Coming up on the Equinox, we have been meditating on ideas of balance- between night and day, light and dark, Sun and Moon, and the different healing effects that herbs can give us. Some of these complementary Spagyrics are discounted for our Equinox sale, but getting that list together brought up a few other herbs that bring balance in interesting ways, too.

In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, multi-herb formulas are used much more than in Western herbalism, which historically has favoured “simples“- single herb preparations of tea or tincture. We have learned much from those systems for bringing diverse plant effects together in a harmonious whole, and many of our formulas are based on Eastern ideas, even when they contain Western herbs.

In these modalities, there are different roles that each plant plays in a sort of hierarchy or structure, with leading herbs that carry the main effect, supported by herbs which modify, direct, detoxify, or unify the main constituent. Many of these support herbs are also the most reliably tonic when used alone, as well, bringing to mind a major division between holistic and allopathic medicine.

Allopathic medicine favours chemicals with one, narrow, predictable effect; while tonic herbalism prefers herbs with multi-directional effects on many body systems. These herbs with complex actions are difficult to fit into the allopathic paradigm, but in Chinese medicine they are considered superior to herbs which have only one action and hence, less healing intelligence. In our work helping our customers select single Spagyrics, and in our own formula creation, we find a few very versatile herbs come up often, either because they cover so much healing territory themselves, or due to their harmonizing effect on other herbs, or both.

The classic Chinese harmonizing herb is Licorice. This sweet root with the distinctive flavour is used as a single herb for coughs, throat and digestive issues, and for its balanced steroidal effect on the immune system and inflammation throughout the body. In combination with other herbs, it both magnifies their healing effects and lessens any toxicity or harshness they may have. It seems to bring other plants together into a coherent formula, and its sweet taste helps the formula be more palatable, as well.

Our Licorice Essence is useful in many of these same ways, and we find ourselves including it in combination with Osha and Mullein for respiratory issues, with Wild Yam for digestive inflammation, and with Calendula for skin problems, especially when any of these imbalances are related to immune dysfunction.

From Ayurvedic medicine, but perhaps belonging to all herbalists now because of its usefulness, we have Turmeric root. This vivid orange rhizome is an amazing herb- powerfully anti-inflammatory and detoxifying to nearly any system or function of the body. Turmeric’s rich but bitter taste shows a natural affinity for the liver and digestive tract, where it excels at calming inflammation, improving digestion, increasing absorption of nutrients, and balancing conditions of both depletion and excess.

And, like many helper herbs, Turmeric can be directed by pairing it with another herb that has an affinity for the target system being worked on. To increase its digestive and metabolic effects, our Turmeric Essence pairs well with liver herbs such as Dandelion or Milk Thistle. For a digestive system invaded by pathogens, Turmeric works well with Yerba Mansa, while Yarrow brings out Turmeric’s joint-soothing effects for arthritis and injuries.

For more chronic issues, our Turmeric Spiritualized Essence acts on the Spirit level of vitality and balance, and we’ve seen good results combining it with Saffron for sluggish digestion, Tulsi for general clearing of energy and toxicity, and with Lion’s Mane and Ginkgo for its anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and nervous system.

Another Ayurvedic substance we consider a great helper is Shilajit, although we can’t really call it an herb! Shilajit, the “soul of the mountain”, is a resinous exudate that forms on the rock faces of the Himalayas, formed as the plant life of the mountains lives, dies, decomposes, and moves through the soil cycle and back out again.

Shilajit is exceptionally high in very assimilable minerals, especially iron, and also contains benzoic acid, which gives it an incense-like taste and strong anti-microbial action. Shilajit can be used raw as a (rather gritty) powder in smoothies or tonic foods, but it is extracted beautifully by our Spagyric process, with our strong emphasis on refining the mineral content of medicines along with the more usual tincture constituents of alkaloids and aromatics.

For depleted blood conditions, such as post-surgery or after a heavy menstrual cycle, combining Shilajit with Nettles and Codonopsis quickly brings back vitality and energy, although care should be taken with dosing, since iron can build up too much in the body. For this reason, Shilajit is not considered safe for children, who are at higher risk for iron toxicity, so use this combination with a light hand, just enough to gently return healthy balance.

As already mentioned, Shilajit is high in Benzoic acid, which is also found in the classic incense resins such as Frankincense and of course, Benzoin. This is the incense note underneath Shilajit’s more prominent agrestic scent, and it is the constituent that makes Shilajit a powerful purifying herb.

Like Turmeric, Shilajit can be directed by other herbs- in fact, combining our Essences of Shilajit and Turmeric creates an excellent treatment for digestive infections and imbalances related to toxicity, such as bad food or water. For respiratory infections, Shilajit can be used with Cordyceps during the recovery phase to bring back strength, and our Shilajit Spiritualized Essence used with our Saffron is a deep cleansing tonic to the entire system.

Astragalus Root is well-known as an immune system tonic, fortifying the wei Qi, or defensive energy around the perimeter of the body. Less well-known is the use of the seed of Astragalus, which has an energy like the root, but inside out. Taoists use Astragalus Seed for people who “leak energy“- those whose vitality and life force are easily drawn off by illness, stress, or other people. In more esoteric Taoist use, Astragalus Seed is used to contain the Qi and its power so that it can be focused like a laser and used for healing or martial arts practice.

Our Astragalus Seed Initiatic is excellent for all these uses, and we find we share samples of it quite often at events. It’s a nice, tight container for your own energy, so if being around crowds depletes you, or if you’re drained by one particular person in your life, this Spagyric can shore up your defenses and help you keep what’s yours, vitality-wise. It can also be used for spiritual practice such as the Taoists follow, or for other meditations for concentrating the inner subtle forces. We also include it in many of our Somalixir formulas, as it can help keep the action of energizing herbs like Ginseng contained and directed.

Another herb you’ll see in many of our Somalixir formulas is Tibetan Rhodiola. The roots of this beautiful succulent plant are used in and around Tibet as a tonic to physical and spiritual health. The Tibetan monks consider it a spiritual food, and take it to sustain themselves through long cycles of meditation and chanting, during which they abstain from food and rest. As a physical support, various species of Rhodiola are used by athletes for strength, stamina, and recovery.

In our experience, our Initiatic of Rhodiola supports all these uses, and is also a truly effective tonic to mood and emotional health. One of the ways that Rhodiola increases energy and endurance is by increasing endorphins, and this can have a very uplifting effect on the mood, as well. Many of our customers have reported fast and profound emotional healing from depression after using our Rhodiola for just a short time, and most of these people had found little success with more conventional herbal mood tonics like St. John’s Wort. We believe that this is due to the endorphin-boosting effects, which are quicker to take effect than the changes in serotonin that St. John’s Wort creates. Our Bliss Somalixir includes Rhodiola for this quality, as does our Rise & Shine.

But perhaps more importantly, Rhodiola is a tonic overall, and so helps with the health of the entire body-mind system. This aspect of the plant creates better and more healing effects the longer it is taken, as well as bringing a wonderful feeling of just being “plugged in” when using it. Life seems to flow better, the energies and causes behind things are understood more clearly, and it is easier to move one’s own life in harmony with that flow. This is the reason we include Rhodiola in so many of our Somalixirs- in formulas like Faith or Unity, it acts as an activator, “plugging in” the other Spagyrics to each other and to the user in a more connected way.