Many people over the years have asked me about my involvement with alternative medicine, most specifically my use of herbal remedies to address the various maladies that periodically plague me, my friends or my family. As we find out with increasing frequency about the corruption of the large pharmaceutical companies as well as the continuing dangers of the untested drugs that they create, I think that it's natural to have become more curious about holistic methodologies and their effectiveness. The overuse of antibiotics in America has created some of the scariest and most resistant strains of Staphylococcus and other superbugs that we've ever seen and having had a 3 year fight with one of them (a strain of Klebsiella that only 2 antibiotics could fight, one of which would have knocked out his kidneys within 6 months)that eventually killed my father, I do believe that there is cause for alarm. I've seen a dramatic rise in the number of people turning to alternative remedies for self healing and daily I'm asked for suggestions to increase immunity.
Although there has been much improvement, health insurance (or lack of effective coverage) is still at the forefront of the current political debate. It's clear that it's become time for a powerful paradigm shift relating to the way that we deal with illness.
I became familiar with herbal medicine very early in my life, because as a child I had an Irish riding instructor from County Galway who hardly ever used veterinary medicine to treat her beloved Welsh ponies. Colic , which is a horrible impaction of the gut was never an issue with our horses. Every morning she would boil flax seed on her stove and create a jelly to be given in the mornings feed. We rarely wormed our horses with the fancy new paste wormer filled with chemicals, but kept them parasite free with the pine and spruce that she kept in the pasture for them to eat.
She constantly rotated her pastures and I noticed that our horses were eating all kinds of different plants that were growing with rarely any ill effects and they ate them readily. Horses that seemed a bit lackluster ate certain plants and when I pointed them out to her she was always able to tell me what was ailing them because of what they were eating. One day, one of the horses went straight for a patch of yellow dock which she told me indicated a weakness in his stomach. After a day or two he brightened and was much happier and far stronger than he'd been several days before. Not a miracle cure at all, he was just an animal who trusting his natural instincts to choose the plants that would help him heal. It was pretty amazing stuff for an impressionable 12 year old to see. We used tinctures of chamomile and beer in the bran mashes that we made to help promote calmness and vitality before horse shows. We rarely used chemical liniments, relying on herbal vinegars that we made with saltpeter, sage , fresh mints and comfrey leaves. I use poultices of comfrey to draw out abscesses and instead of relying on injections to help keep my thoroughbred stallions sperm count up during breeding season I added artichokes and Guinness stout everyday to his feed until the season was over.
I think that it was only natural for me to question the amounts of medicine that were being used by my family Doctors to "promote health" , because I had been exposed to something so different in my very early years which made complete and total sense to me.
In my early 20's after a tangle with birth control pills, antibiotics and the ensuing amount of damage that they did to my body, I really swore off of the convenience of modern medicine as the last resort when I fell ill, always the last.
In my mid 20's (I'm 55 now!) I was fortunate to find a wonderful teacher named LaWanna Rine who is a very experienced herbalist and healer. I still work with her to this day, she's always got something new and wonderful to teach me!
LaWanna has been a practicing herbalist and aromatherapist for decades and graciously taught me by example. I spent many hours with her helping her to prepare teas,salves and tinctures and walking through her woods while we gathered the plants that we would use. Her herbal practice is a very complete example of a whole body system for healing. She is is totally vegan and she practices her yoga and meditation everyday. She uses herbs from her property and water from her spring to create her healing teas. She uses aromatherapy in the wonderful treatments that she gives and her powerful medical intuition as well as her vast knowledge of the body's systems are her most profound diagnostic tool. She is to this day, the only herbalist that I've ever met who I would trust with the dosage of the more poisonous herbs such as poke root, foxglove or celandine because she knows how to use them with the safety and precision that we wish that our Doctors practiced with their candy box of pharmaceuticals. I was very lucky to find her and she taught me that the practice of herbalism is everyones birthright, something to be shared and not hoarded.
LaWanna encouraged everyone in her circle to learn as much as possible so that you could live well wherever you found yourself and not be at the mercy of a medical system that she felt had betrayed our humanity. She also was very firm about her belief that eating with the seasons ,harvesting and growing your own foods as well as wildcrafting your own herbs provided the most potent medicine for body, mind and spirit. She taught me to use fasting, whole foods and mini cleanses as tools to promote a healthy digestive system thereby creating a strong immune system. She's also 86 years old, still teaching and wildcrafting in her woods. She's really quite a remarkable woman!
Now that so many natural herbal preparations can be found in our local Whole Foods store and even in grocery stores that are not traditionally "Health Food " stores, it's more important than ever to learn as much as you can about this old and wise tradition of healing. Herbs are indeed natural, but they are powerful medicines. There are many wonderful books available by herbal legends such as Susan Weed or the late Juliette De Baricli Levy as well as home study courses that you can purchase and enjoy at your own pace. I still use holistic remedies on all of my animals and the vet when I find something that I cannot treat myself. By the way in case anyone is wondering, I always vaccinate all of my animals for Parvo and Rabies.
Herbal remedies in most of their forms are very gentle yet powerful and effective. They should not be taken carelessly because they can be as toxic as the drugs we are trying to avoid. Take the time to do the research and always remember to consult your pharmacist if you are taking any other prescription drugs. Herbs can mix poorly with many pharmaceuticals, so it pays to proceed with with caution. No herbalist in this country can legally prescribe herbs , so be very careful if you run across one that tells you to take something and prescribes a dosage for a certain illness as it's a pretty sure sign of either immaturity or arrogance on the part of the practitioner.
What I strive to do instead is what my friend LaWanna taught me to do,I suggest and educate and try as much as possible to empower people to create their own template for their healing journey. Use your own good judgment and learn as much as you can. You'll have a lot of fun doing it..I promise!
In this age of global uncertainty and instability , I truly believe as LaWanna does that it is so very important to be able care for yourself and your family with as much self sufficiency as possible. We are fortunate to live in a world where so much is readily available to us including excellent chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists. However, the tradition of herbal medicine for healing has been passed down from generation to generation and it belongs to everyone, not just a chosen few.
Thankfully, it is a traditional, yet sophisticated and effective folk medicine that can be readily utilized by anyone who cares enough to truly take the time to learn about , respect and understand fully the properties of the many herbs that are so readily available to us all.