Since the dawn of creation, plants have been the primary source of medicine for the human race.
Medicinal plants have been mentioned in the Bible, and in historical literature. Plants that are used as medicines have been referred to as "herbs" for over 4000 years by European and the Mediterranean cultures, hence the word "herb", being a derivation of "herbe" and the Latin word, "herba".
Originally, the term "herb" only applied to non-woody plants.
Today, "herb" refers to any part of any plant used for flavoring or medicine. Although the term "herb" can also be equated with food spices, it is generally used in reference to any plant, or any part of a plant, having nutritional and / or medicinal value(s). Additionally, an "herb" may be a fruit, a bark, a flower, a leaf, or a root, as well as anon-woody plant.
There are several types of herbal medicine systems that are used today; European, Native American, Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Western herbalism are the most prevalent systems. Despite differences in terminology and in the herbs used, there is a common thread that joins these systems: all of these systems treat the body as a 'whole', and they each utilize the energy of plants to 'work as needed' in synergy with the natural energy in each individual.
Because there are many different herbal systems, there are also many different ways of classifying herbs. Some systems being used over the years tend to classify herbs by 'plant part'; by humoral theories; by botanical family; by color; or by morphology. One example is the Chinese system, which has a complex classification system based on 'chi', or 'body energy concepts'. This classification scheme is very successful at correlating the human body to proper herb usage, but does not provide for easy substitution of one herb for another.
There are many other ways to classify herbs. Another simple method is to identify five (5) major herbal categories:
This category system makes it easy to identify herbs using 'taste' and 'smell', and becomes useful when needing to substitute herbs for one another.
There are many ways to grow, gather, and harvest herbs. Herbs are considered the "best" by some practitioners when they are naturally grown in the wild, untouched by industrial pollutants. Others prefer herbs that are cultivated indoors, away from all contaminants, in a controlled environment. Some herbalist's recommend gathering only certain herbs (depending on the seasons, the weather, and the time of day) to achieve the highest level of medicinal qualities. And still others may disregard this practice, and will purposefully plant herbs 'out of season' so that they will be available for sale year round.
Many believe that the energy with which the herbs are gathered is also very important, and should always be done with great spiritual awareness and prayerful thankfulness. And others feel that herbs should be handled with reverence and respect.
In addition to growth and gathering techniques, harvesting practices vary as well. Recommendations may include taking the whole plant at once (buds, roots, seeds, leaves and blooms), or taking each part of the plant in a particular order, and only using younger, or older, plants.
There are also several ways to dispense herbs. The most common methods are herbal pastes, juices, decoctions, hot or cold infusions, powders, pills (tablets, capsules), aromatics, tinctures or extracts (alcohol or glycerol bases), liniments, syrups, poultices and fomentations, medicated oils, salves and ointments, lotions, teas, and whole herbs. Each type is good for specific ailments, and often may be used together (i.e. internally and externally for an external wound) to take full advantage of the healing attributes of each.
All these choices, like others, should be integrated with both your personal external needs and your internal ideals for the best possible results. An experienced herbalist can help you decide which system is right for you. Please be aware that herbs are foods. And like any other food, herbs should be taken in moderation. Always follow the manufacturer's directions for use.
In Chinese medicine herbs are associated with the major organs of the body. For example - certain herbs are used to heal lung ailments and the meridians associated with the lungs. The practioner will always provide the patient with 2 herbs. One is called the guiding herb that gets the healing herb to the right spot. The second herb is the healing herb. Much of this is intuitive - as the body will crave the food, tastes, or herbs that it needs.
In plant spirit medicine the practioner not only administers the healing herb but he has a relationship with the Spirit of the healing plant. He can actually communicate with the spirit of a powerful healing plant to heal the patient. This can be done as a remote healing - with patient and practioner in two different parts of the country. In this case the spirit goes to the patient. According to author and shaman, Eliot Cowan - Plant Spirit Medicine -
"Some people find it difficult to accept the concept of plants communicating with earthlings. Such plant communication can be in the form of a plant speaking directly to an individual, or quite often, an individual seeing a plant spirit. For many, such an occurrence would be outside their boundary of reality. He takes the leaves of a plant to make a tea, and then with different forms of meditation, communicates with the plant to produce a healing for the patient. This is accomplished regardless of whether the disease is physical, mental or both. In my opinion, this in itself would certainly be worth writing about.
"After introductions, the healer asks the plant spirit to teach the Shaman how to use this plant. The teaching comes in many forms that may even including a non-verbal transfer of the information. When the transfer is complete, the shaman then returns to a normal state of consciousness and immediately starts to record the entire experience. Next there follows an interpretation of the dream and as is generally true for dreams, the dream may or may not be self explanatory. As the author states, "If I can make that relationship with the spirit of the plant, I don't need the leaf or the root with which to heal.... instead, I ask the messenger (the plant) to bring the spirit of whatever plant that person needs. So instead of having or harvesting dozens of plants that I have to take with me, I just have pills or capsules made out of the messenger plant."
This ability to communicate with a messenger plant is revolutionary. Presently the practice of wildcrafting is drawing more and more criticism because it encourages the over harvesting of medicinal plants. I am personally aware of "over harvesting" as I witness the identical situation occurring with the medicinal plants of ginseng, and especially goldenseal. Under present circumstances, goldenseal is even now at the point of being an endangered species.
This wonderful ability to communicate with a messenger plant, which in turn eliminates the need of harvesting unnecessary plants, puts Eliot Cowan in a special place in the realm of plant spirit healing. This is an arena which even Cowan admits, "we don't control the spirit or even understand it. Humility is the way."
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