The Art of Sageing Graciously
Herbs for Health & Well Being in the Elder Years
By Rosemary Gladstar
“Their life is simple and they are moderate in their ways. They work, but do not go without time spent in rest and relaxation. They do not go short on sleep and know how to retire, in the proper sense of the word, when night falls; indeed, they are able to shut out the impressions of the day and forget whatever worries there might be. Such people have the ability to overcome the ups and downs of life with a calm and cheerful spirit and without worrying themselves sick.” Dr. Vogel, one of the world’s most beloved nature doctors, was nearly 90 when he wrote this after observing his elderly friends. Born in 1902, he practiced herbal medicine for nearly 70 years.
There is great faddishness surrounding longevity. Scientists study it madly. Researchers research it. And cosmetic and supplement companies capitalize on it, sporting longevity in every bottle. Is there a cosmetic company in the world that doesn’t tote some product that prevents skin from `aging’, wrinkles from forming or the chin from double sagging? And how easy it is to get caught in this anti-aging campaign. For that, in essence, is what this assault really is. It has little to do with health and well being, peace of mind and useful service to the world, all things that make life worthy and meaningful whether we’re young or old.
Even in the best of health, eating the best diet, the skin wrinkles and the body shifts and changes with the years. In nature we see these same cycles of change; all of life, trees, flowers, the wild animals go through these cycles of birth, growth, and death. Hopefully, these shifts and changes are rewarded with a productive and vibrant life, the years graced by wisdom and life’s experiences. I have come to believe that our obsession with life extension and prolonging life with little thought to quality, is a reflection of our fear of mortality and the inadequacy of a belief system that fails to connect us to the great web of life.
The Key to living a healthy long life is to focus on balance, harmony, joy and service in life…..quality versus quantity.
Chi (pronounced che) is a Chinese term meaning essentially life force. It is the energy which activates all other energy; the form behind the form. When the term is used to describe the energy in the body, the bodies `chi’, we are referring to the body’s life force, the vital energy that flows through it. When one is in a state of mental and spiritual balance, the internal organs reflect this balance and disease cannot enter in. But when the chi is out of balance then the internal organs are vulnerable, and disease can enter more easily.
Herbal Actions that Support Longevity and Well Being
Herbs work in a multitude of ways to promote well being and longevity. This interaction between an herb and the human body is classified as the action of the plant. Every plant has a multitude of actions often determined by their chemical constituents and they are more often than not classified in more than one category. Following are the most common classifications for herbs that have an impact on human longevity.
Adaptogens: The most important group of herbs for promoting and restoring vitality for this age group. A term coined in 1947 by a Russian scientist, adaptogens describe substances that increase the body’s ability to adapt to the stress of these modern times and increases inherent resistance to disease. Adaptogenics are identified by their non-specific, broad health benefits. They increase the body’s inherent life force, increase stamina and endurance and improve the over quality of physical well being. By their very nature, adaptogens are non toxic and have no side effects even when used over along period of time, which many of them are meant to be.
Alteratives (blood cleansers and purifiers): This is the classic old fashion term for herbs that have a specific cleansing and nourishing effect on the liver and positively ‘alter’ an existing condition in the body. Though they are very broad based in their modes of action, all nourish and cleanse the blood of toxins through stimulating of liver functions.
Anti-oxidants: these herbs are in the news front these days, most likely because of people’s ongoing fascination with anything that happens to be radical. Anti-oxidants refers to a substance that controls or eliminates free radicals, single paired electrons that can damage cellular structure, and reduces cellular oxidation.
Cardiac Tonic: herbs that support the over all health and function of the heart and vascular system. Tonics infer that they can be used with no known side effects and are meant to be taken on a regular basis.
Hepatic; directly effecting the liver functions (similar to the term alterative).
Nervines; herbs that have a beneficial effect on the central and peripheral nervous system. They can be relaxing, stimulating, anti-spasmodic and or soothing to the nervous system. Some are used for relaxation and to calm the system, while other are used to stimulate and activate the central nervous system. These are among the most popular herbs in America.
