in a tea or tincture


Essential oils & Resins


Cedarwood: facilitates the ability to stay strong during challenging emotional times

Cinnamon bark and leaf: provides a safety shield as we face the outside world

Cypress: encourages calming, strength, and steadfastness during a transition

Frankincense: soothes overwhelming thoughts; this is a psychoactive substance, so use caution

Geranium: provides grounding and stability, especially in the face of inappropriate actions to loss

Myrrh: promotes inner stillness and peace; this is a psychoactive substance, so use caution

Neroli: quells anger and restores hopefulness

Sandalwood: quiets the mind and encourages contemplative meditation

Vetiver: grounds us after a loss

Ylang ylang: tempers rage and imparts a sense of tranquility


Adaptogens


Eleuthero root, ashwaganda, astragalus root, echinacea, holy basil, rhodiola, shisandra, and licorice root are all known for their ability to both support the immune system and help bring the body into balance; best used in teas and tinctures


Teas & Tinctures


Grateful Heart Tea by Mountain Rose Herbs: Hawthorne leaf and flower, lemonbalm, rosehips, dandelion leaf, ginkgo, oatstraw, bilberry fruit, Hawthorne berries, ginger, lemon peel, motherwort, and meadowsweet flower


Olwyn’s Heart Elixir by Linden Tree Herbals in Ann Arbor, MI: wildcrafted Hawthorne berry and flower, crabapple bark and fruit, rose buds, flower, and hips, cardamon, cinnamon, local Michigan honey, spiced rum, organic grain alcohol, and distilled water


Recipes


Herbal Grief Tea

6 parts motherwort

4 parts rose petals

2 parts each of Hawthorne berry, linden, and violet

1 part each of cardamom and cinnamon bark


Combine herbs and mix well. Store in a labeled glass jar. To use, add 2 teaspoons of Herbal Grief Tea mix to 8 oz of just-boiled water. Steep for 10 minutes before straining. Sweeten as desired, drink, and enjoy 2-3 cups a day.


“Heart Be Well” Syrup

3 cups cold water

½ cup Elderberries

½ cup Hawthorne berries

¼ cup rosehips

1 cinnamon stick

¾ to 1 cup raw local honey

1.5 oz brandy or Skullcap tincture (optional preservative)


Combine herbs with cold water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow herbs to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and mash the berries in the liquid mixture. Strain the herbs through cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice. Measure the liquid and add an equal amount of honey. Gently heat the honey and juice for a few minutes until well combined, but do not boil! Stir in brand or tincture if you’d like and pour the finished syrup into sterilized glass bottles. Label and keep refrigerated for up to 6 months.


For more information, I highly recommend the site The Untamed Alchemist.

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