Reading the Terrain: Understanding Tissue States

Reading the Terrain: Understanding Tissue States

At the core of how I practice herbalism are two elements. The first is my personal relationship with the herbs, and my intense adoration of both plants and fungi (and lichen, I might add). The second is the sensory and common sense approach I take to working with both herbs and humans. I teach herbal energetics as being primarily organoleptic, perceivable to a great degree through our senses. While I am certainly (and constantly) informed by passed-on knowledge (tradition, texts and teachers), scientific research and biomedical understandings it is the experiential that underlies it all. Because after all, how will I integrate and utilize something unless it functions well in the context of my work? So I start here, with characteristics that I can observe with my...

Terms of the Trade: Herbal Energetics

Terms of the Trade: Herbal Energetics

Defining Herbal Energetics Herbal energetics are generally defined as a framework of understandings of how to best match herbs to the individual and/or situation. Spectrums (such as cool/warm) and properties (such as astringent) are associated with herbs based on our observation of their effect on the body. For example, when we choose the moistening, mucilaginous root of Althaea to treat a dry, hacking cough where there is a burning pain in the chest, we’re using basic herbal energetics. This approach allows us to narrow down the potentially overwhelming number of herbs listed for coughs, to the most appropriate in any given situation for a specific person. So, rather than playing a hit or miss “this herb for that problem” game, we are able to act with more...

Terms of the Trade: Excess and Deficiency

Terms of the Trade: Excess and Deficiency

Herbal energetics and human constitutions are predicated upon specific underlying concepts, including the spectrums of hot/cold, dry/moist, relaxation/stimulation and deficiency/excess. Herbal and dietary therapeutics will vary a great deal depending where the individual currently resides within these spectrums. Deficiency and excess are a primary energetic spectrum and are defined in relation to the flow and concentration of the anima, or vital force, in the body. All symptoms are variable depending upon the individual, and it’s usually most helpful to look for patterns rather that isolated symptoms which can sometime appear contradictory and thus confusing. A long period of excess type illnesses can result in eventual deficiency due to the restriction and...

Terms of the Trade: Stimulating & Relaxing

Terms of the Trade: Stimulating & Relaxing

Preamble: The Sensory Continuum in Herbal Energetics Before you can even begin to understand energetic terms like stimulating and relaxing, cooling and heating, moistening and drying, you need to realize that we are not speaking in terms of dichotomous polarities. Rather that viewing different herbs and herbal actions as opposites, realize they are actually dynamic continuums. A continuum is “a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.” according to the dictionary. Still, this kind of continuum implies a straight line, and reality is more like a color wheel or musical scale, more like a spiral with many layers. So understand, you’re not looking at neat...

Terms of the Trade: An Introduction to Herbal Actions

Terms of the Trade: An Introduction to Herbal Actions

Herbal actions — it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting or sexy as botanical monographs or the latest cure-all, does it? I’m aware that a fair number of beginning and intermediate herbalists tend to gloss over this particular subject, probably in part because of the typically vague and boring explanations given in many books and classes. What you may not realize though, is that this particular subject is both the foundation of the key to being an effective and insightful herbalist. As jim mcdonald puts it in his own introduction to herbal actions and properties: “I don’t think I could possibly overstate how important it is to understand the properties by which herbs work. This knowledge is what separates a mediocre herbalist (someone who...

Terms of the Trade: Nervine

Terms of the Trade: Nervine

Definition In the most general sense, a nervine can be considered any herb which has a pronounced (and generally positive) effect upon the nervous system. They are often currently thought of simply as calmatives or even sedatives, but this is inaccurate and belies the complexity and diversity of the uses nervines are capable of. The truth is that Skullcap, Damiana, Wild Lettuce and Coffee are all nervines, although they may effect the nervous system in vastly different ways. As such, there are a great many secondary actions under the primary heading of nervine, including everything from hypnotic to stimulant to the potentially narcotic. We will only be discussing the more important of these sub-headings in this post in order to focus on the most essential and...