Be Your Own herbal Expert
herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used – and our neighbors around the world still use – plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It’s easy. You can do it too, and you don’t need a degree or any special training.
Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate those memories and your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first session, we learned how to “listen” to the messages of plant’s tastes. In lesson two, about simples and water-based herbal remedies. In the third, I distinguished safe (nourishing and tonifying) herbs from more dangerous (stimulating and sedating) herbs. Our fourth lesson focused on poisons; we made tinctures and an herbal Medicine Chest. Our fifth dealt with herbal vinegars, and the sixth with herbal oils.
In this, our seventh session, we will think about how we think about healing.
The Three Traditions of Healing
There are many ways to use herbs to improve and maintain health. Modern medicine uses highly refined herbal products known as drugs. Many alternative or holistic practitioners recommend herbs, usually in less-refined (and less dangerous) forms such as tinctures or homeopathic remedies. And then there are the yarb women, the wise women, such as myself, who integrate herbs into their daily diet and claim far-reaching results for simple remedies.
I call these three different approaches the Scientific, Heroic, and Wise Woman traditions.
These three traditions are ways of thinking, not ways of acting. And they are not limited to herbs. Any technique, any substance can be used by a healer in the Scientific, Heroic, and Wise Woman traditions. There are, for instance, naturopaths, midwives, and MDs in each tradition, as well as herbalists, educators, therapists, even politicians.
Each of these traditions lives within you, too.
As I define the characteristics of each tradition, identify the part of yourself that thinks that way.
Modern, western medicine is an excellent example of the Scientific tradition, where healing is fixing. The line is its symbol: linear thought, linear time. Truth is fixed and measurable. Truth is that which repeats. Good and bad, health and sickness are put at opposite ends of the line, where they do battle with each other. Food and medicine are quite different.
Newton’s universal laws and the mechanization of nature are the foundation of the Scientific tradition. Bodies are understood to be like machines. When machines run well (stay healthy) they don’t deviate. Anything that deviates from normal needs to be fixed or repaired. The Scientific tradition is excellent for fixing broken things. Measurements must be taken to determine deviation and insure normalcy. Regular diagnostic tests are critical to maintaining proper functioning and ensuring utmost longevity in the body/machine.
In the Scientific tradition, plants are valued as repositories of poisons/alkaloids. They are seen as potential drugs, and capable of killing you in their unpredictable crude states. They are helpful and safe only when refined into drugs and used by highly-trained experts.
In the Scientific tradition the whole is the same as its most active part, and machines are more trustworthy than people.
There is not one unified Heroic tradition, but many similar traditions collectively called the Heroic tradition. Alternative health care practitioners generally represent the Heroic thought pattern, symbolized by a circle.
This circle defines the rules, which, we are told, must be followed in order to save ourselves from disease and death. Healing in the Heroic tradition focuses on cleansing. According to this tradition, disease arises when toxins (dirt, filth, anger, negativity) accumulate. When we are bad, when we eat the wrong food, think the wrong thought, commit a sin, we sicken and the healer is the savior, offering purification, punishment, and redemption.
In the Heroic traditions, the whole is the sum of its parts. We are body, mind, and spirit. The spirit is high and worthy; the body is low and gross; the mind is in between. In the Heroic traditions, we are personally responsible for everything that happens to us.
Religious beliefs frequently accompany herb use in the Heroic tradition. The Heroic healer uses rare substances, exotic herbs, and complicated formulae. Drug-like herbs in capsules are the favored in this tradition. Most books on herbal medicine are written by men whose thought patterns are those of the Heroic tradition.
Wise Woman Tradition
The Wise Woman tradition is the world’s oldest healing tradition. It envisions good health as openness to change, flexibility, availability to transformation, and groundedness. Its symbol is the spiral. In the Wise Woman tradition we do not seek to cure, but focus instead on integrating and nourishing the unique individual’s wholeness/holiness. The Wise Woman tradition relies on compassion, simple ritual, and common dooryard herbs and garden weeds as primary nourishers, but appreciates (and uses) any treatment appropriate to the specific self-healing in process.
The Wise Woman tradition sees each life as a spiraling, ever-changing completeness. Disease and injury are seen as doorways of transformation, and each person is recognized as a self-healer, earth healer: inherently whole, resonant to the whole, and vital to the whole. Substance, thought, feeling, and spirit are inseparable in the Wise Woman tradition. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Spiralic and amazing, the Wise Woman tradition offers self-healing options as diverse as the human imagination and as complex as the human psyche. The Wise Woman tradition has no rules, no texts, no rites; it is constantly changing, constantly being re-invented. It is mostly invisible, hard to see, but easier and easier to find. It is a give-away dance of nourishment, change, and self-love. An invitation to honor yourself and the earth. An admonishment to trust yourself.
In our next sessions we will learn how to make herbal honeys and syrups, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.
I also invite you to study with me in the convenience of your home via correspondence course! Choose from one of my four courses: Green Allies, Spirit & Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition, Green Witch, and ABC of herbalism with Susun Weed. Learn more at www.susunweed.com or write to me at [email protected]
Experiment Number One
The next time you start to feel unwell, ask yourself what each one of the three traditions would advise you to do – e.g. You feel a headache coming on. The Scientific tradition says take a pain killer. The Heroic tradition says give yourself an enema. The Wise Woman tradition says take a nap. (For more information on the three traditions, see the chart in my book Healing Wise.)
Experiment Number Two
Instead of doing what you usually do for some problem (e.g. headache), do something different. Choose something from the same tradition you usually use, or from a different tradition.
Experiment Number Three
Become more aware of the “nourishment of your senses” as Gurdieff put it. What do you look at? Listen to? Smell? Touch with your skin? Taste?
Experiment Number Four
Nourish yourself in a new or different way. You might: eat something – or eat somewhere – that you’ve wanted to try but never dared. Go to a museum, or the opera, or the ballet, or a Broadway show. Visit with a cherished friend. Listen to music that touches your soul. Sit in meditation and burn subtle incense.
Experiment Number Five
Make a list of ten things that nourish you that are now in your life.
Make a list of ten things that could nourish you if they were in your life.
- Become more familiar with the Scientific tradition: Read one or more issues of Scientific American and/or Science News.
- Become more familiar with the Heroic tradition: Skim through Back to Eden or any current book on detoxification.
- Become more familiar with the Wise Woman tradition. Read:
Healing Wise, the Wise Woman herbal. Susun Weed. 1987, Ash Tree Publishing.
herbal Rituals. Judith Berger. 1998, St. Martin’s Press.
Healing Magic, A Green Witch Guidebook. Robin Rose Bennett. 2004, Sterling.
The Secret Teachings of Plants. Stephen Buhner. 2004, Inner Traditions.
The Village herbalist, Sharing Plant Medicines with Family and Community. Nancy and Michael Phillips. 2001, Chelsea Green Publishing.
- The three traditions of healing are not restricted to healing of course. You might have recognized these three attitudes in your profession. Wonderful articles have been written on the “Three Traditions of Teaching” (the Scientific relies on tests, the Heroic on punishment and reward, the Wise Woman on freedom to experience and express) and the “Three Traditions of Therapy” (the Scientific refers to manuals and prescribes drugs, the Heroic blames the unconscious, the Wise Woman nourishes the spirit and builds wholeness) and even the “Three Traditions of Cooking” (the Scientific uses a thermometer and a recipe, the Heroic blackens and heavily spices everything, and the Wise Woman uses what is in season where she lives).
- Apply the three traditions to your profession.
- Read about the history of herbal medicine. Suggested books:
Green Pharmacy, the History and Evolution of Western herbal Medicine. Barbara Griggs. 1997, Healing Arts.
The Magical Staff, the Vitalist Tradition in Western Medicine. Matthew Wood. 1992, North Atlantic Books.
Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, A History of Women Healers. Barbara Ehrenrich and Deirdre English. 1973, Feminist Press.
I see the wise woman. She carries a blanket of compassion. She wears robes of wisdom. Around her throat flutters a veil of shifting shapes. From her shoulders, a mantle of power flows. A story band encircles her forehead. She stitches a quilt; she spins fibers into yarn; she knits; she sews; she weaves. She ties the threads of our lives together. She forms a web of spiraling threads: our lives invented and shared.
I see the wise woman at her loom: a loom warped with days of light and nights of dark. White threads, black threads receive the flying shuttle. A shuttle filled with threads of many colors. Threads the colors of the earth, the common ground; threads the colors of the people of the earth. Some threads are short; some threads are long; each thread is different, each perfect and splendid. The threads are alive with sound and color. The threads are mutable; they change at a touch. The threads are crystal antennae; they respond at a thought.
And intertwined with each thread, a thread blood red, a thread of such sensitivity, it seems invisible, a thread of such vitality, it can never be hidden. As our blood flows over and under the days and nights of our lives and binds each moment to the whole, so the red thread of the wise woman binds us in the tapestried, cosmic web, holds us in our variety, spirals lovingly around us, claims us again at death.
I see the wise woman. And she sees me.
(Excerpt from Healing Wise, c. 1987 Susun S Weed. Available thru www.AshTreePublishing.com )