Thank you for your warm embrace when we arrived at Douglas Scrub in your gorgeous Adelaide Hills, surrounded by vineyard-filled colours of autumn. It must have been a bit of a shock to have 30+ humans arrive unannounced, however we took great care not to impact on your delicate mossy surfaces and green leafy expanses.
As always you filled us with awe, wonder and surprise – the friendly woolly sheep that greeted us, the glowing moon that invited us to sit still in your cool night air, the shooting star and blue wren appearing as if on your cue, the symbolic messages of the right path to take towards freedom, and cuddly koalas slowing us down. When we experience unique moments like this it reminds us of the deep love and respect we have for you, and it brings up grief and sorrow at your destruction at the hands of our species. We feel both your delight and pain.
We will be forever grateful for the opportunity to gather on
your land with like-minded souls to explore our partnerships with you, as we
work to influence change in the lives of other humans. We came from many disciplines – social work,
occupational therapy, psychology, physiotherapy, counselling and others from
the health and wellbeing sector. We
shared our experiences, stories, practice approaches, tools and strategies that
we have learned by spending time in your presence. We have seen the magic that these interventions
have offered our clients who are struggling with grief, trauma, pain, physical
health issues and mental health struggles.
We opened our hearts, minds and bodies and were flooded with sensory experiences to ground, calm and relax as well as invigorate and activate. We relished the gifts you offered to satisfy our bellies and nurture our health and wellbeing, a delicious spread of nutritious food grown in your soil and spoils of damper dripping in butter and syrup, baked on hot coals. Our sense of community was enriched as we gathered in ceremony to drink bush tea and honour you.
We gave thanks and acknowledged the First Nations folk on your country – the Kaurna – who have cared and nurtured you for longer than our imaginations can contemplate. We have reflected on the significant events and people in our lives that have contributed to our environmental identity and are grateful for all that has led us on this journey. We stood in admiration of your resilience and strength to face hardship head on, like the tree that refuses to be strangled by the vine.
Sometimes we forget just how important it is for us to connect with you each day, even just for a moment, to sustain our own health and wellbeing. We hope that we will see the signs you give us, to wake us up again, if we are stepping down the road of burnout or compassion fatigue.
Our experience on your country over these four days has
taught us how to trust in you and ourselves, knowing you will always be there
offering your unwavering support through the moments of uncertainty and risk.
We go out into the world taking all that we have learnt from you. And in the spirit of mutual reciprocity, we give back to you with head, heart and hand.
With gratitude, Lucy Dreamer, Storyteller and Co-Facilitator of ‘Nature As Co-Therapist: Learning and Immersion’ (May 2023, Blewitt Springs, S.A.)
FB is a nature connection practice inspired by the Japanese where it is called Shinrin Yoku. The Western Culture has also taken the practice and uses the terms forest therapy or nature therapy.
It’s not about
The idea is to
fully immerse yourself in nature and to bathe your senses.
Put simply it is
about taking a slow mindful walk in nature, breathing in the forest air,
sitting and observing, and developing an emotional connection to the forest.
It is different
from hiking – where the pace is faster and you miss a lot of what is going on
around you. It is also different from a
naturist walk – where you might be identifying and naming particular species of
fauna or flora.
A forest bathing or nature therapy walk covers less than a kilometre over a 3 hour time frame. Its aim is to help people slow down and take a break from the stresses of daily life, and to appreciate things that can only be noticed when moving slowly. Some people describe it like doing meditation or mindfulness in nature.
How do you do it? What do you
So my role as a Guide is to open the door for participants, knowing that the forest will provide exactly the kind of medicine they need. I do this by issuing a series of invitations, that participants can choose to take up if they feel comfortable. We always start with a guided meditation bringing people’s awareness to all their senses, and finish with a tea ceremony ideally using plants harvested along the trail. What happens in between, depends on what kind of environment we are in and what else is might be happening around us.
each invitation, we come together as a group to share our experience, as much
as we want to reveal, about what we are noticing within the environment or
We have a saying
that the forest is the therapist, the guide just opens the door. Basically we make it easy for you to drop in
to a relaxing and mindful space.
What evidence is there to say that
The Japanese have been studying the effects of forest bathing since the 1980’s when it became a public health initiative, in response to the number of people that were basically working themselves to death. It was based on the principal that spending time in the forest was beneficial to health. To prove it, the Japanese ran a number of studies to evaluate the effects of walking in urban environments compared to the forest.
What they discovered was an
antimicrobial organic compound called phytonicides that are given off by
evergreen trees such as pines and eucalypts. When you go on a relaxed forest therapy walk
breathing in these phytonicides, your blood pressure drops, your cortisol level
(or stress hormone) reduces, and heart rate variablilty improves. Phytoncides, are natural immune boosters which
increase the natural kill cells in our body, which have been associated with
Other research has shown that being
Reduces depression and anxiety
Makes us more calm, focused and
Improves our mood and sleeping
Helps us to recover quicker after
surgery or illness
In Japan and Korea, doctors now offer ‘green prescriptions’ for their patients to go walking in a Certified Forest Therapy trail. Other countries such as America are also working towards this in their health system. It’s starting to be talked about slowly in Australia but we are a long way off adopting this as a ‘go to’ prescription for mental health.
Why do we need forest bathing?
1. It’s part of our true nature
Our species evolved in forests. We spent the first several million
years of our existence in them. Then we invented cities. Suddenly, while our
genes are still optimized for the forest, our bodies live in the busy,
stressful conditions of modern civilization.
