For as long as humans have walked the Earth, we have fostered an intimate relationship with plants for healing and nourishment. The World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of the world’s population still rely on traditional plant-based medicine as their primary source of healthcare. This is encouraging, because plant-medicine belongs to the people. It is a free resource that must be nurtured and encouraged among indigenous and western populations alike. From the simple act of steeping a cup of chamomile infusion before bed, or picking plantain leaf to bruise and rub on an insect bite, botanical medicine is readily available to all, regardless of age, race, religion, and socio-economic status.
For the person needing more in-depth help, there is an art as well as a science to Botanical Medicine. The adept practitioner must have developed a deep and respectful relationship with the medicinal plants that she uses, nurturing and observing them through their natural cycles – either in the wild or cultivated. The practitioner must know how these plants interact with the human being on all levels of gross and subtle anatomy, just as much as she must have a working understanding in the biomedical sciences of anatomy, physiology, symptomology, pathology, and diagnosis. And in this day and age, the skilled practitioner must also have an understanding of the interactions between plant medicines and any pharmaceutical drugs that a patient may be concurrently taking. In something of a hologram of layers that build a profoundly holistic approach to healing, the art of Botanical Medicine lies with the practitioner then being able to see the constitutional nature of the patient and in turn seek the medicinal plant, or plants that will, in synergistic harmony, encourage and support the innate healing mechanisms within each individual. The true art of Botanical Medicine is therefore as dynamic and individual as the greatest of friendships.
The Medical Herbalist, Phytotherapist, or Traditional Folk Herbalist, (whatever name is chosen to label oneself, all are lovers of the green, protectors of the plants, healers of the Earth, & practitioners of Botanical Medicine) does not see the human in front of them covered in sticky post-it notes each proclaiming a disease, in other words; we don’t diagnose or treat specific diseases. We see patterns of disharmony, and listen to symptoms to give us clues to the path (pathology) that that the body has chosen to signal it’s distress. A typical first consult will last an hour to an hour and a half where questions covering all body systems, including emotional states, environmental situations, current diet & lifestyle, and past history are asked. This helps to develop a really good picture of the human as a whole being, and allows the practitioner to select the most appropriate herbs. Along with this in depth questioning, basic tests such as blood pressure, pulse, and observation of the pallor, and texture of the skin, tongue, and nails will be included to round out the picture. Some practitioners who are skilled in iridology will also ask to observe the patterns in the patients iris to confirm any feeling the practitioner has about underlying patterns and constitutional state. Sometimes, a practitioner may refer the patient for functional pathology tests, or a blood test, if she feels it may be needed.
At the conclusion of the consultation, the practitioner will formulate a herbal medicine to be taken by the patient (either internally, or topically) at a dose that the practitioner feels is most therapeutic, and also offer suggestions for dietary and lifestyle changes if she feels they are warranted.
The follow-up consultations generally last between 30-45 minutes and are designed to monitor the progress of healing, and to adjust any therapeutic recommendations as necessary.
Botanicals can be taken internally, such as infusions, decoctions, hydrosols, spagyrics,tinctures, liquid extracts, powders, capsules, or lozenges. Or they can be used topically, in ointments, salves, balms, poultices and fomentations, liniments, baths and soaks. The mode of application will be as individual as the person seeking help from our plant allies.