The study of herbal medicine is a way of connecting with the healing power of plants. All plants, including the cultivated foods we eat, culinary spices, and wild medicinal plants, have effects on the health and healing capacity of the body. You’ve heard, “you are what you eat” or “eating carrots helps your eyesight.” Herbalism simply extends these ideas out further, redefining our ideas of how plants can help us prevent, treat, and recover from illness and injury.
What can herbal medicine do?
I come from a vitalist tradition, a system that believes that the body has the capacity to heal itself when given the right conditions: good food, adequate sleep, and exercise. Herbal medicines can make those healthful conditions more possible. Medicinal herbs can support your body’s ability to digest food properly to assimilate nourishment and eliminate toxins, can soothe and balance your nervous and adrenal systems to remediate stress and allow for proper rest, can strengthen your respiratory and cardiovascular systems to better feed all the muscles and organs in your body.
Herbal medicines can treat illnesses big and small, both acute and chronic–from a simple cold to complex autoimmune disorders, often with profound healing effects that allopathic medicine can’t offer. Herbal medicine can help bring your body’s systems back into balance after they have been disturbed by stress; environmental toxins; viruses, bacteria, and other parasites; and emotional and physical traumas. Because herbal medicines offer deep psychological and emotional support, they are especially useful as a part of a plan to treat current and past trauma. And like good food nutrients, herbal medicines are an essential part of preventative health care.
Where does herbalism come from?
“In the olden days,” most cultures had some sort of healing practice including herbal medicines. In many cultures, the study of the medicine in plants never stopped being practiced. Recently in the United States, there has been a resurgence of interest in herbal medicine. Most of the herbal medicine that is practiced in the US now takes some elements from “eclectic medicine” (a kind of european natural medicine mixed with what colonists took from indigenous tribes and enslaved peoples in the 17-1900s), Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic medicine, and traditions from countless Northern and Southern Hemispheric indigenous cultures and earth-based religious traditions.
Herbal medicine didn’t nearly die out simply on accident. The brutal processes of colonization–both the physical and the cultural genocide–did their best to destroy this knowledge and the people who carry it. As such, we (especially those of us with european ancestors) are required to be thoughtful about where the knowledge we acquire comes from and how we use it. (ie: let’s not steal indigenous medicines and then make our livelihoods selling them back to others.)