Do you know eleuthero?
While its common names include "Siberian ginseng" and "taiga root", eleutherococcus senticosus does not come from Siberia. It is native to the far eastern parts of Russia, as well as China and North Korea, although it is now cultivated around the world.
It is one of the herbs most often used as an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body stay in balance. The dried roots are used in teas, tinctures and sometimes powdered into supplements. Traditionally it has been used to support both physical and mental energy. Nowadays in the West its use as an adaptogen would be for all the ways that people experience stress: feeling run down, unable to focus, sleeping poorly etc. Eleuthero is also used to boost immunity.
To me the prepared roots look a bit like wood shavings, but they are almost sharp to the touch, which points us back to eleuthero's thorns (they are just visible in the top of the photo above). This is one prickly plant!
I continue to be intrigued by thorns and spines as I meet more plant allies who have them. My mentor says that thorns can indicate the ability to relieve pain: consider the effects of rose oil or raspberry leaf tea on menstrual pain or bramble tea for a sore throat. This is called the doctrine of signatures. It is a school of thought that identifies the particular healing modality of a plant with an aspect of its outer form.
In Julia Graves' book about the doctrine of signatures, The Language of Plants, she writes:
In anthroposophic, or Goethean, botany, spines and thorns are regarded as a plant part in which the etheric force that should become a leaf or other plant part is held back.
As compressed life force, thorns and spines are like little mines of vitality. And in fact, preparations made of thorny plants have been traditionally used to help people recover their vim and vigour, by extension boosting immunity.
Echinacea, one of the herbs commonly thought of as an immunity enhancer, is a flower full of spines. Stinging nettles are an unparalleled food and medicine for building up the body after illness or other kinds of depletion. And so it makes sense that eleuthero would be prized across cultures for its ability to stoke the inner fires.
Thorny plants also seem to inspire a special kind of devotion in people. Roses are the most obvious example, but eleuthero lovers abound in the herbalism world. Here's a lovely video of a bush in bloom (being visited by pollinating hornets no less!) from Avena Botanicals: