Western MA Folk Remedies for Stress


“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing in a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: ‘I’ll go take a hot bath.’ I meditate in the bath. The water needs to be very hot, so hot that you can barely stand putting your foot in it. Then you lower your self inch by inch, till the water is up to your neck. – I remember the ceiling over every bath tub I’ve stretched out in. I remember the texture of the ceilings and the cracks and the colors and the damp spots and the light fixtures. I remember the tubs too, the antique griffin legged tubs and the modern coffin shaped tubs, and the fancy pink marble tubs overlooking the indoor lily pond and I remember the shapes and sizes of the water taps and the different sorts of soap holders . . . I never feel so much myself as when I am in a hot bath.” – Excerpt from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“Staying healthy to me means staying happy with myself. If I’m feeling sad, lonely or stressed (which can lead to lower immune functioning and dis-ease of all sorts) I call over a group of friends and we have a meal, play games, dance, laugh and/or create art together. I think this is the best household remedy of all! Life is full of dis-ease, if I keep myself at-ease within community and friends my mind stays happy and healthy a day at a time. Good health is not always curing the symptoms – to me it is rejuvenating my spirit.” – Ricki Carroll, New England Cheese Makers Supplies, Ashfield

“When I’m feeling down, blue, or all-around crappy, it’s usually because my own world feels too small. So anything I can do to break out of my own world perception is especially helpful. I definitely make plans with friends with whom I laugh a lot or I go see some sort of entertainment that is a far cry from my own life – an anatomically incorrect rock musical for example. Anything that helps me to see, understand, and embrace the infinite possibilities of this world. Of course, spending my day wandering around trying to get the babies of strangers to laugh or smile is also very satisfying as well.”– Kelsey Flynn, Available for lunch, Northampton

“A tincture with St. Johnswort, Lemon Balm and Motherwort (along with self-heal and mullein flower essences) has been really helpful for a couple of friends. One was suffering from panic attacks and my other friend was feeling very depressed.” – Cathy Whitely

“Hot milk and honey and put your worries in a sack under your bed. They will be there in the morning.” – Eileen Latshang

“Maude knew. . . . “It’s oat straw tea. You’ve never had oat straw tea, have you?” “No.” “Well then.” She smiled and picked up the kettle. Do you remember this scene from the 1971 movie Harold and Maude written by Colin Higgins? –  Oats (Avena sativa) are in fact one of the best remedies for ‘feeding’ the nervous system, especially when under stress. They’re a specific treatment for nervous debility and exhaustion, particularly when associated with depression. Oats act quite slowly but can be of real long-term benefit in any weakness of the nervous system. Oats are one of the classic plants which form a bridge between food and medicine (see oatmeal recipe under winter blues). Whenever I am feeling frazzled, rushed, overworked and that there is not enough time in the day, I brew myself a pot of oatstraw tea.” – Tony(a) Lemos, Ashfield

“I use passion flower and Valerian tincture for anxiety and sleeplessness.” – Becky Loveland, Northampton

“Doesn’t matter how you feel it is what you do . . . you know? I play my guitar or go to hear music . . .” – Al Houghton, Corner of Main and Center street, Northampton

“A wonderful home remedy for preparing ones self for a deep nights sleep — a sound sleep— is a ginger foot bath otherwise known as Dr. Bucket by some friends of mine. Take a bucket and fill with hot water, mix in 1 tablespoon Ginger powder and sea salt. Soak your feet 10 -15 mins, the water should be as hot as you can stand it. Enjoy a sound nights sleep.” – Christian Elwell
Editor’s note: this will also keep you warm and cozy.

“For someone who tends to be cold six months out of the year, it’s amazing that I’ve settled in New England. Yet nothing compares to the ever-changing seasons. I indulge in the sights from my front porch – wind, rain and snow – with a mug of hot ginger tea. Perhaps my taste for this pungent rhizome developed in my British grandmother’s home where candied ginger was served after meals. Maybe this propensity began when as a child I was given ginger ale for an upset stomach. A treat considering my mom likes soda about as much as I like Brussels sprouts. Now I find myself reaching for the ginger root under all kinds of circumstances. Primarily I believe ginger has become my ally because of its penetrating warmth and agreeable taste. As an addition to moontime formulas, it not only increases circulation encouraging smooth flow but also harmonizes the red raspberry and other botanicals in the blend. It must be no coincidence that ginger enhances many recipes from stir fries to sweet potatoes since it is such a potent digestive aid. For confronting the blues of winter’s cold and damp, I find no better friend than candied ginger. This combines nicely with peppermint, lemon, ginger, echinacea tea whose aromatic volatile oils help clear the sinuses while tempting me into sip after sip. Ginger root remains my panacea.” – Kimberly Rankin, Balanced Life Therapies/Simply Herbal Tea, Blends, Conway

“I think my most important home remedy is the spearmint plant growing in a window box (inside) which is flat up against the head of my bed so it’s the first thing I see every morning. I find it a wonderful companion. It’s a good thing to wake up and see how much it’s grown each morning, and I can chew a leaf or two first thing too.” – Alicia Jo Rabbins, Fiddler, Northampton

“I haven’t gotten a cold for the last couple years. In the fall and winter I’ve been making a ginger tea with rosehips and lemon juice. I add cider and a little mint. It works wonders for me.” -Dan Young, People’s Pint, Greenfield

“My personal favorite cure for when I am feeling all stressed out, premenstral and bloated, grumpy, sad, angry, or let down, when my lungs feel tight and my breathing feels hindered, when my throat feels all scratchy or my belly feels wrong, when my motivation and inspiration have left me for another and I feel myself slipping into a funk. . . I pick up the phone and call my friend Chris M., sometimes holding back the tears I whisper “ginger brew, ginger brew.” In half an hour we meet up at the People’s Pint in Greenfield and sip on the most fabulous ginger brew I have ever tasted.  It is medicinal strength. It usually just takes a pint occasionally two, but always by the time I am ready to head home I am all better.  Their quality meals have also nourished me many a time. I expect it is the combination of good company, good food and the ginger brew, ginger brew.” – Tony(a) Lemos, Ashfield

Dream-time pillows

4 parts Mugwort
3 parts Lavender
2 parts Rose Petals
2 parts Hops
2 parts Lemon Balm
1 part Chamomile
drops of pure Lavender essential oil may be added
Sew mix into a pretty silk or velvet pillow about 6” x 6” and place beneath your bed pillow to slip into sweet dreams. Have a journal nearby to record your dreams.

– Lauren Mills, Williamsburg

For more from this series, check out these posts from A Cure for What Ails

Tony(a) LemosTony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA, she also maintains an herbal medicine practice in Western Mass. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest and the Women’s Herbal Conference.

(Photo credit: (ccl) Martin Biskoping)

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