Hello there, I’m a Co-founder and the Master Herbsmith at Pukka Herbs. As well as having the most amazing job of formulating all our organic teas and supplements I am a passionate environmentalist – that’s why we are 100% organic, pioneers in sustainably sourcing herbs with FairWild, and we give 1% of our turnover for rejuvenating the Planet. I am passionate about running a business that inspires positive change and brings the benefit of the incredible power of plants to everyone we connect with – from our farmers, collectors, Pukka team to you.
Whenever you read anything about herbs they seem to do so many things it can be difficult to know which ones might suit you best.
Well help is at hand. All you need to know is how to balance the qualities of how you feel with the specific balancing quality of the plant(s). It’s all about observing the world in and around you as well as using the language of nature to describe what you need.
The clue is in the words we use to express our experience of life; ‘she’s as cool as a cucumber’, ‘he’s got a fiery character’, ‘what a dry sense of humour’, ‘this ginger is hot!’.
Knowing how you feel is pretty simple; do you often feel cold or hot? Do you regularly have cold hands or do you flush easily? Do you have low metabolism or heartburn? Do you have dry or oily skin? Are you full of beans or feel a bit lack-lustre?
Starting to tune in to how you feel and describing those feelings points you in the right direction.
Take our dosha quiz to find out which is your dominant dosha. Once you know your needs you can start to explore herbs that might suit you.
The idea that plants have a ‘character’ might take a bit of getting used to but you will instinctively know a lot about this already as its been embedded in our culture for centuries (‘dock leaves cool nettle stings, chamomile for sweet dreams or ginger-lemon-honey for colds’ etc).
If you know the temperature of a plant (whether its effect in the body is heating or cooling), its fluid nature (whether its moistening or drying), its energising effects (whether its light or heavy) then you can work out what you need to balance your temperature, fluid levels and energy; if you are cold then take warming herbs, if too dry then choose moistening herbs, if too tired then select light and energising herbs.
The tradition of herbalism describes a logical way to balance health by teaching a simple theory to practice effective herbal health. Like any system, be it French or Flamenco dancing, you just need to learn it. Understanding the characteristics of a herb is important.
Herb character is based on temperature, fluidity, and density. In the examples below, the characteristics in bold indicate that herb's dominant character.
Ginger = Hot, dry & light
Aloe = Cold, wet & heavy
Shatavari = Cool, wet & heavy
Nettle = Warm, dry & light
Rose = n/a, dry & light
Valerian = n/a, wet and heavy
As I said, its pretty simple but it can take some learning to understand some of the detail. From Hippocrates to Culpepper to today, herbalists have collected very specific knowledge about individual herbs telling us what aspects of health they are particularly good for; hot and dry thyme for the lungs, hot and dry ginger for digestion, hot and dry cinnamon for balancing blood sugar. The character is a clue to the personality, but rather like people, plants have their unique idiosyncrasies too. You can apply these insights to anything; environments, foods, moods, your friends. The environment is the easiest to understand as we all experience the wet-dry, cold-hot, heavy-light fluctuations of the weather. Have a go at noticing when the weather affects how you feel and think what can off-set this; how a hot soup warms your cockles on a chilly day or a cooling swim on a sweltering one.
Have a look at some of these example and see how they suit you based on how you are feeling:
If you're feeling COLD. Balancing herb = Ginger root. Try a cup of Three Ginger tea and 10 star jumps.
If you're feeling HOT. Balancing herb = . Try a sip of Aloe Vera Juice and a stretch in the fresh air.
If you're feeling DRY. Balancing herb = Shatavari root. Try our with an oil massage.
If you're feeling OILY. Balancing herb = Wheat Grass. Try a cup of Feel New with a walk in the wind.
If you're feeling LIGHT. Balancing herb = Ashwagandha root. Try a cup of Licorice and Cinnamon tea with some and a rich bowl of soup.
If you're feeling HEAVY. Balancing herb = Peppermint. Try a cup of Three Mint tea and a walk in the park.
If you're feeling COLD & TIRED. Balancing herb = Red Ginseng root. Try a Ginseng Matcha Green tea and some restorative yoga.
If you're feeling TIRED & WIRED. Balancing herb = Ashwagandha root. Try a cup of Relax tea with some soothing meditation.
If you're feeling COLD & SLUGGISH. Balancing herb = Cinnamon bark. Try a cup of Three Cinnamon tea and a vigorous workout.
If you're feeling STRESSY. Balancing herb = Chamomile. Try a cup of Relax tea and a big deep breath.
If you're feeling BLUE. Balancing herb = Rose flower. Try a cup of Love tea and a big bear hug.
If you're feeling OVERLOADED. Balancing herb = Tulsi leaf. Try a cup of Tulsi Clarity tea and a walk in the woods.
If you're feeling SPACEY. Balancing herb = Licorice root. Try a cup of Night Time tea and a moment to lie down.
Being a herbalist for the last 15 years has taught me two things; you are your best doctor and nature is the greatest healer. When you tune in to your own needs then she works her magic for you. Look around, put a healing language to your world and it will transform how you engage with it.
I hope that having a helping hand with some of these simple principles guides you to what herbs are right for you, bringing you the confidence to explore further and enjoy the wonders of our herbal world.
Viv is a gut physiologist and has recently achieved a Foundation in Herbal Medicine. She leads Pukka’s research programme to explore how herbs can benefit our health and be used to widen healthcare choices. This includes research into herbs for Women’s health and as alternatives to antibiotics. She establishes global research partnerships and enthuses the next generation of scientists through Pukka’s Scholarship Scheme. She is a champion of diversity in science and open access to knowledge.
BSc, PhD, PFHEA
30+ years in the wellbeing industry and academia
Degree in Physiology University of Sheffield, PhD University of Sheffield, Foundation in Herbalism Heartwood, MBA Entrepreneurship (on-going) Edinburgh Napier University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Membership of Nutrition Society, Physiological Society, Society for Chemical Industry, and other herbal and botanical groups.