Aug 022011

The following is a lengthy excerpt from the current issue of Plant Healer Magazine with herbalist Todd Caldecott of Vancouver, a practitioner with over 15 years of clinical experience. Todd’s practice integrates Western Clinical Herbalism with Ayurveda and the synthesis results in an insightful look at Western herbalism from a unique perspective.

Plant Healer Magazine: In what ways is a nuanced understanding of the history of herbalism and medicine important to herbalists today?

Todd Caldecott:  While history can be a subject of academic interest it is also a powerful teacher.  History is the essence of the present moment, and projects itself into the future as cycles repeat.  While history doesn’t lend itself to totally accurate predictions, having a sense of history gives us the ability to see the challenges and opportunities within the present moment.  In medicine it gives us empiricism and the time required to see if what we think about healing and health is true, not because we have a lot of data, but because we have observed it over time.  When you think about it, Western medicine hasn’t been around all that long.  True, it is now very large but its growth has been linear, and the ability to share and integrate knowledge across disciplines has not been able to happen.  What systems of medicines like TCM, Ayurveda, Unani and any tradition that has been continuously practiced for several thousand years have to offer is that they are highly integrated across many different sub-disciplines.  The long history of these traditions and the accumulated experience is what nourishes and protects their practice.  History gives weight, it gives confidence.  It is in the examination of history that we come as close as we can to gain some hard-earned wisdom.  But even given its importance, it is as delicate as a flower, and in a single generation can be all but lost.  For the herbalist history is a call to keep the tradition alive.

Plant Healer Magazine: Our conference and journal focuses on the loosely defined Western Herbal traditions, comparatively under-developed and under-represented… and to support knowledge and practice reflective of, inspired and influenced by the land and spirit of place where it is practiced.  On the other had, we appreciate the influence of Arabic, Chinese and Ayurvedic systems on so many herbal traditions in the world.  What understandings are there in your specialty of Ayurveda, for example, that you believe crucial to a Western Herbal practice, and that you find absent there?

Todd Caldecott: As I have already alluded, Thomson’s patented system of cure resembles pancha karma in Ayurveda and the use of therapeutic vomiting (vamana), purgation (virechana) and enema (vasti), as well as the use of herbal restoratives (rasayanas) after treatment.  While herbs are also given to patients in India on an out-patient basis just like herbalists give medicines to patients in North America, hospital-only treatments like pancha karma are considered a mainstay in the treatment of disease.   I feel that this is a big chunk missing from the Western herbal tradition, and Ayurveda can help restore this if people want to learn.

What I think the Western herbal tradition needs to do acknowledge and rebuild its energetic structure, and develop principles that support and integrate various aspects of healing including food, medicine, lifestyle and the environment,.  Thomson is a good place to start, and from there, including all of the accumulated knowledge of the Physiomedicalists, I suggest borrowing elements from the basic structure of Ayurveda and make it our own.  This will allow a systematized approach to healing.  It takes nothing away – it is additive.  I think it is good to remember how cultures cross-pollinate, simply as a way to survive.

Plant Healer Magazine: There can be no separating the treatment of unhealthy lifestyle habits, one’s diet and emotional health, ailing body and unhelpful way of perceiving and relating to the rest of the living world we’re each a part of.  To what extent does this require that a healer of any kind address the larger context and elements of a client’s emotional, physical and community life?  What are the ethics and responsibilities involved?

Todd Caldecott:  Sometimes I think we expect too much of ourselves.  Really, we’re all just a big bunch of schmucks. With fragile fleshy bodies that exist nary except for a blip in this timeless universe.  And if we’re all just a bunch of schmucks, then its just one schmuck to another.   Schmuck buddies.  Maybe we need to let go of what we are “supposed” to do and listen with our hearts.   Then what needs to be done becomes obvious.

