Herbal Energetics: Cold

If we can agree that a cucumber is moist and cooling while a chili pepper is hot and drying then we can see that we each have a unique combination of Hot, Dry, Cold and Damp, plants and humans alike.


Remember back to primary school and learning about molecules and the states of matter? We learnt that with heat comes energy and invigorated molecules separating from each other. The addition of cold rendered molecules in stasis, effectively changing a liquid into a solid.

Cold brings slowness, closure, a withdrawing and coming to a stop. Imagine a hot summer day, the insects flying around, sweaty people fanning themselves, the noise of children playing and laughing and the sound of airplanes coming from a clear blue sky. Contrast that with a deep dark winter’s day; not a soul to be seen; the snow-covered world insulated from sound; closed up houses, seemingly in permanent stasis; peace and tranquility.

When we are cold, we hold ourselves more tightly, we wrap ourselves up, we cuddle in close to a loved one. We wear socks. We curl up on the couch. When molecules are contained and submitted to cold, that is exactly what they do; they couple more tightly together and become less active.

Herbs that are cold in nature are used to decrease excessive activity in our tissues, to slow down degenerative processes in our body, thicken up fluids in the body, close up pores and slow down bodily processes, in general.

To quote Matthew Wood again on the 4 degrees of cold:

“[Cold in the first degree] lessens
heat from exposure to the sun. Salad greens are considered cold in the first degree. Second degree thickens fluids and reduces internal heat. Third degree restrains the outward flow of fluids and matters. Fourth degree prevents “vapors” from rising upwards. Vapors are analogous to “rebellious qi” in traditional Chinese medicine. They are energy that is rising upward against the flow of nature. They include excessive coughing, vomiting, and menstrual cramps. Dizziness, fainting, swooning, hysteria, and PMS can be caused by vapors. Agents cold in the fourth degree stupefy the senses to ease violent pain and reduce mania, nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia.”

Plants that are cold in the 4th degree depress and shut down systems in a dramatic, maybe life-threatening way. I am imagining Opium.

Whereas a heating remedy can be thought of as a stimulant, a cooling remedy is a depressant. Taken to remedy heat or over-stimulation: often marked by redness, inflammation, tenderness or pain, cooling herbs serve to depress or suppress functionality in one or more vital systems of the body.

Plants that are cooling are marked by distinct tastes and sensations. Cooling bitters are easy to identify as they are taken to reduce gastrointestinal heat, cause a cooling sensation throughout the body (often accompanied by a shiver) and cause bowel elimination.

Partial list of herbs with cooling qualities:

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Gentian (Gentiana lutea)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red Raspberry (Rubus ideaeus)
Red Root (Ceanothus americanus)
Rose (Rosa spp.)
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa)
Willow (Salix alba)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Hops (Humulus lupulus)

When to use Cooling Herbs:

1. Digestive issues; heartburn; IBS

2. Fevers/infection

3. High blood pressure

4. Inflammation/pain

5. Mood swings/anxiety

6. Urinary dysfunction/infection

7. Stressful situations

Of course, your natural energetic state as well as your acute energetic state should be taken into consideration when choosing herbs of a cooling nature. Adding cold to an chilled 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.


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