We often discuss how effective plants can be at supporting and gently bringing human beings back to a state of "wellness" (meaning that resiliency, vibrancy, passion are maximized). I've spent a lot of time exploring how this happens, reading through the historical record and perusing modern research, and on balance it seems pretty clear that medicinal herbs, trees, mushrooms and more are good at helping folks in need. But that's not what I want to discuss today.
Rather, I'd like to posit the idea that working intimately with the botanical world alters our lives in ways that transcend individual health. Of course, this is not a surprising idea: reality mirrors itself, and the skin is barely more than an illusory boundary. Nevertheless, as a person whose life was redirected, and perhaps saved, by trees and herbs, I want to share three ways in which these allies can have powerful effects beyond the individual.
Next, herbal medicine has a way of reconnecting our species to nature. Clearly a no-brainer: we get outside more, we tend to eat differently, we appreciate a woodland walk differently when we have an intimate knowledge of the green folk living all around us. This gets into our heads slowly, insidiously, and deliciously. Before we know it, we may find ourselves kneeling on a city sidewalk looking at plantain (the horror)! But I feel like the gift of reconnecting to nature that herbal medicine offers us is most clearly evident in what happens when nature and wild plants are removed from human life: this is what, in Western culture, we've been working on for a few hundred years. The results are dramatic: epidemics of chronic disease affect the population, not because of the rise technological medicine, but because of a removal of traditional medicine! Additionally, to support homogenized, un-wild, unchallenging food systems we are also creating epidemics of chronic disease in the environment: new chemical signals that affect fertility, waste material that alters climate and ecosystem balance, disorganized living arrangements that sprawl over the landscape. I may be overly optimistic, but I believe that we don't need to remove technology to fix these issues: we simply need to bring plants back in to daily life. Once we develop the botanical habit, herbs begin to mess with our heads (where we all too often live). As we lose our heads, we save our spirit - and spirit being all-encompassing and transcending the human species, we participate in a more sustainable dance with the rest of nature.
Which leads me to my final point of appreciation for herbal medicine: mystery. Anyone who has seen a plant effect a cure knows that there is something magical about this process, as it may never be able to be replicated again. The herbalist, plant, and client have somehow managed to work together, in that one timeless moment, and the feeling all (plant included!) are left with is similar to what you feel when you run in to a random friend in a random place at just the right moment. It is synchronicity beyond coincidence, and we glimpse for an instant what it is like to be the immortal Universe. A healing modality that respects and welcomes mystery is my kind of medicine: because in the end, no matter how much we dress it up or understand its details, a human physiology brought back in to balance always reveals an awe-inspiring mystery. All good scientists know this. Einsten, for instance, tells us:
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.I have great faith in the power of herbal medicine to heal not only people, but also culture, species, and ecology. It's really pretty simple: we really need plants in our lives. Even only a little bit. And once their green tendrils begin to grow in our hearts, like the first pea vines of spring, there is no turning back. Thank goodness - thank greenness.
In gratitude, I leave you with the words of Peter Conway, English herbalist, philosopher, and erstwhile humorist.
The future of herbal medicine is the past of herbal medicine - self care & psychedelics - serious...