Sometimes I can’t help but chuckle..
It is my first day of herbal medicine school, and I am standing in a circle of twenty plus women, listening to how they felt when we meditated with a plant for ten minutes. I am not chuckling because of what they are saying, but because of the swinging pendulum of my life and wondering what my last set of classmates would think if they were in this circle right now.
Flashback five years ago, and I am the 200 pounder looking to crush crime in the back row. My days are filled with physical training, shooting, scenarios, pursuit driving, and legal classes. I can’t get enough, so I hit the gym after classes and roll at the BJJ school several times a week. With only four women in my class, the air is dank with testosterone. I thrive..
Flash forward to April of 2015, and I am enrolled in an eight month herbalist program at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in Asheville.
Once again, I am in the back row, but the air is a little sweeter with only four males in the class. Any attempt at hiding the fact I am a professional hunter/trapper and former law enforcement would be futile, as the intuition of women have me pegged before the day’s end.
Thirsting for growth on my own botanical journey, I picked this school because of the heavy field element and botanical street creds of the instructor, but I quickly realize within minutes, that I have stepped out of my element.
Eight months later, I couldn’t be happier. On day one, I intended to blog about my experience each month, but something happened that first day while staring at a dandelion leaf. I gave myself permission to relax and just enjoy the class. To reconnect with the child like wonder of days past. To experience the course as a whole, without picking it apart, and just see where it took me.
I ended up in a place that my journeys often end. A place where I realize that I have been robbed of essential life knowledge by conditioning, society, and our modern-day culture. Once again, I vow to change that as I raise my son, but also to do my part in changing the world.
So, without further adieu, I venture forth to debunk the “Top Five Myth’s About Herbalist School”..
Myth # 1: You must have a vagina to be an herbalist..
When you think of herbal medicine, do you picture granny herbalists? Barefoot hippy chicks with flowers in their hair?
Well there are plenty of them, but there are also scores of great herbalists that are men. My teacher, Juliet Blankenspoor, lists three teachers in her herbal lineage and all of them are men; 7song, James Snow, and Micheal Moore.
Go back past them and there are the heavy hitters of herbal history such as Tommie Bass, Jethro Kloss, and Samuel Thomson.
In today’s society, or at least the one I came up through, it is not manly to be into plants or flowers. I call bullshit, as one only needs to go back several generations to find the majority of men working the land, foraging, and understanding medicinal herbs. Go back even further and you will see even more dependence on wild plants for food and medicine.
Still not convinced you can retain “man-points” and study herbalism?
How about the Shaolin monks who study herbs so they can heal themselves faster, just so they can beat the shit out of each other again and again?
If your Mandarin is a little rusty, you can take your point up with former Special Forces medic, fighter, primitive skills instructor, and herbalist Sam Coffman. He is also a linguist, so he can probably help out with the Shaolin Monks as well. http://thehumanpath.org/home/instructors/
The basic point is that there is nothing “girly” about learning about herbal medicine. Kyle, a carpenter by trade, and I laughed about the probable reaction of the guys on his job site if he rolled in on Monday morning and told them about finding a good patch of goldenrod or echinacea.
That needs to change, as I know tons of dudes that can hunt, run AR’s, or kick ass in the cage, but only a few that can do all that and heal themselves or their families with plants from their area. The latter get mad “man-points” in my book.
No matter what “equipment” you are packing, your political party, your race, your nationality, or religion, herbs don’t care. In a world of differences, reliance on plants for food and medicine, are one of the few things that we all share.
Be “manly”, study plants. Raise your sons and daughters to do the same. They will thank you and the world will be a better place.
Myth # 2: Herbal medicine is ineffective and for quacks…
If that were true, I am pretty sure the human race would be extinct. If I had a crystal ball, we could look into all our pasts and see a sick relative being cured with herbal remedies by the fire in some dingy, bark hut. Keep watching and that ancestor went on to sire the generations that brought us here today.
But I have no crystal ball, so we have to look at the source of modern-day pharmaceuticals. In the US, out of the top 150 prescription drugs, 87 are derived from plant sources and 31 come from other natural sources. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/publications/papers/Medicinal_Plants_042008_lores.pdf
According to some sources, eighty percent of the world’s population uses herbs as their primary medicine. http://www.medicinehunter.com/about-plant-medicines
Not only are there thousands of years of historical use, but there is also science behind the efficacy of herbs. One of our required texts, read more like a biochemistry text than anything.
