Herbalism 101 – the true story

“Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?”
― George Carlin

Herbalism, holistic health, and alternative wellness is very, very popular right now. So is being a witch…but that’s a post for another day…

While I am beyond thrilled to see folks take an interest in managing their care, everyday some new post pops up with some kind of whack-a-do “health” information. Ranging from essential oils, to vapor rub on your feet, there are Pinterest boards a’plenty to delight you with absolutely erroneous “cures.”

About a year ago, it was obvious that my youngest was dealing with an intense health issue. At the time we were getting very frustrated with western medicine – but nevertheless, we persisted. It was hard for my kiddo. It was hard for Mr. The Mister and me. It was hard for the other members of our tribe. We spent last Halloween in the ER doing random labs to figure out what in the heck was going on with her. The whole family was at their wit’s end, and we were watching a child waste away.

In the late 1990s I became interested in complementary medicine and wellness. I sought out nutritionists, herbalist, massage therapists, medicine women/men, and more. My soul was thirsty for knowledge, and I drank up everything that came my way. Here was a path, even a vocation, that combined all the elements to keep my body, mind, and soul happy. Off into the world I went to start my practice. Thirty years later, I’m still “practicing,” learning, and nurturing that what calls to me.

There is a trend, however, of the “90-day herbalist.” This is where you take a high priced class, taught by a “certified clinical herbalist,” and are taught how to make a tea, a salve, and if you’re lucky, a tincture. What you don’t get is background knowledge on contradictions, sustainable use of plant medicine, and how to cover your hind end legally.

Herbalists, holistic health practitioners, and more are not considered part of your wellness plan according to MDs and many insurance companies. That means that much of the counseling given to clients can be considered against medical advice. It’s a sticky wicket, and taking a 3-month class is not going to teach you the particulars of what is needed to properly work with someone.

Many of the classes hock essential oils, herbs that are endangered, and offer no peer reviewed hours. No case studies. No anatomy and physiology. No direction to basic first aid. No advice on picking the proper personal liability plan. No suggestion of studying with another practitioner. Nothing.

While I am not the biggest fan of regulation agencies, I do like having checks and balances. Every year I complete CEU courses to keep what I know relevant. From religion to wildcrafting, each topic helps me keep practicing.

Back to my youngest.

During the intense process of finding a proper diagnosis, very kind souls sent messages to me about how to “cure” the ailments. Everything from juice cleanses, to high dose vitamins, to fasting. Then came the activated charcoal and essential oil suggestions. Not one was anything that resembled an option that made sense.

And these were from folks calling themselves herbalists and holistic health practitioners. When I would ask where they studied, the responses would be something akin to, “I saw it on Pinterest and it worked for me,” to “Well, I took this seminar, and…”

No. Just no.

This is why we can’t have nice things. One doesn’t drink a tea and all of a sudden become a wellness worker. Sorry, but that’s not how it works. Instead you dedicate your life to study, research, and peer review. If you are lucky enough to find a medical center that will let you shadow their physicians, that’s even better.

For the love of all things, humans, stop taking the internet’s memes as legit advice. Just step away from the monitor, go to your nearest library, and start doing some real research.

Now I know some of you are sitting there getting madder than a wet hen. People should have their own say over health concerns – I FULLY agree there. There are far too many physicians that railroad their patients, and I always teach my clients advocacy. You are the boss of the doctor, not the other way around. However, let’s say you found a tincture in a group on Facebook. This stuff is going to cure everything – in fact they harvest that particular plant and will sell you their pre-made product, or fresh plants for you to mix up.

But what if that company is just sending you portabella mushrooms instead of reishi? What if they are over harvesting chaga, or found something that appears to be chaga, but isn’t. Or what about dried dandelion root from a field that has been sprayed with every carcinogenic pesticide on the planet? (side note: I am not going to pontificate on GMOs in this post – but one day I will — as well as the “organic” movement)

My youngest now uses a monthly medication that costs more each refill than a majority of people make in a year. Can the condition be helped with diet, exercise, and nourishing herbal infusions? Heck, yes, those are great allies! Will those same things cure the issue? EFF NO! The U.S. Medical System is seriously messed up – but there are still good people out there doing wonderful things. If only we could bring the two together.

Let me kind of wrap this up by doing bullet points. Plus, it makes me happy to see them all lined up and in a row.

  • complementary medicine brings together holistic/natural learning with conventional medical knowledge.
  • many plants are being over harvested for oils, teas, etc. The corporations that farm in poorer cultures often underpay their workers, or use modern day slave labor.
  • if you are working with an herbalist, ask them to provide the amount of hours they have in their practice. (side note: with college hours, CEU hours, etc., I have over 800)
  • ask them if they feel comfortable talking with your physician about herbs, etc.
  • if you are diagnosed, or prescribed something, that practitioner is breaking the law unless they are an MD.
  • ask if they have brought on apprentices, and ask those apprentices how the experience was.

As I sit here writing, my youngest is bouncing around telling me about her artwork. This place of health comes from a collaborative process between western medicine and complementary medicine (good diet, exercise, and so on). No cleanses, no supplements, no fasting – just healing.

Below I’ve shared the Hippocratic Oath. It is a good guideline to follow in all aspects of your life. Take a moment to read through it, and understand that whoever you are seeing for health care should abide by the sentiment laid out in the words.

Much love and tons of good health your way,

“I swear by Apollo Physician, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.

To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction, and all other instruction to my own sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the physician’s oath, but to nobody else.

I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. I will not use the knife, not even, verily, on sufferers from stone, but I will give place to such as are craftsmen therein.

Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free. And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.

Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I break it and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me.”
– Translation by W.H.S. Jones