Stimulants: herbs that activate and energize the system. They have a direct mode of action on the body systems and can interact with the glandular system, the nervous system or any other system of the body. Stimulates are classified, for want of better words, as either stimulant tonics or high-powered stimulants herbs. Stimulant tonics are comprised of herbs that have a gently activating, warming and/or nourishing effect on the nervous system and create energy by balancing the system. High-powered stimulants are the more popular and often abused `quick energy fix’ herbs. They are generally high in caffeine, theobromine and other such alkaloids.
Tonics: tonic is the old fashion word for a substance that nourishes and increases the `tone’ of tissue and improves the function of the organs. When an herb is classified as a tonic it means basically that this is a safe, effective herb that can be used on a regular basis with no side effects (unless idiosychrinic in nature). It does not mean less powerful. Remember, in Chinese and Ayruvedic medicine, tonics are Superior medicines because they feed and nourish the soul as well as the body. These herbs are among the most important herbs in the world as they enhance life force and promote longevity.
Mind Expanding: I included this group of herbs because they allow the mind to awaken and stay fresh, an important factor in aging. Mind expanding doesn’t necessarily mean hallucinogenic or illegal substances such as peyote and/or magic mushrooms, though these are certainly one way to expand your viewpoint on the world rather quickly. It can mean any herb or process that opens the mind and expands one way of seeing, thinking, and viewing the world, very important if one is on the road to long life.
What Are We Talking About?
Longevity ~ a long duration of life (Webster)
Vitality ~ Energy, endowed with life; physical or intellectual vigor; the ability to live, grow, and develop (Webster)
Well Being ~ the state of being healthy, happy, or prosperous (Webster)
Homeostasis ~ A maintained state of health where all checks and balances between interdependent elements of mind, body and spirit are functioning harmoniously (G. Tilford)
Super foods & Supplements for Well Being for Radiant Well Being
• Superfoods are whole foods that are naturally concentrated in important nutrients. They are nature’s original supplements and may actually be the precursor of the supplement industry. Although supplements, i.e., vitamin and mineral pills, have their place and are useful therapeutic agents, superfoods provide whole spectrum nutrients as only nature can. Most supplements, on the other hand, while useful in the manner that drugs can be are generally made from unnatural substances contrary to what the labels may claim.
• Flax Seed ~ Like most vegetable oils, flaxseed contains linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. But in addition it contains significant amounts of another essential fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, an Omega-# oil. EFA are the healthy fats that protect our bodies from degenerative disease and boost brain power. Help maintain energy, insulate your body and have a protective device for the heart and other organs. Useful for heart conditions, skin, hormonal balancing, brain function. 1 tablespoon or more daily. Signs of deficiency: dry red skin, dermatitis, reduced vision at night, glaring headlights,
• Sea Weed (also called sea vegetables and sea greens) “are the most nutritionally dense plants in the world. have a superior nutritional content. Ounce for ounce, they are higher in vitamins and minerals than any other food. One of nature’s highest sources of trace minerals and vegetable protein, they provide a full spectrum of beta carotene, amino acids, calcium, chlorophyll, and fiber. Though salty, the ‘salt’ is a chelated combination of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium iron and trace minerals” (Linda Page’s Healthy Healing).
• Medicinal Mushrooms; Shitake, Reishi Mushrooms, Lions Mane, Chaga, Maitake, Cordycepts, and others. Amazing these mushrooms!
• Spirulina ~ “These primitive organisms were among the first life forms. In spirulina, we find three and one-half billion years of life on this planet encoded in their nucleic acids (RNA/DNA). At the same time, algae supplies that fresh burst of primal essence that manifested when life was in its birthing stages”, from Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.
