Plants have been used as medicine since Adam and Eve. Or if you prefer, since before homo became sapien. There is a deep connection between humans and plants; Plant biology, chemistry and genetics are very similar, and sometimes identical to ours. It was recently discovered that many plants have more DNA than a human being! Plants comprise almost the entirety of life on our plan(e)t. So it’s no surprise that every culture in history has used plants as medicine. And still do, even here in the great city of New York where the herbal renaissance is in full bloom. That is because plants make beautiful medicine.
Botanical medicine is a vast, complicated subject, steeped in the history of humanity, in chemistry, biology, botany, histology, physiology and more, while still being simple, elegant and down to earth, please forgive the pun. It is both strong and gentle. It is effective for anything from a bruise to a broken heart, from a bum knee to a bad liver, from a cough to a cancer. I often find that using plants for healing is a simple affair. Have a chronically upset stomach? Drink ginger/chamomile tea. It works well for almost everyone. If you were to drink the tea a few times each day, you would soon find your stomach and digestion much improved. You would also quite likely find yourself calmer, sleeping better, and because of that, in a better mood and able to accomplish more each day. That’s one of the most beautiful things about herbal medicine- the “positive side effects”. In short, it could quite easily lead to an increase in general happiness. Not bad for a spot of tea! More on that below.
Plant medicine can often be multi-layered and complex. And that’s where an herbalist becomes necessary. Illness can be complex. With hundreds of healing plants, and each one of us a very unique person, with different lifestyles and needs and a different bio-chemical “personality”, it can take time and art and skill and experience to find the right remedy, safely and quickly. An herbalist finds the right plants to fit the unique individual that best promote the innate healing process inherent in us all. Two people with the same condition might need a completely different course of treatment, based on their differing constitution, and based on who they are as individuals. The “father of medicine”, Hippocrates, said “treat the person not the disease”. With this in mind, upon first meeting you an herbalist will need some time to understand you and your life, as well as your symptoms.
Plant medicine can help. Are you often in an unpleasant mood? Do you have low energy or low libido? Do you have any chronic, nagging pains? Old sports injuries? Skin problems? Problems sleeping, or problems with anxiety? Problems with your monthly cycle? Allergies or auto-immune disorders? High blood pressure? Do you have a cold or the flu, or an infection? Arthritis? High blood sugar? For these and many other problems, plant medicine is often your best choice.
Plant medicine is now undergoing a tremendous renaissance here in New York and in the U.S. as a whole. It is safe, it is based on history and experience and the latest science. It is cost-effective, and it promotes the well-being of the whole person. Plants face many of the same health challenges that we do. And they will work for us very effectively, often in seemingly miraculous ways. That’s why they have inspired almost all of our current pharmaceuticals, which are greatly simplified compared to the plants, and as such, prone to negative side effects.
All plants are chemists, tirelessly assembling the molecules of the world. ~ Gary Snyder
Herbal medicine is now backed up by the latest science. Many experiments conducted over many years have shown to be true what what we already knew since the dawn of time: Plants provide effective healing for almost every known ailment.
For instance, take a minute and look at some of the latest scientific research: go to PubMed.com. It is a free database of all the latest, published medical research. Type in “Elder tree” or “Elder flower” in the search engine and see what you get. The Elder Tree is also known as “the medicine chest of the people”, so it isn’t surprising that a lot of scientific research is being conducted on it. Though commonly known as a flu remedy, the study below shows that Elder can also be an important medicine in treating diabetes. And because of it’s complex chemical make-up, it does even more than that (see below). Here is part of the abstract from the study, entitled: Identification of bioactive compounds from flowers of black elder (Sambucus nigra L.) that activate the human peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) gamma.
Abstract: Obesity is one of the predisposing factors for the development of overt Type 2 diabetes (T2D). T2D is caused by a combination of insulin resistance and beta-cell failure and can be treated with insulin sensitizing drugs that target the nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) gamma. Extracts of elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) have been found to activate PPARgamma and to stimulate insulin-dependent glucose uptake suggesting that they have a potential use in the prevention and/or treatment of insulin resistance.
Awesome, no? That’s not all. Sambucus nigra not only can help with diabetes, and prevent colds and flu, but Elder also strengthens your blood vessels, helps cure your urinary tract infection, eases neuralgia and arthritis, helps you move your bowels, increases urine production, clears your eyes and flavors your drinks! How can one plant do so much? It is because Elder has an intensely complex chemical make-up (as all plants do, as we do) that works as a whole synergistically together with our biochemistry. Elder is not a single purified chemical that is the hallmark of a laboratory drug. Elder contains the following health promoting compounds:
amino acids, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, sugars, tannins, vitamin A, vitamin B and vitamin C [the berries contain more vitamin C than any other herb except Rosehips and Black Currant]
alkaloids betulin [fresh leaves] cane sugar [fresh leaves], the flavonoids rutin and quercertin, free fatty acids [fresh leaves], hydrocyanic acid [fresh leaves], invertin [fresh leaves], potassium nitrate [fresh leaves], sambunigrin, a cyanogenic glucoside, vitamin C and five to ten thousand more different, often unique molecules.
All of this from just one plant.
But we must remember also that Elder is a living thing. It resonates with other living things and is connected to them in ways that science will never fully understand. It is not just the chemicals in Elder that make it such a profound healer. It is that it is alive, a whole being, and by making medicine with it, we can share some in some of that healing force that is living, that is life.
There are hundreds of well-known health promoting plants and dozens of ways to use them: As a hot tea, as a tincture, as a poultice, as food, as a compress, as a foot bath, as a cordial, as a pill or capsule or powder. Or just as they are. Flowers are sent to hospitals not just because they are pretty, it because they heal.
Herbal medicine isn’t just a substitute for pharmaceuticals. It is earth medicine. It reconnects us to who we really are, to the source of our life, to the source of our being. It is a profound re-establishment to the essential vitality of life. Once you see how well it works you might soon grow your own medicine. How cool is that? Fresh chamomile/mint tea anyone?
In most cases you just need the right plants, taken in the right manner for the right length of time. Occasionally modest dietary changes are needed, and lifestyle advice might be given that will enhance the healing process. An herbalist does not diagnose or treat diseases. An herbalist uses plants and diet to promote the innate healing capacity of the body.
I’ve been studying the magic and mystery and science of plant medicine for many years, and using it for many years with my family, my friends, my clients and myself. I’ve seen amazing things happen! Get inspired by the plants. Take a walk in the park and appreciate their shape, their color, their vibrancy. Try to listen to them, to feel them.
Send me an email and we can set up a time to talk about you and your path to good health.
Robert Frederick Klein Jr.
- Cedar, Thuja occidentalis, one of the great healing trees. It grows all around New York City. See if you can find one.