Dear people of the Earth,
I love you! And, I can absolutely support you in these concerns. And, and, and, AND…HERBS ARE NOT DRUGS. They never will be, and they don’t want to be. You don’t want them to be! Our culture has (thanks to advertising and other less-than-honest influences) assimilated the assumption that becoming well works like this: You get “sick”; you go to a “doctor/healer”; the healer prescribes the right drug for your symptom; you, the dutiful patient, take the drug; this “fixes” you & returns you to “health”.
This is a sad, sad story which doesn’t serve you. It does, however, continue to line the unscrupulous pockets of insurance company executives. There is so much more to wellness. There is so much more to YOU! You are a complex and ever-evolving system of dynamic interactions, emotions, experiences and history! You are groovy, and wild, and amazing! And, you can be well, if you’re willing to make some subtle shifts.
1) You are not your symptom. You are not a headache. You are not your migraines. You are certainly not a label or diagnosis. Can “diabetic” or “hypothyroid” or “overweight” even approach encompassing the magical being that is you?
2) No two symptoms are the same. Menstrual cramps for one woman are “sharp, stabbing, intense”; menstrual cramps for another woman are “dull, achy, dragging”. Viewed through the one-size-fits-all lens of allopathic (ie. standard US physician-style) care, cramps =PMS. And, basically, in this scenario, PMS = midol or ibuprofen. It’s different for herbalist. Skilled herbal care asks into the cause of the cramps and discerns why the cramps are showing up differently for different women. And offers co-created care for the WOMAN experiencing the cramps which addresses the reason(s) they’re happening. This is the same for headaches, “IBS”, everything!
3) Addressing the symptom does not change the reason your symptom is happening. In allopathy, headaches are frequently simply prescribed painkillers. This is absurd to the clinical herbalist. We know that pain in the head can show up for an almost endless number of reasons. Here are a few common ones: hormonally-related headaches around menses, food-triggered headaches due to gut hyper-reactivity, tension headaches due to imbalance in the hyperthalamic-pituarity-adrenal axis, environmental toxin-induced headaches, headaches that only show up when you’ve eaten too much of a challenging food AND you’re having a hard day at work. Headaches due to overwork & exhaustion. Eye-strain headaches resulting from waaaaay too much time staring at a screen. The list goes on for days. And, while herbalists have a fair arsenal of pain-specific plants to help with acute onset (remember, morphine comes from the opium poppy), we live to get at the root cause of the disturbance. So, we aim for your liver or your work-life balance to get at your head pain. And, we do it with respect for who you are and how ready you are to make change in your life.
“If the classical concept of efficacious drug treatment in biomedicine can be illustrated as a magic bullet hitting the centre of a target within a terrified body then the herbal counterpart image is that of laying a healing blanket over a relaxed and resting body.”
- Peter Conway, The Consultation in Phytotherapy
4) Your symptom is your teacher. Yup. You know this already. Do you make huge, sweeping changes when life is hunky-dory and you feel comfortable and content? Or, do you make them when things feel pretty shitty and uncomfortable and awkward? Your body knows this, and this is uses Pain, Anger, Discomfort, and others of that ilk (I’m looking at you, Bum Knee and Erectile Dysfunction) to get your attention. So, when you’re feeling that pain in your head, this is your body not-so-subtly requesting that you snap to and pay attention because something is out of balance.
5) Symptoms are usually knocking on the door of our awareness for awhile before we notice them. This is why it can be tricky to unravel root causes by yourself. When you do, it’s amazing and magical and super-powerful!! Great work, if you can get it! And, typically, we’re all too well-versed in our habitual patterns of being and doing to recognize where, along the way, things got out of whack and our bodies began sending us signals (*symptoms*) to get our attention. It can be invaluable to have a practitioner to guide you to this awareness and herbal (& other) allies to nudge you back on track. This is also why herbalists typically work with you for awhile, with the aim of re-establishing the relationships you have with the inputs in your world (including herbal inputs) over time.
