Herbal medicine is more than simply a chemical approach to healing, though it does produce beneficial chemical changes in the body.
Have you ever noticed how you feel calm yet energized after a walk in the woods or the mountains, or refreshed after a walk or swim at the beach? Even pictures of these places evoke feelings of peace or awe - something changes in your brain, in your emotions. Having animals around cheers us up or calms us down as well. Watching a sunset, going for a walk at sunrise - all of these have a positive effect on us.
When we take plant medicine, just as when we eat whole, unrefined or processed food close to its natural state, we are taking in the energy or ïspiritÍ of the plant. Over centuries of observation and study of the effects of herbs, the Chinese identified and described the nature or ïspiritÍ of plants. They observed that certain herbs benefit specific organs, or raise energy, or direct blood flow to the legs or the skin. Some herbs calm the consciousness while others ïopen the orificesÍ: awakening awareness.
Certainly the physiology of these actions can be attributed to minerals, vitamins, alkaloids and other materials in these plants, many of which have not been isolated and studied, but the ancients viewed their world differently than we do. Without the constant distraction and fast pace of cars and television, life was slower and more centered in the person's awareness. They saw the unfolding of nature as interactive between the forces of heaven and earth. Plants were seen to have spirit, or qualities that reflected the forces that engendered them.
If one has any familiarity with the Chinese language and its evolution, one knows that a single character can have multiple meanings and connotations which vary depending on the context, juxtaposition, inflection and other variables. So the name of a single plant can indicate its color, its usage, where it came from, qualitative effect, organs impacted. Knowing and understanding plant medicine in this way is much more holistic than chemical medicine. If you have ever done an affirmation, you understand the concept. EX:
Taking plant medicines is more, however, than a placebo effect. Centuries of clinical observation have formed the basis of the literature and the oral traditions that are preserved and propagated today.
Herbs are most often combined in formulas in which the individual ingredients synergistically complement each other to accomplish the treatment goal. The herbs are chosen to match the individualÍs unique constitution and presentation. Your herbalist is trained not only in the physiological effects of these herbs on your body, but also on the effects on the shen, or consciousness. Herbs are chosen to maximize the healing process so that a level of function is restored while the healing process continues. The herbalist monitors the patient's progress and alters the formula as the body adjusts and adapts. Depending on how long the patient has had a chronic condition, 3, 4 or even 5 formulas could be adapted over time as the patient progresses through different phases of healing, for example, from elimination of toxicity through tonification and restoration of function to harmonizing and balancing.