In fact, if one rolls over to PubMed, you can find studies from all over the world focusing on plants for medicine. Here is a quick search for the Passionflower shown above, showcasing 504 results http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=passionflower
Plants aren’t backed by multi-national pharmaceutical conglomerates, but they don’t have to be, as their medicine is all around us and we each have the ability to access it. Herbs truly are the “people’s” medicine.
I guess now is a good time to point out that if your appendix is bursting or you have some other emergency medical condition,don’t go foraging, get to the damn hospital!! The level of herbal treatment that we can all access with ease would be for our common complaints, such as colds, flu, boosting your immune system, low-grade infections, and managing chronic diseases.
Last year I went to the doc for a swollen inguinal lymph node. I left with no physical examination, but with a prescription after he punched my symptoms into an app on his tablet. While frustrating, it was a catalyst to help me take a closer look at how I manage my health.
Since then, within my tribe, I have:
- treated myself with elderberry syrup for a flu that Granny gave me. I whipped it in the same amount of time as her Tamiflu scrip
- treated my buddy with mountain mint tea for severe gas pain
- knocked a cold out of the same guy with goldenrod and honeysuckle tincture
- used goldenrod tea for my son’s snotty cold
- used slippery elm bark for diarrhea
- used plantain salve on all my cuts and bruises
- combined herbs and prescription drugs when my wife’s milk supply took a hit due to my boy’s tongue tie
- used herbal aids for teething and rough nights with our boy
- used nettle and raspberry leaf teas during my wife’s pregnancy
My health plan is to eat well, exercise, and treat what I can myself. Herbal medicine does not have all the answers, but it’s got a lot, and finding that balance is the path I am on now.
Myth # 3: Herbal medicine and contemporary medicine don’t mix..
While there are certain herbs that interfere with prescription drugs, many herbs can complement Western medicine practices. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/integrative-health
There is also a whole profession that studies and employs herbs and other modalities called naturopathic medicine. Blending several worlds together, naturopaths have a firm foundation in herbal medicine and pharmaceuticals. http://www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=59
Our class had a diverse background, but in attendance was a pharmacist and a naturopath. Their newfound friendship is rife with the symbolism of two worlds combining for the same goal, even if it was initiated by margaritas and dancing.
Myth # 4: Making medicine is complicated..
Can you change your own oil?
How about field strip an AR?
Those tasks are way harder than making simple medicine.
Infusions and decoctions only require boiling water, something even I can accomplish in the kitchen.. http://chestnutherbs.com/herbal-infusions-and-decoctions-preparing-medicinal-teas/
If you can pour alcohol in a glass, you can make a tincture. http://mountainroseblog.com/guide-tinctures-extracts/
Salves are just infused oils mixed with beeswax. http://mountainroseblog.com/diy-herbal-salves/
If you can identify the plant and follow directions, you can make medicine.
If you can’t, you can always just buy it here: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/
Myth # 5: Herbalists have hairy armpits..
Well, based upon my official, eight month study*, I have to say this is only half-true..
*(No pit kittens were harmed during this study)
I started my course with a good base of plant knowledge, but I left with the ability to apply that to my family’s health.
Exposure to a multitude of guest instructors, different ecosystems, and Juliet’s knowledge, experience, and quirky wit, also allowed each of us to leave the class as better inhabitants and stewards of this world.
If you are ready to sign up, I have bad news. My class was the last field program, as Juliet has embraced her introvert side and has shifted towards the virtual realm. The good news is, that they will undoubtedly be outstanding classes, taught by a badass herbal warrior!!
Upcoming online medicine making class: http://chestnutherbs.com/online-herbal-classes/herbal-medicine-making-course/
Immersion program in development: http://chestnutherbs.com/online-herbal-classes/herbal-immersion-program/
Thanks to Juliet, all the guest instructors, and my classmates for a great learning experience and good times.
Lots of love and special thanks goes to my awesome, supportive wife for all the weekends camping, taking care of our boy, and bumming around Asheville, while I got to go play in the woods.