To be clear before I go on, it is VITAL that you maintain a 100% positive identification policy with the plants you ingest. If you're gathering your own plants, be absolutely certain you know what you're picking before you put it into or onto your body. If you're getting tinctures or teas from an herbalist, ask them from where they source their material, and establish trust with your herbalist. Following your intuition in working with plants is a powerful way to *deepen* your healing, but nothing can beat experience and background knowledge.
So, what do I mean by "feel your way?" I'll illustrate it with personal experience. One day, while on my shift at the yoga studio and apothecary where I study, practice and work, I noticed a new tincture on the shelf from my teacher, Ashley. She had it labeled "I Need A Temple." (She also carries tinctures with names like "I am Moody," "I am Angry," "I am Exhausted," with single plants aiming to address each of those conditions.) I glanced at the back of the label for the plant(s) included- this one was Yerba Santa, Erodictyion californicum. I'd heard of that, but never knowingly taken it before. To be honest, I don't remember how I was feeling that day. I don't remember if I needed a temple. I was intrigued by the name, the beautiful plant name, and the novelty of a new tincture to recommend to clients at the studio. I put a drop on my tongue.
It was *delicious*. Instantly warming, with an expansive, spicy, intense flavor. It felt like the desert and sunshine and the prickly hills and mountains of the West Coast and Southwest (my homelands). It felt a strong and protective and fiery. I almost laughed out loud at how immediate and immersive my reaction to it was. I don't remember whether I felt like I needed a temple that day, but I know I found one. Yerba santa was my first plant ally. (This was even before I started studying herbalism!) And I found it because I felt my way to it. My body knew before I did that the medicine was right for me. Upon later study, I found out that yerba santa is excellent for damp lungs, congestion, and persistent coughs that chafe the throat. I'm a damp person internally, so small wonder this dry desert plant felt fantastic getting into my blood. It's also used as an emotional bolster for those carrying grief in their chests. That was a time in my life where I had the weight of a toxic relationship pressing on me, and I was constantly sad and confused by it. Again, small wonder Erodictyion was right for me. As I've kept this plant nearby in the almost two years since I found it, I've studied it, and every new piece of information lines up with a need I have or have had since I've been using it. It's a digestive bitter! It's warming and drying! It's stimulating and astringent! Yes, yes, and yes, to my particular system.
The lesson for me, and I hope for you, is that as you explore herbs, testing and tasting new plants and new preparations, you rely on the science we share here, and on the experience of herbalists much later into their careers than me, but also that you listen to what your body tells you. If a plant tastes especially pleasing to you, particularly if it doesn't seem to be as delicious to everyone, it likely has some affinity to your body chemistry. I gleefully pushed yerba santa into the hands of everyone I knew, and not a single person liked the taste or the energetics. Further evidence that this plant was my ally, not a panacea. If you're taking medicine your body needs, I believe you'll know. The body is wise, and will tell you.
Legalese: In our society, only MDs get to say they are "treating" disease. As such, this blog post has not been analyzed by the FDA, and the advice within has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Please see a health practitioner for medical treatment.