I learned what an empath was when I was about 12 years old and it was a turning point in my young development.
Having a name for what felt like an overwhelming experience of the emotional vibrations of others that felt like something bigger than just hormonal changes led me to learning techniques to protecting my sensitive side. Even though I wasn’t ingesting much herbal medicine at that point I would wear herbs and stones as charms and found that gentle magick to work well for me. I also learned how to ground and center as well as basic shielding and warding which are not only essential skills for empaths and highly sensitive folks but for anyone pursuing magickal studies. These skills made my teen years way more tolerable and shaped me into the herbalist and witch that I am today.
But what is an empath? Or highly sensitive person? While the two terms are not interchangeable they are similar enough in my opinion that my herbal and essence-based recommendations can be applied to both. An empath is a person who has the ability to perceive and experience the feelings of other people and sometimes places. We are all empathic, but some folks empathic ability is heightened to a point that it can become overwhelming or distracting in their life. Because of their skill set many empaths go into the healing and therapeutic arts.
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) experience a heightened sense of their surroundings and may even have a more sensitive nervous system. They are often keyed in to the subtleties of others and their surroundings (including sound, light, texture, and smell) than non-HSPs. Again, everyone is prone to be more sensitive to at least one sense - HSPs are generally more sensitive in all of their senses which, like empaths, can lead to becoming easily overwhelmed. Due to their sensitivity, however, lots of HSPs thrive in the arts and activities that require great amounts of subtlety.
In short, empaths experience a heightened sensitivity to their emotional environment, whereas HSPs experience a generalized heightened sensitivity. Of course, some folks are both Empaths and HSPs while other folks are one or the other.
When it comes to herbs and essences my recommendation for Empaths and Highly Sensitive People is as follows:
Make friends with a nervine.
Connect with an adaptogen.
Create your custom rescue remedy.
These three remedies combined with a grounding, centering, and shielding practice can be beautifully effective in protecting your energetic senses and supporting your physical form. A bit of thorn magick helps, too. I’ll also talk about additional ways of supporting your Empathic or HSP self that I have found useful for myself and my community over the years. I’ve listed some of my favorite herbal allies for Empaths and HSPs below but as always, I I recommend doing your research or working with an herbalist to find the ones best suited for your constitution.
Make Friends with a Nervine
Nervines are herbs that are nourishing and restorative to the nervous system. There are two main types of nervines: relaxing and stimulating. We’ll be focusing on the relaxing nervines for our needs as Empaths and HSPs are often overstimulated when they’re feeling out of balance. Nervines help the body to return to a state of rest and relaxation and many of them are great tonic herbs meaning that they can be taken daily for a long time. I’ve listed a number of my favorite herbs for Empaths and HSPs below, highlighting three that I’m particularly fond of.
Milky Oat (Avena sativa) : I was just talking about Milky Oat in my most recent newsletter. It’s known as a tophorestorative to the nervous system meaning that it brings the nervous system back into balance. Milky Oat is a great nutritive herb that can be taken on a daily basis. I love it for Empaths and HSPs because it feels gentle in the body but has a powerful and long-lasting effect.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) : Skullcap is great for symptoms of anxiety, especially when there are hurried and worried thoughts, that can accompany heightened sensitivity. I’ve written about Skullcap a number of times including as an ingredient one of my favorite self-care teas that I highly recommend for Empaths and HSPs.
Rose (Rosa damascena) : Beautiful, amazing, unfolding Rose! Rose has gentle nervine qualities with the extra magick of thorn medicine. Rose is an ancient herbal ancestor and they’ve been a guide of healing wisdom through the ages - who better to turn to when life feels too big and overwhelming than to one who has seen it all and thrived?
