Wisdom of the Bones_ Aligning the Past, Present and Future with Plants

Bone is the hardest of human tissue. Bone is active. Bone is living. Bone is reborn every ten years with new bone in a process called remodeling. The basic unit of the bone is the osteocyte, or bone cell which is developed from a connective tissue cell. Calcium phosphate strengthens the bone mass while fibers of the collagen matrix form layers in the bone to keep them bendable.

The study of bones indicate that the bones of the ancient are not dissimilar to our own. Throughout the world, the burial sites which contain the bones of the ancestors is sacred ground. Studies (and personal experience) have shown the energetic vibration in those areas are higher than those just steps away. In Hawaiian culture, the bones hold the soul DNA and each bone has a specific indication/story to tell. Each spinal vertebra is an ancestral lineage offering wisdom and support as you journey on this Earth. As a bodyworker, I look for ways to support my clients through accessing the ancestors through right alignment, plant medicines and wisdom of the bones.

Living in right alignment is less about bone structure and more an assessment of how we are in our walk on this Earth. Our walk affects every bone, organ, connective tissue in our body. What path are we taking? Is it the high road? The low road? Is it rocky? Is it smooth? Are we in right alignment with our ancestral past? Are we planting the seeds of a solid future? And how does our walk today affect our Mana, our purpose, our lineage.

What does it mean to have no back bone? Is it possible that hanging around a person who is a “ pain in the neck” can cause a pain in the neck? And are you, like so many others, carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders?

The Wisdom of the Bones is characterized by assessing bone, muscle, fascia. Here are a few examples of common areas of discomfort and how the wisdom of the bones might present itself.

Pelvis: drive and power, the ability to tilt toward direction, choices.

T-5 Protector of the lungs. Congestions vs. clarity. Meaningful life vs. existence Holding on to grief

T-1 Falling in love with ourselves, self esteem.

C-1 (cervical spine) Pivotal, strong foundation we pivot from. Vision, ability to see both sides

C-2 Balance. How we balance thought, feelings, action, integrity.

I recently had a client who was experiencing knee pain and swelling. She scheduled an hour of bodywork and requested I just focus on the problem areas of the legs and knees. I know that in order to resolve the knee issue I need to address the whole body specifically the gluteal muscles and lower back. During her intake, she casually mentioned visiting a friend on his deathbed. She said she sat and visited a while “maybe an hour” but upon attempting to leave; she could not stand up and had to be taken out with a wheelchair. Since that visit, she had had constant knee pain.

The Wisdom of the Bones tells me that this deathbed had a deeper story. The knees catch the one fallen from grief, kneeling in sorrow. The legs are capable of side stepping, getting out of someone’s or your own way. They are also capable of allowing you to move forward. Or to hold on to someone as your feet “dig in.”

Ultimately the story came forward. Her deathbed visit was to her ex-husband, the father of her children. As I began working on her back, she shared the story more fully. I released her hip but even the slightest pressure on the trochanter bone sent shooting pains down her leg. The pain subsided and she mentioned, again very casually that she had dreamed of her ex husband the night before. At that point, I knew I needed to share the information I had on Rabbit Tobacco. (Gnaphalium arenarium, Helichrysum arenarium)

Rabbit Tobacco is a walker between the worlds, specifically when one who has passed lingers and causes disruptions in the household. Or in this case, within the bones of the hip and legs. It is also a specific remedy for sciatic pain, which showed up spontaneously when I touched the bone of the hip.

Rabbit Tobacco is what is termed an everlasting. It appears to never die, holding its form for years and  releasing fragrance only after dying, drying. It will adapt to the elements and rehydrate, dry, release fragrance and go quiet again and again, long after its been “dead”. Matthew Wood’s signature for Rabbit Tobacco is “life” continues in rabbit tobacco, after the death of the plant, so that it carries on as a communication between the living and the dead.

 A text from 1923 speaks of Rabbit Tobacco and its use by the Menomini Indians of Wisconsin….”When one has fainted, this is used to bring him back to consciousness again, the smoke being blown into his nostrils. Then again, when one in his family has died, his spirit or ghost is supposed to come back to the living. Bad luck and nightmares will result from a troublesome ghost. This smudge discourages and displeases the ghost, which after fumigation of the premises, leaves and never returns.”

