Today, I want to talk a little bit more about the holistic model that I’ve been sharing over the last few weeks in regards to medical astrology and its connection to herbal medicine. Last week, I talked about the way that we can use astrology to look at a person and see the connection between what’s going on in their body and their mind and their emotions and their spiritual development. This week I’ll flip it and orient it around plants.
Not a lot of people are aware that astrology is one of the oldest systems of classification used in Western herbalism. This was one of the ways through which plants were seen as having their medicinal and therapeutic properties. The essence of a plant and its remedies were understood based on whether the herb is connected to Mars or to Venus or to Jupiter or to Saturn as a way of understanding. Astrology is a holistic system in the way that it sees not just the whole plant or the whole person but their connection to the whole cosmos, to the wholeness of nature. It’s the most holistic model because it’s looking at the wholeness of life itself and the connections between the various expressions of life.
Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt
So in a similar way that we can look at a person on that threefold level—the way that in alchemy we say that everything in nature is composed of the three philosophical principles of sulfur, mercury, and salt, which relates to the soul, the spirit, and the body, respectively, of anything—we can also look that way at plants. When we’re looking at a plant, we see that there is a sulfur, a mercury, and a salt within the plant—a soul, a spirit, and a body of the plant. When we’re looking at the plant through this alchemical lens, there are three very specific physical expressions of those three principles. The sulfur is the essential oils of the plant, the most volatile part of the plant. The mercury, or the spirit of the plant, is the alcohol- and water-soluble chemistry of the plant, the intelligence, the mind of the plant. The salt is in the alkaline mineral salts. In the spagyric method of herbal pharmacy, these salts are extracted through calcining or burning the plants down to an ash. The oils, the alcohol- or water-soluble chemicals, and then the alkaline minerals—that’s looking at sulfur, mercury, salt from the physical expressions of those three principles.
But on a bigger-picture orientation of plant anatomy, so to speak, we would say that the sulfur of the plant is the soul essence of the plant, or what many people refer to as the spirit of the plant. It’s the nonphysical portion of that herb. On the mercury level, we’re looking at the energetics of the plant. We’re looking at its temperature qualities, its moisture qualities, its tonal properties, how that herb is an embodiment of its ecosystem, and ultimately how that ecosystem that is embodied within the plant is then conveyed to our own body’s ecosystem. The salt of the plant is the chemistry of the herb. It’s all of the physical properties of the plant: how that herb is structured and its morphology and all the physical things about it. From the perspective of herbalism, it’s looking at the physical properties of the herb and looking at the chemistry of the plant.
The potency of the astrological perspective is that it allows you to see the connections between the physical, the energetic, and the spiritual properties of the plant in a very similar way that it allows you to see the pattern of connection between the soul’s evolution of a person, their psychological emotional dynamics, and what’s going on in their physical body. Astrology is a holistic orientation for seeing that connection in the medicinal properties of plants.
The Importance of Seeing Connections
I think this is important for us as herbalists. It’s common when we’re studying medicinal plants to not see those connections. This is something I struggled with for a long time. It always bothered me because it seemed like on one side we’ve got all the chemistry and the herbal actions and the organ affinities and what types of conditions and symptoms the herb treats, and then on the other side are all the psychological indications or how the flower essence will work on the emotional body and the spiritual development side of things. But they were isolated from one another.
In my perspective of plants, there’s a singular medicinal essence within the plant. And it’s that singular medicinal essence within the plant that works on the body of the person, that works on the mind of the person, that works on the soul of the person. There’s one pattern that affects these different levels of a person and that is expressed by all of those different levels in the plant, which really aren’t different—they’re just different aspects of one thing. So we want to look at the plants through this holistic lens. We want to be able to see and understand the connection and relationship between the psycho-spiritual properties of an herb and how that’s connected to the physical properties of an herb.
In alchemy, this is referred to as the “volatile” and the “fixed” qualities within a plant, the “fixed” being the physical newness of the herbs and the “volatile” being the spiritual qualities of an herb. We see them as mirror images of one another, that the chemistry isn’t separate from the spirit of the plant. In alchemy, we say that the chemical properties and constituents of an herb are merely a physical vehicle that the intelligence and the consciousness of a plant works through. It’s the delivery mechanism. In a similar way that we have a physical body that’s composed of our biochemistry and our tissues, and all of that is a vehicle through which our spirit and our soul are able to be embodied here on this earth, the same is true with plants.
