Herbalism and Holistic Healing

You probably hear the term “holistic healing” a lot but what does it mean?

First, we need to put this in a context so I’m going to talk a little about paradigms (“para-dimes”). What’s a paradigm? It means a way of looking at things. In conventional medicine and conventional American thinking, the paradigm is usually something along the lines of “The doctor will give me X to deal with Y”, especially with chronic diseases. Chronic just means it happens a lot of a period of time, usually three weeks or more. I could use a lot of different examples: bad menstrual cramps, frequent G.I. distress, anxiety, headaches, acid reflux. Let’s use headaches for an example since they are pretty common. Let’s say you get headaches a lot so you take Tylenol (or something stronger) instead of figuring out WHY you have headaches in the first place. That’s not healing; that’s disguising symptoms. I like to call it the “Band-aid approach”. And that’s our general paradigm in modern America, kind of for everything.

As an herbalist I have a different paradigm. My job is to figure out why you have headaches. Your headaches mean something. I’m a healer, I’m not a pharmaceutical company wanting to sell you an endless supply of drugs. From my perspective, being a holistic or integrated healer often means helping my clients come to terms with what is going on for them and develop a new level of being. Sometimes I can do that with a single herb and that’s awesome. Sometimes I have to say to the person, “So, you have this job you hate and have chronic headaches that keep you out of work for a couple days every month…you might want to take a long weekend and really think about this job. You may need to pursue a different career path and come up with a plan to do that. In the meantime, here’s an herbal formula to help with the headaches. I recommend a therapeutic massage to help with the muscle tension, too.” Or I may say “Gee, I think you may have a food allergy or intolerance. I want you to avoid these foods for a period of six weeks then re-introduce them one at a time and see if you get headaches again. In the meantime, here’s a tea to help with some gut healing and a formula for to help with the headaches. Also, I recommend some energy work to settle and balance your energy.” You get the idea. No bandaging; real healing. And, by the way, the two herbal formulas for the above hypothetical cases would probably be very different and based upon each individual – who they are, their constitutions, etc.

Here is a real case study. I worked with a client who had bursitis – swelling of the watery cushions around the joints – in her hips and for quite a while, too. Conventional anti-inflammatories were not helping much. If I used the “Band-aid” paradigm of “look up the herb to replace the drug” (or as herbalist Rosalee de la Floret calls it, herbal indexing) I might have come up with turmeric. Turmeric is the hot new fashionable herbal anti-inflammatory (and, yes, these things do have a cycle. I remember when the hot new herb was Echinacea. That was in the early 1990’s.). Turmeric, I find, is warm and drying and works well for whole-body, colder, stangant inflammation. That may have worked, and maybe worked okay, and it would have taken about six weeks to start working. I know this person, however, and know their personality and body type. I recommended another herb in a tincture form. Why? Because, while partly the inflammation was due to a bit of overuse, it was mostly a water-balance issue. The herb I recommended fit her personality, worked with water, and specifically worked to balance water in the bursa. It was not an anti-inflammatory. It worked wonderfully, far better than the conventional anti-inflammatory and she was feeling better in no time. Now that's good herbalism!

So, this is what herbalism and holistic healing is about. Not just little green drugs or “What herb can I take for X”. It’s getting to the root of the problem and working from there including working with the person and the situation.

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