Releasing the past in this case involved plant medicine, simple bodywork and intention. Rabbit tobacco can be found locally but in a pinch, helichrysum or curry plant will suffice. In this case, she was traveling so I suggested baby’s breath from a florist. Her knee pain subsided and swelling resolved.

Using the Wisdom of the Bones to address the present is an act of awareness and a whisper from the ancestors. A woman came in to the clinic to receive help with reoccurring headaches and jaw pain. On assessment I noticed she also had limited range of motion in her neck, so much so that her peripheral vision had to be limited as well due to an ability to look side to side, to see both sides. Wisdom of the bones of the neck is watch your view of the world. Are you seeing all that is offered to you? The cervical spine allows your head to pivot, expanding your view. The jaw is literally allowing you to speak your truth or hold your tongue. Clenching ones jaw in resentment is a precursor to headache and while I could use my bodywork skills and teach her some stretches; if she is still not wanting to speak her truth; how can I help?

The story behind these symptoms was left untold. Her inability to see another’s point of view (cervical spine indication) was not a surprise. I did my best to relieve the tension of the neck and jaw and she experienced immediate relief. But the muscles have memory and until the clenching of resentment is resolved; there likely will be little long term resolution.

This particular client was not ready to try herbal remedies or further bodywork. I know it is important to meet folks where they are so I let my time with her be complete. I never saw her again.

If she had been open to addressing the issue with plants; one plant I would have recommended is Verbena hastata, Blue Vervain.

Blue Vervain is a perennial plant with beautiful pink-purple flowers. Vervain has a structure that is rigid and upright, though multi branched. The person who finds this remedy effective is also rigid and upright, type A personality, intense, over achiever with a tendency to neck pain, stiffness. The Blue Vervain person is going to push through, get it done, no matter the consequences. Ironically, Vervain is the remedy for muscle hyperextension much like the personality who hyper-extends in life.

The plant is bitter energetically which is beneficial to the stiffness factor brought on by liver tension and can show up as stiff muscles.

Application is in tincture form, 5-7 drops up to 15-20 as needed.

Other Herbal Allies for Muscular Skeletal Concerns

Verbascum thapsus

Mullein is the herbal chiropractor of the herbal apothecary. An easy to grow biennial, Mullein is often found growing in the wild. Mullein’s doctrine of signature is a tall, cylindrical shape of it’s flower stalk, indicating strength of the spinal vertebrae. Mullein’s anti-inflammatory and joint lubricating actions work together to adjust and assist alignment of the bones.

Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald treats the regions of the spine with leaves of the corresponding region of the flowers stalk. Mullein is applied in oil and liniments, poulticing or taken in tea or tincture 3-7 drops up to 30 drops as needed.

Cimicifuga racemosa

Black Cohosh is the specific remedy for pain in the upper trapezius muscle. Black Cohosh is an effective ally for fibromyalgia and reducing tension/tight fascia. The typical person to benefit from Black Cohosh may have dark brooding tendencies and deep, brooding pain.

The remedy best suited for cerebral spinal fluid is Black Cohosh. Black Cohosh is a remedy for bunching up of the CSF which can manifest with a darkness and brooding that falls on the soul. Or conversely a bunching of fluids can be a result of whiplash, which Black Cohosh is also a remedy.

This shade loving plant is a beauty in the garden. The foliage unfurls in the spring, coming from the dark of winter much like the person who can unfurl into a new life with the assist of this powerful plant ally.

Best tinctured from fresh plant, 3-5 drops, increasing to 20-30 drops as needed. If the tincture produces good results but a mild headache, add Dandelion Root.

Equisetum arvense

Horsetail is a powerful anti-inflammatory, assists in bone healing from the inside out. Comfrey, in contrast heals bone from the outside in. Both are excellent remedies for the bone.

Horsetail is a perennial herb growing wild throughout the PNW and is high in silicon maximizing the assimilation of calcium in our bodies. The anti-inflammatory action coupled with the bone strengthening of horsetail make it a must have addition to liniments and/or bone healing tea blends.

May your walk on this Earth be filled with peace.


Southern Folk Medicine  Phyllis Light

The Book of Herbal Wisdom    Matthew Wood

Personal conversation, Class time with Matthew Wood, Sean Donahue, Jeana Iwalani Naluai

Ancestral whispers of wisdom in my clinic over the last 10 years.

Erin Vanhee is a bodyworker and somatic herbalist. Erin shares stories of her decades of personal relationship with plants at Trillium Herb School in Skagit Valley, Washington.

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