Using My Plant Medicines for Depression and Anxiety

detail of flower of Lysichiton americanus

Detail of flower of Western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)

Three years ago I went to visit one of my herbalist friends, Sean Donahue, who has an intuitive connection with the plants that truly awes me. We were talking about tinctures, trying various ones, and he gave me a few drops of Western skunk cabbage to try. All well and good, until a little while later when I found myself weeping with the rawness of another piece of past trauma surfacing. This was completely unexpected and quite embarrassing.

I’m not sure what Sean thought, but he reacted by calmly asking his partner to bring him various tinctures, which I put under my tongue and rubbed on my wrists (this latter was something I felt prompted to do intuitively). Within a short period of time I was feeling calm and cushioned mentally and emotionally, much better than when I took Xanax (generic name: alprazolam) for anxiety and emotional upset. It was like all the benefits of the drug with none of the annoying side effects (sleepiness, bodily twitchiness, residual anxiety).

This was around the time I started working with my plant medicines seriously and consistently to help deal with my depression and anxiety. I started with 3 to 5 herbs from my own garden (I love growing the plants and making my own tinctures) and took them daily, trusting that they would do something eventually, though not sure what.

The first thing I found was that my anxiety decreased. I only took alprazolam once or twice every couple of months, and then I stopped altogether. My anxiety was manageable for the most part without taking anything and when I needed something I used my herb tinctures and they worked as well as the meds and better.

Then I found that I hadn’t been depressed in months. This was a very strange feeling, as depression had been an almost constant companion since my early twenties. I understood that the plants I had been working with had gradually shifted both my physical and psychological foundation.

After a summer, fall, and then winter where I didn’t dip into depression I decided that I could finally start to take myself off the antidepressant I had been on for over 24 years. That, though, is another story that I will write about at another point.

 Beginning with Nutrition

Before I got to the point where I could consistently work with my plant medicines, though, I changed my diet in major ways. I learned about and started adopting a nutrient-dense way of eating and preparing my food. I soaked my grains and legumes, drank fermented beverages such as kombucha, and started avoiding overly-processed foods and any oils other than coconut, olive, and animal-based oils. I also took cod liver oil and a few supplements.

Until I shifted my diet I did not have the energy, physically or mentally, to work with my plant medicines. After I had been on the nutrient-dense diet for a few years, I had the energy to add the plants into my daily routine. Even before that, though, the fact of eating the way our ancestors did had lessened the severity of my depressions.

The journey out of depression and away from daily anxiety has been long and there have been many pieces to the healing journey. Plant medicines and diet are two big pieces, but by no means all. In healing from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, there are many avenues to healing and many things that can and do help. I recommend finding and using any and all that bring you help and healing, provided that you are taking care of yourself in doing so.


5 thoughts on “Using My Plant Medicines for Depression and Anxiety

  1. Thank you, Iris for sharing your story. I have long loved and occasionally used our local skunk cabbage as a flower essence. Do you have any sense about the connection between the two plants? Happy return of the Sun, Sarah

    • Hi Sarah, thank you. I don’t know much about the connection between the 2 plants. I know they are in the same family, but different genuses. The tincture that Sean gave me was given to him by Stephen Buhner, I believe. I know the energies of the 2 plants are different, but we’d have to ask Sean to get more clarity and info.

  2. Iris, I am Loy’s friend whom you met at her and Bruce’s nuptual last September. I love your website, especially your essays. Thank you so much!

    • Thank you, Gwen. I thought of you a couple days ago when I was at Barnes and Noble. I saw a magazine about making journals, and I was reminded of your book. I am glad to hear from you!

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