April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
— T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot was writing in post-war England, hence the dreary rain. But if he was living in Alberta, I am sure his first line would remain unchanged.
A friend’s grandfather describes April as “winter and spring duking it out!” The windstorm over the weekend certainly carried a punch!
This April’s unfulfilled promise of warmth — warm sun, warm soil, warm skin — is hard on the nerves. A bounty of green creativity is anxious to bloom. This stalled creative energy is fraying my nerves.
To calm the throes of hope and despair spring blows in, I sip fragrant teas blended with herbs from the mint family (lamiaceae) while sitting in a sunny window with Sam, my large black cat purring in my lap.
Herbs from the mint family are perfect for frayed nerves. The strong square stems that supports these gentle yet potent plants are a signature for their medicine that helps one hold a strong centre when the winds of change blow.
So what herbs are in this fragrant tea?
The blend begins with uplifting peppermint (menthe piperita). Herbalists from India say, “If one could name all the fish in the Indian Ocean, one could name all the uses of peppermint.”
In western herbal medicine, peppermint is a stimulant. This is not the stimulation of caffeine or drugs that enhance the effects of the stress hormone norepinephrine. Just as peppermint calms an anxious stomach, it also helps an upset mind digest the events of the day. In other words, it helps one be in the moment.
I add some rosemary (rosmarinus off.) to the spring blend. There is a saying amongst British herbalists, “Rosemary to remember.”
Rosemary increases circulation throughout the body, in particular the brain. It increases oxygen levels in the brain. Rosemary clears up the foggy, grey feeling in the mind and body left over from winter’s inactivity.
If restlessness gets a hold of me while I am patiently waiting to plant my gardens, I add a little catnip (nepeta cataria) to the blend. Catnip’s mellow disposition eases tension from my body while I watch my purring, gentle cat go frantically insane!
In cats with a genetic predisposition, catnip simulates feline pheromones. This sends them in frenzied wildness.
In humans, catnip calms anxious minds and restless bodies. It is frequently used in sleep formulas for both adults and children. I find a small amount of catnip added to the tea helps me become a little more accepting of winter overstaying his welcome.
There is a common weed from the mint family that has taken root in a small portion of my garden. This weed is the ultimate in calming mint.
When the nasty winter wind bites me through my spring jacket just one too many times, I add this soulful herb to my tea.
This herb, commonly known as hedge nettle (stachy palustris), soothes an anxious heart and mind with the gentleness of a warm spring breeze. But don’t come into my garden and pull it out, as some people have been known to do. My bite can be worse than the April’s wind.
Luckily, hedge nettle is also known as woundwort. If the bite is too deep, a poultice of the mistakenly pulled plants can be used as a poultice to heal any injury.
Finally, I like to add a little hyssop leaf (hyssops off.) to the spring tea blend. Like other members of the mint family it is stimulating to the mind while calming to the body.
Hyssop has a particular affinity for the respiratory system. It dilates the bronchi, helping to release the stale air of winter and take in a fresh breath of spring air. Drinking hyssops is like opening the windows of the house up on that first warm spring day.
To round out the tea, give it a base note one could say, I add my favourite herb, nettles (urtica dioica). Although not a member of the mint family, and without a particular affinity for the frayed nerves of April, nettles is a perfect herb for a spring cleanse which should really be renamed Cleansing of Old Man Winter.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.