Continually seeking balance between traditional folk methods and insights from scientific research has been my practice since starting this small herbal products company in 2005.
The world seems to have changed considerably since then (as well as how I'm able to reach those seeking these herbal remedies) but the truth is that the plants continue to do what they've always done - express their Nature through adaptions to the changing world around them.
In that respect, there are two basic ways to view, and, thus, use an herbal remedy:
1) as basic constitutional support
2) targeting a specific concern/tissue/acute condition
I would say, generally, in the West we have been taught to view herbs via the perspective of #2 above. This is, perhaps, due to the dominance of the modern, conventional, so-called allopathic (or "traditional Western medicine") approach which most herbalists have donned over the past few decades in order to gain a modicum of respect amongst medical professionals - perhaps to our own misfortune.
This is not to say that targeting specific conditions is “wrong” or entirely ineffectual. No, it’s a matter of seeing the bigger picture. But before I get too far down that path, let’s return to perspective #1 above…using herbs as a basic constitutional support.
In truth, I do not believe that herbs see themselves as “consitutional” or biochemically specific, per se. Those are our projections from different human models which seek to create understanding in the world around us. Regardless of what we call it, or how we arrive at an understanding, it is happening regardless. That is, the plants are engaged with us at some level.
Those who have participated in my field classes wherein we sit with living, wild plants and journey into the heart field to begin perceiving the life around us through this (generally) impaired method of cognition to which we are all available (should we choose), have more often than not experienced the living presence of the plants.
Inhabiting a fluid and dynamic reality, the plants can engage with us where we are at any given place and time. Quite remarkably, I have witnessed this come through in prepared plant medicines, isolated in a building, far away from where the living plants grow, only to clearly resemble the expression of this plant’s Nature which I’d witnessed seated right before it, whether alone or in a group setting.
In the simplest form of expression, I could say that this level of engagement with the plants acts upon us constitutionally, however, it may also have specific biochemical effects.
In essence, the two perspectives detailed above are in fact not mutually exclusive, and may very well depend on the view of the observer as to how well (or fully) each may be perceived.
Yes, the plants can, and do, shift our consciousness.
But that’s a topic for another post (but it never hurts to remember that).
So, what about the title to this post? How DOES one use Herbal Remedies?
Obviously, this post isn’t aimed at just teaching you how to make an herbal tea, or how to properly chop your fresh herbs for tincture, or even how to dose the herbs once you’ve identified the problem and have found a suitable herb to address this issue. No.
It’s an invitation to look at how we view herbs, or to begin to appreciate the expansive world awaiting us should we venture into this terrain willingly (and, sometimes, unwillingly - you can’t control everything!).
But let’s break it down a bit further: what do I mean by constitutional?
At our most basic, we are made up of the elements of the natural world around us - just like everything we see around us (yes, even synthetic creations; where else would it come from??). These elements manifest in each individual, each blade of grass, grain of sand, and distant star in some unique way as to create what we see before us. As the Vedics thought and wrote millennia ago (and likely many others as well), it is the unique composition of these basic elements and their interaction with the world around them is both diagnostic and causative.
To bring this back to herbs, specifically, we can observe how each of us respond to ingesting a particular herb. How we respond is diagnostic of our constitution coupled with our current state (at the given place & time), just as the ingestion of the herb may ilicit a physiological change within us.
We may say, then, that perspective #1 focuses on the broader picture of how we respond consistently, over time, highlighted by the nuanced difference under slightly different conditions relative to the ingested substance. Whereas, perspective #2 is focused on a smaller, perhaps more detailed picture with an expectation of certain cause/effect relationships to play out.
However, to reiterate what’s been stated above, these two perspectives certainly do not cancel each other out, nor do they inherently conflict. Nonetheless, individuals who ascribe to either of these camps (roughly) may find a way to cancel out the other viewpoint in favor of their own. A most unfortunate (and inherently limited) endeavor. One that only serves to bring the level of broader understanding and acceptance of herbal medicine down a notch or two and strictly limit its potential by those who adhere to one camp or another.
So, then, how do we “use” herbal medicine?
Quite simply, with an open mind. It takes courage to have an open mind as we may be brought to confront our prejudices at times, or be faced with painful memories that stand directly in the way of accepting new ways of being. A truly open mind sees no limits, harbors no judgements, seeks truth and clarity and is unclinging to what no longer serves. The plants are truly in support of that, I promise you. I have seen it too many times to think otherwise.
One word: relationship.
What does that mean to you?
Let’s qualify it a bit further: Respectful relationship.
That’s the plants seek from us, from deep within us, as a means to call us to attention, an undivided attention to what emerges from deep within our hearts. This is, afterall, the root of the word courage. To have courage is to have heart, to be with heart, to live in the heart, to relate from the heart, to speak from the heart, unconditionally.
These are some of the lessons the plants have taught me over the years and why I have been driven to share these teachings, and the herbal remedies, with others. My heart knows that your heart seeks it, inherently, as our hearts are ultimately One. It is false to think otherwise. Nonetheless, we are meant to seek meaning through the lens of our own sight. Once our sight is aligned with what is in the heart we can become courage in action and we can bring tremendous beauty into the world around us.
Can herbs do all of this for us? No, they can’t. But herbs can help us remember who we are and why we are here; that they can do.
They can also help relieve the obstructions that prevent us from living in courage, in word and action. And this can be accomplished in a myriad of ways.
Herbs act upon us both constitutionally (broad acting) and on specific tissues (receptor sites, even). May we proceed to connect with diverse aspects of our makeup such that we can continually attune to what calls us in the big picture frame, as well as these minute areas of understanding with great leverage and accuracy. May it all be in the spirit of learning, healing, and development.