Richard Louv has also used the term nature deficit disorder to
describe the problem of children spending much less time in nature based
outdoor activity, which is having a detrimental impact on their development.
2. Our own health and wellbeing
We have rates of mental health problems that are out of control. Over 50% of people are stressed at work. And 1 in 5 of us will go on to experience a
mental illness. Many physical illnesses
and disease can also be linked to stress as an underlying cause.
There is lots of scientific evidence to show that being in nature
lowers stress levels and boosts immunity to fight infection and disease.
3. To address the Global climate problem
Humans have become so separate from nature that there has been little
regard to how we treat the earth. I
believe that if we are more closely connected to the natural world, we are more
likely to want to care for and protect it.
So rebuilding our intimate connection to the forest again, will ultimately lead to the healing of the planet and of course, our own health too.
Why go with a guide? Why not on your own?
Some people find it really hard to slow down and they need someone to show them the way. Just like yoga, meditation or working out, Shinrin Yoku is a practice, that a Guide can help you develop and integrate into your everyday experience.
I guess one way of
looking at it is… you could ask your partner for a massage, but if you want a
really good massage from a trained, experienced person, then you go to a
In saying that, I am all for, more people getting out in nature more often. If people would like some ideas on how to incorporate nature connection in their life every day, I encourage them to get in touch. Subscribe to my newsletter and I will send you a free e-book of Nature Therapy invitations you can use on your own private forest bathing experience.
Where can I try it?
From time to time I offer public Nature Therapy walks or you can book a private walk with a group of friends, work colleagues or an intimate experience with your partner. I also offer forest bathing as a Corporate Wellbeing experience for small teams who want to promote health and wellbeing in their workplace.
Get out in nature. It not only feels intuitively good for you. But science says it’s so.
If sustainability is a core value of yours, like it is for
me, I wonder if you get to this time of year and think ‘what difference have I
made in the world?’
Sometimes it’s difficult to quantify the little actions you
may have taken to make the world a better place – those small conversations you
had with someone who was feeling down, those little bits of plastic you picked
up off the beach or the times you chose to walk, ride a bike or carpool instead
of using your car.
I’ve been listening to ‘Wild’, Sarah Wilson’s podcast, for a
while now and there is always something thought provoking in its content. One of the strongest themes I’ve picked up in
her interviews and newsletters is the idea of not letting the big fossil fuel
companies off the hook for the damage they have caused the planet; and not
falling for their propaganda that we, as consumers, are the problem and therefore
every one of us should work harder to lower our carbon footprint.
This is a difficult issue to wrestle with. On one hand I do feel that my small daily actions
can make a big difference. When they go
alongside other individuals taking actions too, big changes are achievable. And let’s face it, big change is needed if we’re
going to get through the climate crisis.
Yet, the individual carbon footprint argument has been pushed hard on us;
this can feel like a lot of pressure and contribute to guilt and shame if you
don’t do the right thing.
It’s complicated. But the reality is that the fossil fuel companies have been pushing their agenda for a long time, and they don’t have ours or the planet’s interests at heart. Seth Godin goes so far as to argue that we should ditch the small activism and target the bigger players. Did you know that one hour of using a gas-powered leaf blower is equivalent to driving your car over 4800 kilometres? In Godin’s town, it took just 20 people putting pressure on council to have leaf blowers banned. Anyway, I encourage you to check out his ‘outside the box’ ideas in this interview with Sarah.
I know that I am guilty of putting more effort into individual action than lobbying governments about bigger impact policy change. Here’s a good example that supports Godin’s argument. One of the new things I started in 2022 was funding tree planting by Reforest Now, to regenerate the ‘big scrub’ in Northern NSW. We have been donating $1 from each counselling session to the project and so our total donation of $734 is equivalent to an extra 147 rainforest trees planted. Yes, it’s a tiny contribution on the scale of things, but that feels like a reasonable carbon offset for little old me. And if we all did that, it would make a difference, right? Only problem is there is only so many trees we can plant. We also need to stop cutting down the forests we already have, stop pulling fossil fuels out of the ground and regenerate our depleted soils, if humans are to come off the ‘heading for extension’ list. That requires collective effort and protest. If you need further inspiration, check out ‘Franklin’ now showing on SBS on Demand.
By all means, don’t stop what you’re doing. I’m not going to stop funding tree
planting. The actions you’re taking
right now do inspire and encourage others. But my challenge to you is to think about how
you can get involved politically, to take things to the next level? It’s something I need to also do if I am going
to live out the values of a truly sustainable life.
This is the second blog in a series exploring natural alternatives to reduce stress and manage mild to moderate mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and ADHD symptoms. If you haven’t read part one in this series, then I suggest you start there first.
Lemon Balm(melissa officinalis)
With its long history in Greek medicine, lemon balm was affectionately referred to as an elixir of life, for its reputation for prolonging one’s life. Greek physicians encouraged drinking lemon balm to make the heart merry, revive spirits and do away with melancholy. In 1696 the London Dispensary stated the balm steeped in wine would reverse aging and “relieve languishing”. The Arabs also talked about its calming and healing properties for steadying nerves and a remedy for heart palpitations. Perhaps they were onto something, as more recent studies in patients with chronic stable angina demonstrated decreases in depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders after taking lemon balm supplements. There are also good, published results for women experiencing the post-partum blues after caesarean births. The oil in lemon balm has a sedative effect which reduces tension and stress. There are anecdotal reports of many a student benefiting from the herbal tea, just prior to sitting exams, to calm the butterflies, clear their head and sharpen the memory. Lemon balm tea is safe for all ages – even an unsettled baby to help with sleep.
Affectionately known as ‘melissa’ in some countries, lemon balm is a good companion plant in the garden. Some people plant it near their beehive to settle bees into their new home and prevent swarming. Lemon balm will grow in sun or shade, and it won’t take over like its mint cousin. Propagate it by cutting, root division or seed.
Make a tea with one heaped teaspoon of chopped, fresh leaves in a cup of
boiling water, 2-3 times a day. It’s
also a lovely refreshing drink, when chilled, or makes a nice addition to fresh
fruit salad. It can also be added to the
bath for a relaxing body soak.
Lemon balm should not be consumed if taking thyroid hormones.
Hops is a member of the Cannabaceae (marijuana) family. Native Americans were some of the first to discover the sedative effects of hops, back in the 9th century. In 16th Century Europe, hops were widely used as a herbal tonic that offered calming, sedative, and sleep-promoting properties, not just as an ingredient to prevent beer spoiling. The Chinese started using hops to treat insomnia, restlessness and nervous tension in the 19th Century. In 2017, a study of healthy young adults experiencing mild anxiety and depression were treated with hop extract for one month, demonstrating significant reductions in symptoms. Whilst a few studies suggest hops has the ability to treat anxiety and mood disorders, more research is needed to confirm these effects. Anecdotally and historically, hops calm the central nervous system and relaxes muscles, soothing worries and tension.
The vine from hops will very quickly cover a pergola or trellis. It requires a rich soil and warm sunny
position in the garden. In subtropical
gardens, the plant appreciates afternoon shade.
Propagation is by seed, cuttings or root divisions with buds. Female plants are preferable to produce an
abundance of the strobiles, the cone-shaped fruit used in making the medicinal
tonic, however male plants are needed if you wish to collect seed.
Dried or fresh hops can be used with vodka or another flavourless alcohol to make a tincture which will keep for many months. Hops can also be used to make a tea or stuff a pillow along with other more pleasant-smelling herbs, to put beside your head at night to aid sleep.
If you have a history of trauma its best to avoid hops to begin with and use an alternative nervine such as skullcap or blue vervain, until you are well into your healing journey. There are no known side effects or contraindications for using hops, however, always consult your doctor if introducing it to your treatment plan.
Lateriflora and Baicalensis are the two most common varieties of skullcap from the mint family. Lateriflora derives from native American soil and basicalensis is a traditional Chinese herb. Although related, they treat very different ailments.
Traditionally American scullcap was used as an emmenagogue by Indian elders, to bring on the menstrual cycle of young girls. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, physicians used it as a nervine to treat anxiety caused by physical health issues, mental exhaustion and heart disorders. In the last few centuries, lateriflora has also been used to assist people experiencing mild depression, insomnia and to improve mood. Research appears to support the hypothesis that skullcap stimulates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps calm nervous, thereby positively impacting mood and reducing anxiety. In this way, it works similar to many anti-anxiety medications.
Herbalists often turn to scullcap as a good all-round ‘nerve food’ for
its ability to reduce nervous tension and regenerate the central nervous system
during periods of stress. For those
times in our lives when it’s not logistically possible to reduce some of the
sources of stress, skullcap can be the perfect daily tonic.
Propagation is by seed, cuttings or root division. Plant in a sunny, well-draining soil or if
you would prefer the plant doesn’t take over your garden then keep in a pot. Harvest the leaves and flowers once it is in
full bloom. It will die back in winter
and resurge in Spring.
The ideal dose is 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb steeped in boiling water
for 10-15 minutes, 3 times a day. It is
quite bitter, so you may want to add honey or other herbs like mint to improve the
tea flavour. Best to start on a low dose
and build up slowly. It also has
immediate therapeutic effects that can make you sleepy.
Scullcap is a relaxant and sedative that can trigger side effects such as drowsiness, confusion and irregular heartbeat, so consult your GP before taking this herb. Scullcap is known to interact with some medications. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid it altogether. Large doses and long-term use are associated with liver damage.
Vervain (verbena officinalis)
Vervain is such an amazing healing herb that has been used in folk medicine to treat a whole range of different ailments. Legend has it that after the body of Jesus was removed from the cross, vervain growing nearby was pressed onto the wounds. Military physicians during the French revolution used it extensively for pain and wound management. During the Middle Ages, it was used for numerous skin and hair ailments. Since then, the list of applications for physical health has grown exponentially. In more recent times, the focus has also been on mental health benefits.
Like other nervines, vervain has been shown to strengthen the nervous system by reducing stress, tension and anxiety, promoting feelings of calm and relaxation. It has natural tranquilising effects for those suffering from restlessness, irritation and insomnia. Giving our body the opportunity to ‘rest and digest’ during our stressful busy lives is critical, so our nervous system experiences calm and our hormones are balanced. Vervain has also been used extensively with those experiencing depression, low nervous energy and lack of motivation, due to its energy boosting and tonic properties.
Vervain has attractive white to purplish flowers appearing in late Spring and Summer. Propagation is by seed, root division or cutting. Plant in full sun in well-draining soil. It is frost resistant but does not cope with drought.
Make a tea of ½-1 teaspoon of dried or 3 teaspoons of fresh herb in a
cup of water, for 10-15 minutes. It is
quite bitter, so you may like to add honey or lemon to mask the flavour. Drink up to 3 cups a day.
Vervain used in excess may cause nausea and vomiting. It can interfere with hormone therapy and
blood pressure medication. Pregnant
women should avoid it, due to its association with uterine contractions.
