While current science continues to try to break down plant remedies into their active constituents—looking at plants as potential drugs—a more holistic perspective is to look at the plant remedies in a whole plant way—taking into consideration the plant’s habitat, growing habits, morphology, history and energetics. Plant remedies work not because of individual constituents, but because of the synergy and completeness of all of the different phyto-chemicals and qualities. Plants have an intelligence that matches our human needs precisely.
Herbs have been used in every culture throughout history for food, medicine, ceremony, pleasure and beauty. Each culture has developed herbal therapies that are specific to its region, and the unique needs of each region are always met by what naturally grows there.
An example of this is found in the Northeast woodland plant American Cranesbill. American Cranesbill – or Geranium maculatum – is a perennial herb that grows in moist woods throughout much of the Eastern United States. It flowers in the springtime between April and June, and the flower is a lovely soft pink color. Its leaves are characteristic with divisions and clefts in a shape that will not be mistaken for any other plant. It is called Cranesbill because its seed-pod is long, narrow and pointed, reminiscent of a crane’s bill.
American Cranesbill is a useful plant for treating diarrhea, cholera and dysentery. It grows in regions where the waters are often in shallow streams and ponds—places where there is likely to be amoebic activity—places where people could get sick from water-borne bacteria.
This is how the earth gives forth its medicines. What is necessary for healing will grow where it is needed.
Plants grow not only for us, but also in order to heal the planet. One plant that people love to hate is the dandelion, which proliferates in areas that are polluted with toxic petrochemicals and heavy metals. The purpose of the dandelion is to keep the soil loose and receptive to water and to also pull toxins out of the soil and restore it to health, the same way that dandelion root tea can help to detoxify our livers. Likewise burdock, another common weed, sends down a long taproot in areas where the nutrients have been stripped from the topsoil. It draws nutrients from deep under the surface soil and brings them up into the large green leaves. At the end of the growing season, these leaves die back and release their minerals into the topsoil.
No one plants the seeds for this to happen; it is an example of the self-healing intelligence of the earth—and we can learn a great deal about our own healing by watching what happens naturally in our local areas.
An understanding of herbal therapeutics is a human birthright. Over the last few generations, we have steadily lost our ability to use herbs for nourishment and healing and have forgotten how to use local flora to treat acute illness. It is common, when faced with serious conditions, to believe that herbs are quaint but impotent and that pharmaceutical drugs are the only effective treatment for illness. All of the work of healing has been relegated to the experts in both mainstream and alternative fields. But the real expert is Nature herself, and one only has to look and listen closely in order to begin to understand the immense beauty and intelligence of our environment and the plants that live here with us.