Retrogrades and our Health / Dandelion + Calendula
So far in our series we've spent time discussing the planets as channels that moderate the flow of vital force, otherwise known as "Qi," represented by the sun's sign. But what happens during a planet's retrograde season when their energies turn inward? I love talking about retrogrades (otherwise noted as Rx)--I have 6 in my own natal chart and have spent much time studying the correlations between Rxs and health issues. With Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto Rx currently, it is an opportune moment to talk about the effects of the Rx process on health, vitality and our physical bodies.
Rxs share an interesting correlation with physical health--in fact, the symbol "Rx" was adopted by the medical establishment to denote prescriptions, suggesting historical connections between these planetary cycles and our body's own internal cycle of healing. Before getting into the individual planets, I want to briefly touch on what Rxs actually are. When a planet goes "retrograde," it is said to be going backwards, however, the planets cannot actually go backwards. What happens is that in relation to the speed of the other planets' orbits, a particular planet will have the appearance of going backwards because it is moving slower. We can see this example when driving two cars--when the car that you are in is going faster than the one next you, it looks like it is going backwards but in actuality it is only the relative speed of both cars that produces this illusion.
So instead of thinking of Rx functioning as a backward movement, it is more accurate to think of it as a slowing down--an explanation that makes more sense when we study the psychological and emotional effects of Rx planets in the natal chart. For example, having Mercury Rx doesn't necessarily mean that you will think or communicate in a backwards fashion but rather that you will be slower to respond and reach conclusions. The only planet that does not go Rx is the moon.
Traditionally, planetary Rxs have been used in medical astrology as a timing mechanism to determine the most opportune moment for medical procedures, for example, not scheduling a beauty treatment when Venus is in hard aspect or avoiding surgery when the moon is void. However, in my practice I have found Rxs in the natal chart to be subtle but accurate indicators for challenges to certain organ systems that the individual may experience at some point in life. Usually this has to do with a slowness of that organ system, or a reduced ability to handle toxin overload which manifests in sluggishness and eventual malfunctioning.
For example, in an earlier article we discussed Saturn as being related to the stomach/spleen organ system. When Saturn is retrograde natally, individuals can experience a slowness in digestion and food transit, eventually causing food sensitivities as the spleen becomes compromised. Another manifestation of Saturn Rx can be a rising of the stomach qi (which normally likes to descend), leading to gas, heartburn or vomiting. Rxs focus the energy of a planet internally instead of externally, which is often why individuals with Rx natal planets have more health challenges, as there is no outward release of the energies that the planets channel, producing a build-up in the organ systems.
So we can see that natal Rx planets have a higher potential of causing health imbalances than their direct manifestations, but what about Rx transits, as we are currently experiencing with Saturn, Jupiter and Pluto? Let's start with Jupiter, beginning with the natal Rx and then discussing the transit Rx...
the nourisher of tissues, fascia and muscle
We have not previously discussed Jupiter in the context of 5 element theory, so let's do so now. Ruler of the Wood element and all that governs growth and expansion, Jupiter is associated with the liver/gall bladder organ system. As such, it is responsible for receiving raw material and overseeing their distribution, maintaining the balance of several other systems and producing substances such as hormones and bile that aid in the process of digesting, communicating and breaking down foreign matter into more raw building materials. This organ system is responsible for quite a lot, and it is easy to see why the Chinese system says, when in doubt, treat the liver!
Jupiter Rx is notorious for procrastination, and this same energy can be applied to our understanding of the body as well--since the liver/gall bladder organ system functioning is so crucial to our overall well being, any sluggishness in this system will quickly start to affect all of our other systems, producing a gradual slowing down of the body as a whole. As the liver is responsible for maintaining many of our internal systems of balance, Jupiter Rx natives often find themselves more prone to developing overloads of bacteria, fungus, yeast, viruses, etc., all of which all occur when our body's terrain is off-kilter. For example, a native with Jupiter Rx in the 2nd house may struggle with recurrent dental infections, as the 2nd house rules the jaw and teeth.
Although the role of the liver is known to be the master cleanser, in reality Jupiter can be a hoarder. It does not discriminate when it comes to source, whether good or bad it likes to retain fat and store it for internal lubrication and security. When Jupiter can break something down into its rawest form, it will, and then it will either store it in the body, send it elsewhere for immediate use or send it out of the body for removal. Out of all the organ systems, the liver/gall bladder is the most thrown off by emotional upsets, meaning that Jupiter Rx natives are especially prone to making themselves sick from emotional stress and can take longer to process their own emotions.