Gotu kola (centella asiatic)
Like lemon balm, gota kola also has a centuries old history of being the ‘elixir of life’, increasing brain capacity and promoting longevity. However, lots of people now say, ‘eating a few leaves a day, keep arthritis away’. In Ancient China it was the key ingredient in their ‘fountain of youth’ elixir. The Chinese herbalist, Professor Li Chung Yun who lived to 256 years old proclaimed amongst various tips for a long stress-free life to include daily consumption of gotu kola and ginseng. In Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola is valued for boosting nerve and brain cell function, promoting calmness and mental clarity, and improving poor memory and concentration. In the early 1930’s, biochemical studies proved gotu kola was influencing the replacement of biogenic amines, the brain neurotransmitters involved in learning, memory, attention and concentration. More recent research has shown gotu kola can relieve symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactive conditions such as ADHD.
A 2016 study on mice demonstrated gotu kola reduced anxiety induced
behaviour, and that same year a small study on humans showed the herb reduced stress,
anxiety and depression after 60 days. However,
more research is needed.
Gotu kola is a ground cover and can be easily mistaken for pennywort or
native violet. Propagation is by root division
of the plant or seed. Gotu kola thrives
in tropical and subtropical climates. If
growing in more temperate regions, put in a large pot or Styrofoam box so you
can shift it into a warm position in winter, and out of frosts. Fertilize regularly for the best growth.
Just like Professor Li, it’s best to make taking gotu kola a daily habit. Start with just one or two leaves in the morning and work up to 4-6 leaves a day. You can pick straight from the garden and chew it or chop and add it to food. The herb can also be dried and used as a tea; however, this is one herb where fresh is best. You may be tempted to take more to achieve more effects, however this is not advised. Some serious side effects have been anecdotally reported. Gotu kola is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Whilst this article has outlined some of the medicinal herbs that can support your own mental health, make sure you do your own research. This can include spending some time with the plants you are considering. What are you noticing as you sit with them? Does it feel in your gut it is the right thing to try? You should always listen to what your body is telling you. If you are not sure, then find out more information. One of those people you should always consult before taking any herb is your healthcare practitioner, especially if you suffer from an existing medical condition or are on medication, to ensure there are no contraindications and to monitor any potential side effects.
Five years ago, I moved to the Nambucca Valla with a dream.
My vision was to establish a healing place in
the bush, guided by the ethics of permaculture – People Care, Fair Share and
Earth Care. I envisioned this as a temporary
place for women to stay who were in life transitions, with a history of
domestic violence or homelessness, offering an opportunity to get back on their
feet and heal from their trauma experience. A place to access on-site
counselling and eco-therapies to nurture mind and spirit, and access organic
food to nourish the body.
My vision was
informed by over a decade working in remote Aboriginal communities of the
Northern Territory. I was
inspired by the spiritual knowledge of Tiwi Elders who showed me that ‘going
bush is the best medicine’ for healing. I
had worked alongside Elders, in addressing the effects of intergenerational
trauma including family violence,
child abuse and neglect. I came to
appreciate the power of narrative therapy using metaphors to help people tell
their stories in ways that made them stronger and connecting with the land as a
form of ‘eco-therapy’.
I was drawn to finding a property from which
to offer my therapeutic services in the valley around Bowraville. However, the right place never came along in
those first few years and then shortly after that, we were priced out of the
It became obvious that my vision wouldn’t come to fruition in the Valley. This came with much disappointment and sadness.
After losing both my parents in the last
three years and some other challenging issues in my extended family, I started
to feel the pull back to my ‘homelands’ where I grew up on Gunaikurnai country.
In mid-2022, my husband and I laid eyes on a 50 acre farm close to Seaspray, a beach that has always held a special place in my heart for fond childhood holiday memories and where I later met my husband. When we stepped foot on that country, it felt ‘right’, like coming home. I realised I was coming full circle.
I could see my vision unfolding here, with opportunities for my clients to engage in nature-based counselling, and other initiatives. I am also keen to use my passion and skills for permaculture and regenerative agriculture, in a way that cares for the planet as well as people. Being a climate-conscious practitioner has become an integral part of my practice.
So we bought the property. Yintarini Farm will be so-named in honour of my Tiwi mentor, Elaine Tiparui who was instrumental in the development of my eco-social work therapeutic practice.
It’s mid-November. And we have now moved to Yintarini Farm, Seaspray. It’s here I will continue to operate my mental health private practice, offering counselling and eco-therapy on-country and as well as our outreach service which has been so-deeply valued.
advocate for the power of nature in mental health promotion, I have been
wondering lately what herbs have to offer us in treatment?
be an attractive alternative for people with mild to moderate mental health
issues who are hesitant about starting pharmaceutical medications or want a more
natural approach to their health. Our
history of using plants as medicine in Australia dates back thousands of years
and many First Nations people still use traditional bush medicines in the
treatment of various illnesses including mental disorders. Indigenous peoples worldwide have a holistic
view of health that promotes re-balancing both our physical and spiritual selves
to treat illness. The answers are found in
nature. After colonisation, the adoption of herbal
medicines came from folk lore remedies passed down from European
ancestors. With the rapid growth of
industrialisation, there has been a corresponding growth in pharmaceuticals to
meet the rising demand for treating mental illness and somewhere along the way,
we lost touch with our traditional plant knowledge.
