Many people over the years have asked me about my involvement with alternative medicine, most specifically my use of herbal remedies to address the various maladies that periodically plague me, my friends or my family. As we find out with more frequency about the corruption of the large pharmaceutical companies as well as the continuing abuse of the drugs that they create, I think that it's natural to have become fearful about the future of medicine in this country.
The overuse of antibiotics in America has created some of the scariest , most resistant strains of Staphylococcus that we've ever seen and quite frankly I do believe that there is cause for alarm, so much so that we've seen a dramatic rise in the number of people turning to alternative remedies for self healing. With disasterous health insurance practices at the forefront of the current political debate it's clear that it's become time for a powerful paradigm shift relating to the way that we deal with illness.
I became familiar with herbal medicine very early in my life, because as a child I had an Irish riding instructor from County Kildare who hardly ever used veterinary medicine to treat her common ills. Colic , which is a horrible impaction of the gut was never an issue with our horses. Every morning she would boil flax seed on her stove and create a jelly to be given in the mornings feed. We rarely wormed our horses with the fancy new paste wormer filled with chemicals which she generally refused to use, but kept them parasite free with the pine and spruce that she kept in the pasture for them to eat. She constantly rotated her pastures and I noticed that our horses were eating all kinds of different plants that were growing with rarely any ill effects and they ate them readily. Horses that seemed a bit lackluster ate certain plants and when I pointed them out to her she was always able to tell me what was ailing them because of what they were eating. One day, one of the horses went straight for a patch of yellow dock which she told me indicated a weakness in his stomach. After a day or two he brightened and was much happier and far stronger than he'd been several days before. Not a miracle cure at all, he was just an animal who in trusting his instincts chose the natural path towards healing. It was pretty amazing stuff for an impressionable 12 year old to see.
We used tisanes of chamomile tea and beer in the bran mashes that we made to help promote calmness. We rarely used chemical liniments, relying on herbal vinegars that we made with saltpeter, sage , fresh mints and comfrey leaves. I think that it became natural for me to question the amounts of medicine that were being used by my family Dr.s to "promote health" , because I had been exposed to something so different in my very young years which made complete and total sense to me. In my early 20's after a tangle with birth control pills, antibiotics and the ensuing amount of damage that they did to my body I really swore off of the convenience of modern medicine except as the last resort when I fell ill, never the first.
In my mid 20's I was fortunate to find a wonderful teacher named LaWanna Rine who is a very experienced herbalist and healer. LaWanna has been a practicing herbalist for decades and graciously taught me by example. I spent many hours with her helping her to prepare teas,salves and tinctures and walking through her woods while we gathered the plants that we would use. Her practice is a very complete example of a whole body system for healing. She is is totally vegan and she practices her yoga and meditation everyday. She uses herbs from her property and water from her spring to create her healing teas. She uses aromatherapy in the wonderful treatments that she gives and her powerful medical intuition and her vast knowledge of the bodies systems as her most profound diagnostic tool. She is to this day, the only herbalist that I've ever met who I would trust with the dosage of the more poisonous herbs such as poke root, foxglove or celandine because she knows how to use them with a subtlety and precision that we wish that our Dr's practiced with their candy box of pharmaceuticals. I was very lucky to find her and she taught me that the practice of herbalism is everyones birthright.
LaWanna encouraged everyone in her circle to learn as much as possible so that you could live well wherever you found yourself and not be at the mercy of a medical system that she felt had betrayed our humanity. She also was very firm about her belief that eating with the seasons ,harvesting and growing your own foods as well as wildcrafting your own herbs provided the most potent medicine for body, mind and spirit. She taught me to use fasting, whole foods and mini cleanses as tools to promote a healthy digestive system thereby creating a strong immune system. She's also 86 years old, still teaching and wildcrafting in her woods. She's really quite a remarkable woman!
Now that so many natural herbal preparations can be found in our local Whole Foods store and even in grocery stores that are not traditionally "Health Food " stores, it's more important than ever to learn as much as you can about this old and wise tradition of healing. There are many wonderful books available by herbal legends such as Susan Weed or the late Juliette De Baricli Levy as well as several home study courses such as the delightful course by Rosemary Gladstar that you can purchase and enjoy at your own pace. http://www.sagemountain.com/the-science-art-of-herbology-2.html
Herbal remedies in most of their forms are very powerful medicine and should not be taken carelessly because they can be as toxic as the drugs we are trying to avoid. Take the time to do the research and always remember to consult your pharmacist if you are taking any other prescription drugs. Herbs CAN mix poorly with many pharmaceuticals so it pays to proceed with with caution.
In this age of global uncertainty and instability , I truly believe as LaWanna does that it is so very important to be able care for yourself and your family with as much self sufficiency as possible. We are fortunate to live in a world where so much is readily available to us including excellent chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists. However, the tradition of herbal medicine for healing has been passed down from generation to generation and it belongs to everyone, not just a chosen few. Thankfully, herbalism is a traditional, yet sophisticated and effective folk medicine that can be readily utilized by anyone who cares enough to truly take the time to learn about , respect and understand fully the properties of the many herbs that are so easily available to us all.
Antique Herbal Photo from Christies