So there’s this relationship between plant chemistry and plant spirit. In that way, it’s important for us as herbalists to have a cohesive system, a cohesive model that allows us to understand those connections, that we have one universal language that ties together the physical healing properties of a plant and its psycho-spiritual healing properties and allows us to know how we’re going to put those together to heal a person. Because that’s the ultimate goal of our work as herbalists: to heal someone, to help someone. But the critical thing for us is that we need to understand our remedies, and we need to understand our remedies in this greater pattern of wholeness that to me is best understood through astrology.
Here’s an example of what this looks like. In the old kind of languaging, they say there’s rulerships or correspondences, there’s a plant down here on earth that corresponds or is sympathetic to one of the planetary archetypes that exists in the cosmos. It’s interesting looking at the etymology of the words plant and planet—they come from the same root word. So there’s an innate connection between plants and planets, even in the roots of the word. Paracelsus, the great alchemist, said that plants that grow here on earth are terrestrial stars and that the planets out in the cosmos, up in the sky, are celestial plants. They’re the same thing, just one’s up there and one’s down here, and they’re connected to one another.
How Nettles Illustrates Medical Astrology
One remedy that I love to use as an example to illustrate the power of this connection and relationship between astrology and plants is nettles—Urtica dioica. There are many ways that we see the influence of Mars in the medicine of nettles. Mars, the red planet, is classically attributed to qualities in our mind and in our psyche such as irritability and frustration and anger and violence, on the negative end of the spectrum. But it also represents our willpower. It represents our drive, our energy. It’s what allows us to act. Mars is the force that allows us to move and to act out into the world. It’s this dynamic, expressive, outward kind of energy. But when that gets in excess, it can turn into that irritability and anger and violence and things like that.
In medical astrology, Mars rules the blood. It’s interesting that Mars is the red planet. Our blood is red. Mars rules iron and is full of iron. Our blood obviously is full of iron as well. Mars is classically attributed to medical conditions including poisoning of the blood or anytime blood is spilled like in accidents or injury. Traditionally Mars is said to be representative of the masculine archetype. So in that way, it also correlates to the male reproductive system.
Mars also relates to immunity. One of the old ways of looking at Mars is as the warrior archetype. Mars and the sun are connected, where the sun is the king ruling the kingdom, so to speak. Mars is the warrior that goes out to defend and protect the kingdom. In a similar way, our immune system is designed to protect our body from pathogens—from foreign invasion, so to speak.
Mars is this hot, stimulating, irritating quality energetically. This is where we also see its association with inflammation and irritation of the tissues, these hypersensitivities. Patterns of heat are very much associated with Mars. In Ayurveda, Mars is like a pitta quality. In the physio-medical tradition, we would say it generates heat excitation tissue states.
So let’s take that and take a look at nettles. Nettles is intense. Nettles has a very intense physical appearance to it in the way that it’s studded with formic acid crystals that are sharp and needle-like. Nettles is all about sharpness. It’s penetrating. The edges of the leaves are serrated, almost like a serrated knife. It has an intense appearance. When you touch the nettles, you get a sharp, hot, irritated, burning rash. It gets red and irritated and gives an intense feeling. Those are all Mars correlations. Even on a chemical level, nettles is full of iron. Mars is full of iron. Our blood is full of iron. One of the main organ affinities for the leaf of nettle is the blood itself. On the one hand, it’s nutritive and builds and strengthens blood. But on the other hand, it also cleanses the blood as an alterative. We use it as a detoxifying agent to cleanse the blood and the liver of metabolic waste products. So it cleanses the blood and also builds the blood. Mars rules the blood. When you touch nettles, it creates inflammation on the body, but when you ingest it internally, it’s actually very cooling. It’s full of chlorophyll. It’s very alkaline. So it cools excess heat and irritation and inflammation within the body. It treats an excess of Mars within the body through its cooling properties. The root of nettle is one of our specific remedies to treat the male reproductive system, also ruled by Mars.
