Michael and Lesley Tierra's Blogs
Herbal, health and inspired life ramblings
Tags >> herbology
Before there was any understanding of biochemical constituents, traditional herbal healing systems relied on flavors as indicators of medicinal properties. (Determining the properties and quality of an herb by its taste, color, texture, etc., is called “organoleptic” assessment.) Traditional herbalists have long associated corrective and potent therapeutic value intrinsic to the flavors, as follows:
Sweet – nourishing, tonic
Pungent or spicy --- metabolically stimulating and warming
Salty – affecting body fluids
Sour – Promoting digestion (as with fermented foods)
Bitter – clearing, detoxifying
To these, Ayurveda adds “astringent” as a sixth flavor, while Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) adds “bland” another extra “non-flavor,” so to speak.
Flavors are perceived by taste receptors (taste buds) located on the upper surface of the tongue, soft palate, upper esophagus and epiglottis. The taste receptor cells send information to gustatory areas of the brain that influence our predilection or repugnance to certain foods.
Today, we know that the flavors are generally identified with known biochemical constituents. The bitter taste usually elicits a strong repugnance with the intention to protect us from non-nourishing and possibly poisonous substances. Biochemistry associated with the bitter flavor happens to include a large number of constituents with known therapeutic value such as alkaloids, bitter glycosides and so forth.
However, could it be that the bitter flavor itself, apart from its associated constituents, possesses its own intrinsic therapeutic value?
The well known traditional herbal principle of flavors may have found scientific vindication with this recent paper published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) entitled “Extraoral Bitter Taste Receptors as Mediators of Off-target Drug Effects.” Here, a novel hypothesis offers a possible explanation as to why many drugs seem to affect conditions and diseases other than the ones which they are intended to treat:
“(W)e propose that any drug with a bitter taste could have unintended actions in the body through stimulation of extraoral type 2 taste receptors (T2Rs). T2Rs were first identified in the oral cavity, where they function as bitter taste receptors. However, recent findings indicate that they are also expressed outside the gustatory system, including in the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems. . . Bitter-tasting compounds can have specific physiological effects in T2R-expressing cells. . . . If our hypothesis is confirmed, it would offer a new paradigm for understanding the off-target actions of diverse drugs and could reveal potential new therapeutic targets.”
T2R taste receptors found in the gastrointestinal system may provide a rationale as to why and how bitter flavored herbs (often called “bitters” as they are sold in innumerable alcoholic beverages throughout the world) can be used to treat different physiological diseases. T2Rs found in the respiratory smooth muscle system affect breathing and bronchodilation, which may substantiate at least one aspect of how bitter tasting herbs such as wild cherry bark and elecampane are effective for asthma and other chronic and acute respiratory diseases.
Of course, the authors of this study did not set out to make a statement regarding the efficacy of the flavors associated with herbs, but their research may provide supporting evidence for how the flavor of an herb may direct its effects.
From an herbalist’s perspective, a drug may be viewed in terms of its pharmacological action and its overall metabolically heating or cooling energy. There are many implications with all of this; for example, we may not only understand off-label benefits of certain drugs, but we can also appreciate how certain drugs such as antibiotics, corticosteroids and others, while good for a specific disease, may be especially contraindicated and harmful for some patients more than others.
Given the fact that so many diseases are caused by excesses of all kinds including an excess of consumption of the non-nutritional sweet forms of food, we may now understand both through traditional medicine and science the old adage, “It’s time to drink your bitter brew.”
Now that I'm on to ginseng-like herbs, here's another one that can be taken during the summer. Its real name is Panax notoginseng, known in Chinese pinyin as san qi, but is best known by its commercial name, Tien qi ginseng.
It is definitely in the ginseng family, but has quite different properties from the ones we usually associate with other ginsengs.
Rather than tonifying Qi, this herb moves and builds Blood. But even better, while it moves Blood it also stops bleeding. This makes it a perfect application for any trauma from falls, fractures, contusions, wounds, cuts or sprains (for this reason it is used extensively by martial artists) and to stop bleeding in vomit, urine or stool along with nosebleeds and hemorrhaging.
In fact, it is used for any internal and external bleeding and should be taken frequently for this, both internally and externally placed on the wound in powder or liniment form. It is called Yunan Bai Yao in its patent form, which is widely used to stop bleeding, specifically from gunshot wounds.
San qi also reduces swelling, alleviates pain and dissolves blood clots. I have seen it dissolve large blood clots and slow excessive menstrual bleeding and hemorrhage (high doses are needed for both). It is used for chest, abdominal and joint pain and diabetic retinopathy. As well, it lowers blood pressure and increases coronary artery flow. Because of its tonic circulatory properties, it is one of the most popular of all herbs used by the Chinese.
Image of San qi tubers from: ITM Online.
Latin: Panax notoginseng, P. pseudoginseng
Part Used: root
Energy, taste and Organs affected: warm; sweet, slightly bitter; Liver, Stomach, Large Intestine
Actions: stops bleeding
Properties: hemostatic, cardiac tonic
Biochemical constituents: arasaponin A, arasaponin B, dencichine
Dose: 1-3 g powder; 3-9 g whole root, decoction; apply topically as needed
Precautions: pregnancy; Deficient Blood or Yin
Other: also known as pseudoginseng, notoginseng, tienchi, tien qi and tian qi
Indications: internal and external bleeding, nosebleed, blood in urine, vomit, mucus or stool, traumatic injury due to falls, fractures, contusions and sprains, chest and abdominal pain, angina, coronary heart diseases, joint pain, hemorrhage, injuries, wounds, excessive menstruation, diabetic retinopathy
Horsetail photo by Lesley Tierra
Energies and flavors: Cool, astringent
Uses: Hemostatic, astringent, vulnerary
With the advent of Spring comes horsetail, a type of shave-grass that grows in watery places. I've been studying several stands of these interesting plants for a few weeks now, watching them pop through the earth, shoot upward and sprout into feathery and bottlebrush-like 'leaves.' My walks take me past a stream where they love to flourish, offering me some interesting photo ops.
Horsetail's fresh, barren stems have long been used medicinally. Older herbalists used it for consumption, dropsy and dysentery. Horsetail decoction has also been used as a vulnerary, stopping bleeding, healing wounds and reducing eyelid swelling when applied externally. High in silica, they are often included in mineral-rich formulas or herbal combinations for strengthening bones.
Horsetail's main use, however, is as a diuretic to increase the flow of urine. Thus, is used for such urinary issues such as bladder, prostate, urethra and kidney infections. As well, it is used for frequent urination, which may seem contradictory. However, by increasing the flow of urine it empties the bladder so one doesn't need to urinate as much.
Horsetail is also used as a lithotropic, helping to dissolve kidney and bladder stones. As an astringent, it can stop bleeding, internally and externally, and has particularly been used this way for nosebleeds. When calcined to ash, it supposedly helps alleviate acid indigestion.
When taken regularly, however, horsetail may irritate the kidneys and cause some toxic reactions. Thus treatment should last no more than six days. Another precaution to keep in mind is that a strong decoction of horsetail acts as an emmenogogue, which contraindicates it for pregnancy.
|In the marketplace, it is often more difficult to sell the general public on an herbal formula as opposed to a single herb. This is understandable, because people are usually driven to single herbs when they hear of some sensational effect associated with it.
For example, Ligusticum porteri (now available as a Planetary Herbals extract), commonly known as "osha," has been found to lower viral count in chronic hepatitis C patients. Traditionally, the herb is considered "big medicine" by southwestern natives who widely utilize this herb in ceremonies and as treatment for a wide variety of conditions including sore throat, and all viral diseases including the flu.
In the marketplace, a typical consumer presented with the choice of capsules of pure lomatium versus capsules of lomatium blended with other herbs would most likely choose the former.
Are formulations better than singles?
Assuming that it is well crafted by an experienced herbalist, a formula consisting of two or more herbs can often more effective than a single herb. The operative word here is 'can' not always.
Strange how often the first things you hear on your learning path often prove to hold the greatest weight in life. My first Chinese herb teacher, a Taoist named Foon Lee Wong who operates a curio shop on the outskirts of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, once off-handedly said that herbs used together represent more than anything we find in nature -- in other words, herbal formulations are 'unnatural' or perhaps 'supernatural,' as in beyond nature.
In a very real sense an herbalist uses herbs as a musician uses individual notes or an artist uses colors and shapes to create something unique and hopefully therapeutically effective.
Herbs are combined in formulas with particular objectives in mind. For example:
To complement or augment a primary intended therapeutic action: For instance, we might use more than one antiviral herb together to have a wider range of effect in treating viruses. Or we might use several complementary tonics together for a wider range of tonification.
Or, we might add some herbs because we can see the need to support an internal organic function in order to help the body achieve relief of a specific symptom. In other words, extra support for the digestive or urinary systems will help more effectively treat the underlying cause.
We might add in a smaller amount of an herb that slows down the liver's ability to neutralize any strange substance that enters its portals. Usually this would be a small amount of a spicy herb to bypass the liver P450 enzymes. This allows the active principles of an herb to remain in circulation longer than if it were used alone.
Or we might add a small amount of an antispasmodic herb to relieve any physiological resistance to the unique qualities (taste, texture, etc.) of an herb.
However one of the most fascinating phenomena around herbal formulation is how a particular combination, even a ratio of two or more herbs can biochemically optimize the primary ingredients in the herbs themselves.
Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine includes thousands of preparations, sometimes in exact prescribed rations and amounts that have been passed down over millennia because of some unique experientially proven benefit.
Given today's research capabilities, it is difficult enough to try to understand biochemically why some herbs do what they do. Each herb contains thousands of unique compounds. Compound this with trying to analyze an ancient traditional herbal formula containing two or more herbs, and you can see what a challenge this would be! (And that's assuming that there is a will and funding for such research - which by and large in the West there is scant little of either.)
Over 50% of all pharmaceutical drugs were or are derived from plants. Are there miracle cures in the vast but dwindling Amazon rain forest? Absolutely, but thus far only a handful of drugs have made it to market (including quinine, codeine, morphine, and cocaine). While visiting the Amazon, I spoke with one of the leading Western ethnobotanists whose job it is to discover and send back plants to pharmaceutical companies that may have a value in medicine. He said he's sent them hundreds but because they are unable to isolate, synthesize and therefore patent a single active constituent, all of this traditional knowledge of therapeutic plant usage goes to waste.
In the case of herbal formulas, the challenge to isolate and synthesize is exponentially greater.
Finally, research that supports formula synergy
So given all of the above, you can imagine how excited I get when I find a research paper that substantiates the value of an herbal formula over a single plant, in this case where the herbs work on each other to optimize certain therapeutic properties and effects.
While researching the effects of the Chinese herb dang gui (Angelica sinensis) as a blood tonic especially for women, I accidentally came upon a study of a famous ancient Chinese two-herb formula Dang gui bu xue tang (DBT) which consists of one part dang gui and five parts huang qi (astragalus root). This formula has a wide range of use and is traditionally prescribed alone with other herbs or in soups for anemia, uterine bleeding, post-partum bleeding, fatigue, and symptoms due to hormonal deficiency including osteoporosis.
The odd thing is that the formula is for blood deficiency but dang gui, the herb regarded as the sovereign blood tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is used in a much smaller amount than astragalus root, an herb used as a qi tonic. Why?
The study "Verification of the formulation and efficacy of Danggui Buxue Tang (a decoction of Radix Astragali and Radix Angelicae Sinensis): an exemplifying systematic approach to revealing the complexity of Chinese herbal medicine formulae" demonstrated the higher therapeutic efficacy of the two herbs together with the primary herb being a one fifth the ratio to its secondary counterpart.
The researchers speculated as follows:
"The saponins may liquefy and make the primary properties of ferulic acid and ligustilde in dang gui more bio-available. When boiled it seems that the ferulic acid and ligustilide in dang gui are oxidized and degraded which is far less when astragalus is combined in the 5:1 ratio with dang gui. Finally it's possible that the stability of the active constituents are improved by having the different plant chemicals together."
While none of this is conclusive, it sure supports Foon's notion that an herbal formula is more than the sum of its parts.