• Bee Pollen (use sparingly and only when needed out of concern for the bees)~ “A Russian study in the province of Georgia, where many of the natives live to be well over 100 and a few to the age of 150, revealed that that the majority of these centenarians were bee-keepers who ate raw, unprocessed honey with all its `impurities’, that is with pollen, every day”, From Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
“A single granule of pollen is far too small to be seen with the naked eye. Yet this tiny dynamo is capable of producing new life in the form of a flower, a fruit, an entire tree. Spread by bees or the four winds, this microscopic substance carries all the energy required for the growth of a plant’, from the Health of the Hive by Lia Stec
*Please note; due to the stress on our bee populations right now, use bee pollen sparingly and never wastefully. Or don’t use at all…until the bees are restored to health! They are our current day ‘canaries in the mines’.
These herbs & supplements are useful in the `saging graciously’ process:
• Co Enzyme Q10 *Hawthorne
• Glucosamine Sulfate * Blueberry, Billberry, raspberry, black Current
• Rhodiola *Gingko
• Lutein * Oats
• Antioxidants * Ginseng
• Goji berry * Nettle
Review and evaluate Life Style
• Assess exercise program * Review Diet
• Amount of water drank daily * Hobbies and Habits
• Thanksgiving & Gratitude * Celebrations and Ceremonies
Because of the ravaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease, there is often fear among the elderly every time they forget something. Children forget, too, to put their cloths on, where they left their jackets and shoes and what time bedtime is even though it’s been the same time every night for several years. Teenagers are notorious for forgetting everything they don’t want to remember. As we age, we tend to `forget more and remember less’. I do notice as we grow older, that there is a resistance to remembering certain details and facts, a selective memory process, and wonder if this isn’t a natural process meant to draw us into ourselves, away from the mundane, into the inner journey of knowing. Perhaps our inner clock is telling us its time to forget those details so important to the world but that are hardly worth thinking about and to get on to the more important quests of life. For long term mental acuity, the following herbs are extremely beneficial and should be used on a regular basis by anyone who finds themselves frequently in `brain fog’ (we’ll discuss how each of these herbs helps with brain function):
Gingko Gota Kola Ginseng Ashwagandha Siberian Ginseng
Bacopa Lions Mane (mushroom) Rosemary Rhodiola
Rosemary’s favorite brain tonic formula: Gingko, Gota Kola, Rosemary, Rhodiola and Peppermint. Made into a tincture; ½ – 1 tsp 3 X daily will clear the worse case of ‘brain fog’!
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Parts used: Roots
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Parts used: roots
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Part used: leaf and berry (berry most often used for its anti-oxandant properties).
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Parts used: roots for internal use, leaves in salves and for skin preparations.
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Part Used: Fruit and Berry
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Parts used: leaf, root, flower
Ginseng (Panax and related species)
Asian or Oriental Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolia)
Parts used: Roots, should be at least 5 – 6 years old, the older the better.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Parts used: root, bark
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida, and E. angustifolia)
Part used: roots, leaves, flowers, entire plant
Ho Shou Wu or Fo ti (Polygonum multiflorum)
Parts used: root
Gingko (Gingko biloba)
Parts used: leaf and fruit
Gota Kola (Hydrocotyle asiatica, Centella asiatica)
Parts used: leaves
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
Parts used: Leaf, flower, berries and tip of branches
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Parts used: Roots
Lycci (Lycium chinensis)
Parts used: berries which are bright red and delicious
Medicinal Mushrooms: Shitake, Reishi, Chaga, Lions Mane, Maitake, and others
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
Parts used: seeds primarily, though wild food enthusiasts enjoy the leaves as food.
Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Parts used: leaves, seeds, and roots
Oats (Avena sativa (cultivated) and a. fatua (wild)
Parts used: green milky tops, seeds, and stalk
Rhodiola; aerial parts of this juicy succulent that is amazing for energy and vitality.
Saw Palmetto Berries (Serenea serrulata and S. repens)
Parts used: ripe berries harvested in the fall
Schizandra (Schizandra chinensis)
Part used: Berries