6) Herbs do not work as “magic bullets” to “fix” you. Often, they work synergistically, in complimentary concert with one another to address the many body systems and interrelationships where imbalance may be present. And, each herb, in its whole form, contains HUNDREDS of phytochemicals which human bodies have been in relationship with over millennia. They target multiple areas of our bodies, in addition to affecting specific cellular receptors.
7) Herbs are not magic erasers. Almost always, herbs, even the most powerful herbs (remember the opium poppy!), will only be a short-term comfort if you are not doing the work to address the underlying root situations which invited the symptom to show up in the first place. Think: overwork, not getting enough sleep, sedentary habits, non-nourishing diet and other old chestnuts we hate to hear about. So, I can give you a cream for you eczema. And, it will help. For a while. And, then, all of the other influences on your skin’s integrity will outweigh the good work the herbs are doing.
8) The herbs can’t do it alone – they need YOU, in partnership, to establish a vibrant, functional inner ecosystem so that they can do their good good work in a hospitable environment. Otherwise, we’re all just pissing into the wind. And, nobody likes the end result of that!
9) I really do love you and want to help you!! And, I can’t do that if you expect that an herb is, or I am, going to fix you. I can’t do that without your partnership in creating a long-term relationship with your wellbeing. So, please, dear ones, let’s reframe the questions together, and focus on the ones which will help us find ways for you to love this life!! Life doesn’t begin when you finally get that big thing done. Life is movement, and it is happening RIGHT NOW! This is life. It is your life. As my dear friend Diane says, “Don’t go puny! We’re not here for all that long – go brave!” Let’s take those dark places, those painful places and acknowledge them. Let’s recognize their role in getting you here, where you are today. Let’s kiss those painful places and scooch them over and make way for new ways of being…vibrant & inspired & comfortable & free!! Do it with me, or do it with another skilled practitioner, though, please, do this for yourself!
10) So, will ginseng make me a better lover?! Love clashes and pleasure discord occur for a number of reasons. While ginseng is hailed as an aphrodisiac powerhouse, not everyone needs this as an input to fine tune their responsiveness and drive. Ginseng can certainly be an artistic ally in the love symphony…the question is, is it the ally for YOU? How willing are you to play to all the strengths of your innate abilities? Are you willing to practice regularly? Can you learn how to fine tune the music so ginseng can shine? Does your symphony even need ginseng, or have you already got a player doing that work for you? Are the foods you’re eating keeping you in peak play? Do you even like the song? Would it be better to trade ginseng for the subtle skills of oats or shatavari or damiana or kava, or nourishing foods, or more exercise, or "stress" management? Even though the answers aren’t straightforward, the questions are worth asking. The fun is in the practice! ;)
P.S. This wound up being the most boring sex analogy ever!! "Love symphony" is what happens when I'm hungry and late for dinner and want to get the rest of this post to you in a hurry. Please, for the love of all things juicy and sexy and golden, help me come up with a better one. Post it in the comments so we can redeem our sacred mischievousness! I promise to heap high praise on the winner! <3
P.P.S. The gorgeous rootiness in the photo above is our very own native american ginseng Panax quinquefolius, on the heartmeltingly beautiful United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary in Rutland, Ohio. It is an amazing medicine and not one to be chosen lightly. This plant is over-harvested and is considered environmentally "At Risk" for a number of reasons. There are other ginsengs not native to the Americas (ie., Asian ginseng, Panax ginseng) which have similar, though certainly not identical uses. (Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, is often categorized as a ginseng as well, though it is not actually in the same family as true ginsengs, just in the same genus.) This is one of my favorite plant medicines and I could do an entire post on it if I'm not careful! If you're itching to know more about American ginseng, you can check out this video. If you'd like to have your socks knocked off by some natural beauty, check out this video on the Goldenseal Botanical Sanctuary.