Meditation has long been used as a tool to bring us home, back to a calm and unwavering state of mind so that we can be at ease and at peace. Sounds easy right!? Most people who have ever sat down to meditate however, know just how difficult it can be to find stillness. Some days seem easier than others, when the conscious mind is filled with distractions and patterns that can cause agitation, preventing us from being able to relax. This is why it can help to turn to specific tools such as guided meditations, breathwork (pranayama) and yoga (asana) that allow us to steady our minds and prepare us for meditation. Another, often forgotten tool is the use of herbs!
While we often think of herbs as natural medicines that can help us with physical disease in the body, they can be equally supportive for our minds. Afterall, the body and mind are so intertwined that treatment of the two can’t be separated. Medicinal plants can be felt on many levels and thus they are a wonderful tool to use to deepen a meditation practice. Below are just some examples of herbs that can be useful if you are looking to induce focus and a sense of calm for your meditation practise.
By Tamara Welsh, Happy Herbalist
Ayurvedic Herbs: Brahmi & Tulsi
Two herbs to consider from Ayurvedic medicine are Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) and Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum). These two herbs have a reputation for strengthening the mind and creating a sense of calm. Brahmi is well known for its ability to improve memory and decrease anxiety. Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is an adaptogen, allowing the mind and body to better cope with a wide range of stressors. Tulsi is revered in India for its ability to bring clarity to the mind which is likely via many different actions such as lowering blood pressure, increasing cerebral circulation and through its anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties. It is used ceremonially in Hinduism to focus the mind during meditation, chanting and devotional practises connecting the mind, body and spirit.
If we look to South American traditional cultures, we can also see the use of plants in ritual to focus the mind and induce spiritual connection. Guayusa, an evergreen tree native to South America, is used by indigenous Kichwa families as they gather in the mornings to share dreams, myths and legends. Interestingly, Guayusa contains caffeine and is thus a stimulant, however its effects are described as being mystic and grounding rather than jittery and rushed.
Another plant from the America’s is Heimia salicifolia, which grows wild from Mexico to Argentina. This plant is known as Sinicuichi (or Sun Opener) by the Aztecs and is still used by Mexican shamans as a trace divination catalyst. The aerial parts of the plant are used to induce feelings of calmness and unity as it slows the heart beat, relaxes muscles and reduces blood pressure.
Similarly, Blue lily (Nymphaea caerulea) is speculated to have been used in shamanistic rituals in ancient Egyptian culture. The Blue lily plant is thought to have been cultivated and revered as images of the lotus flower can be found on ancient Egyptian tomb depictions. Its use by priests and shamans is likely because of the psychoactive properties of the flowers due to the alkaloids and glycosides they contain. Like Guayuasa, Blue lily has a stimulating yet relaxing effect, however Blue lily doesn’t contain any caffeine.
It’s also worth considering the impact that plants can have on the environment in which you sit down to meditate. Being surrounded by plants and greenery is calming and relaxing in itself and has been shown to have positive impacts on the state and clarity of mind. Also to consider is the aromatic qualities of plants and the ability of those scents to almost immediately impact our mood and mind. White sage smudging is an ancient practise by Native Americans that has become popular again in recent years. It is used to cleanse and purify a space of negative energy creating room for a new, fresh perspective. Similarly, Palo Santo was traditionally used by South American cultures in ceremony bring calm and clear energy to a space. This “holy wood” has an earthy, grounding scent that invokes a deeply intuitive feeling for peace and focus.
There are many ways we can use plants to connect, ground and turn inward, such as our meditation tea recipe. We’d love to know, how do you use herbs in your meditation practice?
Cohen MM. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec;5(4):251-9. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146554.
Wise G, Negrin A. A critical review of the composition and history of safe use of guayusa: a stimulant and antioxidant novel food. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(14):2393-2404. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2019.1643286. Epub 2019 Aug 1.
Poklis JL, Mulder HA, Halquist MS, Wolf CE, Poklis A, Peace MR. The Blue Lotus Flower (Nymphea caerulea) Resin Used in a New Type of Electronic Cigarette, the Re-Buildable Dripping Atomizer. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2017 Jul-Aug;49(3):175-181. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2017.1290304. Epub 2017 Mar 7.
Happy Herb Co provides referenced information for educational purposes only and does not make any therapeutic claims for any of their products. Please seek advice from a healthcare provider if you wish to use herbs for therapeutic purposes.