When I was a little girl, I lived on a street that had some empty lots with overgrown weeds. There was also a ditch near my house and at the end of the block were a huge field of wildflowers, tall grasses, and some hills of bare dirt where developers were beginning to plow up the ground for new houses. It was a magical place for an eight year old roaming with the neighborhood kids. The best times were when I was alone, sitting among the weeds and flowers, pulling them apart, tasting and smelling them, trying to discover their secrets. I loved it all—cattails with their furry brown tops, milkweed that had sticky latex inside but whose pods held cottony wisps of life, red clover with its juicy sweet flowers, the flowering stalks of plantain, and so many more. To me, it was a world where plants whispered to fairies of their magical powers.
As I grew up, I had less time for such things and while I was still captivated by trees and foliage, other things captured my heart as well, such as friends, dating, afterschool activities, homework, and college. The wild spaces were bought up and new homes built on them. As I watched this unfold, I was sad and angry in my very soul. Wild places fed my imagination and gave me passion for the environment. Little did I know that my love for plants would manifest itself in another way less than a decade later.
While I had suffered from intestinal issues, allergies, and a few other ailments from a young age, I thought that everyone had those problems. I thought that what I was experiencing was normal. Not until I became an adult did I realize that my symptoms were not normal and in fact, were getting worse. I didn’t know what to do about them. I had always done what my mom told me to do since she was a medical assistant at a pediatric doctor’s office. She would bring home samples of allergy medicines and antibiotics to give us when we needed them. I didn’t know about the long term effects of antibiotics at that time, but I did know that the allergy medicine dried out my nose so much that I got frequent nosebleeds. Every fall, I would get a sinus infection. Because of these two side effects, I had my doubts about allergy medication, but I didn’t know about anything else. I also watched my mom try one medication after another for her chronic disease and how these medicines affected her, which was unpleasant.
Then, I went to see a chiropractor for pain in my neck and shoulder. I knew that if I went to a conventional doctor, he would just give me pain medicine and send me home. I knew that a chiropractor would be more helpful in getting rid of the source of the pain. While she talked about nutritional supplements (which she sold in her practice), the magazines in her waiting room also talked about herbal medicine. I wanted to know, “What is herbal medicine?” Just the sound of it got me excited as it brought me back to my youth in those empty lots and fields. Could it be that all those imagined powers weren’t really imagined at all?
I got subscriptions to several natural health magazines. For a while, I just read all that I could and learned that herbal medicine is basically using plants for healing the body instead of drugs. From these magazines, I was able to make some herbal formulas and knew what plants to use instead of over the counter remedies for things like first aid, sunburn, colds, and stomach aches. I had frequent conversations with employees of local health food stores about products and brands. This was great, but something was nagging at me that this wasn’t all there was. I kept seeing advertisements for schools that taught people how to be an herbalist. This really intrigued me, so I checked out some websites and I enrolled in an herbalist program to become a master herbalist.
That was when I learned the true answer to my question, “What is herbal medicine?” Yes, it is using plants as medicine, but there is so much more to it than that. It is also a complete philosophy that is opposite of conventional medicine. At the heart of the herbal approach is the belief that the body can heal itself if given the right tools and enough time. It was easy for me to embrace this ideology because I believe that God gives us everything we need to be healthy and fulfill our purpose, and He makes it available to all. We only need to spend the time to learn how to use the gifts He has given us and be generous with each other instead of greedy.
To me, herbal medicine is more than just tinctures, salves, and pills. It is more than substituting a plant for a drug. It is God’s Medicine Chest filled with wonderful treasures that everyone, not just the wealthy, can have access to.