Specific medication: Oplopanax for anxiety

Deborah Frances, ND

Medical Herbalism 07-31-96 8(1 & 2): 1, 3-4


Oplopanax, commonly used for the treatment of blood sugar disorders, was traditionally seen as a sacred warrior totem by Native American people. It stands three to ten feet high, with large soft leaves that are mindful of the thimbleberry plant. Unlike the gentle thimbleberry, however, oplopanax is covered with sharp spiny thorns, from the bottom of the stem to the tip of the furthest leaf. One look at this plant is all one needs to agree that it would make a fine warrior totem.

A woman came into the office a couple of years ago to interview for the position of part-time receptionist. Half way through the interview she broke into tears and confessed she was feeling overwhelming anxiety. I offered her a few doses of Rescue Remedy that I keep mixed with oplopanax, which calmed her quite quickly.

I did not end up hiring this woman, but she left my office with a bottle of Rescue Remedy in oplopanax tincture. I saw her again some months later when she took a class on Natural Home Remedies that I teach regularly at the community college.

“Could I come by your office and get some of your Rescue Remedy?” she asked. “After I ran out of what you gave me, I bought some at the health food store, but it doesn’t work nearly as well. Do you add something else to your Rescue Remedy?”

I asked her to describe the differences between the two preparations. She said the plain Rescue Remedy “gave me a sleepy feeling and calmed my mind, but that the oplopanax combination added a feeling of ”strength and increased ability to pull myself together."

A 36 year-old woman first came to the office on April 25, 1994, complaining of quite severe panic attacks occurring over the previous year since the death of two family members. There was ongoing stress with her husband who tended to be domineering, often putting her down and generally invalidating her concerns. Her anxiety was quite severe with panic attacks waking her as often as five times a night. She felt trapped, full of guilt, and had tremendous anxiety about her health.

In addition to other herbal and homeopathic treatments, I prescribed plain Rescue Remedy to be taken two drops four times a day and as needed for anxiety.

On follow up three weeks later, she was doing better, stating she felt calmer, with attacks coming less frequently.
  In September, I refilled her Rescue Remedy, which she still took quite freely, this time putting it into a tincture of oplopanax. When I saw her again, I asked her if she felt a difference.

“Yes!” she said. “It’s much stronger. If I’m heading into a real severe panic episode, I find with this mixture it only seems to take three doses to head it off instead of the usual five!”

The positive aspect of the warrior archetype enables us to stand up for ourselves effectively, appropriately and even fiercely, whether the demons we face are within or without. In working with oplopanax I have come to understand its more specific use as an adaptogen, particularly with reference to its “warrior energy.” Here is a plant who has softness and gentleness in the leaves, yet protects its gentleness well with its fierce spines. It is a good teacher for those too gentle souls who need to be a bit fiercer and stand their ground.

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