This blog is the first in a series introducing herbs that have been used in traditional, Eastern or folk medicine to treat various ailments including mental health issues. Some of these have since been studied in the science lab to try and understand their effects, and some haven’t. The willingness of doctors to include them in your treatment plan will therefore be limited, unless they have been thoroughly tested and are recommended in the global clinical guidelines. At the very least, your doctor should be able to guide you on whether a particular herb will react with any medication you might already be taking. And if you are not taking pharmaceuticals then there is probably nothing to lose.
St Johns Wort (hypericum perforatum)
In centuries past, the Greeks and Romans used St Johns wort to drive out evil spirits said to possess humans and protect them against witches’ spells. Those afflicted were encouraged to drink the tea or hang bunches of the herb around their neck or over doorways in the home. St Johns Wort has a large variety of traditional therapeutic uses on the human body including conditions of the nervous system such as depression, restlessness, anxiety, tension, irritability and nightmares. The herb has been well-researched scientifically in Europe to have an effect on lightening moods in people affected by bipolar depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), melancholy and low self-worth, through increasing feelings of euphoria and well-being. St Johns Wort is believed to work by optimising the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain such as ‘the feel good’ chemical, serotonin. Depleted serotonin levels are associated with depression, anxiety and mania. St Johns Wort demonstrates similar results to pharmaceutical drugs such as fluoxetine with fewer side effects. For mild to moderate depression, it is now one of Australia’s top selling herbal medicines but may take as long as 2 or months to start having maximum benefit.
Native to Europe, but now naturalised in
Australia, some states have declared it a noxious weed for its invasion of
farmland. It is best grown from a
cutting or division of the roots, as seeds take a long time to germinate. It prefers well drained soil and performs
well in temperate climates. Contain the
herb in a pot to prevent spreading, however it generally only lives for a few
years. It cannot be grown in Victoria as
it is declared a noxious weed.
Infuse a tea of ½ to 1 teaspoon of herb in a
cup of boiling water and drink with meals.
It is also available in a tincture, taken three times a day.
Some people can react to taking St Johns Wort
in combination with certain pharmaceutical drugs and foods or drink. Please consult with your medical
practitioner to make sure it is safe for you and your circumstances.
German Chamomile (matricaria recutita)
There is some evidence to suggest that chamomile might be helpful for people who experience anxiety. Studies as recent as 2020 have also shown clinically meaningful antidepressant effects in patients with co-morbid depression and anxiety. However, more research is needed. It is believed that chamomile works to boost mood regulators in the brain including serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, however this has not been clinically proven.
Monks in the Middle Ages would lay sick people
down in a lawn of chamomile, believing that the pleasing aroma of the leaves
lifted them from depression and illness.
An oil of chamomile made from chamomile flowers and olive oil macerated
for two weeks is used in aromatherapy to lift the spirits of emotional, anxious
or over-sensitive people.
Chamomile is best propagated by seed. Plant directly in the garden or in pots in
well drained soil, in a sunny position.
In hot and tropical climates, choose a position in the garden which gets
afternoon shade. In cold, frosty
climates, wait until spring to plant seeds.
For tea, pick the flower heads as they start to
bloom and dry in the shade. When fully
dried, store in a sealed container.
Picking flower heads regularly will stimulate more production and extend
the life of the plant. Seed can be saved
from flower heads that have started to droop, before they dry out and fall to
Chamomile can have negative interactions with
prescribed medications or other supplements so consult your doctor.
As far back as the 1560s, the Incas were using passionflower to brew a tonic tea. But it was the Christians who shortly after gave the passionflower its name, taken in by the large blossoms that appeared to evoke the Passion of the Crucifixion. Passionflower contains tranquilizing chemicals, maltol, flavonoids and passiflorine, which is similar to morphine. It also contains stimulants although researchers believe the overall effect is mildly sedative, and therefore you cannot get addicted to it. Passionflower is believed to assist with feelings of nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, depression, tension and stress. It is a favoured herbal alternative to pharmaceutical drugs like Valium. Passionflower is also used to assist in managing hyperactivity and sleeplessness.
The passionfruit plant is easy to grow in
tropical and subtropical climates, from seed, cutting or root runners. In cooler areas, some species such as the
Banana Passionfruit are cold tolerant.
The trailing vine with is colourful flowers is a wonderful addition to
the garden, igniting all the senses.
The leaves and flowers of the passionfruit
plant are used in herbal preparations.
One teaspoon of dried herb is steeped for 10-15 minutes in one cup of
boiling water. Drink the tea up to three
cups a day including one before bed to help you sleep soundly.
Passionflower should not be taken with
antidepressant drugs, while pregnant or if you have liver disease. Do not take any more than the recommended
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip has been used medicinally for a wide range of afflictions from Europe to China over the last 2000 plus years. Most noted for its intoxicating effect on cats which brush up against or eat the leaves, not all cats have the gene that contributes to their experience of euphoria. It is the same chemical in catnip that attracts cats called nepetalactone isomers, which produces the relaxing effect in humans, similar to the natural sedative in Valerian (valepotriates).
Catnip has the effect of uplifting your mood,
easing emotional tension, relaxing the whole body and boosting well-being. It is also used as a mild sedative for
Catnip is a useful aromatic addition to the
garden attracting bees and repelling mosquitos.
It is easy to grow from seed, cutting or root division, in a wide
variety of soil types and climates.
Harvest the leaves and flowers in late summer while in full bloom, dry
them and store in an air-tight container in order to preserve the volatile oil.
Use 2 teaspoons of the dried herb in a cup of
boiling water and steep for 10 to 20 minutes.
If it is going to work for you, you should start to notice the effects
in 2 weeks. Even tucking a bag of dried
catnip leaves under your pillow help to induce a restful sleep.