This Dec. 1, 2009, article at the BBC website entitled "Prince Charles: 'Herbal medicine must be regulated'" points to a potential crisis for the practice of herbal medicine in the UK. Under threat of new European Union (EU) laws scheduled to take effect in April 2011 that would restrict the prescription of manufactured herbal medicines to "statutorily regulated professionals like doctors," the Prince of Wales is urging his government to regulate herbalists, lest they be banned from practice entirely when the new laws take effect. The new laws also stipulate that the only herbal medicines that will be sold over the counter will be ones used to treat 'mild and self-limiting' conditions - basically meaning nothing worse than a cold.
Apart from the fact that this would undoubtedly cause a large legally disenfranchised body of people to seek natural remedies through illegal venues, it also would overturn a 500 year-old Commonwealth law that prohibits governmental legal restriction enabling anyone to treat patients with herbs.
Since 1542, the Commonwealth Charter of Henry VIII has guaranteed herbalists the right to practice freely throughout the Commonwealth. This law is still applied in the UK as well as its former territories worldwide such as Australia and New Zealand. In fact, many think an argument could be made that the U.S.A., as a former British colony, has a legal basis for unregulated and free practice based on the English Herbalists' Charter.
For over 400 years, this has worked pretty well with very few adverse incidents reported, especially compared to those reported about conventional mainstream medicine. Other European countries such as Germany and France have chosen to impose highly restrictive laws limiting the practice of herbal medicine to medical doctors. As a result, there is economic pressure for the UK to declare the Herbalists' Charter antiquated and to get in step with the same restrictions imposed by other European countries. This has met with stiff opposition from a well established tradition that has allowed for the comparatively unrestricted practice of herbal medicine by both lay and professional herbalists.
Aside from the many differences of language, culture and history between closely adjoining countries, the standards for the practice of herbal medicine is yet another obstacle to true union. With obvious financial advantages to globalization in respect to the EU, many of the differences between these financially interdependent countries must be resolved -- and apparently how herbal medicine is practiced and regulated is just another one of those issues. Countries such as the UK with a long history of distinctive customs and traditions encounter difficulties with conformity. For instance, while most European countries have converted their currency to the Euro, the UK still uses the pound sterling as its distinctive "coin of the realm." So far, under the Herbalists' Charter, the UK is similarly seen as 'not fully participatory.'
The upshot of all of this is an ongoing fundamental conflict as to how herbal medicine is practiced, manufactured and sold between the UK and its European Union partners.
One of my former students, John Smith, is now a professional herbalist in the UK who opposes licensure and restrictions of herbalists in that country. In discussion on this issue he recently wrote me the following:
Unfortunately, what has been happening in UK is that it was felt by the powers that be that herbal medicine either had to be regulated or banned entirely -- so herbal bodies agreed to compromise and go for self regulation (i.e. Herbal Registers). (In other words,) we'd get together to exclude non registered or unqualified practitioners and agree on what herbs could and could not be used, etcetera). This was done even though many of us saw such negotiations as a huge compromise but the lesser of two evils. Ten years of time and energy went into this regulation process internal wrangling for power and influence within the herbal and alternative medical community and discussions with the Department of Health and European Union representatives. What is happening at present is that the government has pulled the plug and left herbal medicine back at square one where herbal medical practice could be banned entirely. Prince Charles, a long time proponent of herbal medicine, homeopathy, and alternative medical practice, has chosen the path of supporting the regulated practice of herbal medicine and fights that corner.
Any decision in the EU and UK to restrict herbal medicine to licensed medical doctors would be a purely financial one with no regard for the needs of the people. At the same time it supports an already established free socialized medicine of a particular state-supported brand, administered only by licensed medical doctors.
Preserving the Tradition of Herbal Medicine
Here are three good reasons why herbal medicine should remain as unregulated as possible:
- The roots of herbal medicine are empirical and depend on a stream of trial and error to evolve and renew. To do this, it must remain an inalienable right to be able to access and use herbs obtained in the market, from nature and the garden, and should not be subject to highly restrictive governmental regulations.
- The practice of herbal medicine is its own unique methodology that only experienced herbalists understand. Because most herbs are mild and have myriad non-specific biochemical elements, best results are achieved when an assessment methodology is used that takes into account not only the presenting symptoms but the underlying causes. This is the unique strength of traditional herbal medical use and practice.
- Further, conventional medicine has a different focus, useful in its own way to attend to the alleviation of symptoms irrespective of wholistic considerations and of course in crisis care. But most medical doctors have, at best, an extremely limited understanding of the practice of herbal medicine.
Because of the above stated reasons, both China and India, which have long standing traditions of herbal medicine, are able to recognize professional herbalists without prohibiting the accessibility to herbs and herbal preparations and the popular practice of herbal medicine by all.
It seems either a poor compromise or simply naive for Prince Charles to promote restrictions on herbal medical practice in the UK similar to those now in effect in other European countries. The compromise, which is the financial advantage, is probably more the reason as I can't imagine that someone has not discussed these other matters with him.
Who else stands to gain from herbal regulation and restriction?
Commingled with EU financial considerations to override the UK Commonwealth law and the 1542 Herbalists' Charter is the protection and practice of healing professions. Of course this includes conventional Western medicine but also the practioners of newer recognized alternative medicine professions, such as acupuncturists, herbalists, naturopaths, and Ayurvedic and Chinese healers who have been struggling over recent years with various degrees of success to gain recognition. Despite their roots as popular unregulated healing modalities, each of these, backed by schools standing to benefit from increased enrollment, at least superficially stand to gain in restricting practice to "licensed professionals."
Historically there is nothing new in any of this motivation of protection. Since medieval times, guilds and other organizations have been established specifically for promoting the professional (i.e. financial) interests of its members. There is something gained and something lost from this. What is gained is a standing organization that can share its experience and knowledge with its members and establish a standard of practice. What is lost, of course, is the wider experience that is the result of non-members who may also practice a particular discipline or practice such as herbal medicine.
In order to safeguard its knowledge, these professional organizations developed their own language and jargon that distinguished them from the populace. We encounter this when we try to decipher the diagnostic assessments and prescriptions of medical doctors as well as the metaphorical jargon used by Traditional Chinese Medicine or Ayurvedic doctors.
For example, Latin, a universal language understood by medical legal and scholarly professions across all European countries, was used this way. While at first intended for more widespread understanding and greater definition and clarity, the use of Latin as a professional language of medicine had the same effect as it did when it was used by the Church for 1,500 years where the Bible was only available to be read and interpreted by clergy: to prevent free thought.
The mid-17th century English apothecary-herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, caused a furor when he published his own translations from the Latin to the English vernacular of various herbal and medical texts of the College of Physicians. He did this so that his fellow countrymen who could not afford expensive doctors would have available to them guides for maintenance of their own health. He published his own herbal, The English Physitian (1652), arguing that "no man deserved to starve to pay an insulting, insolent physician," when he could obtain his herbs from the nearby countryside. Culpeper upheld medicine as a "public asset rather than a commercial secret." Since its first publication over 350 years ago, Culpeper's Complete Herbal has been reprinted as many times as the Bible. He remains a revered iconic figure for English people and herbalists worldwide.
Education, not regulation
Many will still argue that the unrestricted use of herbs and self treatment is dangerous, but the fact remains that statistics of adverse events and deaths from herbal treatments are infinitesimal compared to the estimated 400,000 people who die annually from pharmaceuticals alone, or who are otherwise injured or made sick from conventional medicine and drugs.
It is undoubtedly my personal bias that herbal medicine remain as unregulated and unrestricted as reasonable. In fact, this was my personal path of learning. As part of a counterculture seeking independence from the mainstream in all ways possible, I looked to herbal medicine first as a passionate attraction to nature and plants, and secondly for the possibilities of what it might offer as an alternative to more invasive and Western medical drugs and procedures. It was out of this need that acupuncture and herbal medicine has grown in North America since the late 1960s.
There were no official schools to turn to for an education on this continent, and if there were, I certainly did not have the financial means to afford them. So I made do at first with the scant few books that were available by Jethro Klos and a few others and tried different herbal potions on myself and members of the commune to which I belonged. Despite the limitations of this approach I learned that plants do work and found common weeds such as plantain, comfrey, mullein, goldenseal, and later echinacea to be amazingly effective.
So my career arose out of years of personal trial and effort. I eventually got a leg up when I began to find a few experienced herbalists such Norma Meyers of British Columbia and Dr. John Raymond Christopher of Provo, Utah to study from. This eventually extended to the study of Traditional Chinese Medicine and herbalism in Yunnan, China with some remarkable doctors. Through this path, I think I received a wonderful education. Certainly there were holes because of the sporadic nature of the learning process but I found that I would only learn what I could absorb at the time and gradually my understanding deepened.
To legislate and deprive others from this path of learning to me would seem a shame of the first order. I know today, that there exists a large number of herbalists living in the mountains, forests and countryside who practice with local plants in ways that are not "official" according to accepted standards of clinical Western herbalism, TCM or Ayurveda, and that the contribution of these individuals are just as important as those made by the professionals. I think that there remains a place for both lay herbalists and individuals who might follow a path similar to my own as well as those who may seek a more set curriculum leading to professional licensure.
Recently on our East West Herb Course private student forum, a student asked about my distinction between the terms 'herbology' and 'herbalism.'
Essentially, while both terms represent two sides of the same coin, I believe that herbalism begins where herbology leaves off. While herbalism can encompass herbology (the more scientific aspect of plant study), herbology seems not able to encompass the various diverse aspects of herbalism.
For the majority of people involved with plants used as food, clothing, warmth, shelter and medicine, the study of plants is much more than an academic discipline or science, which the word 'herbology' implies. For them, the 'way of herbs' is a way of life expressing the fundamental relationship between the human family and plants, which are the primary source of all life energy on the planet. This, in a nutshell, is what I mean when I refer to 'herbalism.'
Plant Power, Cosmic Power
Recently we installed a full battery of photovoltaic cells to supply all of our home energy needs in our backyard herb garden. Picture this: I am now the proud owner of a large panel of somewhat unattractive industrially created solar cells, relatively inefficiently transforming sunlight into useable energy. This is juxtaposed against my beautiful garden of medicinal herbs, ornamental plants, grasses and dwarf fruit trees, which are not only more efficiently doing the same but with much greater aesthetic appeal.
I think to myself, "If I could only find a way to plug into my garden for the energy needed to power our cars, TV, computers, dish and clothes washer and drier and so forth!" Instead, I have to be content with the inferior Mondrianesque solar cell sculpture occupying about 40 feet of space in my yard. With a bittersweet sigh, knowing that life often involves compromises, I take satisfaction that the investment is worth it at this time for the sake of clean, non-polluting energy.
The lesson here is a broad one, one better ascribed to 'herbalism' than to 'herbology': that the life of our whole planet is, or can be, sustained by plants through the direct transmutation of the sun's energy into proteins and carbohydrates, through the simple process known as plant photosynthesis. Thus far, science and technology have not been able to duplicate this uncomplicated elegance that occurs everyday in the humble leaves of trees and plants.
I don't think plants' energy transmutation is exclusive to the sun, however. The moon, for example, has her dominion over the tides and currents (at least). Most of us have experienced the effect of the moon on the fluidic aspects of our being (the essential bodily Yin) with disturbed sleep patterns and a kind of emotional hypersensitivity. If much denser creatures such as mammals can feel the moon's effects, might not plants also?
The attribution of planetary rulership to specific herbs isn't a new concept. The 17th-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, for example, famously classed plants and diseases by planetary and astrological influence. Further, throughout all traditional cultures, herbalists (not 'herbologists') ascribed the colors, shape and various healing properties of plants to astrology. Of course, these attributions are not scientific fact and represent only one particular way to classify and express the different qualities of plants and herbs.
One could delve even further into the cosmic relationship of plants to the earth, ourselves, and the universe, advancing the concept of 'herbalism' with the not unreasonable conjecture (which at this stage is my own belief) that besides the relationship of plants to the sun, moon, and planets, they may also be able to absorb and transmute elements from intergalactic sources into vital, life-sustaining elements. Throughout the year we are treated to spectacular displays of meteor showers and I can't help but wonder what effect this space debris may have on plants and us when it disintegrates into our Earth's atmosphere.
So, at least on the greater scale of things, we are interdependent with what happens in the cosmos and that interdependency is shared by all life including plants.
Herbalism: A Basis for Sacred Mystery
I believe that our relationship to plants represented by the term 'herbalism' may be the descendant of a way of thinking and set of beliefs that are probably older than all other spiritual and religious beliefs.
Our reliance on plant cultivation for sustenance, medicine and shelter have profoundly shaped who we are as humans and how we interact with each other and the Earth. Agriculture has even permeated our faith: the most high religious rites occur in the setting of our sacramentally sharing food -- usually made from plants -- which communally recognizes our dependence on the plant world for our very lives and as an entity which brings and keeps us together.
As the ancient Eleusinians knew, plants eloquently teach us the mysteries of death and rebirth, as over the endless cycle of seasons, they are perennially disassembled and reassembled. No matter how hard and long the winter, plants again flourish with boundless enthusiasm, energy and beauty to become the fundamental expression of Spring.
On the other hand, we cannot escape the incontrovertible fact that life feeds on life, and that without inevitable temporal loss there would be no renewal. From our perspective, what is eternal, therefore, is the power of plants to ceaselessly recycle the elements of life. Thus, cosmically, it is impossible to take away and diminish from wholeness.
What seems to pass away, and even this cannot be known for certain, is the individual form of things which is bundled with our changing physical appearance and our sense of individuality which we identify as the ego. By embodying the essence of both the collective and individual expression of the creative life force, plants provide a perspective on the role of form and by inference, ego, through the fundamental adaptive impulse of evolution.
I could probably ramble on with the more esoteric aspects of this topic, but my point is that whether referring to 'herbology' or 'herbalism,' 'herbologist' (now an antiquated term) or 'herbalist,' it is 'herbalism' that informs the basis of our relationship with plants.
But in the end, maybe e.e. cummings sums it up best, though without any specific reference to herbalism, in the following poem:
when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it's april (yes,april;my darling) it's spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)
when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
-alive;we're alive, dear: it's (kiss me now) spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
(now the mountains are dancing, the mountains)
when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it's spring (all our night becomes day) O, it's spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
(all the mountains are dancing; are dancing)
-- e.e. cummings
For a musical representation of the poem above, I recommend the wonderful setting of this lyric by the American composer Dominick Argento. You can download it for a mere 99 cents from iTunes.
For yet another sense of the relationship of herbalism to herbology, I recommend that you check out East coast filmmakers Terrence Youk and Ann Ambrecht's Numen: The Nature of Plants, a film documentary on herbalism still in the works. If you support herbs and herbal medicine, go to their site and watch the inspiring 15-minute preview. Then you can kick in your $10 donation to help launch it into existence next year.
Please copy and sign the following petition and submit it to http://change.gov/agenda/health_care_agenda/
Then please send or forward it to as many people as you know, asking them to do the same.
Or sign it online here and share the link!
To: President-Elect Barack H. Obama
Presidential Petition for Incorporation of Integrative CAM into U.S. Health Care Policy
Dear President-Elect Barack Obama,
I respectfully ask that you incorporate Integrative Medicine modalities into any new U.S. health care policy once you take office in January 2009.
The 1979 oft cited resolution by the World Health Organization[i] called on countries to promote the role of traditional practitioners in the health care systems of the world and also encouraged more financial support for the development of traditional systems.
It further recommended that the medical profession should not undervalue the role played by the traditional medical system in providing important health care in developing countries and even specifically advocated the use of medicinal plants and remedies used by traditional practitioners to effectively treat their patients.
With the popularity of these traditional healing systems, we are at the place in time where at least a third of the people of America have recognized the value of these traditional systems not only for developing countries but as being of great benefit for certain conditions in our own country.
Because they provide relatively safe and effective approaches for treating many conditions, evidence-based, complementary, alternative medicine (CAM) health care modalities should be integrated into the U.S. health care system.
There are many reasons why one would choose such alternative health care methods but one of the most obvious is described in published research revealing that over 150,000 Americans die annually from FDA-approved pharmaceuticals that have been prescribed and utilized according to their indications. Shockingly, these 'iatrogenic' (medically induced) deaths account for the fifth major cause of mortality in the U.S.
I am one of the millions of Americans who have found complementary, natural health methods to be an invaluable part of my health care requirements and needs. These systems, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, naturopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy and Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine offer aspects of health care that are not provided by conventional Western medicine.
A recent study based on 1162 patients found acupuncture to be more effective for treating lower back pain, from which 85% of all people will suffer at some point in their life, than conventional treatments.[ii] This is only one of many conditions that are better treated with traditional alternative medicine but the fact remains that these time honored methods represent relatively non-invasive treatments that continues to be the legacy of all traditional peoples throughout the world.
The reasons that these methods continue to be resorted to is because conventional Western medicine based on expensive technological procedures and synthetic drugs, for various reasons is not always the best approach for all conditions, in much the same ways that exclusive reliance on fossil fuels is unsatisfactory for all of our energy needs.
Happily, there are other approaches from which to choose and utilize. These are some of the reasons why Harvard studies conducted by David Eisenberg, M.D. et al.,[iii] in 1990 and again in 1997 revealed that a significantly large percentage of Americans are already using these integrate, alternative, complementary therapeutic approaches and that they are even willing to spend more out-of-pocket money for such care than for all allopathic primary care and hospital care combined.
As recent as December, 2008, a National Health Statistics Report, entitled Complementary and Alternative Health (CAM) Care Use Among Children and Adults: United States 2007 by Barnes' et al. revealed that 38% of adults and 12% of children used CAM therapies over the previous 12 months.[iv]
I stand ready to be of assistance to you and Secretary of Health, Tom Daschle in any way that I can. Thank you for your kind attention and I look forward to your expedient response.
[iii] Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, Ettner SL, Appel S, Wilkey S, Van Rompay M, Kessler RC. Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990-1997. JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association 1998;280:1569-1575.
Read the recent article in the Wall Street journal: "Alternative Medicine is Mainstream" by Deepak Chopra
The meditation for today, the fourth day of Kwanzaa, is Ujamaa -- Cooperative Economics: To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
In meditation on today's theme, I look back once again to my experience at Black Bear commune where our goal was to become as self-sufficient as possible through pooling our talents and resources. We found that through a combination of gathering, growing and raising our own food, and utilizing simple resources found or developed on the land, the cost to support and maintain a person was only $80 a year. No one felt deprived and nearly every evening there would be some form of communal singing and dancing or the opportunity to go off to some quiet place to read.