The liver/gall bladder is sensitive to the emotion of anger most of all, and will become imbalanced when anger or other emotions are repressed, as the nature of Jupiter is expressive and suffers when it cannot share freely. Again, because the Rx tends to focus the effect of the planet internally rather than externally, Jupiter Rx can produce internal growths of a soft or fatty kind--lipomas, fluid-filled cysts, gallstones, elevated cholesterol or fat in the system are common occurrences, even if the native's outward appearance is thin. Because of this, the native will often benefit from a diet low in fat from animal meats and high in healthy fats from unheated or minimally processed vegetarian sources. Emotionally, they will also suffer if they do not have an outlet to express their frustrations and anger, as these emotions when held in will quickly translate into physical issues.
Jupiter's energitics are warming and moistening, and therefore you may find that if you have Jupiter Rx natally, your internal terrain may reflect these qualities, encouraging growths or inflammations of a damp nature more easily than Jupiter direct natives. Cooling anti inflammatories and astringents may be beneficial to take on a daily basis if this is the case for you. Jupiter Rx natives often do not do well with a lifestyle that includes heavy drinking or use of drugs that must be metabolized by the liver pathways. Because the Rx indicates that they will be slow to process, they can be more sensitive to these chemicals than their Jupiter direct neighbors, and require lower doses of medicine of all kinds.
A Jupiter Rx transit (occurring also once a year for about a third of the year) is a great time for a liver or gall bladder cleanse, detox, or perhaps to take some time for leisure or relaxation. Travel and forward momentum is usually delayed during Jupiter retrogrades, so we generally find that we must make things work in less than ideal circumstances. The same is true for our health--we may experience a sluggishness in our ability to metabolize chemical substances, potentially leading to infections, acne or other skin eruptions, menstrual issues or constipation. Emotionally, if we do not find healthy ways of off-gassing our frustrations, health is more quick to suffer during the Jupiter Rx period, regardless of natal Jupiter placement. Hawthorn berry is a wonderful ally during these times, both as an assistant to fat digestion as well as an emotional balancer.
the builder of boundaries and bones
As the ruler of the earth element and all that is dense, consolidated and hard in the body, Saturn maintains our internal separations and support structures, the most obvious being our skeletal system. Crucial to this job is it's ability to form and maintain boundaries, a skill that can become confused when it is Rx in a chart. When young, Saturn Rx individuals often are lacking in their boundaries with others, taking on more than their fair share of responsibility in the area ruled by the natal house--for example, Saturn in the 2nd will often try to be the boss at work even if they are entry level employees, or struggle to become sole providers when they may not necessarily be suited to do so.
Physically speaking, a lack of boundaries often sets one up for immune dysregulation or autoimmune disease, as the body is not easily able to recognize self from other. This manifests in all manner of allergies, food sensitivities, lowered immunity and cancers in the charts of those with Saturn Rx natally. Also common are ailments to the bones--osteoporosis, bone degeneration, spinal misalignments or excessive, misplaced growths as with bone spurs. Interestingly, the shift of focus to the internal that Rxs create actually increases Saturn's binding quality to the point where the native has all sorts of internal inhibitions and walls, while they struggle to maintain those same boundaries externally with others. Physically, this tends to produce a disposition where internal blockages and hardening occurs more easily than with Saturn direct.
As mentioned above, when Saturn is Rx, there can often be a slowness to digestion and food transit which eventually can affect the spleen's ability to cleanse blood, lowering the amount of available blood and placing more stress on the liver to compensate. This is exacerbated when we eat processed foods which our systems do not recognize, as well as excessively cold or greasy foods. Saturn Rx individuals often experience some form of chronic indigestion and may find that they feel much better when they do not overload their stomachs with large meals or unhealthy diets. As the building materials for our bodies come in part from the food that we eat, a sluggishness in the digestive process will eventually affect our body's ability to build, heal and grow. Here we see how the Cancer/Capricorn axis is directly connected, as Cancer traditionally rules digestion and Capricorn the bones. Saturn Rx individuals may be especially prone to slow wound healing, stunted growth or physical underdevelopments if the diet is poor. Saturn is also cooling and hard in it's energy, so when it is Rx it tends to produce internal cold and a predisposition for hardening within the native's body, manifesting in tumors, cysts, stones or growths of a calcium or mineral source.
Say you have Saturn direct in your chart but by transit are experiencing a Saturn Rx, as we are all now, which is quite common since Saturn is Rx once a year for about a third of the year. This will produce a time when it will be beneficial to eat simple, clean and natural diets, as our stomachs may not be working at 100% efficiency. This may be a good time to invest in vitamins, probiotics or digestive enzymes, as the body is working on rebuilding and strengthening any internal damage. We do not want to disrupt this process with poor dietary choices. Herbally, Saturn Rx is an excellent time to address our body's structural issues with solomon's seal (for tension) or gravelroot (for hard growths) in combination with yoga, massage, chiropractic work or stretching.
