A Herbalist in Every Home
King Henry IV of France once proclaimed, "I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday." This notion of prosperity for all was later used during the Hoover presidential campaign in the US. The political recognition of a healthy and happy citizenry is offered as the opening to the US Constitution:
But two hundred and thirty years later, our country’s general welfare and domestic tranquility are threatened by a for-profit healthcare system that has no incentive to promote wellness. Consisting of a system of corporations that focus on symptom relief rather than wellness, and a system that prefers expensive surgical procedures, expensive pharmaceutical drugs, and advanced technology to more affordable and less intrusive options. I recently read an estimate of out-of-pocket costs for the average aging American couple for healthcare after age 65: a stunning $300,000.00 - just for healthcare!
Another chilling statistic: The US is the only country in the world where excessive medical expenses are the number two reason for filing bankruptcy.
Raise your hand if you want to work for fifty years to save up money to then hand it over to a healthcare system that rates #37th in the world in terms of health care performance.
There are better ways to spend our savings and our retirement.
Before I continue, I want to state that the development of modern medicine has significantly improved and extended the lives of billions all over the world, including my own. I am not anti-modern medicine and this is not a rant against modern medicine. Rather this is a glimpse into the future of the healthcare system in our country and what it needs to change the direction of the train wreck that it seems headed for.
What’s Missing in The Discussion Around Healthcare
Currently, healthcare concerns are the #1 issue for many Americans and for some of our politicians. There are a variety of topics being discussed that include:
Universal health care: access and affordability as a basic human right
High costs of healthcare and insurance
More healthcare practitioners from a variety of disciplines
Shrinking access to healthcare in rural America
Increasing the use of technology...or not
Expensive pharmaceutical drugs...or not
What’s missing from the entire discussion is actually the most important aspect: self-care and self-responsibility. The question is simple: Who’s in charge of your health and wellness?
What’s the leading cause of death and disability in the US?
What health conditions consume a large chunk of our annual 3 trillion health care costs?
What do 6 in 10 Americans have?
Chronic diseases… including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimers, stroke, cancer, chronic lung and chronic kidney disease. The primary contributing factors are diet, exercise, excessive alcohol, and tobacco use. Factors that we can control to reduce the potential for diseases.
The Future of Our Health
The future of our health begins with us as individuals. We have access to all of the information we want - some good and some bad, but we have to be educated on the basics so that we can make informed choices.
The good news is we have ample research to support a healthy lifestyle and we are seeing slight changes in some key areas. The bad news is, for the most part, our mainstream healthcare system fails the test for strongly supporting lifestyle factors as the key to healthy living. Here’s a personal example:
At my last annual checkup with my MD, I was asked three questions: How was I feeling in general? Did I have a specific complaint to discuss with the doctor? And remarkably, now that it is legal to do so in my state, did I use marijuana? Neither the assistant nor the doctor asked about my diet, the amount of water I drink each day, my daily exercise, my stress levels, the type of work I do, my alcohol consumption, domestic violence incidents, or recent traumatic events in my life. All of these factors are major contributors to our health and wellness according to the US federal agency, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) and are supported by extensive research.
When my doctor completed the exam, I mentioned my observation to her and she was clearly surprised by my comment. She struggled to respond. Eventually, she explained, “She doesn’t have time in a 30-minute visit to discuss those issues.” I could have asked her why an annual checkup deserves only 30 minutes but I already knew the answer. During my annual exam, she spent ten minutes of our visit trying to sell me a $5000 colonoscopy. I know that there are doctors that offer different experiences, and I know there are other options. I share my experience as an illustration of what is wrong with the overall healthcare system.
I didn’t grow up in a healthy environment: processed foods, smoking, drinking, and domestic dysfunction were the norm. I headed down the same path until my mid-twenties, and then I began teaching myself how to cook from scratch, how to manage stress without numbing and how to move my body regularly. This was before the internet and there weren’t many resources available for a working mom living paycheck to paycheck.
Today, there’s no excuse now for not knowing. Information is at our fingertips and there are hundreds of books about physical and mental health published each year. More importantly, there is a growing number of wellness experts who want to empower us.
Ironically, the problem now seems to be information overload. Where do you begin? How can you weed through everything, and escape the modern version of snake oil sales? How do you deal with the contradictory research results (e.g., eggs are bad, now eggs are good)?
Turning to the traditional concepts of herbalism is my recommendation. Take advantage of our modern knowledge about the human body and utilize the abundance of research through the lens of traditional medicine and follow wisdom of using plants to maintain balance and wellness.
