A few weeks ago, a dear friend asked me for some help with the chronic pain she’s struggled with for years, and in putting together a package for her, I also went down a little rabbit hole of research.
Then, painkilling Spagyrics came up again for my recent talk to Caroline Casey’s Trickster Council group, and I did even more research. And since, as the song says, everybody hurts sometimes, I figured a series of articles on the specifics and nuances of herbal pain control would be useful to all of you!
In my research, herbs for pain seemed to sort into three main categories, which will be the three articles in this series:
- Part One: Classic Painkilling herbs – below
- Part Two: Muscle Relaxants & Anti-Spasmodics – coming soon
- Part Three: Anti-Inflammatories – coming soon
Classic Painkilling Herbs
The oldest and most classic of these are Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum, and Cannabis or marijuana. Both of these herbs are varying degrees of illegal to work with at all, and we are not able to legally offer them for sale, but they are good “archetype plants” to help us understand how herbal pain relief works.
Both plants’ constituents work to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain, and both affect neurotransmitters to bring a sense of well-being and elevated mood which can also lessen the sensation of pain.
Opiate and opioid type medicines tend to be better at blocking acute pain, such as from an injury or surgery; cannabinoids tend to be better for long-term and chronic pain, and their properties also include anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant effects, especially when the cannabis strain used is high in CBD.
So going through the properties of these two plants, we can tease out a few specific effects and nuances to how these plants help pain, and these subtleties can then help us understand other herbs with the same effects, as well as how to select the best one for particular types of pain.
In this article, I will discuss pain blocking herbs, some which are related to Poppies or which act in similar ways, and in the next two articles, I will discuss herbs which work through tension release and anti-inflammatory action. And, unsurprisingly, some herbs will be on more than one list!
This is the most poppy-like in its action, since it is a distant relative to Opium poppies. It does not contain opium and is not considered narcotic or addictive, but it is a reliable calmative, relaxant, and painkiller, and interacts with some of the same receptors as opiate medicines, blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Especially in Spagyric form, dosing of our California Poppy can be fine-tuned as needed, with smaller doses acting as a mild anti-anxiety remedy, and larger doses being more strongly sedative and painkilling. It is especially useful for pain that worsens at night or interferes with sleep, or pain that is tied up with anxiety.
Since anxiety-related pain often has a tension component, California Poppy can be used with Elephant Head, which will open blood flow and let the Poppy’s effects go deeper.
There is some botanical debate about this lovely forest flower, with many scientists putting it in the poppy family. It has long been used for pain, both physical and emotional, which can be seen in its signature “bleeding heart” shaped flower. The Eclectics used it for “female pain”, which I understand to mean gynecological pain, especially when it is tangled up with emotional distress and hormonal or endocrine imbalance.
Michael Moore describes it as a tonic for both the physical pain and emotional aftermath of an accident, violence, or stress, useful both to numb the pain and bring the mental state back to center.
In our work, we recommend our Bleeding Heart most often for emotional pain, especially grief and loss. In this use, it helps you delve into the loss to understand and process it, and so working with it can initially seem to make the sorrow worse. But if you stick with the process and allow Bleeding Heart to help you explore the painful spot within you, and learn from it, you will find it much easier to move forward and find joy again.
This herb is even more targeted to women’s health, most commonly used for hormonal imbalance, especially during menopause. There is ongoing debate about how it works, and whether it works by affecting the balance of hormones directly, or through a deeper tonic mechanism, but it is an excellent ally for all the common complaints of menopause.
Some research suggests constituents of Black Cohosh reduce hot flashes by interacting with opiate receptors, which play a role in temperature regulation. This interaction speaks to the uplifting but calming effects it has on all kinds of emotional distress, not just that of the change.
Black Cohosh will also be discussed in the anti-inflammatory collection, as it has significant aspirin-like properties for both reducing pain and inflammation and lowering temperature. Long before it was discovered by Europeans and used for hormonal balance, Black Cohosh was used by Native peoples for colds and flu, helping with the fever and the aches it causes, and bringing restful sleep. It combines well with Boneset for this use, which I’ll discuss more in the upcoming anti-inflammatories article.
Our Black Cohosh Essence is mildly calming at lower doses, but will induce sleep at higher ones, especially combined with Valerian, the two working better together than either alone. It is also anti-spasmodic, and especially useful for menstrual cramps and cyclical headaches.
For hormonal balance, it combines well with our Red Clover, which has estrogen-balancing properties as well as magnesium in its plant salts, enhancing the calming and antispasmodic effects. Personally, I find this combination very comforting and conducive to a deep feeling of well-being and peaceful strength.
I hope this introduction to some Spagyrics for pain has been helpful- stay tuned for the rest of the series, and in the meantime, you can find all our painkilling Spagyrics here.