I'm not a practical herbalist. Or am I? What's impractical about using our own body's responses to a plant as vital information. It's no more or less practical than a fox using it's eyes or nose to hunt a rabbit, really.
I am thinking today that most of what I feel, write, and do as an herbalist may not translate well to others. So I come here today to out myself on they way I do things. I may not be lavish with my words because the two sides of my brain may get into a cat fight somewhere along the way. Bear with me.
Most of what I do involves a lot of questioning and listening.
When I get 'sick':
First I locate it in my body. Is it in my head, knee, nose, etc. This question can be seen as locating the bodily system/organ it pertains to. I make sure to identify what type of human form it is effecting; mucous membranes, bones, skin, waters, liver, muscle, kidney, etc. This could further be deduced into an element (earth air fire water) or dosha (vata pitta kapha) depending on what system you are most inclined to use.
I ask: what sensation is it? This question could be viewed as getting to the energetics of the problem. Is it hot, cold, stuck, growing, shrinking, vibrating, piercing, dull... etc. The sensation will infer clues about what action the ailment is taking.
This might be telling information if there are analogues to the person's emotional or personal experience. For example, a UTI might imply that the person is very pissed off. I liken Lyme to a giving up of one's power. Something chronic like back pain might imply one's inability to feel supported.
I ask: What am I craving? Sweet? Salty? Liquids? Rest? These are so important. Sweet may be interpreted as a need for sustenance, whole grains and B vitamins, a more stable lifestyle, or more rootedness. Salty may mean you need minerals like kelp and nettles provide. Creativity may need feeding and fertility (of body or mind) may also need attention. Sharp liquids and vinegars may indicate a need for liver, gall bladder and digestive attention among the many other benefits of sour and bitter tastes. Lethargy or frustration and anger may be at play here.
Aromatic, spicy and highly flavourful lends to remedying emotions and self esteem as well as skin and digestion.
I am getting carried away with the ins and outs. Really there are many books begging to be written and read on the topic. What I really want to demonstrate is how I go about attaining information and just a hint of how I deduce things.
My intuition kicks into high gear. Having a pretty strong bond with a handbag full of multi-useful herbs helps, since I can quickly locate the vibration of the plant and match it with the person - often myself or my family but sometimes a friend who is inquiring. The next question I ask is: what plant will strengthen this person? What plant nourishes the afflicted systems? What plants will provide utmost nourishment to this person?
Sometimes I will get clear answers. Sometimes, not. When the not occurs, I go through my garden, or somewhere outside, and ask. Usually I will come across something that just calls me. I may or may not know that plant.
If I know the plant - I can decide how to use it. I may have something at home dry or prepared that I can use. If not, I see if I can harvest it from that spot and of course do so with reverence and a gift.
If I do not know that plant - I sit with it. This is one of the hardest for people because they simply cannot turn off time or their busy brains long enough to do so.
Once past those two blocks, just sit. Introduce yourself. Introduce your purpose or question if you like. Offer a compliment. Breathe. Breathing is one of the most intimate acts you can do with a plant. It is a tangible, real exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide and carries real benefits. The plants may elicit images. Don't take them for granted. The plant may show you rubbing your skin, or smashing it up and putting it on your feet covered with socks, or sleeping with the root in your pocket, or chewing one single leaf. It may tell you to stop saying yes or to spend more time reading. The plant may ask you to call your father or to let yourself cry. Plants don't edit themselves for our benefit. They speak truth.
Plants do not have the same limits or self-conscious habits that people do. Just listen. Then, barring you have come across a deadly plant, do it. Receive healing - you're asking for it!
If you want to take the more cautious route - write everything down in a journal so you can come back to it when you're ready to take action. Then go reference the plant in at least four places.
When you gather information from references:
Gather the scientific name, traditional uses and doses, parts of plant used, and for how long it is consumed or used topically. What are the energetics of the plant? Is it stimulating, sedating, nourishing, or drying? How is the plant prepared? This is so important. You cannot expect a tincture to do what an infusion does. You cannot expect a salve to supply what a kelp and burdock stew will. You also need to know what time of the year to harvest and how to do it ethically. You may enjoy finding out correspondences such as planetary powers, or which Goddess the plant is affiliated with.
If you are sitting with what you know to be a prolific plant and relatively safe, you have a lot of room to play and experiment. Take good notes.
Some plants I consider to be such good friends I can call on them to help me with nearly anything and they will. I have spent a lot of time with these plants, years, getting to know them, harvesting them, growing them, finding them in the wild and offering soil enriching gifts, and singing and praying to these magnificent spirits. I talk and listen, ask questions and give praise. I take the time to cultivate a safe and vibrant relationship.
If I am in a place where I cannot hear myself or am too sick or impatient to do any of the above?
MAKE SOUP. TAKE A BATH.
Then do it.
Sometimes an herb will come to me in dreamtime. It may be a faraway plant only available in spirit form. That is good. Let it come to you and help while you sleep. I often have dreams where Jasmine flowers line the background or Usnea drips from the forest as I walk.
Thank it for showing up for you.
Don't take herbs in capsules. I only invite capsule takers to use Milk Thistle in that way and that's it. I would still encourage that Milk Thistle be ground and eaten on food. Capsules are a big waste of time, energy, and a risk on your health.
Muscle test. This technique (I learned from my amazing Mom) is invaluable. Try it. Think I am a quack if you like, but I for one enjoy being in touch with and response-able for my own health and healing. I am not going to try and explain it here as there are more comprehensive explanations out there to be had. I will list a few links as a spring board.
1. Where is it in my body?
2. What sensations does it create?
3. What emotions or personal issues mirror this ailment?
4. What am I craving?
5. Journey to and with a plant including breathing. Take good notes.
6. Research and reference.
7. Make soup, take a bath, sleep on it.
8. Muscle test and make potions.
- I invite questions to further discuss these ideas. This is roughly how I go about coming to conclusions in regards to treating and caring for myself and I realize it is not entirely cohesive - but indeed that is my internal process. It moves around erratically until answers that feel right jump out at me. How do you do it? How are our journeys different or alike? What vital pieces am I missing? ..........................