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24 October 2009

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

I was in my local health food store and came across a new product line of herbs from a company called Natural Health International based in San Francisco. They feature fancy brochures, and I couldn't help but check out the one for St. John's Wort. Of course, the product is capsules with "all the active constituents in the same ratios as they naturally exist in the herb (including .3% hypericin + pseudo hypericin and 3% hyperforin" said to be excellent for people who suffer from "mental or emotional stress, mood swings" or people seeking "positive mood, healthy outlook, emotional well being, reduced stress level". Now, the folks at that company have obviously spent a lot of money on their brochures and marketing, and they are probably going to be successful, but I use this brochure as an example of a complete 180 from the kind of herbalism I'm really espousing. First of all, how do they know what the ratios are in the plants? Well, I'm assuming these plants are not wild and are all grown under the same or similar conditions if they are going to make that claim. OK, now, how do they know which ingredients are the one's most effective in healing? Again, they must have a great deal of scientific research to come to those conclusions. But I must also say there are probably hundreds or even thousands of chemicals in the plants that haven't been identified yet, so how do we know the three mentioned above are the only or main ones used in healing? Well, we don't, but again theirs is a completely scientific approach. What I'm talking about here in "Talking Weeds" is a very unscientific approach.

As I attempt to teach themes in herbal medicine and healing to my college students, I often find it difficult to get past the over-riding assumption that the scientific approach is really the best or most effective (or only) way to explore healing, even healing with herbs. I use Susun Weed's book Healing Wise as a way into the debate. I'm always amazed by the faith and affection for the Scientific Tradition, as Weed calls it, present in my students. It is hard to present this as just another way of viewing healing, just one of many ways. There is such a thorough and complete brainwashing that has occurred by the time one reaches 18 years of age. How did we ever get to this point of limiting our viewpoints so narrowly?

The place where I'm at is to encounter the plant in the wild. If I can't personally do this, I want to make sure the products I'm using are harvested and prepared in a similar way. Once I approach the plant, I want to acknowledge it's existence, for my benefit, not necessarily the plant's. Then I want to form a relationship with the plant. Much like human relations, relations with plants are about getting to know each other, respecting/honoring what each other brings to the moment and embracing the experience of being together in that moment. Maybe we'll never see each other again, or maybe we will renew our acquaintance many, many times over years even. The point of this relationship is that the plant is going to share secrets with me, not because I'm better than anyone else or privileged, but because I took the time to get to know the plant. The gifts are available to everyone. These secrets are the essence of learning how to use plants for healing. I don't trust books or even scientific research, I trust my relationship with the plant. I trust my internal sense of knowing that the plant has awakened within me. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I will have this new found or reawakened sense of awareness. I make notes within my heart as Juliette de Bairacli Levy would say. These notes can never be forgotten or erased. They stay with me forever. This relationship with the plant is constantly new and always a little different. The opposite of a plant grown under the same conditions, standardized and made into a preparation that always has the same constituents. On the contrary, wild plants are always different and will never contain exactly the same constituents. I'm not relying on merely the active chemicals within the plant to heal me, but the energy exchange. In this way I've moved beyond anything current science will say is possible. Interesting how the medicine of the ancients is actually far ahead of anything modern science can even contemplate.

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