This did not mean that there were no challenges or problems. In fact there were many, much of them the result of our own ignorance and naivety concerning matters that other more successful tribal societies, through trial and error and with no alternative to pack up and leave (as we individually eventually did), learned to avoid. Lacking any agreed upon or enforceable principles and rules, we had no means to control who came down the long switchback dirt roads, how long they might stay, or when they might leave. This made for a more or less continuous state of instability.
In retrospect, my Black Bear experience ultimately showed that one need not run off and join a commune to experience the benefits of ujamaa. What it takes is vision and will to change. Perhaps it starts with inviting a few like-minded people to a friendly discussion about community. This may include family, friends or neighbors. What resources are they willing to share -- a seldom used piece of equipment, a portion of land to make a collective garden, a plan for collective buying or exchange of services, perhaps?
On a slightly larger scale, cooperative economics means developing small businesses and enterprises to fulfill the needs of one's immediate family, friends and community and whenever possible to employ those who are most able and dedicated to work and further develop themselves within those businesses and enterprises.
Even without the exceptional challenges of living in a wilderness commune like Black Bear, some of the steps toward cooperative economics I describe above may not only seem daunting and inconvenient, but downright counterintuitive to some. But take a moment to contrast this with the ensuing financial crisis of our times where people are losing their personal and collective autonomy to self-perpetuating corporate greed.
The root of selfish hoarding and greed is fear and insecurity. This in turn impedes the free flow and availability of energy, which in economics equates to money. This has an adverse effect on all of society, which includes the economies of the entire world.
Society as a whole always suffers when its economy is solely based on "winners and losers," which allows an increasingly disproportionate small number to advance at the expense of the larger majority. This type of cold, unbridled capitalism leads to exploitation, persecution, poverty, crime, war and terrorism. People with no meaningful way within the law to oppose oppression eventually feel justified in resorting to acts of terrorism and violence.
As we learned in part from yesterday's meditation on collective work and responsibility, one always has a choice. Why would you choose to support an economy like the one I've just described where there exists a much more compassionate and intelligent option?
No society is without its problems and challenges. The point of this day's meditation is only to show that through cooperation and sharing it is possible to expand the limited number of loaves and fishes to attend to the basic needs of many.
Cooperative Economics: All You Need Is Love by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Love Is All You Need
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
All you need is love (all together now)
All you need is love (everybody)
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
-- Lennon/McCartney, Magical Mystery Tour, 1968
The lyrics of this song are so out there that it requires a certain level of letting go in order to embrace its meaning.
To put it simply, all is dependent on the power and intention of love to allow anything that is worthwhile to occur. We needn't delude ourselves that love somehow boils down to any overt act, but we should always strive to allow it to be the spirit behind all our exchanges with each other, including our business activities. I think if we operate from the place that "I gain when you gain" (perhaps using this as a basis for meditation), we have the essence of today's Kwanzaa theme, Ujamaa/cooperative economics.
Herbs for Ujamaa: Ginseng and Astragalus
Two herbs come to mind as I contemplate what it takes to invoke the powers necessary for "cooperative economics:" ginseng and astragalus.
Ginseng is the major herb used not simply to stimulate and therefore exhaust energy (as does coffee and other stimulants), but it actually builds and increases energy by increasing cellular mitochondria and the creation of ATP, the physiological basis of physical life energy.
There are two major types of ginseng: American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) and Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng). Both are powerful energy-building tonics. American ginseng has a somewhat cooler, less stimulating effect, while Chinese and Korean ginsengs are warmer and more stimulating. Forget about the popular sodas and caffeinated energy drinks that claim to have ginseng in them. Usually it is present in quantities insufficient to have any value, and is of poor quality at that. Unlike the true energy-building properties of ginseng, the effect of these drinks is based on stimulants such as caffeine which draws from our energy reserves, and when abused can lead to adrenal exhaustion.
Planetary Herbals has several products that include ginseng, including pure ginseng tablets. Personally I make it a point to take two of these each morning. This is not a full therapeutic dose, but is enough to gently build and maintain our daily energy needs. For those complaining of chronic low energy, I recommend taking two tablets three times daily with warm water to help assimilation.
Astragalus is another herb used as an energy-building tonic with the additional virtue of increasing the protective energy of the body against pathogenic corruption. Thus, astragalus symbolizes our ability to channel the power of the four elements of nature to outwardly manifest our immediate needs as well as our highest dreams and goals. The Chinese include astragalus as the major herb in a formula called Jade Screen, which protects against catching colds, flus and other diseases. Together, these two herbs' healing and spiritual properties symbolize the energy, trust, focus and protection needed to build a cooperative economy.
The meditation theme for today, the third day of Kwanzaa, is Ujima -- Collective Work and Responsibility.
I can hardly reflect on this theme without considering my own experiences as a Digger -- a hippie living in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district from 1967-69. These years of my life, considered now the zenith of the hippie revolution, finally culminated with myself and others founding a wilderness community known as Black Bear Commune in the mountains of Northern California. (The photo below is one of a much younger me at Black Bear.)
During those years, thousands of young people throughout America found themselves smitten with the wanderlust for a new life purpose. This quest often used the promise of love, sex, and rock and roll as its rudder, but in the highest sense it was a search for community based on principles of "do-your-thing' self-determination, sharing and openness -- all based on what I generally believe to be a well-founded conviction in the essential goodness of humanity.
In my community we learned that it was possible to share so many parts of ourselves with each other -- our homes, food, methods of transportation, bodies, minds, spirit, art, music and yes, even drugs -- and no one would be the lesser for having participated. In fact, it was quite the opposite; we learned that by voluntarily pooling our resources we were greater than the sum of our proverbial parts. Then it dawned on us that with a cruel illegal Viet Nam war looming in the background, and the struggle for racial and gender equality raging on all around us, we were participating in a movement that was soon seen as a threat to the principles of a society and politic that was antithetic to our young ideals. We aimed to build a culture and community counter to a society that sought to control individuals by keeping "we the people" separate and alienated from each other.
