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Trying to Escape Our Hellish Reality with Motherwort, a Very Chill Herb

Callie Beusman

Callie Beusman

It's hard to ignore the fact that everything is awful. Recently, though, a group of witches told me about an herb that would make me feel like I'm "being embraced by Mother Earth."

If you are like me and spend a lot of time interacting with the modern media landscape, you are perpetually consumed with unpleasant emotions, compulsively staring at your phone and vacillating between existential dread, existential terror, and an inexplicable well of anger that draws continuously from the fact that no one has uncovered the truth about Lena Dunham's dog.

It is hard not to think about the fact that we are hurtling towards several different apocalyptic situations in the most embarrassing way possible while reaffirming our ugliest impulses as a society at every available opportunity. Much has been written about self-care in the age of Trump, and there are countless potential palliatives for this horrible modern condition: I could quit drinking, for instance, or get a regular person hobby, or stop bringing my phone everywhere with me, including and especially the bathroom. Unfortunately, none of these solutions vibe well with my main personality traits: laziness and intemperance.

Recently, I found something that actually works for me: motherwort tincture. Motherwort is an herbaceous perennial plant in the mint family; I first heard about it at a witch party a few months ago. The witch-party-host offered it around, and, cognizant of the fact that it is exceptionally rude to not take an unfamiliar substance when it's presented to you at a social gathering, I accepted.

"What does it do?" I wondered as she put three drops into my water.

"It makes you feel like you're being embraced by Mother Earth," she responded nonchalantly.

Motherwort, the blessed herb. Photos via Wikipedia Commons

In an article for Witches & Pagans magazine, Wiccan author Jamie Wood characterizes motherwort's effects as such: "It helps promote relaxation, encourages a positive mood, and calms an edgy mind." I would describe the sensation of taking it as subdued euphoria. You feel as though you're pleasantly outside yourself—not enough to be alarming or disorienting, but enough to make you feel alienated from your sense of shame and trepidation at being alive. You don't feel high or intoxicated, necessarily, just sort of blissfully unbothered.

Among the herb's most ardent proponents, anecdotal evidence of its benefits abound. It's traditionally associated with the heart, and herbalists claim it can help regulate blood pressure and treat anxiety. (As with many traditional medicines, its effects haven't been widely studied or subjected to rigorous scientific analysis, and its interactions with other medicines aren't well known—as researchers put it in an article published in the Journal of Women's Health, "contemporary research is lacking on efficacy and safety." It is only my personal, uninformed opinion, as someone who is not and never will be a doctor, that motherwort is chill as hell.)

Those who practice traditional or herbal medicine insist with great enthusiasm that motherwort has a vast litany of uses. It's believed to stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and promote robust menstruation, which I learned the hard way, after I served motherwort tea to a friend and she texted me the following morning, "I bled so much in my bed it looks like someone was murdered." I recently read an account, on a website called crazyherbalist.com, from a woman who was suffering intense digestive cramps to the extent that she could barely move. Within 15 minutes of her taking two dropperfuls of motherwort tincture, she alleged, she experienced "no cramping, no bloating, a few big ass farts, and it was done." Jamie Wood, the Wiccan author I quoted earlier, took an entire shot glass full of motherwort tincture—I literally gasped when I read this measurement—before her estranged and difficult-seeming son, Skyler, returned home from college.

"Within minutes a calm washed over me that was so complete, and so utterly delicious, that I just knew with total confidence that we would all be okay," she wrote.

During the height of my zealousness, I took to calling the herb "Witch Xanax," and would carry it around in my purse. One of my friends, who I successfully converted to the cause, recently texted me to express her gratitude: "Life is soooo much better as a witch Callie," she wrote, clearly on motherwort at the time. But others who were close to me started to grow slightly concerned. "This is the most relaxed I've ever seen you," a different friend told me, uneasily, as I smiled beatifically at my surroundings and refrained from making unkind comments. "You haven't had an opinion in 25 minutes."

I decided to turn to an expert for her opinion: Susun Weed, a noted herbalist and green witch. She's published several books and trained countless apprentices through her renowned Green Goddess workshop, but I was most awed and impressed by the main photo on her website, which shows her laughing benevolently in front of a waterfall while wearing a bandana. It is the perfect image of a mindset I aspire to but will likely never reach.

Susun's voice was warm and effusive when she picked up my call; I felt like she was speaking to me from another dimension in which discomfort was a logical impossibility. She asked what I was using motherwort for, and I told her I was taking it to help with my anxiety. "Wonderful!" she cried rapturously. I expressed that I felt it was unfair that not everyone was aware of motherwort, and explained that I fervently believed everyone should know of its existence. "You're so right!" she responded emphatically. "Everyone should know about motherwort." I felt very at peace.

When asked what the effect would be if someone—say, for example, me—were to drink too much motherwort tincture, Susun rejected the entire premise of the question, in the warmest way possible. "What is the effect of eating too much rice?" she demanded rhetorically. "What is the effect of drinking too much mint tea?" I emailed Jamie Wood with a similar concern, and she was also comfortingly dismissive. "Motherwort is a powerful ally and can be quite forceful; however, I don't believe She can be addicting," she replied, including a winky face for extra reassurance. (According to the University of Michigan Health System, motherwort's side effects include diarrhea, uterine bleeding, and stomach pain.)

What I'm doing when I take motherwort, according to Susun, is nourishing myself holistically—physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, sexually, and creatively, though she would strongly object to me separating these realms of being as though they weren't all interconnected. "Motherwort literally strengthens the heart and spiritually strengthens the heart," she said. "I know you experienced a softening and opening of the heart when you used it. Anxiety makes the heart hard. Part of not feeling anxious is feeling happy in your heart."

There's a historical connection between the herb and the figure of the divine feminine. Despite this traditional association, Susun extensively and ebulliently stressed that femininity is a cultural construct. "I would never call motherwort feminine, but I would call motherwort a goddess, and I would call motherwort a woman," she affirmed. "She's a woman warrior, she has heart, and she tells us to take heart and to stand up and to protect what's worth protecting."

In this case, I suppose, I am protecting my sanity.