Our world would be in far better shape if we had an herbalist in every home.
What’s an Home Herbalist?
Home herbalists use plants as both food and medicine for their families and friends. They may have been mentored by an elder family herbalist, they could be self-taught or they may have taken an introductory course or a series of classes and workshops.
Home herbalists recognize the importance of lifestyle behaviors and promote healthy diets, daily movement, the balance of activities and stress management. They use their herbal knowledge to treat common illnesses like colds, flus, respiratory illnesses, digestive complaints and skin problems using medicinal herbs but also respect the limits of their knowledge and are aware of symptoms that require a medical profession. They make a variety of herbal remedies such as teas, tinctures, and salves from herbs that they may have grown and wildcrafted. They incorporate plants into their daily lives, supporting and nourishing their bodies. They understand the basics of anatomy and physiology and can recognize symptoms of viral and bacterial infections. Home herbalists recognize that wellness ALWAYS begins with a healthy lifestyle.
Having a home herbalist in every home will not only affect our current health crises but will change the future of healthcare and wellness in our country. Empowering individuals to be in charge of their own health and to question the current “acceptance” of chronic illness and its antidote in the form of profit-driven medicine is the best way to change the healthcare system.
Where Do You Begin?
Below are some resources that I recommend to begin the empowering journey of self-care. Like all good choices, it requires effort, time and discipline. There is no magical herb or solution to our health; it’s simply common sense.
Anatomy and Physiology: Knowing the basics of the human body and how it works is necessary. Social media is rife with bad herbal advice offered by people who don’t know the basics. There are many clinical textbooks available but they can be dry and challenging to read. If you prefer more traditional structure with lecture videos, there are introductory online courses available that are free and gradeless - search online for free anatomy classes.
After falling asleep repeatedly while reading a college-level clinical anatomy textbook, I did more research and discovered the book, Holistic Anatomy: An Integrative Guide to the Human Body by Pip Walker. Easy to read and perfect for a home herbalist to learn the basics. The author offers some overviews of holistic health systems for which she is criticized for by close-minded mainstream health care professionals. All the more reason to read the book...:)
Invest in a human body coloring book - color and label to your heart’s content.
Introduction to Herbalism: There are several books I recommend that introduce herbs, herbal preparations, and energetics.
Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Foret
This is a wonderful introductory book (and a best-seller) that includes a hands-on approach to understanding the energetics and multiple uses of herbs. And then there are the recipes! I moved this book around from my office, to my kitchen, and to my herb room and finally, I just gave up and keep on my dining room table. I did a review of it here.
(Full disclosure: Rosalee is a friend, and I write articles for her website - which is chock full of information! https://www.herbalremediesadvice.org)
Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by Maria Noel Groves
This book is a perfect complement to Rosalee’s book. Maria’s book is part herbal, part anatomy, and part physiology. Easy to read and understand, Maria provides excellent overviews of our body’s systems, common problems and then recommends lifestyle factors and herbs that can nourish and support the system. She also includes easy to make recipes. Her website is https://wintergreenbotanicals.com.
Iconic American herbalist Rosemary Gladstar has several introductory books. Her book, Family Herbal, opened my eyes to the gifts of herbal medicine 30 years ago.
These three books will provide a great introduction to the world of western herbalism. There are more in-depth and specific books; as you learn the basics, you may choose to learn from other herbalists or explore other plant-based systems like Traditional Chinese Medicine or Ayurvedic medicine. Rosalee de la Foret has an expansive list of books on herbalism at her website.
Online Resources: There are two websites that offer a variety of introductory and more importantly reliably researched information on herbal medicine.
Herbmentor.com offers a comprehensive approach to learning about herbs and herbalism. It’s a membership-based website and for a very affordable fee each month you have 24/7 access to herbal monographs, a variety of courses, case studies, countless articles and videos and a forum of both home and professional herbalists from all over the world. (More disclosure: I have been a member for six years and write occasional articles for the site.) I use this site every week to research information and to read the latest articles.
The Herbal Academy publishes free articles, sells multiple online courses and offers an annual membership to access the bulk of it articles and plant monographs.
Looking for a local school to attend classes in person? Mountain Rose Herbs offers a list of schools that offer both online and in-person classes: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/resources/herbal-education
It’s never too late to start learning or to start a program of self-care. Recent research indicates that making simply changes in diet, amount of exercise and managing stress can have profound effects on our wellness. There’s no magic, no woo-woo - herbal medicine is our traditional medicine and it is used by the majority of the world’s citizens.
Let’s build a new system of holistic health care by building communities of herbalists -one home at a time.