These Mercurial Plants Promote Calm and Balance
When following the history of Western medicine back to its origins, there exists a deep relationship between astrology and herbalism, a system used to diagnose disease and leverage plants for their healing effects. Born from a collaboration of Egyptian and Greek. knowledge in the Hellenistic period, Iatromathematica was the synthesis between astrology and herbalism.
According to the doctrine of Babylonian melothesia—the science of zodiac signs and the human body—it was thought by the physicians of the Classical and eventually the Medieval and Renaissance periods that the seven visible planets have energetic correspondences on Earth, and that their qualities are reflected in our bodies and constitutions. The planets’ qualities were also observed in the flora, fauna, and minerals of our natural world, and held clues as to what cures they were useful for.
Nicholas Culpepper, who had an intimate understanding of astrology and herbalism, is famous for this quote, which reveals the value once placed on astrology and medicine belonging together: “Physick (medicine) without astrology is like a lamp without oil.” Though this cosmology is no longer the prevailing worldview, it is alive and well in the arts of medical astrology, herbalism, and magic, providing a means for us to come into relationship with planetary and plant allies in our holistic practices. Knowing astrology and the qualities of the planets is a “lamp” that illuminates a map to understanding our bodies and their connection to nature and the cosmos.
In this series, we will introduce the correspondences between each of the seven classical planets and the plants they are associated with; we will explore how to see planets in plants so that we can identify their nature. Finding plants in their environments gives us clues as to their uses and qualities, as they have adapted to environments that are similar to imbalances in our bodies we need to treat. Working with these plants medicinally invites their quality into us so that we may take on their balancing effects, helping us enjoy herbs in our daily lives with more confidence and clarity.
[Note: This series is for entertainment and inspirational purposes only, and not intended to replace licensed medical care.]
Part 3: MERCURY
Mercury as a planet signifies knowledge, thought, and communication. It is swift-moving, the closest to the sun of all the planets in our solar system. It is associated with the movement and distribution of information in the mind and body via the nervous system. Where the moon is connected to the brain tissue and emotional, sensory memory, Mercury is connected to the logical and rational functions of the mind. Thought to be cold and dry in its qualities, its associated plants are used to balance excesses of moisture and stagnation, calm anxiety and racing thoughts, and to harmonize the movement of energy and digestion.
Organ systems traditionally attributed to Mercury are the lungs (breath), tongue (speech), brain (thought), and digestive system (nourishment). It is also said to be connected to the locomotive power of the bod and fine motor skills, expressed and articulated through the hands and feet.
Mercury’s two associated signs, Gemini and Virgo, are known for their mutability and tendency toward frenetic activity. Mercury is connected to the sanguine constitution through air sign Gemini—sociable, changeable, and also prone to dryness, indigestion and dissipation of energy. Mercury also presents in the melancholic constitution through Virgo, its earth sign, where it is more connected to the digestive system, food, health routines, and a need for organization on a material, practical level. Virgo is prone to coldness, dryness, and nervousness.
Between these two signs and the coupled body systems, it could be said that Mercury is connected to the enteric nervous response, or the “gut reaction,” interweaving a finely tuned body intelligence between the brain and digestive system. Imbalances in the body associated with Mercury are vertigo, dizziness, anxiety, worry, speech impediments such as stuttering, or being mute. Memory loss is another way a Mercury type imbalance can manifest, as is dry coughs, head colds, and gout in the hands and feet. Excess or overactive Mercury type energy can be associated with a feeling of being ungrounded and too caught up in the mind.
We can identify Mercury’s plants in nature by fine branching greenery, which mirrors the delicate nervous system pathways in the body along with the bronchioles of the lungs. Mercury’s plants tend to be subtle in their aromatic fragrance and to grow in dry, sandy conditions. Their seeds are encased in pods or husks—think fennel and celery. Mercury’s plants tend to have warming qualities to offset the cold imbalances associated with Mercury, and are often carminative, meaning they encourage digestion and alleviate gas and bloating.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is a prime Mercury herb—it grows in warm, dry environments and is itself a dry plant. Its soothing aromatic fragrance is calming, its oils used in aromatherapy to cure anxiety and relieve cramping and tension. It has an opening and clearing effect on the body, warming the head, calming fears and worries, and encouraging sleep.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel is related to carrots, another Mercurial plant, its stalks and seeds used for their carminative, digestive support and gas clearing qualities. Fennel bears a sweet aromatic fragrance and cooked with other foods helps to break them down and make them more digestible. Its fine green stalks resemble the bronchioles of the lungs and branches of the nervous system, offering a clue that it is helpful to clear congestion, blockages, and stagnation in breathing passages.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Another fine green plant whose delicate branching leaves resemble the interconnectivity of the body, parsley is thought to be a moderately hot and dry, warming up cold conditions in the body. It warms the stomach, liver, and spleen, and is a known diuretic, meaning it helps promote urination to clear water retention. It is also carminative, helping to clear digestive bloating and gas. It is also a known emmenagogue, meaning it encourages healthy menstrual flow when coldness and dryness are blocking movement.
Art by Debra Stapleton