Catnip is non-toxic but if you
experience an upset stomach or allergic reactions, either decrease the dosage
or stop using it.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Motherwort has a strong folklore history. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it for depression, physical and “emotional problems of the heart” experienced as palpitations. The Chinese have revered the herb for longevity. An English herbalist called Culpepper in the 17th century once wrote, “There is no better herb to take melancholy from the heart and make a merry, cheerful soul”. It got the name motherwort from its use as a uterine stimulant to bring on labour. Despite limited research into its effects, some European countries have approved its use to treat a rapid or irregular heart rate caused by stress, anxiety and other nervous conditions. One study in 2011, demonstrated after 28 days of treatment with motherwort, 32 percent of participants with significant improvement in symptoms of anxiety and depression, and a further 48 percent of participants showing moderate improvement.
Motherwort can be quite difficult to
grow from seed, enjoys a sunny or partly shaded position in the garden, and
adapts to any soil and climatic conditions.
It is sometimes affectionately known as Lion’s Tail due to the tall distinct
tail-like stems from which soft, hairy leaves grow.
Use motherwort dried leaves in a tea
steeped for 10 minutes, with a little honey or lemon juice to hide the bitter
taste or combine with another herb such as spearmint. Sip 1-2 cups throughout the day or
alternatively take ½-1 teaspoon of tincture three times a day.
Motherwort should not be used in
pregnancy. It should be used only under
doctor supervision, if cardiac drugs are being prescribed and used.
herbs might be something to try, it is also important to consider what else is passing
your lips. Some nutritional
deficiencies, such as vitamin B and zinc, are associated with depression. It is well known that a diet of processed
foods, as opposed to a balanced wholefood diet of lean meats, fish, whole
grains, fruit and vegetables, puts you at higher risk of developing depressive
and anxiety symptoms. For more on
the impact of diet on mental health, check out my
Whilst all these plants can be bought as either a tincture or dried herb, I highly recommend trying to grow your own. Getting out in the garden and breathing in the soil microbes are also a great mental health initiative. Old traditional herbs are a wonderful addition to the garden and allow you to play a role in preserving our wonderful history of herbal medicine. Just check if there are any growing restrictions in your state.
Please remember, that medicinal herbs should only be used in
consultation with your treating medical practitioner, as there may be
contraindications with your current medications, possible side effects or
higher risks of allergic reactions. Some
herbs are also not suitable to take during pregnancy or to give children to
A good GP should be willing to consult with you, if you are wanting to
introduce herbal medicines into your treatment plan. All the available research on what is effective
and what isn’t is published in these
global clinical guidelines, accessible to clinicians, who are often unsure
of the most recent available evidence.
Eco-social work is an area of practice that is still trying to find its identity. I have only very recently ‘come out’ as an eco‑social worker and recognise there are many different approaches to incorporating eco‑therapies into practice.
My eco-social work practice has been largely influenced by my Indigenous mentors and co-workers in the Northern Territory. Spending time on country with Tiwi Elders gave me insight into their culture, spiritual connection to the land and harmonious lifestyles. For those experiencing intergenerational trauma, mental health, drug and alcohol and domestic violence issues, the women often told me “going bush is the best medicine for our people”. Essentially what the Elders were telling me is that land and connection to country is critical for social and emotional wellbeing, and must be part of a therapeutic plan for recovery. This is consistent with a 2009 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATIS) paper, which says:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is viewed in a holistic context, that encompasses mental health and physical, cultural and spiritual health. Land is central to wellbeing. Crucially, it must be understood that when the harmony of these interrelations is disrupted, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ill health will persist.
Part of my therapeutic work involved taking families out on camping trips away from the stresses of their community. The strong women always took a lead in traditional healing ceremonies for their children and families on these camps.
Eco-social work practice requires us to expand our thinking beyond the ‘person-in-environment’ perspective to consider the earth as an ecological whole in which humans have always belonged. Eco-psychologists might argue that people and the planet are so inextricably linked that when one becomes unwell so does the other, likewise when one is healthy so is the other. According to the biophilia hypothesis, people have an innate affiliation with nature and if we separate from nature we will suffer psychologically.
This need for nature goes beyond exploiting natural resources for human gain, but is vital for human emotional, spiritual, aesthetic and cognitive growth and development. It could be that our evolution away from forests into the busy, stressful conditions of modern civilisation is contributing to the rapidly rising rates of mental health issues we are seeing globally. Richard Louv, who uses the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ to describe the impact of our separation, says children are spending so much less time outdoors than previous generations, that it is having a detrimental impact on their development. Rather than seeing ourselves as separate from nature, we must remember, we are nature.
To assist in the process of getting people to reconnect with nature for health and wellbeing, I did training in an eco-therapy called Nature and Forest Therapy (NFT). NFT is inspired by the traditional Japanese practice of shinrin yoku (forest bathing). The objective of a nature therapy walk is to give participants an opportunity to take a break from the stresses of daily life, to slow down and appreciate things that can only be noticed when moving slowly.
The key is not to cover a lot of miles, but to walk through nature with intention and just ‘be’. This mindful approach to nature connection can be likened to the Indigenous contemplative practice of Dadirri, traditionally practised while sitting on country. Miriam Rose Ungunmerr says ‘Dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us’.
