"Mom, do you believe in essential oils?" my 15 year old son recently asked with a bit of a coy tone in his voice. I'll admit, I was stunned by his question considering that for most of his life I've dragged him with me while peddling herbs all over the state. He brought my attention to an important issue tho, as is often the case with kids and the things they seem to "randomly" blurt out. The issue I'm referring to is the disconnect in modern thought regarding using plants as medicine. Despite popular opinion, herbalism is not a faith based belief system. You don't "believe" in plant medicine like you believe in Santa Claus.
The herb meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, gave birth to Aspirin in 1897. Illicium verum, also known as star anise, is the main active ingredient in Tamiflu.
Anti-diabetic agent Pinitol can be isolated from numerous plants, including carob pods.
Morphine and Codiene obviously are derived from opium poppies, Papaver somniferum. Ephedrine comes from Ephedra sinica, a plant so potent that the FDA felt it necessary to regulate it. Verbascum thapsus (a.k.a. Mullein) extract was found to be a more effective treatment for round and tapeworms than the current leading pharmaceutical treatment, albendazole. Click here for that study. Hyoscyamine comes from Datura stramonium and other deadly nightshades (remember, the only thing that distinguishes a medicine from a poison is the dose). I could go on, but you get the point. Many, many drugs come from the natural world or are synthesized to behave like something in the natural world. It's not news that plants contain alkaloids and other phytochemicals that produce chemical changes in the human body so this popular assumption that medicine only comes in bottles needs serious revision. Some might say that raw herbs don't contain enough alkaloids to be medicinally useful and that pharmacological extraction methods are required, however recent research is proving otherwise. We have been creating and patenting drugs derived from natural plant sources for many decades now, essentially selling nature back to ourselves at controlled and often extreme doses. To be clear, it's not my intention to completely dismiss the role of pharmaceuticals in a healthy society. I needed an emergency surgery in 2008 and was I ever grateful to have Morphine rather than poppy tea. I think once we as a species bridge the gap between science and spirituality (and eliminate the need to be superior from both) that we will create more harmonious systems and societies. I'd like to get personal for a moment and share a bit of my story. At age 11 I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disorder called Graves disease. Graves is a hyperthyroid disorder that sends your body into a constant state of "fight or flight", resulting in an extraordinarily high metabolism. At the height of my illness my resting heart rate was 120bpm, I ate 7 full meals a day yet continued to lose weight, my left eye began to bulge and the calcium was leeched from my bones as my body desperately tried to convert its minerals into hormones. Back then the only recognized treatments were radiation therapy or surgical removal of the thyroid, and mainstream doctors said that there was no other way to prevent my body from destroying itself. To this day I thank my mother for not believing them. She took me to a naturopathic doctor at the Southwest Center for Naturopathic Medicine and within 3 months of plant medicine based treatments I had gained back the 30lbs I had lost, my eye returned to its normal size and I was able to return to school as a normal child.
I think its important to remember that what we now call "alternative medicine" is actually the original medicine used and developed throughout our entire history, excluding the last 100 years. Modern research practices are providing us with the necessary proof to validate ancient folk remedies which moves us forward to a holistic worldview and I hope to encourage this unification in all ways.
*For educational purposes only. Not intended to diagnose, treat, cure,or prevent any disease.