Many find this period a good time to plan, and so we may feel called to relax from strenuous workout regimens or physical exertion, to be picked up again when Saturn turns direct. Remember that rest is a crucial part of the strengthening process, and Saturn Rx is a perfect time to let our muscles be at ease and reap the benefits of the work we have done during the direct period. For Saturn Rx natives, the transit retrograde is often a time when we naturally reassess our lifestyle habits and make adjustments to increase our vitality. You may find yourself busier than your Saturn direct neighbors--this is quite normal.
We have previously talked about Pluto and it's role in systemic toxin overload, and this is in part due to it's rulership of the body's processes of elimination. Sweat, menstruation, ejaculation, defecation, urination and the skin cell renewal process are some examples. When Pluto is well-aspected and direct, these processes are undisturbed, timely and in balance. However, with Pluto Rx, there can often be a blockage or a slowing down of the body's ability to eliminate waste products, causing back-ups internally which in turn lead to lowered immunity and imbalances in several other systems as the body tries to compensate. Depending on the house your natal Pluto resides, as well as aspects made to other personal planets, this may manifest in a variety of symptoms including but not limited to constipation, acne, hormonal imbalance, irregular menstruation, erectile dysfunction or lowered immunity due to a buildup of internal toxins.
Pluto is Rx quite commonly in natal charts, as it's Rx cycle occurs for about half of the year, and as it is not a personal planet the effects are quite subtle on the individual level. What I have found is that Rx natives are more commonly required to undergo surgical intervention for health issues, as the explosive energy of the planet is internalized and can find no external outlet in the outer world. The surgery often provides the channel by which this transformative energy can be released from the body. Similarly, these natives often seek out things like tattooing, piercing, bloodletting, acupuncture or moxabustion in an unconscious attempt to release trapped Plutonian energy. Pluto Rx therefore gives us an opportunity for release via intense lifestyle changes, drastic measures such as surgery or profound internal transformations such as quitting a substance. Those with Pluto direct in their charts can have a "come to Jesus" moment during the Rx transit, while those with the Rx natally often use this time to make certain changes they've always know they've needed to make, producing a less dramatic shift. Either way, we are never quite the same after a Pluto Rx, and it is always for the better. Herbally, adaptogens are well suited for Pluto Rxs to help the body navigate the extreme energy shifts or changes that can occur during the transit.
We will have plenty of time to explore the Rx effects of the personal planets (Mercury, Venus and Mars) in a later article, so for now let's get into the herbs for this month--Dandelion root and Calendula!
Dandelion Leaf + Root
The name "dandelion," originally from the French "dent de lion," translates to "lion's teeth" due to the serrated shape of the leaves. In action this name also proves to be true, stimulating the flow of digestive juices and kick-starting our body's natural detoxification process. The legendary powers of this humble plant are long-earned; in Greek mythology, the her Theseus ate dandelion leaves for 30 days before his fight with the monstrous half-bull, half-human Minotaur. Dandelion has both a long and varied history of usage by many cultures throughout the world as a tonic for liver and digestive disorders. Both the leaves and root are used medicinally, and the plant as a whole is very easy to incorporate into your materia medica as both a medicinal food and herbal tonic. As a food, it's merits are many--even the US Department of Agriculture ranks the leaves to be higher in nutritional value and mineral content than more common vegetables like spinach or broccoli.
Some of dandelion's traditional uses are jaundice, cirrhosis or enlargement of the liver and enlargement of the liver, diabetes, cancers, infections, fevers, snakebites, gallstones, gall bladder dysregulation or inflammation, poor fat metabolism, acne, ulcers, indigestion, constipation, rheumatism, hepatitis, gout and edema. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP) describes Dandelion's actions as diuretic, laxative, cholagogue (increasing the flow of bile), anti-rheumatic, meaning that it is well suited for damp, inflamed or tense tissue states. It is also used as a pancreatic regulator (meaning that it has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar), a galactagogue (increasing breast milk), pancreatic and bile duct stimulant, mild laxative, urinary antiseptic, anti-eczema, detoxicant and choleretic (increasing the volume of bile). Due to it's diuretic effect, it can also be helpful for those with heart or blood pressure issues due to water retention. And in regards to it's effect on cancer cells, a 2004 study reported that dandelion root had marked anticancer activity, significantly increasing tumor necrosis factor and apoptosis. In general, for opening up internal obstructions to the liver, gall bladder and spleen, dandelion is a trusted and well-used ally, and has a gentle enough quality to make it safe for children or in a long-term protocol.
