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An Herbal Healing Story
from an Herbalist’s Notebook
by Robin Rose Bennett
Author of Healing Magic:
A Green Witch Guidebook to Conscious Living
An Herbal Healing Story from an Herbalist’s Notebook
by Robin Rose Bennett
Author of Healing Magic: A Green Witch Guidebook to Conscious Living
A 49-year-old man who has a history of sinus problems and bone loss in the mouth had been overworking and not sleeping enough. He woke up one Saturday morning to realize a little mouth problem that had been bothering him had become a deep and really serious mouth infection. It had been well over a year since his dentist had told him he absolutely had to have a root canal done on one tooth, but he used herbs successfully, particularly crediting daily, all-day, all-night poultices of fresh cinquefoil leaves with the healing that led to a new x-ray and the dentist’s agreement that he no longer needed root canal. Now that tooth was loose and he was miserable, face swollen, and in such pain when I got there that I strongly considered suggesting he go get emergency dental treatment. He was so woozy and disoriented I was even concerned that the infection might be moving through his sinuses and wondered if its spread might in some way be endangering his brain.
However, he wanted me to try to help him first, which is what I’ve usually done for myselfwhen I’ve experienced mouth infections, or abcesses. This particular area of health challenge has been my own most vulnerable point. I ran away from my first dentist - out of the chair, out of the building, and down the street - when I was only 6 or 7 years old. My bone/gum/tooth challenges were also my first draw into the world of herbal healing back in 1978, so I have not only derived the greatest benefit (finding my path) from my most ongoing health challenge, but I also have a wealth of personal, herbal experience to draw upon.
He worked intensively with tinctures of Astragalus and Echinacea roots, immune system herbs which are well known, respectively, for deep, chronic and surface, acute problems, and with Witch Hazel leaf and bark (which I’ll focus on in this story). He took 2 droppers full of each tincture in just boiled water 4-5 times a day…plus adding in freshly gathered Witch Hazel leaf and twig infusion by the second day. I also suggested rinses with myrrh and Witch Hazel tinctures, which he did, mixing 1 1/2 droppers of each tincture in about ½ a cup of water and swishing the mixture around his mouth for 30-60 seconds, “or as long as I could take it” he said, when I asked him. (He didn’t like the myrrh, which I don’t use as a matter of course. I like lots of other herbs even better for the mouth - Plantain, Sage, and Rosemary, for a few examples) but in this case Myrrh’s STRONG anti-microbial action seemed called for. I had a freshly made Witch Hazel leaf and twig oil, which I generally use for clients with venous circulation problems in the legs, and had him freely slather the Witch Hazel oil on his jaw, and inside his mouth because the infection had quickly spread to the upper teeth, and numerous upper and lower teeth felt loose now and the gums were all raw and tender. He slept as much as he possibly could all weekend long. By Sunday morning, he was in better shape, and in less pain, by late Sunday he was feeling much better, and was no longer in pain, only discomfort, although his partner still had to puree his food for him.
By Monday, his level of healing seemed downright miraculous. He didn’t go to work, and continued to rest, and cut down only slightly on the herbs. He planned to go to the dentist within the week to get thoroughly checked out. He wanted to wait till he was in no discomfort or pain at all and as fully healed as possible before letting himself get poked and prodded in a sensitive mouth, a practice he learned, wisely or not, from me.
He'd originally thought to take Yarrow tincture or infusion,which normally I would,too, but Witch Hazel was clearly the answer for him. They are both anti-inflammatory and anti-infective and pain relieving. In a way it is puzzling why I chose one over the other, but I think the extremely high tannins and bioflavanoids in Witch Hazel played a part in that choice. When there is inflammation and infection in the mouth, an excellent supply of bioflavanoids is needed (as in rose hips, for another good astringent example) and Witch Hazel provided an abundant variety of gifts - the properties and actions needed - in one herb. Mainly, though, the Witch Hazel was less drying than Yarrow, though still dry, and cooler than Yarrow, too, and this infection felt so very hot and congested. He may have had a fever but I don’t remember us checking that with a thermometer. The Witch Hazel is extraordinarily astringent and perhaps just as wound healing as yarrow, and it really moves the blood.
An interesting side note is I’ve found that you can’t safely use Witch Hazel as continuously as Yarrow. I remember one client using it several times daily for broken capillaries in her face, and being very happy with the results, she continued with no break for months (I don’t remember if it was tincture, or infusion, or both). Upon cutting herself accidentally, her blood that flowed out of the superficial wound was orange!
One final oddity of the wonderful Witch Hazel is that I’ve found the longer I let the infusion sit, even with no plant material left in the bottle, the more sweet and delicious the infusion tastes, quite different if you taste it after 4 hours, or a day or two or three. I don’t have any idea why that is, maybe someone else with more knowledge of plant chemistry can tell us.
Finally, energetically/spiritually/magically, upon questioning it turned out that the central, relevant challenge the man had been facing had to do with claiming his unique voice, his personal power and part to play in his chosen communities of home, work, and recreation. He’d been feeling unable to fully express himself without the fear of alienating others, and therefore, had been feeling blocked and stifled in his personal expression. That’s Witch Hazel’s spirit gift, as I hear it from her. She helps us to claim our uniqueness by expressing ourselves truthfully in ways that honor who we are as individuals and at the same time, helps us bond and unite with our friends and allies in our chosen communities.
A follow-up to this story:
When he went back to work on Tuesday, I warned him to be careful not to overdo just because he was totally out of pain and the infection seemed cleared. We’re all prone to this, but I find that the last 5-10% of any healing is the slowest, most important part and I was concerned that he could relapse. Not being sick is different than being in total health again.
He felt so perfectly great by Thursday night that he ignored that he’d beenoverworking and not sleeping enough, again. Does this sound familiar? It’s where the story started! Having hit his high point and stride, he rode it hard, but not like a wave, more like a wave crashing! He relapsed the next evening, and it really hit him while he was having dinner.
By Friday evening, between not enough sleep and having eaten a tough breadcrest, he felt terrible and was in pain. He went right to sleep and after a couple of hours felt considerably better. With his input, we adjusted his herbs slightly to: 1 dropper of Echinacea, 2 droppers of Witch Hazel and 3 droppers of Astragalus root and changed the rinses to equal parts of sage and rosemary tinctures mixed into ½ cup of water, used frequently. The next day he let go of the Astragalus root and started using 2 droppers Echinacea and 2 droppers Yarrow with 1 dropper of Hawthorn or Rose Hips or Comfrey tinctures, 3-5x daily. He forgot to apply the Witch Hazel oil on his jaw and gums, and instead used mullein leaf oil over his sinuses because they were achy, and that worked really well. He drank several cups daily of comfrey leaf and horsetail tea, as well as some fresh black birch twig tea, which he found refreshing. By Sunday he was back to simple discomfort, which felt like a victory.
He worked more gently the following week, and by mid-week reported feeling fantastic, and as I write this, he is due to get a dental check up the next day. He feels confident that he is well, and his spirits are high. He realizes that even if he does need to get a dental procedure, he is in much better shape for it now. Of course he is also doing his best to remember to speak his truth in the moment and to take gentler care of himself and get enough sleep. The herbs are great healers, but they can’t do it without us! They can only help us to fulfill our own healing intentions. Whenever we are clear about what those intentions are, herbs are simply the most remarkablehealing allies on the planet!
© July 2004 Robin Rose Bennett
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Other articles by Robin Rose Bennett
An Herbalists Notebook part 1
An Herbalists Notebook part 2
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