Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used -- and our neighbors around the world still use -- plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It's easy. You can do it too, and you don't need a degree or any special training.
Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate those memories and your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first session, we learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes. In session two, about simples and water-based herbal remedies. In the third, I distinguished safe (nourishing and tonifying) herbs from more dangerous (stimulating and sedating) herbs. Our fourth session focused on poisons; we made tinctures and an Herbal Medicine Chest. Our fifth dealt with herbal vinegars, and the sixth with herbal oils.
In this, our seventh session, we will think about how we think about healing.
The Three Traditions of Healing
There are many ways to use herbs to improve and maintain health. Modern medicine uses highly refined herbal products known as drugs. Many alternative or holistic practitioners recommend herbs, usually in less-refined (and less dangerous) forms such as tinctures or homeopathic remedies. And then there are the yarb women, the wise women, such as myself, who integrate herbs into their daily diet and claim far-reaching results for simple remedies.
I call these three different approaches the Scientific, Heroic, and Wise Woman traditions.
These three traditions are ways of thinking, not ways of acting. And they are not limited to herbs. Any technique, any substance can be used by a healer in the Scientific, Heroic, and Wise Woman traditions. There are, for instance, naturopaths, midwives, and MDs in each tradition, as well as herbalists, educators, therapists, even politicians.
Each of these traditions lives within you, too.
As I define the characteristics of each tradition, identify the part of yourself that thinks that way.
Modern, western medicine is an excellent example of the Scientific tradition, where healing is fixing. The line is its symbol: linear thought, linear time. Truth is fixed and measurable. Truth is that which repeats. Good and bad, health and sickness are put at opposite ends of the line, where they do battle with each other. Food and medicine are quite different.
Newton's universal laws and the mechanization of nature are the foundation of the Scientific tradition. Bodies are understood to be like machines. When machines run well (stay healthy) they don't deviate. Anything that deviates from normal needs to be fixed or repaired. The Scientific tradition is excellent for fixing broken things. Measurements must be taken to determine deviation and insure normalcy. Regular diagnostic tests are critical to maintaining proper functioning and ensuring utmost longevity in the body/machine.
In the Scientific tradition, plants are valued as repositories of poisons/alkaloids. They are seen as potential drugs, and capable of killing you in their unpredictable crude states. They are helpful and safe only when refined into drugs and used by highly-trained experts.
In the Scientific tradition the whole is the same as its most active part, and machines are more trustworthy than people.
There is not one unified Heroic tradition, but many similar traditions collectively called the Heroic tradition. Alternative health care practitioners generally represent the Heroic thought pattern, symbolized by a circle.
This circle defines the rules, which, we are told, must be followed in order to save ourselves from disease and death. Healing in the Heroic tradition focuses on cleansing. According to this tradition, disease arises when toxins (dirt, filth, anger, negativity) accumulate. When we are bad, when we eat the wrong food, think the wrong thought, commit a sin, we sicken and the healer is the savior, offering purification, punishment, and redemption.
In the Heroic traditions, the whole is the sum of its parts. We are body, mind, and spirit. The spirit is high and worthy; the body is low and gross; the mind is in between. In the Heroic traditions, we are personally responsible for everything that happens to us.
Religious beliefs frequently accompany herb use in the Heroic tradition. The Heroic healer uses rare substances, exotic herbs, and complicated formulae. Drug-like herbs in capsules are the favored in this tradition. Most books on herbal medicine are written by men whose thought patterns are those of the Heroic tradition.
Wise Woman Tradition
The Wise Woman tradition is the world's oldest healing tradition. It envisions good health as openness to change, flexibility, availability to transformation, and groundedness. Its symbol is the spiral. In the Wise Woman tradition we do not seek to cure, but focus instead on integrating and nourishing the unique individual's wholeness/holiness. The Wise Woman tradition relies on compassion, simple ritual, and common dooryard herbs and garden weeds as primary nourishers, but appreciates (and uses) any treatment appropriate to the specific self-healing in process.
The Wise Woman tradition sees each life as a spiraling, ever-changing completeness. Disease and injury are seen as doorways of transformation, and each person is recognized as a self healer, earth healer: inherently whole, resonant to the whole, and vital to the whole. Substance, thought, feeling, and spirit are inseparable in the Wise Woman tradition. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Spiralic and amazing, the Wise Woman tradition offers self-healing options as diverse as the human imagination and as complex as the human psyche. The Wise Woman tradition has no rules, no texts, no rites; it is constantly changing, constantly being re-invented. It is mostly invisible, hard to see, but easier and easier to find. It is a give-away dance of nourishment, change, and self love. An invitation to honor yourself and the earth. An admonishment to trust yourself.
In our next sessions we will learn how to make herbal honeys and syrups, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.