Dandelion and I have quite a history. I first became aware of it's profound power when dealing with gallstones and a near removal of my gall bladder after an attack. I decided to keep my gall bladder but put myself on a regimen of diet, herbal medicine and emotional processing work. Since then, I have been able to keep many of my digestive symptoms from dyspepsia and pain to ulcers and acne at bay with a daily formula that is mostly dandelion root. If you're wondering what a bile production problem looks like, people with a lowered ability to digest fatty or greasy meals, or those with low or no appetites especially in the mornings often have problems with bile regulation, and this can be a key indicator for dandelion. Other signs of a weakened gall bladder is a yellowish complexion or yellow whites of the eyes, bursts of uncontrolled anger or light or clay-colored, greasy stools.
One of the reasons why I love dandelion so much is because it is so easy to incorporate into the diet as food. The leaves are great in salad, and the roasted root makes a wonderful substitute for coffee, especially for those who are hooked on the habit but perhaps prone to nervous anxiety. In regards to our discussion on retrograde planets, dandelion would be an apt remedy for Jupiter, Saturn or Pluto Rx, as it's gentle but stimulating quality often mitigates the effect of the Rx. For a cleanse, I might go up to 3 cups of decocted tea per day, dropping down to 1-2 cups for maintenance.
Calendula, or Pot Marigold
Calendula is colloquially known to be an herb of the sun, meaning that ingesting these brightly colored flowers can increase one's warmth and solar vitality. The entire flowering head is used, not just the petals, as the underside of the flower base is where much of the aromatic and resinous medicinal properties of the plant are found. Although uncommon, some herbalists note that the leaves contain a degree of iodine, and may therefore be useful in cases of hypothyroidism. The flavors of Calendula are bitter, sweet, salty and pungent, indicating that it's actions are stimulating to the liver, nutritive, mineral rich and dispersing of stagnant energy or fluids. The herbal action of bitter is a surefire way to tell that herb will have actions on the liver, and probably the gall bladder and bile secretion as well, as the flavor of bitter is often recognized to be a poison and provokes the liver's natural detoxification processes.
Calendula's claim to fame is it's use as a vulnerary, or wound cleanser and healer. It is commonly found in topical preparations, as a slow decoction will produce a thick, resinous substance that is excellent for all manner of skin ailments from bug bites to eczema. What it does on the outside, it also does for our insides as well, meaning that it is also useful for internal inflammation, specifically for the digestive tract. Besides being a star vulnerary and anti inflammatory, it is also an alterative (blood cleanser), lymphagogue (stimulates lymphatic drainage), cholagogue (increases the production of bile), astringent (tightens tissues), diaphoretic (increases sweating), emmenagogue (provokes menses), immune tonic and warming stimulant. It's gentle actions on the channels of elimination, aka the bowels, skin, liver, lungs and kidneys makes Calendula a versatile ally when dealing with all manners of stagnant energy or repeated infection. Similar to Dandelion, Calendula is also useful for those who struggle with fat/oil digestion or metabolism, as well as the general symptoms of indigestion or food sensitivities.
Just like the warmth of the sun, Calendula works on deep, internal cold that is suggestive of weakly functioning organs rather than actual body temperature; this is why I recommend it for Rx planets. Rather than a more overtly warming herb that might increase blood circulation, Calendula works at the level of the organs themselves, bringing our internal terrain back into balance and helping the organs--specifically the liver, gallbladder and lymph--to strengthen their own functioning. The cold tissue state crosses over with certain types of depression or melancholy, and the warmth that Calendula brings can often uplift the spirit. When taken over a course of time, the channels of elimination will begin to work better, normalizing bowel movements and clearing skin but perhaps increasing sweat as fluids that were stagnant in the system begin to move outward. As a result, sogginess in the tissues will be corrected and the tendency to develop bacterial, viral or fungal infection will lower. This has the added benefit of aiding the immune system, clearing edema and calming allergies as well.
Calendula is another herb with a gentle action, and I use it in in low doses over long periods of time, especially when I am in damp climates. It is safe for children and during pregnancy, and extracts well into water, alcohol and oil. I find the flavor to be light and pleasant, so I take it in teas.
That wraps up our topic for this month! Take care of yourselves internally and externally as we go through this retrograde season, especially as Neptune stations retrograde next month as well. In honor of that, as well as Neptune’s upcoming square to Jupiter as well, we will spend some time next month discussing her connection the mysterious workings of the immune system. Until then—be well!