Another organ correspondence is the adrenal glands. Mars has the quality of protection—protecting the body through the immune system. The adrenal glands protect the body too, through our fight-or-flight response. So the old example of a bear chasing you through the woods—adrenal glands are what stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. Your adrenal glands secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are stimulating hormones. One of the primary effects of those compounds is that it shifts the flow of blood. It moves blood from the core out to the periphery, to your arms and your legs, so that you can run away or you can kick some ass. It’s that protection mechanism. It elevates heart rate. It elevates body temperature. It stimulates you. Stimulation is a core property of Mars and its physiological response.
Interestingly enough, the seeds of nettle have a particular affinity for the adrenal gland. When I was going to school at Bastyr University in their herbal sciences program, I had a good friend who had learned about nettle seed and heard that it can give you energy and it works through the adrenals. It was finals time, and she needed some energy but didn’t want to drink coffee. So she put something like a tablespoon of nettle seeds in a smoothie and drank it down—and she didn’t sleep for two nights! She was up for two whole nights because that nettle seed stimulated her so much, the classic Mars response.
So we see all these different levels of Mars expressing through nettles, from its morphology to its organ affinities, to its medicinal actions, to even the different parts of the medicine used. Mars captures the essence of the plant.
Learning to See Patterns
The thing that I really want to relay to you here is the importance of patterns. It’s common as herbalists to get overwhelmed studying plants. There’s a lot to learn. It’s all these actions and energetics and organ affinities and their properties and their botany and their chemistry and how you extract them and their dosages. It’s a lot. To be perfectly transparent, I had a difficult time learning about plants when I first got into herbalism. It was in one ear, out the other. I couldn’t remember what these plants did. It wasn’t until I was able to see patterns in the plants—to not see all these different aspects of a plant as separate—that I started to understand. It’s that compartmentalizing of things that our Western minds tend to do where we say we have the chemistry over here, and the actions over here, and the energetics over there, and the conditions and symptoms treated over there. It’s like these different boxes, but they’re all aspects of one plant. There’s an essence in that plant that is attributed to each of us, that weaves those things together.
Astrology enables you to have a system, an overarching blueprint or framework—that each and every property and quality and characteristic of a plant is associated with (typically) a singular planetary ruler or correspondents. When you have the ability to see that pattern in a plant through its morphology and its properties and how it works in the body and its energetics and the conditions it treats—when you can see that pattern and you understand the fundamental qualities and characteristics of the planets, usually you can see that there’s a primary planetary archetype that is woven through and stitched into the fabric, the warp and weft of every aspect of that herb. When you can understand a plant in that way, you have a much deeper level of connection and relationship and knowledge of that herb. That ultimately leads to you being able to administer it to someone much more effectively and much more efficiently.
Returning to nettles, it’s specific for people who tend toward having a short fuse. We have this phrase that people are easily nettled. The smallest thing can trigger an exaggerated response, usually of irritation, frustration, anger. The nettles person typically feels on edge. You just barely graze them and they’re going to sting you. That’s the archetype of the nettles person. They’ve got this Mars excess pattern in their body with too much heat and inflammation and irritation but also in the mind. Medical astrology shows us that if someone has an imbalance like that, it ultimately is Mars trying to get their attention: “You need to take my energy, my influence, and express it in a healthier way.” Maybe that person had some sort of trauma associated with violence, or maybe they have a hard time with their willpower and their energy, or maybe they need to find a greater purpose that’s worth fighting for. One way I like to describe Mars is that Mars needs a greater purpose: the sun. It needs a greater guidance from the sun in order to have something to protect, to defend, to fight for, something that gets you out of bed in the morning and gives you that energy to live for. If we don’t have that, oftentimes that Mars force and energy needs to get channeled. That’s usually with an excess of Mars. Sometimes people have a problem with a deficiency of Mars: they’re weak and tired and lethargic, and they can’t get out of bed, they don’t have any of that energy, that vitality, that strength.
The Astrological Tool
So these are some of the ways that the astrological tool can help you to understand your plants more holistically and to be able to see that connection between their physical, their energetic, and their spiritual properties so that you can use the whole plant to heal the whole person. And that is why I think medical astrology is awesome. I think it’s one of the most beautiful, amazing tools that we can have in our toolkit as herbalists to understand the essence of the remedies that we love.