I think the world is changing.  I believe we are moving from a time when society was structured in a very hierarchical way to a time where life becomes more about integrated networks.  As information becomes free, people will become less proprietary with knowledge.  What we need to encourage is self-sustainability and not dependence.  This means that the practitioner – patient relationship needs to change. Specialists will always be there, but healing will come from seeing us and everyone as part of an integrated network.  As a daoist master told me once, the time of the lotus flower is past.  The shining and scintillating example of an individual: a prophet, teacher, doctor etc that serves as a beacon, as a singular fountain of knowledge – is over.  If we are going to survive as a species we need to sink deep down into the roots of the lotus.  Deep down into the murky waters to become all those twisting rhizomes, soon realizing in the process that we are all interconnected.  We’re all one.   From this perspective the ethics become clear.

Todd Caldecott:  An obvious choice is dandelion.  It loves us so much, how can I ignore it?  And since it’s so good so I am in favor of everybody in bare feet pulling dandelions from the garden to make as tea.  Imagine if everybody did this?  It would change the world…

Another plant I think is big news is Convovulus arvensis, or field bindweed.  This is the original Ashwagandha of Nepalese Ayurveda, and it’s a noxious weed in North America.    Ashwagandha is easily in the top five of herbs in Ayurveda.  It is a powerful plant to rejuvenate the mind and body.

And one more herb I have grown to love is Aralia nudicaulis.  As a clinician I think this is a very special plant and a lovely gentle medicine for supporting good health and vitality.   Likewise, I am impressed with her sister Oplopanax, which was a powerful restorative and shamanic medicine used by the local Salishan and Haida peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

Plant Healer Magazine: We are honored and pleased to be hosting you as a Featured Presenter, at out September, 2011 Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference.  Without paraphrasing the TWHC website description, describe what you believe attendees will get out of attending your two classes there, Thomsonism & Ayurveda, and Energetic Diagnosis In The Western Herbal Tradition.

Todd Caldecott: Over these two classes I will attempt to orientate the Thomsonian and Physiomedical tradition within the framework of Ayurveda, and provide specific clinical skills to enhance and deepen your practice.  My attempt will be to provide this structure in a way that can be easily understood and integrated within the Western herbal tradition.  From epistemology to diagnosis.

Plant Healer Magazine: Following the example of Europe, the field of herbalism is likely to face increasing regulation and controls.  What kinds of regulation might prove intolerable for you?  What is the responsibility of herbalists, when it comes to helping determine the direction of this field, creating useful forms and protocols, or resisting imposition and injustice?

Todd Caldecott:  The plants are our birth-right.  Like them we are free living creatures upon this earth who own nothing more than their skin and bones, and even then, are built from such a diverse ecology that even what we call ‘self’ can be seen scientifically to be nothing more than a projection.  Over the last several thousand years we have systematically traded away our connection to the earth for the speculative ideas of civilization.  I reject any notion that humans should not have access to what is by nature their own.  Who can be so sure, so convinced of their own logic to say what we are and what we are not?  What are humans?  What are plants?  For me, there is no separation.   This means continuing to support a grassroots counter-culture that resists the imposed ignorance of regulation and its fears, and labors endlessly to educate the people about the plants.  But we have to play along too with the game of regulation, and keep our “weapons” in good repair.  Politics is a chess match, but we have the earth on our side.

We just need to grow more herbalists.

Education is the key.


See more of Todd’s work at

Todd will also be teaching at this year’s Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

And more about Plant Healer at

  3 Responses to “Plant Healer Interview with Todd Caldecott”

  1. Hi Kiva: I have Field Bindweed in my environment, but I wasn’t aware of it’s medicinal uses until now. I’m confused about the Ashwagandha reference. I’m not sure it sounds safe for a non-professional herbalist to experiment with… Could you comment, please?

  2. Holy shit!!

    I like having him on our side.

  3. I loved meeting Todd in person at the Montana Herb Gathering, and I hope to see him again – perhaps at your herbal conference? 😉

    Phoebe – check out and use the root! I am rather excited about this myself!

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