I know this is what goes through some people’s minds. They don’t see the value of what I do because they perceive it to be available for free or don’t understand the depth of knowledge an herbalists possesses. It’s true, you can look up tons of stuff on the internet or – gasp! – in books. I’d much rather people look in a reputable herbal by an author who is a real herbalist than look on the internet. Seeing someone reading a reputable book on herbs would actually make me really happy!
I admit to using select websites, especially those run by universities that contain the latest herb-drug-supplement interactions or websites of other, reputable herbalists. Sometimes I check herbalists Facebook groups but even there I feel information can be quite dubious unless I know the person offering the information. That’s about it, though.
So, why is it that I don’t like the internet for herbal reference?
Firstly, there’s a lot, and I mean A LOT, of borderline false or taken out of context information, especially on herbs or “natural medicine”. Much of the posts I see on Facebook, especially those from websites like Natural News, aren’t researched articles but are blog posts presented as articles. In my mind, that’s a type of false advertising or trickery. I’ve read some of these posts and looked up the notations and references if there are any. I found unrelated material, material taken out of context and personal blogs referenced. In one case the blogger was writing about anti-cancer herbs and referenced another blog concerning mint – peppermint. I have never read any herbal information that linked peppermint to being anti-cancer. The blog referenced cited Chinese or Baikal skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensis, which is taxonomically in the mint family, but is not a Mentha species and not mentioned at all in the NN blog. The qualifications of the blog writer that was referenced was that she was a cancer survivor. It’s an inspiring story but she herself admitted she was not a health professional and had no training other than her own experience. Was I trolling NN blogs to find this? No. Someone I know posted it on Facebook and it got quite a few shares. My evaluation of the information in the article: all the herbs mentioned in the article would benefit anyone’s health to some extent. Would I give any of them as a primary herb to someone who came to me for herbal recommendations to help them deal with cancer? No. Absolutely not.
Secondly, who writes this stuff and why? The writer of the Natural News blog? No idea who she was, really, other than someone “interested” in “natural health” with the penname of First Name, Last Initial (like Susan N.). I looked into what qualifications someone needs to write a blog on NN. Blog applicants need to be able to string 5 – 10 reasonably readable sentences together. That’s it. Writers do not need to use their own names. They can be completely anonymous. Wow. And they can write on any topic. Wow. And I don’t mean to pick on NN. There are other websites out there that do the same thing. The business model is called “click-through” - and I have an MBA, so I do have a clue - this is the current hot internet marketing/money making thing. Crazy, attention-getting headlines to get people onto the site so the owners can say “we get 1,000 clicks per minute” and then sell ads accordingly. They’re not checking information, they’re selling advertising and sometimes their own products, too. The blogs and articles are only to get you there and get your clicks for ad rates or get you to buy their products.
Thirdly, the internet does not know YOU or your problem. In the world of alternative and holistic medicine we don’t view people’s problems as a set of symptoms but rather a pattern generated by multiple factors that include the interwoven system that is made up of mind, body and spirit. So, for example, if I’m working with a client and I intuit that this person’s problem is physical now but stemmed from something emotional I’m going to recommend treatment on both fronts. I’m going to address the physical symptoms AND the root cause of the problem. For example if my client has a problem with overeating stemming from some form of childhood trauma, I’m going to teach my client how to make food choices appropriate to her. I may give the client some nervine or adaptogenic herbs to help combat stress that triggers the overeating and we’re are going to address the trauma in a way that seems appropriate for that client. That may include flower essences, energy work, or the client seeing a therapist – or all three! The herbs may be the same or different from those the client may have found in an internet search.
I find, however, most people jump to the most active or strongest herbs available for any problem when they do research on their own. This can lead to side effects, like nausea or over stimulation of an organ system or the whole person. Also, most herbs at that level are not meant to be used a lot and are scarce or endangered. They grow far from people and that is a clue that they’re not supposed to be used lightly. Much of the time the job can be done by more abundant, gentle, and easily found plants that grow all around us. That’s why they grow all around us – they’re there for us humans and want to be used!
And, lastly, how can you vet the information you find unless you already know all about the subject? Much of the time you can’t or if you are willing to learn, you might not have the time. I’ve already invested the time and have the talent and experience to help people.
Here are a few stories to illustrate my point. A friend was feeling anxious and, after some reading on the internet, started taking St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Hypericum is well known for its ability to treat depression. Anxiety is not the same as depression and the type of depression that Hypericum treats is fairly specific, at least in my opinion. Hypericum can lift people out of that deep, dark hole where they can’t see the sun; the kind of depression where a person feel as if there’s no life, sun or energy left inside them. It’ a warrior plant. This is not the only thing Hypericum can help with, but it’s the kind of depression that I like to ask it to help with. It’s great, too. But for generalized anxiety? I might use Hypericum as part of a formula for someone but there’s lots of other herbs that I feel would be more helpful and would make up the bulk of the formula. Oatstraw, for instance, or lemon balm or skullcap. They’re all excellent calming herbs. Back to my friend. She was experiencing nausea every time she took the Hypericum. I told her I thought her body was telling her something and recommended she try oatstraw infusion instead. It worked great and the nausea went away immediately.
I had another case where someone I know was taking Hypericum as an aid for acute insomnia, of course, after reading about it on the internet. It will, over time, help soothe nerves and lead to better sleep – if taken consistently at a low dose for six weeks as part of a long-term regimen and if it’s the right herb for that person. I would not recommend it for acute insomnia. Again, there are much better herbs for that: chamomile, skullcap, hops.
Here’s a non-human centered herbal story. I have a horse, a mare who’s a bit fiery. She’s also very sensitive and has problems in the fall when the grass stops growing. For horses, stress and not enough forage equals painful stomach ulcers, unlike in humans where many ulcers are caused by H. pilori bacteria. Horses produce gallons of stomach acid a day and when that acid is not absorbed by forage it splashes up onto the soft mucosa of the stomach and eats away at it. It’s very painful. A horse in pain is a dangerous horse. In 2012 I had the veterinarian check my horse for ulcers and she did indeed have them. I used a combination of herbs and conventional medicine. The herbs take 2 – 4 weeks to take affect; the conventional medicine worked right away. Again, horse in pain = dangerous horse. I thought about and made an herbal formula for my horse and thought, gee, I’ll see what other people have formulated. Wow, was there ever some scary stuff out there. One article that sticks out in my mind was written by someone who “knew herbs” but didn’t seem to understand herbal energetics at all. The person recommended ginger! Now, quick herbal energetics on ginger – ginger is hot; ginger is spicy; ginger is a stimulant. More specifically, ginger stimulates digestion. I use it for nausea and a cold, non-moving stomach without a lot of “digestive fire”. The last thing, I would think, that you’d want to have happen to your ulcerated horse would be to stimulate more acid! And my mare is fiery enough, thank you very much! My horse got better rapidly on my herbal formula that contained demulcent and anti-inflammatory herbs for the digestive tract and is still quite happy. She loves her herbal powder, too and gets it starting in the early winter into the spring when the grass comes back. As a side note, the next spring (2013) I attended the International Herb Symposium in Norton, MA and took a workshop on herbs for horses with an equine vet. I was quite pleased to see her herbal formula for equine ulcers was the same as mine!
So, next time you see that attention-grabbing headline on Facebook about “The Top 5 Herbs for Whatever Ails You” think again about clicking. As they say, on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog!