Michael and Lesley Tierra's Blogs
Herbal, health and inspired life ramblings
Tags >> herbalist
Recently I read an article in Acupuncture Today titled “The Devil is in the Details” written by acupuncturist Douglas Briggs, who is frequently called upon to give his opinion on standard care in depositions for malpractice cases. Briggs has experience with the legal demands that determine standard patient care, including proper case documentation.
In a recent case where he was called for his opinion, Briggs listed various questions asked to determine proper patient care, which gave insight into how the legal realm looks at patient records. Apparently during a deposition an attorney can ask anything about your care of a patient, whether you wrote it down or not. What you “think” or “remember” is not credible. If it’s not written down, it’s not part of the record!
While this deals with licensed practitioners, it also applies to all health care providers including those who practice complementary medicine. As these modalities become more mainstream and integrate with conventional ones, our practice methods are also scrutinized and are expected to come into line with highly recognized practices. This will eventually include herbalists as they become more acknowledged. This means herbalists not only need to include proper referrals to other practitioners, but also keep adequate documentation.
Good case notes are obviously helpful for treating your patient. If it’s been weeks, months or even years since you’ve last seen someone, of course you treat what presents in the moment. However, thorough notations provide important reminders of the patient’s history, background, prior assessment and treatment, and other factors that are helpful for choosing your current procedures.
While at the East West School of Planetary Herbology we have long stressed the importance of charting TCM/Ayurvedic/Western assessment, treatment strategy and remedies/protocols, there are several other factors that must be documented. Doing so not only helps your treatment of the patient but also prepares you for unforeseen future needs. When you record such information as patient name, contact information, history, symptom/signs, lifestyle habits, and diet, keep these additions and considerations in mind:
- Not only is good record-keeping legally viewed as providing good care but also NOT providing good documentation could be seen as potentially harming the patient. In other words, good documentation is seen as necessary for the patient’s safety.
- Keep your own notes and don’t depend on other people’s, even if from another respected practitioner.
- Document when you referred someone and to whom, including full names and dates. If you request information from another practitioner, note when and from whom. This protects you, the patient, and the other practitioner.
- Be specific about your recommendations and treatments. If you do any form of bodywork, record what you did, including any points you held or body areas treated with adjunct therapies such as cupping or moxibustion. Do not just state “massage” or “full body care.”
- List your treatments and recommendations in the order performed as this shows a flow of care and not just a list of procedures.
- When you record a follow-up session, your comments about the patient's progress must be specific. Rather than write that a patient is “better” or “worse,” note what specifically has changed since your last session. For example, record how their range of motion is different or what their pain level is now on a scale of one to 10 as opposed to what they reported last time.
- Give a straightforward rationale for your treatment. This is the basis for doing a TCM/Ayurvedic/Western assessment, which also then determines your treatment strategy.
These are the kinds of micro-details that can make a difference. While it may seem nit-picky and time-consuming, it actually takes very little extra effort to comprehensively record what you are doing. In the end, this not only serves you but also gives your patient better care.
Breitenbush 2011 portrait:
Leaning on the rail: (unknown). Left to right, top row: Ken Collins, Autumn Summers Spelman, Kevin Spelman, Daniel Pinney. Next row: Cassandra (organizer), (unknown). Third row: Jane Bothwell, Rob Menzies, Gabriel Howearth. Fourth row: Leslie Gardner, Jim Green, Svevo Brooks, Cascade Anderson Geller. Fifth row: (unknown), Michael Tierra, Ryan Drum, Mindy Green, Christopher Hobbs. Last row: Tim Blakeley, Kathi Keville, Rosemary Gladstar, Heather McNeil Blakeley
Breitenbush Hot Springs, located in the Willamette National Forest of the Oregon Cascades, was the place where North American herbalists met for the first time about 30 years ago. The September 2011 conference was billed as a 25-year reunion, but many of us joked about our aging memories and were really not so sure of the date. Upon consideration, it was probably more like a 30-year reunion.
Many of us young herbalists met for the first time at Breitenbush in the nude, steaming in the wonderful sauna or soaking the in the many wonderful hot mineral springs. Most of us felt then as we do now that Breitenbush, tucked away in the wilderness of southeast Oregon, with wild herbs like Oregon grape and others growing everywhere, is in all the ways that count a veritable herbalist's paradise. We saw ourselves as mavericks and revolutionaries of a sort. The revolution we were fomenting was the entire alternative medicine movement that began with herbs.
It's perhaps a bit of a cliché to say that most revolutionaries have been part of a youth movement and could hardly ever imagine themselves aging. The Breitenbush reunion consisted of a number of us now in our late 60s and early 70s, having spawned a $3.5 billion alternative health and herb industry in the United States and Europe. Here we were, hanging once again warming our tired old bones in the Breitenbush hot mineral baths, bunking together in the same rustic cabins in the woods, and sharing delicious vegetarian meals on the deck of the main lodge. We capped off the event by sharing anecdotes about each other and our past together during the Saturday evening keynote address which given by all of us sitting in a row in front of the nearly 200 attendees.
When we first met 30 years ago, those of us herbalists in the Pacific Northwest had already taken classes with famed itinerant herbalist Dr. Raymond Christopher, and Norma Meiers, an eccentric hyperbolic herbalist living and working in and around Vancouver, B.C. They were among the scant few who were left from earlier days when all medical doctors learned and implemented herbs as part of their practice. By the 1960s, these two were probably the only herbalists in all of North America who were willing to pass along the torch of herbal medicine, essentially banned since the 1930s throughout the continent.
Another forerunner was herbal pharmacist Nathan Pothurst, who along with his assistant Emma, owned and operated the last surviving herbal pharmacy, Nature's Herbs, in the United States. At that time, what herbalism remained was supported by an older conservative set who remembered the "good old days" when illnesses were better attended without the risk of dangerous side effects by their parents, grandparents, and benign doctors who healed common diseases using herbs.
The mid-20th century herbal renaissance occurred concomitantly with San Francisco hippies' use of marijuana and their search for an alternative lifestyle apart from what was felt to be an inhuman, violent and corrupt mainstream. At first, when some of us like myself, Ed Smith and Rob Menzies descended on Pothurst's pharmacy on Ellis Street, he was not impressed with our unkempt, bearded hippie appearance. Nathan even asked me once to leave because I presented a frightening appearance to his prim and proper elderly patrons. I left but kept coming back with money to buy herbs for the Haight community and hunger for herbal knowledge. It was from Nathan that I first received what must have been the last eight ounces of commercially available echinacea forgotten in the bottom of a jar in his basement.
Today, the continued availability of herbs for study and practice is more fragile and endangered than many think. This is nothing new. I remember Nathan describing how in the late 1940s the FBI stormed into Nature's Herbs and confiscated thousands of herb books containing formulas sold in the store and took them out on the street for a public book burning. Fortunately that excellent book written by Otto Mausert N.D., simply entitled HERBS was bootlegged and reprinted by Elaine M. Muhr and is once again available today.
Breitenbush 2011's core teachers were representative of only some of us who were together for the first time 30 years ago, people whom I deeply respect and was overjoyed to renew soul contact with. Some 30 years later, our bodies may show a bit of age but our spirit was the same as when we first met:
I first met East Coast Cherokee-trained herbalist David Winston at Breitenbush all those years ago. We were both delighted and astonished to discover that there were a few others like ourselves scattered throughout the country who were interested in herbal medicine. He is now one of the most sought after and beloved herb teachers in the country.
Cascade Anderson Geller is another great herbalist held in high esteem by naturopathic and herb students who have studied with her throughout Oregon and Washington state. Cascade and I enjoyed a wonderful walk along the Breitenbush River that runs through the property talking about the past, present and future of herbal medicine and the legacy we want to leave our beloved students "“ as if, in fact, we really have any control over that!
Kathi Keville, an herbalist from the Lake Tahoe California Sierra region, one of the founders of the American Herbalists Association, is an author with the most joyous personality.
My close friends Christopher Hobbs (shown with me at left), as well as James and Mindy Green, no longer a married couple but close friends and respected colleagues, were there.
One of the most amazing faces from the past for all of us was Rob Menzies, the founder of Star Herbs, a Vietnam vet, keeper of the biggest heart you can imagine and a deep wealth of all aspects of herbal medicine. He, his wife Mary Po (a former student of mine from Santa Cruz), and I shared a cabin and enjoyed some intimate conversation together. He told me to check out his website to see what he's up to these days. If you've ever wondered, as I did, "Whatever happened to the Wild man of the West, Rob Menzies?", do check out his fabulous website at http://www.menziesnatives.com/school.html.
Notably absent were some like Ed and Sarah Smith, the founders of Herb Pharm, arguably the most enduring and one of the finest herb companies in the country. Ed and Sarah got their start by selling their tinctures and wares at the first Breitenbush gatherings.
Also absent was Roy Upton, to whom I gifted my herb course on a hillside in Breitenbush because he made and continues to make such a deep impression of his compassionate caring, love and devotion to humanity, was also at our "reunion." Without even one iota of university credentials, Roy went on to write several books, formulate great products, become the line director for Planetary Herbals, and most impressive of all, found and create the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, which consists of a series of scientifically peer-reviewed monographs on herbs. These are considered the academic standard of the herbal industry worldwide.
Last but certainly not least, the person who brought us together in those early years, first in classes taught in the barn of a ranch where she lived called Rainbow's End and later at Breitenbush Hot Springs, was the beautiful granddame of North American herbalism, Rosemary Gladstar (pictured at right with me). It is impossible to consider a North American herbalist reunion without her presence. Rosemary now lives with her husband in Vermont and continues to invigorate the herbal movement with her teaching and the annual International Herbal Symposium, where herbalists from throughout the world attend and teach. Rosemary pays their expenses and treats them like honored royalty, keepers of the sacred knowledge and wisdom of herbal medicine.
Throughout the Breitenbush reunion, whenever we needed a spokesperson or someone to bring us together or send us on our way with a heartfelt invocation or closing circle, Rosemary, with all of her beauty and grace, was there. It was like old times, forever.
I can't begin to mention all the people and events of the Breitenbush 25 year-but-really-closer-to-30-year reunion but four more deserve mention:
Gabriel Howearth is one of the founders and promoters of the permaculture movement in America, herbalist and founder of Seeds of Change. Gabriel was there, happily recovering from a severe years-long struggle with the crippling effects of spinal meningitis he contracted by accidentally swimming in sewage polluted oceans off the coast of Mexico. He was completed paralyzed, in a coma for a year, couldn't walk or talk. We were all so happy to see him miraculously recovering, though he still needed a lot of assistance.
Ryan Drum is an herbalist whose specialty is the many healing benefits and uses of seaweed. During the keynote speech Ryan, who looks like an herbal leprechaun, gave a hilarious description of when we was assigned to a cabin where he almost crawled into bed with a giant man with a snore to match (probably Michael Moore).
Svevo Brooks, an herbalist whose emphasis is on practical wisdom and simplicity, is deeply revered throughout the community of friends and colleagues. He taught his workshop at 4 a.m., inviting those who joined him for a walk and icy plunge in the Breitenbush River. Svevo believes in the most ancient and fundamental principles of good living. Rosemary tells of hiring Svevo to teach at one of her East Coast symposiums; he taught, amongst other things, the art of napping. She was utterly shocked when she dropped in on his class and found the entire class napping on the floor! On Saturday evening, there was a talent show and Svevo read the following poem, entitled "The Nap," which he composed for this event:
Passing years are not as great
When reckoned by the score
Half again is after all
Not a great deal more
Counting is an exercise
That jumbles up the brain
Age is better tallied
By measuring drops of rain
Or even ice cream sodas
Chocolate mints and lollipops
Children, flowers, barefoot walks
Random draughts of schnapps
At least these do bring pleasure
And fix upon the mind
Memories of former days
When life was more sublime
I therefore raise an empty glass
To whatever age you choose
That half again be just enough
More to gain than lose
An now if you'll excuse me
The mid-day bell has tolled
I'm of the age when courtesy
Gives way to being old
What's that I hear
A snicker and a laugh?
I suppose you're one of those
Who stopped at 3 1/2
As though a nap is infantile
Unbecoming one my age
Closer to dementia
Decidedly less sage
I don't deny penchant
For prepubescent times
When milk and ginger cookies
Were served with nursery rhymes
Or that my mind does wander
To places yet unknown
And that I dream of bubbles
Not yet fully blown
But these are useful assets
In my field of expertise
Matters of repose
Rest, supine, and ease
For napping is an art
Like painting and croquet
Those who would excel
Must practice every day
So please, my friend, forgive me
I really must depart
The muse of sleep is calling
Tugging at my heart
A journey to vacuity
A voyage to unknown parts
Villages above the clouds
Life with endless tarts
All of this awaits me
Wind beneath my kite
For age and time do dissipate
As day gives way to night.
Copyright Svevo Brooks http://www.botanicalmedicine.org/Tapes/Bios/Brooks.htmks
Another talent show star was Vicki Dodds, an empath who can embody and express the energy of anyone or anything. She did this through sound and I later learned that she teaches workshops in Sacred Sound Energy to lay people as well as accomplished musicians. I'm happy that I'm a skeptic of so many things because being associated with alternative medicine, one is inundated by a lot of half baked notions and ideas. But what Vicki Dodds evoked with her short performance singing the energy of the plants in Breitenbush was very powerful. She was able to completely alter her voice, tone vowel sounds that reminded me of Hawaiian language and she was a master of overtone singing causing her voice to intone arpeggios like an Aeolian harp.
Speaking of which, my own artistic contribution throughout the conference was to play on piano the music of Chopin including his nocturnes and Aeolian harp etude.
The highlight of this event was Saturday evening when the Breitenbush Conference organizers had all the reunion herbalists sit in a line facing the attendees and reminisce about each other and our amazingly accidental wondrous life journey together. Despite moments between the sublime and high humor, these were our stories, sacred stories if you will, lived and told by us, the founders of the herbal renaissance. Like music, it is a thing of the moment and you needed to be there to appreciate it.
This lighthearted but profoundly moving evening was completed with Rosemary leading us in a ritual honoring all of those who played a profound role in carrying forth the herbal tradition through the dark ages of the early 20th century, who were beloved by us but have moved on from this earthly life, including Michael Moore, Dr. Christopher, Norma Meiers, Silena Heron, Jeanine Parvati, and many others. For these herbal teachers, friends and colleagues, we lit a candle of gratitude and remembrance.
While the event certainly was a reunion, it was also an educational opportunity; we taught nearly 200 wonderful and enthusiastic Breitenbush herb conference attendees. Two hundred is actually a good number for a seminar held in this wonderfully remote location, a two-hour drive into the wilderness from the Portland airport. Kudos to organizers Catherine, Sue, Cassandra, Tracy, and Trudy, who somehow arranged for most of us to be taken back and forth from the airport by conference attendees. There was also so much more that they did to provide for us and make us feel welcome and comfortable at our advertised 25-but-actually-30-year-reunion.
Breitenbush may have been the first, but now there are herbalist conferences and symposiums happening throughout the year all over the country. The American Herbalists Guild Symposium will take place on October 21-23 with preconference intensives happening on the 20th at TradeWinds Island Resort on St. Pete Beach, St. Petersburg, Fla. For more information go to http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/.
|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.
Students and clients often ask me, "When the best time is to take my herbs?" This is a very good question, and there are several different answers. (However, in truth, the best time to take herbs is when you remember to take them.)
Often, when people try to follow rules, they invariably can't comply, or they forget, or some other thing happens and then before you know it, the time has passed and the time to take the herbs was missed. Then it's on to the next required time and if this is also missed, the day soon passes and the herbs are never taken at all.
Taking herbs this way can be hit or miss. With such infrequent ingestion, they help very little or are entirely ineffective. This is why I say, take the herbs when you remember them!
But if you want to know the real 'rules' for taking herbs '“- what will make them most effective in their use '“- here they are (and they are given in Lesson 9 of the East West Herb Course). Keep in mind that these 'rules' are not necessarily agreed upon by everyone, so you'll find herbalists who have other ideas instead. But these are generally the ones most acceptable.
In general, the time herbs are taken has to do with efficiently getting them to the part of the body they most affect. Thus:
- Herbs treating the upper part of the body (heart/lungs/head) should be taken after meals so the food in the middle of the body slows their descent, and they stay in the upper part of the body longer.
- Herbs treating conditions in the middle part of the body (spleen/pancreas/stomach/liver/gallbladder) should be taken just before or during the early part of meals, so they stay in the middle part of the body for a longer time, along with the food being digested.
- Herbal formulas targeted toward the lower part of the body (kidneys/bladder/intestines/genitals) should be taken between meals, when the stomach is empty, so they have a free passage to the lower part of the body.
Of course, if the disease is urgent, herbs may '“- and should '“- be taken at any time and, in fact, they should generally be taken more frequently anyway.
Further, if digestion is weak, herbs are best taken with meals, as this is when the digestive juices most strongly flow.
If people continuously forget to take their herbs, even if told they can be taken anytime, help set a convenient location and schedule. Put the herbs in the kitchen by spice jars or some other obvious place, or put them in the bathroom by the toothbrush, or put them on the bedside table, wherever they will be easily seen at the appropriate times.
Generally, when people are eating they can remember to take herbs. Most can take them with breakfast and dinner, but often miss lunch since they're gone all day. If this happens, the third dose can be taken at bedtime.
If none of this works, and the person (or you!) keeps forgetting to take the herbs, remember that the herbs can be taken anytime!
At the recent American Herbalists Guild conference, I met various people who felt inadequate about their herbal knowledge '“- that they were somehow inferior to teachers or to other AHG professional members -- and so wondered if they'd ever learn enough about herbs to 'get there.'
I guess I felt that once, when I just opened the door to the huge world of herbal medicine. But that quickly evaporated in the process of learning, studying and experimenting. And 30 years after opening that door one of the main things I've learned is that 'the more I know, the more I know I don't know.'
To me this is one of the attractions of herbalism: there is so much to learn, so many different possibilities and avenues to explore, that I can study my whole life and never get bored, never be done; there is always more to learn. As a result, I quickly learned to steer clear and beware of people who seem bored with herbalism, who feel they know it all. They obviously had stopped learning and growing.
Besides, herbalism is not just a science; it's also an art. To me the art part is the most important because this is where experience is developed '“ the application of knowledge '“ and thus is the spring from which wisdom blooms. It is also where time and practice come in, which is only accomplished by doing. I guess that's why working as a medical practitioner is called 'practicing' medicine '“ it's about constantly learning, applying what you've learned and learning from your mistakes and successes in an ongoing, life-long process.
So there is no 'getting there' place to achieve in herbal medicine. You are always 'there' wherever that may be, whatever knowledge you might hold. Today you know more than you did yesterday and yesterday you knew more than a year ago. Stack a bunch of these years together and you've got stores of knowledge. But those stores only matter if they're applied in some way; only then is it true wisdom.
As Ansel Adams once said, 'The perfect is the enemy of the good.' When we hold other people up as 'knowing' and ourselves as 'not knowing,' then we can get paralyzed, stall, and not explore or make mistakes. So avoid comparing yourself with other herbalists and instead, keep applying what you do know. Soon enough you'll realize that 'being there' is actually 'here!'
Recently a friend of mine called to say that she had a terrible bladder infection. Her doctor prescribed an antibiotic, but it had no effect; in fact, the infection worsened. She also said she tried drinking cranberry juice, but that had no effect on the condition either.
Women's bladder infections are one of the most common complaints in the health world, and they probably account for the brisk sales for cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon, pictured above) supplements. An article that described 10 randomized controlled trials published by Cochrane Collaboration in January of 2008 concluded that cranberry products may prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in women. I'm sure this helped boost cranberry sales as well as the belief that it can help a woman with a UTI.
I wouldn't disparage the proven value of unsweetened cranberry juice, but I remember the study only seemed to indicate that it prevented recurrent urinary tract infections. By implication, the public and marketers read "cure" and that is an entire different realm to consider.
There are flagrant misrepresentations in the marketplace for the use of herbs and various nutritional supplements, but the public also knows that these things, when used appropriately, can work for situations like my friend's antibiotic-resistant cystitis, when no standard medical procedure or tested natural therapy such as cranberries, do.
(Most studies, even preliminary trials, are expensive. We need to ask ourselves how they were funded, and naturally, this leads us to question who is likely to gain from the study. Given this, I would not be surprised that just as studies of pharmaceutical drugs are funded by the manufacturer, the same could be true, and that studies of the medicinal value of cranberries could be funded by cranberry growers.)
But, as I stated above, cranberry didn't work for my friend, and I bet it doesn't work for a lot of women who've had the same problem. She turned to me and asked what she might do.
I told her about a few other herbs which I know are more powerful for treating bladder infections. I directed her to an uva ursi-based formulation (generally herbal formulas are more effective for more people than are single herbs). Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi, pictured at left) is not as strong as pharmaceutical-grade antibiotics and does not cause the same side effects. It works locally, purely with the body fluids, as a urinary antiseptic. It also enhances the liver's powerful role in treating inflammations. These actions, combined with other herbs in the formula, make for a more positive outcome. I also suggested the use of parsley tea which is an old time remedy for urinary tract infections, and cherry stems in the specific treatment of urinary tract infections.
Cherry stems are high in potassium, salts and tannin. Traditionally, when women in Europe were troubled with bladder infections, they would steep a handful of the stems in one or two cups of boiling water and drink the strange-tasting brew. Lesley and I have found that cherry stems work for bladder infections when antibiotics and even most herbs may not.
I think my friend wound up doing a combination of cherry stem tea and the uva ursi formula and within a couple of days her intractable urinary tract infection was gone.
In conclusion, it's good for the herbal consumer to look to the use of herbs as a first line treatment for most diseases. However, it's also important that they learn the value of different herbs and supplements in the event that one may not be enough, that if possible they educate themselves on the wise use of herbs singly and especially in formulations.
To that end I and my wife, Lesley, have published several books on herbal medicine, including the top-selling herb book in the world today, The Way of Herbs, published by Pocket Books, and Lesley's book, Healing with the Herbs of Life, now published by Random House.
It's also obvious there is a need for qualified and skilled professional herbalists. Lesley and I personally make an effort to fulfill this need with arguably the most successful course on the market, the East West Herb Course. It is partially correspondence and partially online, and one can complete it at his or her own pace. Students learn Planetary Herbology, which is a combination of the best global herbal systems from the Western, Ayurvedic and Chinese traditions. Check these and our other herbal products out elsewhere on this site.
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.
Michael Moore, the great Southwestern herbalist of North America, left his earthly dwelling for other realms on Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. Michael leaves us a rich legacy of herbal knowledge and wisdom, the fruit of over 40 years of his passionate explorations of the fundamental healing relationship between plants, the earth and humankind.
I had first heard of Michael around 1967 when he and I were involved with the avant-garde music scene at UCLA. At the time, Michael was an accomplished symphonic trumpet player. True to his nature as one attracted to the more esoteric fringe aspect of any endeavor, Michael was not content to simply occupy a life chair in a symphony. Instead, he was well known as the unconventional musician who was open and willing to explore exciting new musical languages and artistic experiences.
It just so happens that when we had our first brief encounter at a rustic outdoor summer fair in Topanga Canyon between Malibu Beach and San Bernardino in Los Angeles, Michael was already involved in another fringe movement: herbal medicine.
At the time I was identified with the artistic beat culture and living in Venice West. I must confess, herbs and herbal medicine had not even occurred to me when I happened into a quaint herb stall at the fair. Herbs hung to dry from the eaves and various homemade potions, lotions and ointments were priced to sell. For some strange reason I was drawn into this medieval-looking tableau and was taken a little aback to see a large man with a shaggy beard sitting behind a counter, looking more like an LA biker than ye olde herbalist of yore. We shared the look of the 'beat outlaw,' and as such we should have been kindred spirits, so to speak; yet, his eyes were fixed menacingly on me.
I never understood why until years later, when Michael explained that he remembered my wandering into his booth and that he was sure I had pilfered one of his herbal extracts. Well, in those days I might have, but hardly from him -- I was still in my 'rebel without a cause/Robin Hood' period and I would hardly have stolen anything from someone who looked as disheveled as he did. I also distinctly remember that Michael was eager to tell people the then-revolutionary idea that herbs could heal body and soul, but few believed him, and it didn't appear that he did much business. Given the social climate for herbs and my own ignorance at the time, I half jokingly reassured Michael, when we became respected herbal colleagues much later, that I owed him no debt from that day at the fair.
In retrospect, what I get from that brief encounter was that Michael Moore was pursuing his passionate affair with herbs before I or most anyone knew there even was such a thing (except, of course, for the herb). Years later we met again at a number of seminars and I visited his store Herbs Etcetera in Santa Fe. At the time he was teamed up with another giant man, Stuart Watts. Stuart and I were part of the first group of North American acupuncturists who went to China in the '70s specifically to study Chinese herbal medicine, which was then pretty much unknown among non-Chinese in the West.
I remember how much Michael and Stuart resembled each other in stature but also in the incongruity of their appearance as healers. As I mentioned in my first impression of Michael above, you could easily have mistaken these two as members of a biker gang. The fact was, they were both at the top of their game. Michael was never much of a business man. Like the rest of us, he didn't get involved with herbal medicine to get rich but was able to preach the gospel of herbs to anyone he encountered. From the beginning we were both dedicated to plying our herbal potions on those suffering from various ailments, who for a number of very good reasons found conventional Western medicine unsatisfactory. Michael mainly wanted to sell enough so he could continue his passion, which was to go either alone or with a small number of adventurous students on his herbal forays through the mountains, deserts, forests and canyons west of the Rocky Mountains. This was a perfect calling for Michael Moore, for various reasons.
You see, back in the '70s (and even continuing up to the present day somewhat,) the extent of our knowledge of North American herbs might have been summed up with ginseng, goldenseal, sassafras and sarsaparilla, which grow east of the Rockies. This part of the United States was first to be settled, and it was settled at a time when there was a still a keen interest in herbs as healing agents both here and in Europe. In those days there was a lively exchange of information and many Eastern seaboard medicinal herbs were shipped off to be integrated into European medicine. The Chinese, hearing that wild ginseng was available, literally imported tons from Eastern forests so that the 'seng' trade rivaled the trade in furs and other wild products.
By the time the Westward expansion began to occur, interest in herbs - at least new herbs - was on the wane, and Native Americans, seeing how brutally their Eastern brethren were treated, became more and more reluctant to tell white settlers about the use of their native plants. So by the North American herbal renaissance in the mid-20th century, we herbalists knew little or nothing about native herbs west of the Rockies.
Enter Michael Moore, a man whose aerophobia kept him close to his Southwestern home base, and who loved to get in his truck and drive to remote areas of the West to learn, teach and harvest herbs for his homemade potions. Michael educated himself from whatever scientific literature was available, usually from "journals, sources and research outside the United States," as he states in the introduction to his Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. He expresses this frustration of not being able to find similar literature in his own country in one of his usual rants against the 'establishment': "We are able to develop and finance BIG medicines; we have no method of developing and financing little medicines (like herbs)," in contrast to countries like China and India, for instance.
Michael describes our being embroiled in a "grim, desperate, multi-billion-dollar mud-wrestling match between the public sector (the Food and Drug Administration) and the private sector (the pharmaceutical/medical/hospital industry)." He lays the problem out clearly, pointing out that the initial cost of $50 million is what it takes to bring a drug to market, meaning that no less than a million people a day have to take the new drug to justify its cost. It's hardly any different today than it was in 1989 when this book was first published, except to say that the figure is probably much, much bigger.
Michael goes on to say that at the time of his writing, medicine was our biggest industry, bigger than the Pentagon, costing us 10 percent of our Gross National Product. That was then; today not only is medicine still our biggest industry, but its cost has grown to 17% of our gross National Product, according the National Coalition on Health Care. Is it any wonder that in these times of deep recession we read in the news about how herb and supplement sales are up?
No herbal reference library should be considered complete without Michael Moore's three major books, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West, and Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. The first two are published by the Museum of New Mexico Press and the last by Red Crane Books. These are universally regarded as classics by the majority of herbalists throughout the world, not only for their practical descriptions of in-the-field, hands-on use of the herbs Michael selected, but also for his inimitable 'Kerouacian' witty writing style that makes his herb books a very special experience to read (a talent of which the rest of us who have written herb books can only be envious). Here is a link to all of his published books and clinical manuals.
In contrast to the lucid communication provided by his books, Michael had an eccentric, difficult to understand stream-of-consciousness style of teaching. He seemed to have such a uniquely consummate understanding of Western biochemistry and physiology that he couldn't help but weave us dizzyingly through a labyrinth of complex scientific terminology and interrelationships in class. Few could follow him and still come out the other side; I know I couldn't. But I could understand enough to know that Michael espoused a vision of holistic interconnectedness expressed in scientific terminology that completely jived with my traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic models. It may have been tough for us to hang on to Michael's train of thought in a workshop or classroom situation, but this never diminished one iota my deep respect for him, whom I consider another one of those misunderstood geniuses.
For a while I wanted to engage Michael in a discussion comparing Chinese and Ayurvedic energetic herbal medicine with what I mostly suspected was Michael's version of the same in Western biochemistry and physiology. Knowing this, he approached me with his intention to formulate a constitutional model of the human body based on Western physiology. We co-taught one class together on this. In the end, I'm not sure either of us nor any of the participants got anything from the experiment, but it is worth knowing that we tried and that this is now increasingly becoming a powerful direction in which to carry Planetary Herbology in the future.
I do know that despite his gruff appearance, Michael was a true gentleman. He was always too cognizant of his own personal shortcomings to hold anything against others he would encounter. I think the concept of the personal hamartia (the tragic flaw that ultimately brings down the hero that the audience perceives but the hero does not) didn't apply to Michael, whose self-awareness made him the kind of teacher and healer who would have to say in so many words, "Do as I say but not as I do." All of us have our personal limitations that we must struggle with through life. In Michael's case these do not in the slightest tarnish the contribution he has made to herbalism now and as far as it will extend into the future.
Dioscorides, the famous Greek physician who served as a field doctor to Roman legions during the reign of Nero, discovered and chronicled the medical use of over 600 plants found throughout different regions of the known Western world. His herbal served as the most indispensible one of its kind for over 1,500 years through the Middle Ages. In a similar way, Michael Moore's three books on the medicinal uses of herbs west of the Rocky Mountains will remain as the quintessential source reference for this area for many years to come.
But back to the burly, bearded, avant-garde musician-herbalist at the fair.
I have noticed that for the most part, herbalists in all cultures are also artists, musicians or poets. There is an appreciation for aesthetics and things beautiful and creative that I think underlies one's attraction to the use of plants as medicine. As Michael says, "There are no fixed methods to apply to the human predicament, there is no single all-pervasive rule to follow, since medicine is not a science but an art."
No matter how deeply one studies and enters into the complexity of healing, plant biochemistry and so on (and I happen to agree with Michael that one should go deeply into these things), nevertheless there is always place for the irrational and the subjective. The poet's perspective of life, the musician's sense of harmony, the artist's eye of proportion and relationships - these are all shared by healers, especially the herbal healer who works with plants, which are the pure creative expression of nature and the healing process.
Michael was an extraordinary musician. Music is something that he and I shared in a special way. I was honored when at a symposium he presented me with a gift of two CDs which were the recordings of his beautiful orchestral works. After I learned of his passing, I went to find these CDs and play them in his honor. For whatever reason, they would not play. I was so happy to see that these recordings, along with his teaching manuals, scans of valuable medical Eclectic books, and other precious herb-related materials, are all freely available to enjoy online.
We are so blessed to have this kind of access to Michael's herbal and artistic treasures, which he always so graciously shared. Personally I think this says volumes about the kind of man Michael Moore was: at the core of his being, he was a man of genius, deep caring and generosity.
Note: Michael's generosity does not leave a whole lot to pay for his enormous medical bills and support his beloved wife, Donna. It is important that we give back some of what we received from the life work of Michael Moore and all that he has done for the herbal renaissance of North America. Donations can be made out to The Bountiful Alliance and sent to: Catherine Mackenzie, 457 East Riverside Dr., Truth or Consequences, NM, 87901. The Bountiful Alliance is a 501 C-3 non-profit organization and is able to issue receipts for tax purposes.
Please consider attending this April 17-19, 2009, event in Truth or Consequences, NM. Originally coordinated to help raise funds for Michael's medical expenses, now it will be not only a fine educational event but also a celebration of this great herbalist's life and legacy.
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
Many of us have heard of the African-American celebration called Kwanzaa
, but I must confess that I along with the majority have not known what it actually is.
