Most herbs are effectively drying. The combined actions of the overwhelming majority of herbs lead to some driving out of fluids from the body. These actions can be in the form of increasing urination or sweating through diuresis and diaphoresis, drying up swelling through astringency, draining fluids from the GI tract through tonic bitterness, and expectorating mucous from the lungs. These would be seen as physiological effects of action from plants with predominantly drying characteristics. Many other plants have drying effects stemming from their overall energetic qualities, such as being warming. Most herbs that are warming tend to be at least somewhat drying as heat has a tendency to increase dryness.
Astringency is one of, if not the most, important drying characteristc. This action directly effects the tissues themselves. Astringents contract and tighten tissues, prevent liquids from being lost and remedy fluid accumulation and stagnancy. Astringents can express either cooling or warming energetics and it is good form to understand their unique characteristics when combining them in astringent formulas.
It is imperative to know the list of moistening herbs when making formulas, as it is essential to add herbs with some moistening characteristics in order to balance out the drying effects of most herbs within the formula.
According to Materia Medica Monthly:
“From an Ayurvedic perspective, herbs which are drying would be said to aggravate the vata dosha, which is the constitutional type associated with dryness- whereas kapha is associated with moisture in the form of water and pitta is associated with moisture in the form of oils. This shows that administering moistening demulcent plants is critical for treating vata, especially if there are other remedies you wish to give them, such as nervines and antispasmodics for their nervousness, stress and tension. The vata dosha is considered one of the more difficult constitutions to treat because it is associated with the Ether Element (wind) and is thus constantly changing. “
Having a dry constitution (yin deficiency) is an increasing pattern in our western culture and it is important to recognise the symptoms of a dry tissue state and administer appropriate moistening herbs and refrain from drying herbs in order to bring about balance. Unfortunately, a dry tissue state inhibits the functionality of herbs administered as the dryness does not allow for proper absorption of the plant’s medicinal constituents thus rendering the remedy ineffectual.
According to Materia Medica Monthly:
“Signs of an excess of dryness includes: dry eyes, skin, hair, cracked nails, dry mucous in the nose, dry stool/constipation, nervousness, fatigue, tension, anxiety, insomnia, musculoskeletal tension, cracking/popping joints, and a dry tongue. If you see these signs and symptoms, it is critical that either you do not administer any drying herbs, or if you do, that you are giving an adequate amount of moistening, demulcent, yin supplementing herbs and foods to balance the drying effects of the other herbs.”
Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.)
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)
Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)
Blackberry root (Rubus spp.)
Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum)
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)
Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Oak bark (Quercus alba)
Plantain (Plantago major)
Red Root (Ceanothus americanus)
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Willow (Salix alba)
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Wood Betony (Stachys betonica)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Thank you Materia Medica Monthly for this list
Good old fashioned witch hazel can still be found in the pharmacy. I work with some of these astringents out in the landscape as common landscape plants or weeds.
Witch hazel would be one that I would love to grow. Would you classify them as difficult?