Additional nervine options:
- Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
- Blue Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
- Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- St. Joan’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Connect with an Adaptogen
Adaptogens are herbs that help us to adapt to stress. They are not meant to be a replacement to good stress management and therapeutic support, but they are excellent at supporting are ability to shift perspective and reconnect to a place of centeredness within ourselves. Many adaptogens can be stimulating because part of learning how to adapt to stress is having all of our organ systems working well and adaptogenic herbs can help to wake up sluggish systems. Too much stimulation from an herb, however, can be detrimental to Empaths and HSPs, but not always. Again, get to know yourself and your constitution when choosing herbs. I’ve listed adaptogens that are less stimulating in their energy as compared to some adaptogens, but still bring in that much needed ability to restore the body to balance after a period of stress.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) : I really like Eleuthero because of it’s gentle nature (you might be sensing a theme here with the emphasis on gentleness as an important form of remedy for Empaths and HSPs). It can be used with young and old for an extended period of time without overstimulation. Eleuthero strengthens our energy and inner vitality which in turn supports the resiliency of Empaths and HSPs. If you’ve found other adaptogens to be too stimulating, you might find yourself enjoying Eleuthero.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) : Empaths and HSPs could learn a lot from the vibratory interconnectedness of the mushroom kingdom. Like other adaptogens, Reishi supports vitality and longevity with especial attention paid to the immune system. Reishi can help Empaths and HSPs transition from feeling overwhelmed by their heightened perceptions to being grounded in their gifts of interconnectedness.
Additional adaptogen options:
- Sacred Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
- Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
- Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Create your Custom Rescue Remedy
Here’s where the essence part of my recommendations come in. Many of you are probably familiar with Dr. Edward Bach’s Rescue Remedy. It’s a staple in many a holistic apothecary and for good reason - it’s effective, non-invasive, and can be used for everyone. If you don’t have time to put together your own personal rescue remedy based on my recommendations below, just go ahead and get your own bottle of Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy - it’ll serve you well.
The idea of a custom rescue remedy is to create an essence blend that meets your unique needs and the type of stress response you find yourself going through again and again. I’ve given recommendations for essences from the Bach and Flower Essence Society companies because they are easy to find in wellness stores and online. I’ve also recommended a handful of gem essences which you can either make yourself or find online. You can choose a 2 - 4 essences from the list below (or any that you come across in your studies) and combine a few drops of each into a one-ounce dosage bottle that you can then take 1 - 3 drops from as needed or three times daily as a tonic. Trust your intuition - your extra sensitivity is meant to help and guide you - and create a blend that will help you integrate useful information and leave out the rest.
Yarrow Environmental Essence : This is actually a blend of essences that I highly recommend for HSPs. In fact, if you were to take one essence long term, this is the one that I recommend. Yarrow Environmental Essence helps HSPs to deal with their increased sensitivity while also protecting against the impact of overstimulating and polluted environments. It’s an essence blend that I take regularly but one that I make sure to have with me any time that I travel as it’s an excellent adventuring companion.
Black Tourmaline Gemstone + Essence : A wonderfully protective and grounding essence for those Empaths and HSPs struggling to feel safe and centered in the world. I recommend keeping a piece of the stone near your work or study space as well as wearing it on your person in addition to using it as a gem essence.
Red Chestnut Flower Essence : Red Chestnut is especially useful for Empaths who get caught up in the emotions of others, trying to take on other’s problems, and become the ultimate harmonizer of all situations everywhere. The essence helps remind Empaths that these are not their feelings and they are not responsible for them. The essence teaches appropriate boundary-making.
Additional flower and gem essence options:
- Rose (Rosa damascena) Flower Essence
- Beech (Fagus Sylvatica) Flower Essence
- Aspen (Populus tremuloides) Flower Essence
- Dill (Anethum graveolens) Flower Essence
- Campion (Silene californica) Flower Essence
- Smoky Quartz Gem Essence
- Rose Quartz Gem Essence
- Kyanite Gem Essence
- Garnet Gem Essence
It's my hope for you that after reading this post you feel like you have a few new tools to use on your journey as an Empath and/or Highly Sensitive Person through this world. We need your gentleness and attention to subtlety to help keep us paying attention to the heartlines of the world.
P.S. Interested in learning more about your unique gifts and sensitivities as a healer? I've created a space to help you discover just that.