How DO Herbs Work?
“How DO herbs work?” As an herbalist, this is a question I get from time to time.
Seemingly innocuous. Yet, a complex question that can take the conversation in many different directions. The scientific to the spiritual and beyond. Some of these exchanges satisfy the deductive mind, like research papers on how gingko biloba enhances memory. Some move beyond and explore deeper and more spiritual aspects, which may make that scientific mind uncomfortable.
I’ve always seemed to find myself just slightly veering off the beaten path in life, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that my experiences and thoughts lead me somewhere slightly different than what might be typically constructed.
Plants have been a source of nourishment, medicine and spirituality for as long as humans have been in existence. Some plants are even known to bring forth a spiritual connection so strong, that they are now illegal. However, all plants are gifted in many ways and provide much needed shifts and insights for individuals on their healing path, if you take the time to listen in.
When you return to plants to assist in your healing, you are (sometimes unknowingly) tapping into a connection with something deep and intangibly incredible. From a reductionist perspective, plants contain chemical constituents that heal our bodies. After all, plants have evolved with bacteria and viruses for thousands of years and have created incredible phytochemicals in order to stay alive and thrive. But, there is something deeper happening when intentionally taking on plants as medicine or nourishment. Your cells are awakened and sparked with reminders of deeper connections and invisibilities in life. Humans have an ancestral relationship that is beautifully and lovingly intertwined with plants.
Plants aren’t just another tool in the tool box to healing, they exist in a whole new tool box. They shift your frame of mind, they adjust your world view. When we confront disease states with man made chemical tools, the side effects aren’t only physical they are emotional, too. From plants, we often isolate one “active” chemical constituent. This chemical has been established as having a specific physical action or actions on our body or with a pathogen. Then it is developed into what we commonly call medicine today. However, a single plant (like Echinacea spp) may have close to hundreds of constituents that work synergistically in healing the whole person.
What we have missed, in the quest to develop these medicines, is the symphony that resides within the plant. They way the constituents work together is the genius (further still, how they work within the ecosystem of a particular body). We’ve eliminated the invisibles, the soul, that complete healing that the plants so willingly and lovingly offer. This must be why herbalists are compelled to have preference for the whole plant. There is something higher at work here. There is great honor in that. Simply replacing pharmaceuticals with botanical extracts in a mechanical way (in essence, pulling a plant out of the existing tool box) perpetuates the idea that what we see is all there is. Shifting your mindset to welcome the idea that more is at work than meets the eye (or microscope) is essential.
This is why plants “work” and this is why herbalists “work” – the invisibles are at play in everything plants (and plant people) do.
Want more? Check out some of the books that inspired this post:
• Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: Beyond the Doors of Perception into the Dreaming of Earth — Stephen Harrod Buhner
• You Can Heal Your Life — Louise Hay
• A Short History of Medicine — Erwin H. Ackerknecht
• Plant Spirit Healing — Pam Montgomery
• Mind Over Medicine — Lissa Rankin