On a guided group Nature Therapy walk, particular attention is paid to the practice of reciprocity. In supporting the development of human-nature relationships we foster the role of humans as givers, as well as receivers. I firmly believe that if we are more closely connected to Mother Nature, we are more likely to want to care for and protect her. People who engage regularly in forest bathing practices tend to spontaneously want to give back to nature or introduce lifestyle changes to tread more lightly on the earth. This is consistent with the Indigenous worldview that recognises the interconnectedness of all things.
In a counselling context, eco-social work can be as simple as conducting sessions outdoors or doing a ‘walk and talk’ session in nature. The relaxation effects of being in nature are immediate for our clients, regardless of what happens in the therapeutic conversation. If it is not possible to meet outside, nature can be brought indoors to enhance the healing effects. Introducing pot plants, nature landscape artwork and natural forest scents to your office all have health and wellbeing benefits.
Eco-therapists are implementing nature-based enquiries into their assessment processes using instruments such as the Sensory Awareness Inventory. Investigations into the sensory activities that give people pleasure often feature nature-based themes and provide insight into ways clients can move towards their therapeutic goals. Interventions such as sensate focusing allow clients to draw on the full range of sensory experiences to help them achieve a life of comfort, safety and joy. Using nature as a teaching or learning tool, nature-based assignments can be client or therapist-directed to help them draw on available resources and move towards change.
I believe eco-therapies will be the evidence-based focused psychological strategies of the future, as we begin to understand the interconnectedness between people and a planet under stress. Even putting aside for a moment what Indigenous people have demonstrated through their relationship with the land for thousands of years, there is evidence showing the benefits of nature and green space, to mental, physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual health.
In bringing eco-therapy into my social work practice, I aspire to connect people back to their true nature, promote wellness and recovery from physical and mental ill health, and bring healing to those who have experienced trauma. By strengthening the human-nature connection, I am also indebted to the traditional, ancient wisdom of Indigenous cultures about the healing power of nature and our obligations to care for our planet.
In the same way that I developed a passion for Indigenous social work and working with the most marginalised, I have also made the commitment to become a climate-conscious social worker. But what does that mean exactly? Well, here goes.
For me, it
means acknowledging the climate emergency, that it is a human made problem
and that there is a real urgency to address it.
It means knowing just enough about the climate science to be informed,
but limiting my intake of climate news so that it does not lead me down a black
hole of despair. It means filling my
awareness with good news environmental stories too, of which there are plenty.
recognising both the experience-near and distance effects of climate change,
and that it impacts all of us. One does
not need to have lost their home, possessions or loved ones through a flood or
fire to be feeling deeply the effects.
It means I acknowledge that uncertainty over the future of the planet is a contributing factor to the rapidly rising rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. I recognise the need to move away from individual therapy to more collaborative models that bring people together in community. I believe linking the lives of people through sharing stories and experiences reduces isolation, builds resilience and fosters hope.
being aware that the climate-concerns clients raise with me and the emotions
they are experiencing are real, and deeply felt by me too. It means I listen actively and respectfully
to their pain for the world, making space for people to explore their despair,
fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and other feelings. And allowing myself to sit with the
It means I
do not label people with a disorder. Eco-anxiety
is not something to be cured or fixed. Climate
distress is a very healthy emotional response, as a sign of sensitivity,
empathy and love for our beautiful planet.
It speaks to the values and beliefs that are important to people.
acknowledging the role that Indigenous peoples played in caring for the
environment before colonisation and industrialisation (and continue to do so). It is awareness of the links between climate
change and global inequality and recognising that institutional racism,
injustice and economic inequality are root causes. It is those that have been exploited and
contributed the least to the problem that are now suffering the most.
It means bringing people back into relationship with the more-than-human world. It is the loss of our connection with nature that has got us into this mess. And so my belief is that one step towards climate healing is coming back to nature. When we have re-established our relationship with Mother Nature, then we are more like to care for her, look out for her, respect her.
helping people to find ‘active hope’, that is, moving beyond paralysing
feelings of helplessness to taking action.
It is only after exploring and accepting our feelings, that we can take
action in a conscious and grounded way.
Whether you decide to fly less and holiday near home or become an
environmentalist, it is all valued.
that I actively maintain my own healthy relationship with the more-than-human
world. I walk the talk. I do everything that I invite my clients to
do. Spending time sitting in quiet
contemplation, practicing mindfulness, finding ways of tending to nature like
picking up rubbish or joining Landcare.
It means I
live as lightly as possible on the earth.
It is accepting the reality that I am contributing to the release of
green houses gases every time I leave the house but not letting guilt or shame
talk me into becoming immobilised. It is
about taking any small actions I can, because it does make a difference.
It means that I actively support causes which are addressing climate change. I attend Climate Change marches and events where possible. I donate $1 from each counselling session I provide to ReForest Now, a non-profit planting trees and regenerating rainforest in NSW.
It means I am committed to ongoing professional development in the area of climate-conscious practice. I am a full member and Climate Aware Practitioner with Psychology For a Safe Climate.
If it is a
climate-conscious mental health practitioner you are looking for, then let’s chat.
lots of ways humans communicate their distress and need for help without
actually using words, which can be too hard.
You might notice their mood changes and they retreat into their bedroom,
they turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their feelings, start to harm or say
they’re going to kill themselves. The
person is not a problem to be fixed here.
It’s a sign that there is something drastically wrong with their
environment that does not allow them to thrive.
Rather than attention-seeking
behaviours, I see these as cries for help to fix their environment! In
short, eradicating things like homelessness, homophobia, racism,
discrimination, poverty, injustice, inequality and environmental degradation
would go a long way to fixing people’s mental health issues.