Reading a recent article published in the Los Angeles Daily News, I was happy to learn that this may be one seasonal celebration that I could completely embrace if for no other reason than the fact that it is not yet weighed down with the rank commercialism that all but overshadows the true meaning of Christmas -- which, to the best of my universalist religious thinking, is the celebration of the birth of a "God of Love." Indeed, when we pull aside the greed-thickened "tinsel-ly" veil where the presents we receive or did not receive obscures any deeper meaning to the holiday, many of us become disheartened as we see our friends and family overrun with greed mania in their inevitably unfulfilled search for ultimate self-satisfaction.
I come to the writing of this entry as Christmas day in my home and family has wound down, and at this late hour I may not have the opportunity to prepare for a full-on Kwanzaa celebration. I hope that next year I will be better prepared, with a specially set aside table or altar, with the kinara or seven candles, three green and three red with one central black candle in honor of the Black race. Those who may have difficulty singling out a particular ethnic race can look at it as a symbol of the geographical origin of the human race, which according to archeological consensus, seems to be on the African continent. One might also consider the extent to which black people -- long the minority in Europe and North America and who continue to rise to prominence in artistic, athletic, intellectual, social and certainly political spheres, with the election of the first black African-American (or mixed blood) person to the American presidency -- have in the past embraced "white"-oriented holidays and celebrations.
The seven-day celebration of Kwanzaa conveniently begins on December 26, the day after Christmas, providing a second chance for us to "get it right" through following, in our own way, what it means in the highest sense to be human through the specific observances of each day. One meditates each day on the meaning of a different theme and discusses it with family and friends. Hopefully these observances prepare us to usher in a new year of positive resolve on our wonderful mother, planet Earth, and to give back the fruits of our minds and physical labors for the betterment of all. (Check out this website for a more comprehensive discussion on the meaning and observance of Kwanzaa.)
The daily observances of the seven days of Kwanzaa are as follows:
Day 1 - Unity
Day 2 - Self-determination
Day 3 - Collective work
Day 4 - Responsibility
Day 5 - Cooperative economics
Day 6 - Purpose
Day 7 - Creativity and faith
As part of my Kwanzaa celebration this year, I would like to share with you a poem and herb each day on the above themes.
Unity: "I Have Learned So Much" by Hafiz
Today, December 26, is the first day of Kwanzaa and the reflection is on Unity.
Here is a poem on the theme of unity by the 14th-century Sufi Persian mystic and poet Hafiz, as translated and interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky:
I Have Learned So Much
So much from God
That I can no longer
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
A Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself
That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.
Herb of Unity: Comfrey
As an herbalist, I believe that herbs possess spiritual powers. Of course, all plants and creatures are derived from a single life source and therefore have spiritual energy. How we choose to focus our attention in a particular way on a particular plant such as its growing habit, color, location, form, healing properties and uses, empowers it through our intention with special spiritual powers.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) has the power power to mend torn flesh, broken bones, sores and ulcers. As a plant, comfrey itself is practically indestructible. Its roots reach deep down many feet into the subsurface of the soil, availing itself of all the rich mineral elements of the earth that in turn allow it to be used to heal and mend. All parts of the plant can be used with the mucilaginous root being the most healing.
In recent years, comfrey has suffered from the revelation that it contains varying but small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Other plants which contain these alkaloids can cause a deadly condition called "veno-occlusive disease." Plants are biochemically complex and contain hundreds of constituents, some of which in isolation are indeed poisonous.
However, out of generations of people who have and continue to take comfrey, my own years of use and promoting its use in seminars to thousands of people, I have yet to find a single case where one can ascribe such an adverse result from it. This doesn't mean that it isn't possible; different people can manifest what is called an "idiosyncratic" reaction to just about anything, be it a food, drink or an herb such as comfrey. Comfrey root remains one of the most fantastic herbs for healing fractures and collapsed spinal disks, while at the same time relieving pain associated with these conditions.
To use comfrey, simmer three heaping tablespoons of the dried root or about twice that amount of the fresh, finely chopped root in 3.5 cups of boiling water in a covered pot over a low flame for 20 minutes. Have one cup three times daily for two weeks. Then take a break for a week or so before repeating. At the same time you can get obtain the positive results from comfrey by applying a warm external fomentation of the tea directly over the affected area. For a back injury, one can take a flannel shirt and moisten the part of the shirt that is in contact with the affected area of the body and wear it to bed each night with a plastic covering to protect the bedding. For a wrist, elbow or knee injury, simply moisten a similar cloth, lightly ring it out and apply directly over the affected joint covering with plastic and leaving it on through the night. This external use of comfrey is completely safe to do over a long period of weeks or months as needed.
Sprinkling a little cayenne powder on the cloth will further activate the properties of comfrey.
So as we meditate on the theme of unity, consider how the power of an herb such as comfrey can heal and unify broken and disparate aspects of our body and mind into a stronger and new unity with ourselves and the world.
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