This last week in my 5th and 6th grade Science classes, we were talking about the states of matter.We subjected lots of ice to a high heat to register the change in state. We discussed molecules and how, when plied with heat, are stimulated into action. They are dispersed; radiating away from center; moving up and away; rapidly separating from one another.
We know that within the crucible, substances are purified. It consumes and burns up, breaks down and destroys. It leaves behind the essence of the substance. Fire purifies.
From a medicinal standpoint, when a substance has a heating quality it is active, it is stimulating and within our tissues there is an invigoration. The plant itself may not taste hot, but it has a heating quality. These plants have a tendency to move and stimulate the blood within the circulatory system, clearing stagnation, increasing elimination of impurities and remedying the effects of coldness and tissue depression.
Within this heat state, the Greek physicians of old identified four degrees of heat. These are described nicely by herbalist Matthew Wood:
“[Hot in the first degree] opens pores to expel moisture by perspiration and other channels. Second degree thins fluids so that they can better pass through pores and channels. Third degree increases the internal heat of digestion and metabolism, so that the body stays warm and the perspiration is driven outward toward the surface. Fourth degree burns the skin. These agents are used externally to awaken organs and functions that are blocked or inactive (cold, depressed) and to burn away tumors.”
Plants of the fourth degree heat are so strong as to actually burn you. I am imagining a ghost pepper right now.
While most, if not all, plants with heating qualities are stimulating, not all stimulating herbs are hot; some are cooling.
According to Materia Medica Monthly:
“Plants that are typically hot in quality contain resins, pungent aromatic essential oils, and oftentimes have a warming, spicy flavor to them (though not always). Many influence the digestive system through warming up agni, or digestive fire, increase circulation of the blood, promote sweating or diaphoresis, contain anti-microbial properties, and generally help to relieve the cold/depression and damp/stagnation tissue states by enhancing the bodies innate capacity to combust and metabolize toxins and by stimulating the organs into a greater level of activity.”
Angelica (Angelica spp.)
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
Balsam root (Balsamorrhiza sagittata)
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Cayenne (Capsicum annum)
Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus)
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Garlic (Allium sativa)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Osha (Ligusticum porteri)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Vitex (Vitex agnus castus)
1. Digestive issues; gas
2. Cough, respiratory distress, bronchitis, congestion
5. Infection; antibiotic
Of course, your natural energetic state as well as your acute energetic state should be taken into consideration when choosing herbs of a heating nature. Adding heat to an overheated person would exacerbate the problem.
During cold and flu season, your respiratory tissue state will help you to identify the right herb to use as a remedy.