Written by Jacqui Bushell.

echinaceaHerbal Medicine

Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge. Remedies from chemicals will never stand in favour compared with the products of nature, the living cell of the plant, the final result of the rays of the sun, the mother of all life.                                           T. A. Edison


If we surrendered
To Earth’s intelligence
We would rise up rooted, like trees. 
Rainer Maria Rilke

Herbs are both a source of healing and of infinite wisdom. They are my teachers, companions and healers. Quite a number have been very good friends for many years! I am passionate about working with them and sharing their abundance with others. As a herbalist, one of my main aims is to support peoples connection with the natural world, to remind us that we are all one, all from the same source and all contain that spark of divine mystery. When we take a herb, whether as a tea or tincture, we are imbibing the spirit and life force of the plant. I have a deep sense of gratitude and humility for what plants offer so unconditionally and powerfully. I also have a sense of accountability. If we harvest from the earth then we must do so in a sustainable way, collecting and preparing our medicines with respect. Where I live in the Blue Mountains there are so many weeds growing which I like to harvest and make up into fresh plant tinctures. I am concerned about the vast amount of plants collected and exported from overseas. This can upset delicate local economies and may lead to unscrupulous collecting in order to satisfy the western market demands. Also, I’m somewhat wary of the latest, fashionable, ‘new herb on the block’ when we have so many wonderful remedies right here. Herbs are not trendy commodities.

Plants are so much more than inanimate, chemical components. In the modern western approach there is an emphasis on pharmaceutical herbalism, where herbs are prescribed according to constituents, in standardised amounts. While we do need to know the constituents, as a single ideology, it misses the point. Herbs cannot be applied in the same way as drugs. They don’t work like pharmaceuticals due to their complexity. Both witch hazel and raspberries contain tannins but I sure as anything wouldn’t want to mix the two up or use them interchangeably. When applying herbs we consider the whole plant picture and the whole pattern of the person from their temperament to their temperature. Rather than working out what aspect of biochemistry needs improving, we consider organs and systems; whether to support elimination, or tonification, to relax, add moisture, nourish, cool or heat. Then we decide which of the many herbs that could invite the desired response will be the one most suited to that particular person.

goldenrodResearchers are often not able to find, from isolated constituents why a herb acts as it does. We still don’t know for instance, precisely why Shepherd’s Purse reduces bleeding. Often herbs can have paradoxical actions. Some can cause both constriction and relaxation, or consider Fumitory, which boosts the underactive gallbladder or reduces the excessive. We must prescribe on the whole plant picture: how it expresses itself in form and how it interacts with an individual client.

Dosing may vary with the herbs I prescribe; some may be given as only a couple of drops and others by the milliliter, some singly and some in combinations. I like to prescribe herbal teas as well as tinctures. If a herb is particularly indicated for a client then I often introduce them to the plant so they develop their own relationship or rapport with the herb. If it’s growing nearby we might collect some or I might show a photo and discuss some of its characteristics or sometimes invite the person to connect more deeply with the plant in a meditation. For example, recently a client came in feeling utterly overwhelmed, exhausted and burdened, with some distressing symptoms related to poor digestion, low hepatic function, sadness, dry skin and menstrual problems. As she described her feelings and stresses, I kept getting an image of her responsibilities like numerous prickly burrs stuck to her, stopping freedom of movement, and the need for nourishment, moistness and stillness. Burdock came to mind; a hardy plant with a deep, strong tap root, covered in burrs that stick to everything and rich in nutrients and oil. It’s good for the liver, the skin and can help build strength, particularly for those who despair of being well. Several minutes after she had a couple of drops she felt calmer, resilient and supported. “It feels like a warm blanket around me.”

Working with herbs we must step beyond scientific rationale and embrace a sacred potency and mystery. Listen to the plants, they are wise beyond measure. They are experts at adaptation, growth and change and teach us the same. When we take plants as healing medicine we partake of their life force and are reminded that we too are of nature, no matter how disconnected we may feel. We also, are subject to the pull of the moon, the need for nutrition, light, warmth, and we exist in beauty. We only forget that we are not of the earth. The plants call us back home. We are all One, in Spirit.

Listen to the plants, for they are wise beyond measure.