There are several etiologies for anxiety in Chinese medicine way of thinking. At the heart of choosing herbs is correct identification of the organ system that is out of balance, or injured.
There is one formula that I am often pondering because it contains one of my favorite herbs – lily bulb. Lily bulb is called “bai he,” and enters the Heart and Lung channels. It is unique in that it is not a root, but a bulb. This really seems to represent the Heart – bulbs are extensions of stems and are storage organs for the plant itself.
The lily bulb is moistening yet also slightly bitter and cold. These properties are considered important and useful in treating a condition known as yin deficiency. Dry cough, insomnia, and extreme sadness are conditions that this herb addresses. When combined with other herbs in a formula it can be used for anxiety with palpitations or a heavy feeling around the heart.
I like this formula because it takes into account weaknesses in both the Lung and Heart organs. When there is grief combined with depression, we almost stop breathing. Lily has a light energy, and can lift the Spleen energy upwards, relieving heaviness in the head, heart, and mind.
I also believe this herb is especially powerful during changes or crises. Menopausal syndrome can bring a normally emotionally stable woman to tears and hopelessness. When used with other blood tonics, lily can help ease the edginess and nervousness that accompanies hormonal changes, whether cyclic or episodic. The formula Lily Bulb Decoction softens hardness of the Heart, eases congestion in the chest and lungs, and makes for a small space to climb back into.
Other uses of this formula can extend to the frail and dry constitutional types, for example, women who have trouble gaining weight or have a history of eating disorders. This is because of the gently moistening effect. Often these types of women will not eat due to a type of obsessive disorder or fixation about diet. Lily bulb is associated with the Metal element, thus it can energetically address regimented thinking that can be a trait of those who have a strong Metal constitution. Being able to treat based on not just symptoms but also body type is one of the beautiful things about herbal medicine.
Western civilization causes us to be very deficient in Lung energy, probably because we are so outer directed, and work too much. This leads to shallow breathing, and we generally do not give ourselves time for reflection or contemplation, the practices that conserve vital energy.
I like to believe that as people awaken more, they will want to use more herbs as medicine. And that prescription drugs will fall into greater disuse. Herbs have the power to heal, not just address symptoms. Prosac, Xanax, and other drugs might be useful at times of extreme stress, and I’m not advocating that these should never be used. Yet how much safer and wiser is it to fall into the habit of using herbs to calm the nerves, a simpler and safer method that addresses the whole person.