The fact is that in our time, there is more than enough of all the necessities to go around. We could feed thousands at a love-in in Golden Gate Park by barbecuing the meat of a freshly dead whale from a marine biology lab up the Northern California coast. The still very edible discarded unsold produce that filled the waste bins behind giant supermarkets was practically enough to feed a community of large multiple dwelling homes in the Haight. With the spirit of sharing openness on the part of its legal owners, one truck that would otherwise spend most of its time unused and parked on the street was used to pick up and deliver these and other useful goods to the places where they were needed. What's more, it was all done in a spirit of goodwill and joyous satisfaction. It was a "thing" that someone was eager and happy to do, and others were able to benefit from this union of generosity, joy and action. There was nothing to steal or take because whatever there was belonged to all.
In short, it was the picture of ujima -- all of us took reponsibility for one another and worked collectively to achieve a harmonious community.
Foreseeing the collapse and devolution of the hippie/Haight Ashbury culture (which was partially because the media kept blowing it up and inevitably more and more unsavory elements mixed with drugs took its toll,) I and some friends purchased land in the Klamath mountains with a down payment provided from various "weekend warrior" Hollywood and rock band types. In the autumn of 1968 about 30 of us moved out onto the land, named Black Bear Ranch. At first it truly represented our "back to Eden" mythos. It was a place with two year-round running creeks you could drink and fish from, endless miles of national forest (these were the days before the U.S. Forest Service designated such wild tracks as "tree farms"), no electricity or telephone, and a few broken down shacks. By the time we got there, we had barely enough time to truck in a winter's store of food and put up a pile of wood for to provide heat for the next six months or so. We soon learned the value and meaning of interdependent survival, making the most of our collective pool of scant experience and whatever tools we could find.
This is where I seriously began to explore the wild plants and other possible sources for food and medicine we could derive from our natural surroundings. The goal was ultimately to become completely self-sufficient and freed as much as possible from a money-based economy. Even then we sensed the fall of the American capitalist empire (which may or may not be occurring at this very moment).
In any case I learned many powerful and valuable lessons about collective consciousness from that wilderness experience -- life lessons that few of us living in our ticky-tacky little separate boxes we call home might hope to earn. We really are a tribal people and when we find ourselves in close daily intimate contact with a group of people based on interdependent survival, everyday life events and people assume mythic proportions. People tend to fulfill certain needed roles in a society if they are left to sort things out on their own as opposed to being told what niche to fill. I gravitated toward the herbalist, healer, and shaman; others became the kid care people; others, the garden care people, the animal care people, the art people, the kitchen people, the construction and repair people - all of this just naturally occurred without any pre- agreed upon assignments. Again, it was the power of "do your own thing" in action. For me it seemed uncanny but strangely natural. What's more, we each eventually grew to resemble the various gods and goddesses of ancient mythology, and I learned first-hand how those myths evolved.
Another valuable thing I learned was that sharing cooperatively was the most ecological and economical way to live. We only needed one or two vehicles for the ranch, one being a mandatory truck. People shared tools and learned to maintain them for each other. I learned how natural it is that around the early spring, living off the land, one naturally gets low on animal protein and we just naturally eat less and shed the winter stores of fat. I also learned that living off the land as a vegetarian was, practically speaking, impossible. Our life together as a wilderness tribe convinced me that we are first a hunter/gatherer people, requiring fish and game to survive, along some wild edible plants which were the first to appear in the early spring. Living off the land as we did, we watched a agrarian lifestyle naturally arise with goat and cow's milk, but we also relied for food on fish (salmon were abundant in the nearby rivers and creeks), deer and even an occasional bear or mountain lion.
(By the way, if you want to see a video that only hints at what communal life was like at Black Bear Commune, I suggest you rent the documentary "Commune" which I'm told is now the fifth top-rented Netflix film.)
So on this day of Kwanzaa and the next, let us meditate on our primal roots as an interdependent people, reliant on the earth and all its gifts and changes, but more importantly, each other. Consider the opposite: how utterly difficult it would be to have to survive totally by ourselves! The relationships and societies we create are not only to generate rivalry and confusion but also to at least make it possible for each of us to achieve a level of self-sufficiency so that a few of us at least can rear our very inquisitive heads above the herd to see and help prepare for what's ahead -- and yes, most importantly, to inspire us to a vision of unity.
Collective Work and Responsibility: "I Hear American Singing" by Walt Whitman
The poem for the today's theme of ujima is by one of my all-time favorite poets, Walt Whitman:
I Hear America Singing
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning,
or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day- at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
Herbs for Ujima: Marijuana and Goldenseal
My choice of herbs for our theme today is informed by my personal experience: Marijuana and Goldenseal. These were two of the most influential and widely used herbs during the inception of the Black Bear wilderness community (and by hippies in general).
If truth be known, the mid-20th century herbal movement was begun with marijuana -- and we did happily inhale. Marijuana is currently finding deserved appreciation not only by those who use it recreationally but from the medical community. While frequent use of marijuana leads to a state of apathy and delusion which is counterproductive to health and well being, marijuana and all intoxicating herbs have and continue to play a vital role in human society -- as a way breaking free of our stuck fixations, compulsions and obligations enough to see that somehow there are always at least several different realities operating or possible at any given time. In other words, we should always remember that we always have a choice. Ever notice how things tend to work themselves out whether we choose to play an active role or not? (For an illustration of this, I highly recommend that you rent the old 1938 Frank Capra movie masterpiece, "You Can't Take It with You.")
Goldenseal is an intensely bitter herb so that indeed it tends to serve as the "bitter brew" that serves as an antidote to our overindulgences that lead to liver congestion, toxicity, and stagnant inflammatory diseases.
The hippie bibles included the books "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein and "Back to Eden" by the naturopathic doctor Jethro Klos. Jethro Klos was big on the use of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and until I rediscovered echinacea, it was the go-to herb for all infections and inflammations. It is still pretty good for those conditions taken both internally in a powder (usually put into gelatin capsules) and applied externally to infected sores and wounds. With herbalism going mainstream we have learned that the wild stands of North American goldenseal are endangered and so we should generally insist on using only organically cultivated goldenseal.
