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Ask the Herbalist Blog Intro
Thanks so much for stopping by.
Since you’re here, I can guess that like me, you too have in interest in holistic herbalism and natural health.
And maybe you stopped by because you know, like most of us do these days, that human health is in a concerning state, that despite the highest amount of medical revenue being generated in our history, and advancements in medical technology that are at the forefront of human ingenuity, our health as a species has continued to decline.
Maybe you’re here because you agree with the growing consensus that one of the main contributing factors of declining health stems from the impacts of our modern lifestyle. Human resilience, as indomitable as it seems as has proven, is profoundly challenged by the radical divergence of modern lives from ways of life that were relatively the same for roughly 84,000 generations.
Where does this leave us?
Remembering the wisdom of the India Scholar-Saint Krishnamurti is a good starting point in finding answers to this question:
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
Our choices define us:
If we know human health is being continually compromised at an increasing rate, and that our lifestyle, food, environment etc. are largely to blame, what are our options.
We can choose to not rock the boat and hope the situation corrects itself without our influence. We can dive headfirst into the pool of poison Kool-Aid, and accept the inertia of the health descent and hope that we defy the odds and it doesn’t happen to us or our loved ones.
Or if we view this as an unacceptable real threat to ourselves and our planet we can engage the unparalleled processing power of our cranium based supercomputers, and the equally unparalleled power of human compassion and connection, to engage realistic actionable effective solutions.
By learning simple, useful ways to support and nourish your health, avoid harmful things as much as your situation allows, and to create systems in your life that encourage wellness rather than its opposite seems, like a reasonable course of action.
Vital Ways Mission:
Our mission is to empower others with trustworthy, effective, and actionable natural health knowledge and support to improve their health for a better world.
The Place of Herbalism in establishing and supporting a natural way of living:
Using plants as medicine is one of the oldest approaches to healing recorded, with clear descriptions of medicinal plants in Sumerian writings and clear descriptions in the Eber’s Papyrus circa 1550 BC and non-written evidence dating back 60,000 years to the Neanderthal Shanidavar cave in Iraq.
Plants have a proven history of being safe, effective and most importantly powerful therapeutic agents when properly applied.
Having consumed plants as nourishment for these many millennia, we have established a relationship of recognizing and utilizing their particular properties and constituents to be able to benefit from them. Consider the amazing story of Terry Wahls, the brilliant MD who having been diagnosed with rapidly progressive MS, was able to stop her decline with supplements and vitamins, but was only able to reverse some of the disease process when she got those same nutrients in their food matrix.
Plants give us more than just the sum of their constituents.
Yeah, but, do herbs really work?
Believing in herbalism, faith in 3500 years of history aside, doesn’t require an extension of belief beyond that in the science of chemistry. Plants are indeed much much more than packets of chemicals, but they are also, packets of chemicals. These phytochemicals, as they’re known have an effect on our physiology.
This science called phytochemistry is confirming and adding to what history and clinical experience have taught us, resulting in a body of therapeutic understanding of herbalism that is possibly the most extensive in all of history.
Of course, this is a threatening sentiment, to think that you can be empowered to improve your health by going to your backyard weed path, rather than by running to your pill cabinet.
So unsurprisingly herbalism has been propagandized against by the political-economic forces that control the dominant media. The narrative regarding herbalism is generally of two antithetical poles; that either herbs are not effective, or they aren’t safe. These two ideas contradict each other because either herbs are ineffectual, meaning that they don’t have an effect (Ignores their reliance on coffee, aspirin, cannabis or nicotine) OR they have an effect that sometimes can be unsafe. If they have an effect that isn’t safe, then it’s reasonable to consider that if properly applied means they’d have an effect that is safe. Thinking again about the effects of coffee, cannabis, opiates, aspirin and the roughly 40-60% of pharmaceuticals derived from plants, is a simple proof as well.
So, do herbs work? What do you think?
Plants give us more than just the sum of their constituents.
In this blog,
I’ll feature actual client/patron/student interactions from our store, clinic and school 1-2x per month to highlight how holism and herbalism can combine to create greater levels of health.
Want to be featured here, anonymously of course, then send an email with your question, AND/OR stop in to discuss your health goals.
Modern Traditional Experiential
At Vital Way’s Holistic Herbal School and Center, we have seen that by drawing from the immense collection of Wisdom and knowledge available to us, is the most effective way to use herbs for healing.
We are influenced by Ancient Greek, Chinese, Ayurvedic, Wise Women, European, Native American traditions, as well as that which is coming out of modern research and clinical experience.
With our ultimate goal of helping others be empowered to be more health, we benefit from the sources that are effective and often are required to synergistically combine perspectives for the greatest outcome.
You’ll see in the blog how we incorporate what the situation dictates with the aim of choosing the most effective course and not because of a bias towards any particular type of wisdom or knowledge.
Final Thoughts: Health and Agency
When considering if you should learn about your health or entrust it to others, certain questions arise. Let’s be clear, human health is no doubt complicated, and it can be challenging to work through complex conditions.
But this doesn’t mean you only have two options; find someone who has studied health intensively for many years to treat you, or study for many years yourself.
Another option that parallels a larger social ecology is that people are becoming empowered to facilitate their own health journey, without needing to become the most highly knowledgeable person on their health team. You can learn enough to be an intelligent consumer of health care and that creates powerfulness where our system has largely engendered relative powerlessness.
When you have agency, that is, empowerment to act in a self-directed way regarding your health, then you have tremendous power over your future. It’s my hope that this blog will contribute to giving you actionable tools, information, strategies and most importantly, agency to consider for yourself the best course of your healthcare and your life.
Wishing you all Vibrant Health
This blog does not offer medical advice, nor is it meant to diagnose, treat or cure anything. It’s for education purposes only and you should always consult you licensed medical provider before using any herb or other health approach.
Chris gets interviewed about adaptogens. The reporter did an admirable job of capturing the spirit of the interview. Kudos to the her, and the Willamette Week for covering such an important topic! [...]
This post on Ask the Holistic Herbalist Blog is from a conversation at the store this weekend.
And as always, this blog and all content herein is not intended to be medical advice, nor is it meant to treat, diagnose or cure any condition. It’s for information purposes only, and you should always check in with your healthcare provider before engaging in any health affecting activity.
JL is the patron who walked into the Vital Ways Herbal Apothecary, and CS, the Herbalist
Jl: I’m not digesting my food well. I think I need to detox.
CS: What are you experiencing and what are you eating?
JL: I eat relatively well, but I sometimes skip meals due to being too busy and I often eat on the go. It feels tight, and hard in my stomach and I get really full on a small amount of food, and burp up a smell that is kinda sour.
CS: How long has it been happening, have you been evaluated by a medical professional?
JL: No, its recent, but off and on for decades and I’m not overly concerned about it, but its unpleasant
CS: Do any foods in particular make it better or worse? Have your tried anything that has helped or made it worse?
JL: Nothing has made it better or worse, I eat brown rice, lentils, raw and cooked veggies and occasionally fish.
Swollen, pale, medium thickness pronounced white coat
This person presents with a fairly typical pattern of what might be considered in Chinese Medicine to be Deficient Spleen Qi or in Ayurveda, Low Agni, or in western constructs, digestive hypofunction.
*The difference of meaning between what the Chinese mean when they use the Organs name and the Western Organ Systems are not the same. In most cases they’re not even really related. We’ll address later with a Chinese Medicine Practitioner to give us further insight, but for now, it’s helpful to know that spleen in Chinese medicine roughly means upper digestive function, and not at all the western organ that we know of as the spleen which has immune/lymphatic/blood cell effects.
All 3 systems, would agree, perhaps with a slight different nuance, perhaps with heart fire, or liver fire’s impeding spleen or in our modern system stress leading to sympathetic activation which is overriding parasympathetic innervation of digestion, but beyond the causal nuance we’d all agree that the process at the most basic level is one of deficiency of function. We’ll address the manifestation and the cause below.
Guided by an holistic approach, our goal is to empower the person with knowledge, skills and support to facilitate their vital self-correcting healing mechanism.
A very effective herbal band aid approach to digestive hypofunction are bitters and carminatives.
