Some herbs are sun carriers. Their medicine holds the warming, life-giving, soothing & uplifting qualities that time spent basking in sunlight can bring. They lend energy and brightness to lethargy and depression, inspiring movement and encouraging endurance. They dry up dampness, dispelling the growth of unwelcome pathogens, and creating a vibrant terrain for diverse beneficial microbial growth. They help to soften and relax tight, sore, tense muscles and tissues. And with all of these offerings, they promote the healing of injured tissue, movement of stagnant blood and renewal of healthy flesh.
Here in Canada, weeks of winter days in impoverished sunlight can dampen the spirit. Being indoors more often, less exercise, slower metabolism, and a slower immune response can mean more tiredness and more tendency towards depression---on a physical, mental and emotional level.
Some of our sun carrying herbs, taken through the winter (and in other seasons, when called for) can help to balance and revitalize these sluggish states. I'd like to discuss three of my favourite wild sunlight herbs that meet this mark in varying ways. All three can be found in our local region of Southeastern Ontario (Canada).
St John's Wort Hypericum perforatum
St John's Wort (SJW) is harvested around the time of the summer Solstice, when its yellow-red flowers are in full bloom, and the days linger with sunlight. Its botanical name, Hypericum perforatum gives some clues about its healing nature. "Hypericum" carries the word "hyper" in it, meaning "higher" or "above". This medicine can help to lift heavy spirits, creating a space that allows for a more heightened perspective. Its species name, "perforatum" points to the tiny little translucent glands that dot its leaves. When you look at the leaves in the sunlight, you can see the light coming through these little glands, and they look like holes, or perforations. This is an herb that offers both a lift in perspective, and an ability to see the light shining through dark places. SJW has been studied extensively for its clinical benefits in depression and anxiety, and it has helped many people through periods of stagnation, darkness and depression.
This lifting aspect, and allowing light to seep in is just one of the ways that SJW carries sunlight. On a more physical level, it brings warmth to the tissues, stimulating blood flow, reducing inflammation and pain, and promoting healing relief to injured and arthritic areas. I infuse fresh SJW flowers in oil every summer to extract the medicine from this plant. This oil can be rubbed onto sore muscles and joints, as well as injured skin (from cuts, scrapes, etc) and inflamed or damaged nerves. When people are recovering from surgery, I often suggest to them to expose the site of the incision to the sunlight daily. This can help to speed and encourage the healing process. Applying SJW oil or salve to the site can also help with this process--although it should not be applied when exposing skin to sunlight to avoid burning. As a sun herb, SJW will accentuate the effects of sunlight, can therefore make one more sensitive to it.
St John's wort has a long history of use in clearing out microbial imbalances, cleansing pathogens and stimulating gentle detoxification. It is a superlative liver support, awakening the clearance processes there when they tend towards slowness or sluggishness. Because of its powerful liver stimulation, SJW does come with some cautions in therapeutic use, if it's taken alongside certain medications, however. The reason for this is that if the medications are metabolized through the same liver pathway as the SJW, and the SJW stimulates liver clearance, it could clear the meds out of the body quicker than intended, potentially impacting the duration of the meds' effects. Not all medications metabolize through the same liver process as SJW but a number of common ones do. For people wanting to work with SJW who are also taking pharmaceutical medications, it is advised to consult with an herbalist or another practitioner trained in herbal medicine and pharmacology before beginning to take it in regular, therapeutic doses. For pretty much anyone however, rubbing the infused oil of SJW onto the skin has no contra-indications, and is deeply soothing.
Goldenrod Solidago canadensis & spp
Goldenrod is a sunlight carrier worth knowing. Not only is it a widely abundant and generous herb in our region (and in many northern and temperate climates), but it also offers tremendous medicine. It's helpful to take as a tea for infections like colds and flu for stuffiness and congestion in the head, ears, nose and throat. Its antimicrobial medicine will help to clear out unwanted pathogens in these areas, reducing inflammation and drying up mucus buildup that comes with them. Allergies that bring symptoms in this area (such as hay fever) can also be relieved with goldenrod's support. It not only addresses bacterial infections and inflammation, but it's also a decently powerful anti-fungal herb. With a similar drying, revitalizing action to the sunlight, goldenrod can be employed anywhere in (or on) the body to help reduce and clear the effects of mold, candida overgrowth, athletes foot and other fungal infections. It is also a cleansing, detoxifying herb that works largely through the kidneys and bladder. This means it is very helpful in infections in these organs too as a soothing, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulating diuretic.
Like its blooms who arrive in mid-August and linger all the way through to late September, Goldenrod medicine lends endurance. I think of goldenrod flowers as gatherers and storers of sunlight. The plants spend the majority of the summer forming leaves and stems, without any indication of flowering until fairly late in the season. When the blooms burst forth at last, they glow with a rich, bright yellow that suggests a deep, enduring warmth like the long rays of sunlight on an early autumn afternoon. These flowers attract pollinators of all sorts to gather their stores of nourishment for months into the future. Their medicine lends this endurance energy to those who consume it. Goldenrod tea can be a wonderful drink on a day when there is lots to do, but less energy or motivation to do it. It can help to ease exhaustion, and gently stimulate movement out of depression. Like St John's Wort, Goldenrod also makes a beautiful, warming, anti-inflammatory infused oil. The fresh flowers can soak in a clear jar, covered in the oil of your choice (I often use sunflower oil) with a lid on it in the sunlight for about four weeks. When strained out, this oil can be massaged into sore places, used to help heal injured skin, and as mentioned above, rubbed into sites of fungal infection to help it to clear.
Birdsfoot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus
Birdsfoot Trefoil works in harmony with sunlight to make an energizing, uplifting flower essence. Flower essences are vibrational remedies, made with focused intention, from flowers, water and sunlight, and preserved with bit of alcohol. The vibrational aspect refers to the fact that the flower essences influence us primarily on a non-physical level, affecting our energy, mind and emotions much more than they have any sort of direct influence on the physical body. They are extremely diluted so that their medicine is safe to take, without concerns of contraindications. Instead, they nudge the system to change on a vibrational level. This translates to shifts in unhealthy psychological and/or emotional patterns when the appropriate remedy is chosen. If it is not the appropriate remedy, usually nothing will change at all. These fiery July blooms carpet open fields and lawns, like a reflection of bright summer sunlight growing all over the ground.
I think of birdsfoot trefoil flower essence as a remedy that brings energy and life force into a slow or stagnant system. It brings motivation to move and to heal. It can help those who are exhausted, depressed from lack of sunlight and lack of movement, and weak as they slowly recover from illness or a period of stress. Like its name (and the appearance of its flower) suggests, birdsfoot trefoil brings in the flitting, light energy of a bird. It helps us to take flight. The diluted remedy can be taken, just a few drops at a time in a glass of water. Its feeling is a bit like a sunny morning, and it is best to take this one early in the day to avoid energizing too much before bed time.
In a land where winter dominates the landscape for a decent chunk of the year, we're lucky to have access to sunlight medicine in the form of plants. When harvesting and preparing these medicines through the summer months, I give thanks to the sunlight embedded within them, which I know will help to carry us through until the soil softens and sprouts emerge, bringing us around again into a new season of growth.