Healing Wisdom: Deepening Your Knowledge of Herbs
As recently as a century ago, many people had the good fortune of living in communities where grandmothers, uncles, medicine people and curanderas (folk healers) worked with the ancient wisdom of plants. You may be in the process of rediscovering this deeply rooted knowledge. I offer you the following insights to encourage you in that process of discovery. You are embarking on a journey that could last a lifetime. These four steps are common guideposts I have witnessed in my own and others’ learning process.
1. “Use this for that.” Many people accustomed to seeking conventional medical help are trained to think in terms of one medicine to treat one ailment. Prilosec treats stomach acid, for example, and Prozac treats depression. Take this to treat that. Those beginning to experiment with herbs, homeopathics and nutritional supplements usually bring this same mentality to using natural medicines; e.g., take comfrey to heal bones; use St. Johns Wort for depression.
Few beginners understand that effectively choosing a homeopathic or a botanical medicine requires a completely different paradigm. “Natural,” or what I prefer to call “Classical” Medicine, views the person who is suffering with a particular condition, rather than a disease affecting a particular body. Conventional medicine simply looks at the disease and prescribes this drug to treat that disease. Classical Medicine treats the person who is suffering with a disease. Ten different people with the same medical diagnosis, for example, might take 10 different homeopathic remedies or 10 different combinations of herbs to address their particular set of symptoms.
A common misunderstanding in this first stage of exploration is that only pharmaceutical drugs qualify as “medicine.”
One day, while waiting in line at the post office, I happened to meet a patient who had come to me for help with menopausal symptoms several months before. “Oh, that’s all taken care of,” she explained. “I went to my medical doctor for some medicine.” As I left the post office, I wondered what she thought the hormones and herbs I had prescribed were. If they were not “medicine,” were they “candy” or “placebos?” Perhaps I had failed to explain that these substances were indeed potent medicines, albeit ones that might take some time to address the hormonal changes she was experiencing.
Many people are accustomed to the lightning-quick action of pharmaceutical drugs. The primary aim of these drugs, however, is to over-ride, not support, the body’s innate healing processes. Patients may not understand that some natural substances require time to rebalance the body. Of course, some natural medicines can act very quickly, as anyone who has used homeopathic arnica for a badly bruised knee or twisted ankle can verify.
One of my former office partners worked for several years as a pharmaceutical company representative before entering chiropractic school. In her practice, she prescribed many supplements using the same pharmaceutical paradigm. She simply substituted supplements for drugs. “Here, take this for sleep. Take that for sore muscles. Take this for indigestion.” She did not understand the importance of balancing nutrients (e.g., always combining calcium with magnesium, or prescribing all of the B-vitamins together rather than in isolation) or tailoring prescriptions for individual patients.
Why, for example, was the patient having trouble sleeping? Was depression an underlying issue? Did the patient eat well, including plenty of B-vitamin-rich whole grains? Did she exercise? Did muscle spasms keep her awake? These concerns were never considered. Most of her patients improved some with her prescriptions, but they did not experience the full potential benefit of the herbs or supplements.