Consider that the Earth also finds it difficult to speak up. She has been trying to seek our attention for many decades now to indicate her distress. She has been giving us warning signs that are growing much more alarming. You know them. The melting polar caps, the loss of biodiversity due to deforestation, escalating animal extinction rates, more frequent natural disasters and arguably now a pandemic. The Planet is not attention-seeking here! She is crying out for help. We need to fix her environment, those precious spaces and places we share with her. By doing so, our health and mental health will also benefit.
of climate changes’ devastating effects was most prominent for me in the Black
Summer fires of 2019-20. Bushfires were
bearing down on us in our makeshift home at the time on the outskirts of
Bowraville. The impact was devastating
and people hardly had time to recover before the pandemic hit. Some are still living without proper
close call, I felt a real urge to take action and I’ve been doing as much as I
can to live more lightly on the earth like establishing a worm farm, buying
more bulk organic goods and less plastic, and ensuring I recycled or reused
everything I possibly could! In my most
despairing of moments I often feel powerless, thinking what difference can one
person really make. In my most hopeful
moments, I can see that larger movements of people really can do good, the work
of Greta Thunberg being an obvious example.
So I’ve decided that this year, it’s time for more broader action.
to plant trees. Lots of them. Using the tools that Nature has provided us
already, this is one way we can take action now to draw down excess carbon from
the atmosphere. My commitment this year
is to donate $1 from each counselling session to ReForest Now.
“ReForest Now works to restore what was once Australia’s largest expanse of subtropical rainforest, home to an incredible array of species that grew from the rich volcanic soils of Wollumbin. The Big Scrub once covered 75,000 hectares of Northern NSW (an area larger than Singapore!) By 1900, more than 99% of this unique ecosystem had been cleared. The remaining forest occurs in small, scattered patches called “remnants”. These remnants contain 122 endangered/critically endangered species, with many more threatened.” You can read more about their inspiring work here. And if you feel inspired to support them in any way, whether through donations or getting out there and putting plant into soil, I encourage you to do so.
We are all part of the Climate Change problem. Think about what part you can play in being part of the solution. We have taken so much. It’s time to give back to nature.
I know what
it’s like to have an attack of Anxiety, although I didn’t know what it was at
the time. It was the kind of Anxiety
that came with a sense of dread, that I was going to have a heart attack. The thoughts of Anxiety were relentless as
the odd pain in my chest wouldn’t budge, no matter how much Panadol, laying
down to rest or comfort hubby provided.
My mind had been hijacked by Anxiety convincing me I might not live long
enough to go on the adventure we had planned the following day. I also remember thinking I don’t want to have
a heart attack on White Island as medical help will be limited and slow. We were on holidays in New Zealand having a
wonderful, relaxing time. But I didn’t
want to worry my hubby so I walked myself to the hospital underplaying how
concerned I was. I knew the visit was
going to cost a lot of money (being overseas) but I couldn’t ease my mind as
long as the pain continued.
I had a fair
wait at the hospital before they ran all the blood tests you would expect as
well as ECG monitoring. I was discharged
with the news that my heart was good, but just to be on the safe side they
recommended follow up with a cardiologist for a stress test, back in
The next day my hubby and I were walking on a live volcano. A few weeks before we arrived in New Zealand, White Island (known by its Maori name of Whakaari) was put on a Volcanic Alert Level 2 rating, indicating “moderate to heightened volcanic unrest”. I learned this is the last level before eruption. I remember feeling a little nervous hearing this, but no-one else seemed concerned, least of all the tour company taking us out there. Before boarding the boat, I happily signed the waiver, but in the back of my mind conflicting voices were toying with each other; ‘Is this really safe?” and “Of course it is, otherwise we wouldn’t be going.” The mood on the boat was jovial. I was able to discount and push aside the lingering thoughts of “This could blow any moment!”. A few hours later, after passing the steaming mouth of the volcano on foot, I was quietly relieved to be heading back to the waters edge, for the ride back.
two weeks later White Island erupted, killing 22 people and injuring 25 others.
months later, I learned I had a very healthy heart and it must have been Anxiety
causing my symptoms. I got on with my
life and didn’t think much of it again until recently as the 2 year anniversary
of the tragedy looms. As I’ve been
learning more and more about the art of listening to the body, I’ve been
wondering if the symptoms I’d experienced were actually my body’s warning
system that something was imminent. I
like to think that I am in tune with my gut and it has guided me towards good
fortune many a time, but sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between
gut feelings and an overactive mind. I’ve
been sitting on the tarmac on a few flights and have had the thought ‘What if
this plane goes down today?’ The gut was
clearly not reacting in those moments. I’ve
managed to push these thoughts aside and lived.
But I have heard stories of people who’ve chosen not to board an aeroplane
because ‘something’ told them not to, and they avoided a horror crash. Perhaps they were listening to their body?
Looking back I wonder if my body was picking up on the heat that was bubbling away in the Earth’s core, getting ready to break the surface? Was my body sensing Mother Nature’s unsettled energy? Was this my body’s way of warning me not to get on that boat? I wonder how those people who have avoided plane crashes by refusing to board, distinguished between the irrational thoughts of Anxiety and the premonition warning system that seems to be built into our bodies? This must be the same system that my ancestors listened to when they were being hunted down by a predator. For someone who experiences Anxiety regularly talking them out of doing things, I imagine this would be much more difficult terrain to negotiate.
I don’t have
any answers. I only feel blessed to be
here telling this story. But I am left
wondering, what it would take to stop me from doing something I’d planned, if I
got these symptoms again? I’d like to
think I might take more notice of my body next time.