However, this approach fails to address the root cause(s) which we can safely posit in this instance likely stem from a combination of difficult to digest foods, combined with stress during eating.
My first thought, was to carpet bomb their small intestine with 3 different herbal anti microbials, and stimulate their migrating motor complex using antimony, then, purge them with 5oz of Lobelia per qt water, and then blood let them to reduce the bilious humor, and then if necessary see if I can find someone skilled in trephining if this didn’t work.
But then, I thought better of it, and considered that most likely starting with least invasive, most gentle approach that would lead them to a higher overall state of health would be the best approach. So we discussed reducing the challenge of difficult to digest foods, and addressing their tension, rushed nature of meal, COMBINED with some gentle herbs including carminatives, bitters and an acrid.
If this approach didn’t work, considering a step two that would include more investigation of food, lifestyle and presentation is straightforward enough.
Creating Digestive Harmony in acute cases requires proper food, and proper function, which stems from proper mindset.
The mind-gut interaction is bidirectional. If you can relax the mind, the gut works better and if you can feed the gut healthy foods, then it signals the mind to function better.
So, the first conversation was about engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, with a short conscious breathing exercise before eating. My favorite method is breath counting, (see a later post for this) combined with a moment of deep food appreciation. It doesn’t require much of a stretch to consider that most of us in the US (but certainly not all) are incredibly fortunate to live in a place that have access to food.
The health benefits of being appreciative are being investigated by researchers right now, and the early data are clear that adopting this mindset is beneficial on attenuating an excessive physiological stress response, and therefore is useful for many functions and processes that stress impacts; In this case, digestion.
Appreciation in this situation is as simple as taking a moment to look at your food, identify why you’re eating it, and to feel appreciation for having access to it. This exercise takes about 1 minute and is invaluable for a host of reasons and in particular for this person, is useful to engage the parasympathetic, (rest and digest) part of their nervous system which will turn their metabolic switches from flee to digest.
The second part of the conversation was about food choices and in particular about challenging to digest foods. We explored how cooking and fermentation have overlapping value as predigestion of foodstuffs. Then we even delved briefly into lectins and phytates, legumes and enzymes but this was not the focus so we didn’t linger too long on this.
JL decided that they felt that they could benefit from engaging in breathing and appreciation part of the holistic approach and consider altering food choices, at least until digestion was corrected and perhaps later.
These two adaptations, relaxing and then choosing digestible foods, are the basis of the strategy to help this person. The herbs chosen synergize with this basic pattern and intervention quite nicely. You can see similar approaches in many traditional systems of health care.
A POWERFUL, EASY TO GROW, COMMON, (IN OUR AREA), REMEDY THAT HAS AN AFFINITY FOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH
The exact proportions were based on in-person variables that are beyond the scope of this post.
Upon tasting the remedy, JL said that they felt an immediate shift of improvement, which is not that uncommon with digestive remedies and stress remedies. Often however, the effects of herbs outside of these two areas, aren’t realized for hours to days, so immediate shifts are by no means a surefire way to ascertain if your remedy is the correct one. To further complicate this, people often feel better immediately after taking a remedy as its reassuring and supportive to have someone work with them, and to know they’re taking steps towards improving your health, even at times when the remedy is not entirely suited to them. So, the proof is in the progress of the condition, not in the immediate effect, but immediate effect can be a useful sign if understood and factored in properly.
JL promised to return in 1-2 weeks to discuss the outcome so we’ll revisit and discuss outcomes at that time.
As Hippocrates tells us, Health starts in your gut, and JL knew this quite well. Digestion is not like Vegas, what happens in the gut does not stay in the gut. If the gut is not working well, then the obvious lack of nutrition occurs which is bad enough, but also, immune function is generally disordered, as is, the metabolism and what our bodies do with energy storage or fat deposition and burning. So, the Gut health is at the center of all good holistic strategies to health.
We hope that you learned something with this blog, and if you’d like to find out more, please do stop by and perhaps we’ll include your story on a future blog in the Ask the Holistic Herbalist series. Until then, I wish you much success on your path towards lasting vibrant health.