Energetics of Herbs
Remember being hot on a summer day, and then eating some watermelon to feel cooler? Or after putting too much pepper on your food, feeling yourself heat up and starting to sweat? In both instances, you were experiencing plant energetics.
In many healing traditions, herbs are classified by their temperature, flavor and reaction in the body, classifications that are part of the energetics of an herb or food. When choosing herbs for your horses, it is important to keep in mind the plant energetics.
Having an awareness of the thermal energy of an herb can help you make more informed decisions of which herb would work best for your horse’s condition. Hot and warm herbs increase circulation and disperse stagnation in the body, while cold and cool herbs decrease inflammation and assist in constricting capillaries. Neutral herbs are used in both hot and cold conditions.
Focusing on the how an imbalance is manifested in a horses body helps determine what herb would work best for bringing the horse back in balance. Meet Chance, he has a fever, hot to the touch, with swollen glands, excessive thirst and is irritable. Chance would be considered to have a hot (inflammation) condition, cooling herbs would be helpful to cool the body and bring him back in balance. Then there is Princess, she needs extra blankets, looks depressed, has a white/clear nasal drainage, lack of thirst. Princess has a cold condition and warming drying herbs would be helpful to bring her back in balance. This is a simplified version of what can be complex.
Taste and Energies
Another way to help determine the energetics of an herb is through flavor. Tastes or flavors are classified as:
- spicy (acrid)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine these flavors are paired with a meridian and an action. Sweet herbs are associated with supporting the spleen meridian. Herbs that are sour have astringent properties and are usually paired with the liver meridian. Salty herbs benefit the kidney meridian and help to disperse masses. Bitter herbs are paired with the heart meridian and help remove heat (inflammation) and toxins. Lastly, spicy or acrid herbs increase circulation and are associated with the lung meridian.
Understanding the thermal nature, flavor and affinity each herb has for a meridian helps the herbalist choose the most appropriate herb for your horse and the condition being treated.
Another taste to include is the bland category. Examples of bland herbs are slippery elm, Irish moss, chia seed and psyllium seed. These herbs cool and moisten inflamed tissue, with some acting as bulk laxatives.
From a Horse’s Perspective
To get an idea of the taste of an herb, or to understand what your horse might taste, put the herb or food in the front of your mouth, slowly chew and notice the flavor. Seaweed, for example, would have a salty flavor and neutral quality, while a spicy food like garlic would have a warming and drying quality. Alfalfa is an example of a slightly cooling herb with a mineral salt taste. Because of alfalfa’s slightly cooling nature, it is often recommended for horses with ulcers (inflammation). Fenugreek is an example of a moist, warming bitter herb. A sweet herb that is slightly moist and warm is Licorice.
Getting to know herbs through their taste, temperature and reaction in the body can help you choose herbs more effectively to bring balance to your horse.
Schwartz C, Four Paws Five Directions, Celestial Arts Publishing 1996.
Winston D, The Energetics of Herbs – The 10 Tastes, DW-CHS 2011, Washington NJ.
Pengelly A, The Constituents of Medicinal Plants, Sunflower Herbals 1996.