The meditation for yesterday, the first day of Kwanzaa, was: Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
I tried to meditate on this theme yesterday after my family's exchange of gifts as Lesley and I took a walk up a hill near our home in the low-lying hills above Santa Cruz. It was a drizzly, overcast morning.
Now, Lesley has a wider stride than I, and I found it a distracting challenge to keep up with her. She, on the other hand, looking for a cardiovascular workout, experienced some annoyance with my intention to follow the dictates of my own somewhat shorter stride. I recalled how we've experienced this problem in the past and thought, "If we are not even able to experience unity of being able to walk side by side, how can I expect that religions and the many other aspects that divide humankind from one another, be expected to achieve the noble realization of unity?"
In fact, it seemed that the day was engineered to test my definition and subjective experience of umoja/unity: Just before breakfast, I had a difference with my 25 year-old concert pianist son, Chetan, concerning the musical intention and significance of a single note varied in a repeated passage that he was practicing in Brahms' Piano Trio in C Minor op 101. In the heat of trying to learn this particularly ecstatic musical phrase, Chetan decided that the difference of only a single note of the repetition was a mistake of the composer. I tried to convince him how much changing a single note in a passage, flatting the third of a major triad for instance, can change a passage from a brighter optimistic tone to that of mysterious brooding intimacy. This wasn't a simple minor third change but an altered note that upon repetition still seemed to add to the expression of this remarkable work. We couldn't find common ground on this issue. Disunity strikes again!
Even periodically repeating the phrase "all is one" in my meditation on unity, which moved me into a wonderful state of inner peace and calm, was promptly frayed by the events described above!
I'm sure any of you who have had the not untypical holiday family experience over the last few days have experienced similar chaos and disunity. If, as I did yesterday, you get worked up with the expectation to make unity happen between yourself and others whom you love and care about, you may find that when it doesn't happen in even the most trivial situation, it can cause disgruntled feelings. It seems that each year as the holidays approach we seem to forget the previous years' challenges and confrontations that arise around the broader issue of family unity. As we plan for the holidays, some of us vow to avoid the same pitfalls of the previous years... but inevitably "stuff happens" and a sour note is struck amidst the festive cheer.
I think I would have had better success if my meditation and discussion on unity was done as part of a ritual with others, which is what Kwanzaa provides. However, this only seems to beg the question of what value is it to spout noble ideas and thoughts as part of a ritual if we are unable to practically implement those as part of our daily life and interaction with others?
Having said this, I don't think that all was for naught and that there is at least something to be said for performing an action with positive intention as opposed to the plethora of bleak news reports of serial killing, terrorism, genocide, financial greed, loss of life's savings, joblessness, environmental endangerment, home foreclosures along with the violent forms of entertainment we turn to in order to distract and dull our awareness of these negative aspects which seem to permeate our daily lives.
Taken in light of the above, I would have to say that my personal attempt to practically find unity between myself, others and the world that I live is eminently a worthwhile endeavor.
Kwanzaa Day Two Theme: Self-Determination
Let's turn to the theme of the second day's Kwanzaa contemplation: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) -- To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Here is some verse -- a prayer, really -- specially selected for "Self-Determination:"
Meditation (in Swahili)
K'a má fi kánjú j'aiyé.
K'a má fi wàrà-wàrà n'okùn orò.
Ohun à bâ if s'àgbà,
K'a má if se'binu.
Bi a bá de'bi t'o tútù,
K'a wò'wajú ojo lo titi;
K'a tun bò wá r'èhìn oràn wo;
Nitori àti sùn ara eni ni.
Let us not engage the world hurriedly.
Let us not grasp at the rope of wealth impatiently.
That which should be treated with mature judgment,
Let us not deal with in a state of anger.
When we arrive at a cool place,
Let us rest fully;
Let us give continuous attention to the future;
and let us give deep consideration to the consequences of things.
And this because of our (eventual) passing.
Eji Ogbe -- The Odu Ifa
I was not able to find a worthwhile poem on ‘self-determination' that I thought was good enough to serve as a basis for this second day's theme. However after much thought and consideration I remembered the great essay, "Self-Reliance," by the mid-19th century America transcendental philosopher, poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is a long essay that far exceeds the bounds of a blog but I can't think of a more appropriate statement encompassing the essence behind the idea of self-determination than this brilliant, oft quoted essay by Emerson.
In working up to preparing this entry, I read this essay again and realized that the last time I read it I was in my early teens. It was a fascinating experience to re-read the essay almost 60 years later.
When I read such phrases as:
"Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist,"
"He walks abreast with his days and feels no shame in not 'studying a profession', for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances,"
or who hasn't heard or repeated the proverb, "God helps those who help themselves,"
-- I realize that the precepts and principles Emerson expounds upon in this essay have supported my own life journey and the measure of fulfillment and success I have been able to experience throughout.
I think Emerson would be in full agreement with my personal view that all of what we accomplish in the world is manifested and directed by the invisible inner reigns of the will.
Cyperus for Self-Determination
As an herbalist, I choose the herb cyperus to correspond with self-determination, because cyperus is used to regulate energy or qi. One must be able to control their qi in order to appropriately direct their will. It is a common weed, with species and subspecies growing throughout the world, considered a noxious weed by most Western gardeners. Little used by Western herbalists, it is widely used in as a medicinal herb China, India and in certain tribes in the Peruvian Amazon jungle where it is used to prevent conception. This is probably because of Oxytocin fungus that naturally occurs in the damp soil of that region of the world. In any case it should be strictly avoided if one wants to become pregnant or during pregnancy.
Cyperus rotundus is also known as xiang fu in Chinese herbal medicine and it is used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to regulate qi and relieve the tendency of stagnant liver qi, which according to TCM theory is the cause of a wide variety of common imbalances, ranging from digestive complaints, chest pains, painful and irregular menstruation to depression and moodiness. All of these are regarded as "irregular qi" for which cyperus along with a number of other herbs would be employed. Other than precautions against using it during pregnancy, it is a wonderful herb to relieve menstrual irregularity and attendant pains and is otherwise considered a perfectly safe and harmless. In fact, certain California American natives used the roots of this herb as a food.
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