The Sustainable Herbalist; The Sustainable Life

By Candis Cantin Packard

Currently, we are seeing herbal medicine reaching out to many people in our society. There are increased numbers of herbal students, practitioners, and schools engaged in learning and promoting the use of herbal medicine. All this appears to reflect a booming state of herbal medicine, but if we really respect our tradition as a living organism it becomes evident that the original vitality of the system is expiring. The deeper layers if its pulse is becoming weak.

The folkloric texture of herbal medicine is being expunged from the memory and in its stead is an allopathic model and its various offshoots. If we do not pay heed to the signs which are showing we may become thoroughly entrapped in the spiritless mechanistic view of herbs and will be forced to concede to the standardized, packaged approach to learning, applying and relating to herbal healing. If this type of entrapment continues then we will find ourselves under the control of state agencies, insurance companies and corporate made standardized products.

Due to the market driven priorities we are seeing more advertisements expounding the virtues of an herb, pigeon holing it into a fixed category and removing it from its deeper roots and meaning. The information promoted by the corporate interests on herbs is being given to us in fragmented form – chemically as well as therapeutically. This is being done to promote the idea of herbs being a profitable commodity. Remember, little money can be made when we address diet and lifestyle as probable causes for an ailment.

It is our contention that for herbalism to survive such an onslaught of abuse by corporate interests, we have to acknowledge and live a reality that integrates Heaven and Earth, a vertical reality that has its roots in the earth and inspiration in heaven. The herbs, food, our shelter, our relations and those things visible and invisible which help sustain life as part of a continuing circle must be seen as an integrated whole – each aspect engendering and supporting one another in an ongoing dance.

Seeing the whole of life as in integrated web is a neglected aspect in our current modern paradigm. We have noticed also that many herbal colleagues are becoming apologists and feeling that they must eliminate from certifying exams any reference to plants spirits, ceremony and meditations with plants because it will not be seen as valid by the current medical/ legislative model.

Another example is our tendency to categorize and break down our knowledge of herbs into minute chemical constituents, which is in fact a particularly Western mind thing to do. Yet this type of thinking is what the Buddhist term avidya; ignorance or “basic unconsciousness” as a result of which it appears that the universe is a collection of separate things and events, divided into measurements, classes and parts. A Buddha or “awakened one” is precisely the person who has overcome this unconsciousness and is no more mesmerized by the vision of separateness. In other words, one may see parts of nature and one may even learn the chemical constituents of plants but one is not to ignore its relation to the Whole.

If we look to ancient Greek medicine we can see how healing was approached by some of the great philosophers and healers of that time. In one of Plato’s dialogues a young man named Charmides complains about a headache. He would like a certain drug; but Socrates explains to him at length that this simple treatment is not adequate. “ To treat the head by itself, apart from the body as a whole,” he says, “ is utter folly.” A Thracian physician had once described the ideal approach to him.

You ought not to attempt to cure eyes
Without head,
Or head without body,
So you should not treat body
Without soul.

It is our contention that we need to acknowledge and live by a view based on the deeper principles that sustains the connection of heaven and earth (connecting above and below), spirit and matter, and inside and outside. These ideals can be the basis for sustainable herbalism. It teaches us respect and gratitude for all things animate and inanimate, it helps us to understand that “less is more,” and that the experiences we have in our lives and the place we occupy on this earth contains the whole workings of the universe.

This view is not some new age thinking but is rooted in our lineage as human beings. It can be seen in the cave paintings and carvings from ancient times, we can read it in the various philosophies expounded by philosophers from around the world, such as Heraclitus of Ephesus around 500BC and Lao Tzi of China for example.

The division/ separatist view that exists today does not have deep roots and in fact seems to be a rather recent occurrence. Some historians/ mythologists have noted that around 2500 BC there was a turning point in our history. The myths begin to change and our ideas about life took on a different hue. (Others historians contend that it occurred at advent of agricultural practices about 10,000 years ago – there are various interpretations of events, but why such a radical change occurred is still a big question that thus far has gone unanswered.)

Listed below are some precepts for sustainable herbalism.

  1. Humans are an intrinsic part of the whole of existence. We are both dependent upon and responsible for the effects on the vitality and integrity of Life. It must be remembered that we are part of the whole web of life and not separate from nor superior to it. Rejuvenation and revitalization will only happen when we have rediscovered our roots in the earth and our inspiration from heaven.
  2. Whatever steps or actions each human being takes to heal her/ himself and improve vitality, she/he must acknowledge the effects that those practices have on the whole web of life, which in our estimation is our connection to Heaven and Earth. Here is a simple example; if we need use an herb then we should try to obtain it from a grower who employs ethical agriculture practices.
  3.  The use of herbs as a healing practice must be both sustainable and sensitive to the whole web of life. Indiscriminate use of herbs and disrespect for the plants must be avoided. This would include using herbs that are being hyped up by the media without any rooted understanding or relationship to the plants and their essence. Also, using herbs for profits only will diminish the vital energy of the plant world but all of Nature.
  4.  Using herbology in the context of various Traditional and proven healing systems from around the world helps the human being to reconnect to the web of life and the healing lineage and wisdom that humanity has understood for thousands of years. Using herbs without this type of context will create a rootless system of herbal medicine that will fluctuate excessively with the vicissitudes of life.
  5. We support the use of healing techniques and practices that are non – invasive and minimizes ecological impact as much as possible. This would include the appropriate and conscientious growing, harvesting, wild crafting, preparation and utilization of herbs.
  6. Proper nutrition utilizing organic sustainably grown food is the basis for ones health. Herbs, as it is stated in many ancient practices, helps to digest the food and aids subtle nourishment and support to the vital life force. They are not to be used as replacement for mindful living. Education as to how to prepare nourishing food, cooking with herbs and eating with gratitude is the basic place to begin a person’s education. Herbal therapies without the basic understanding of eating will just tax the herbal community. Remember, eating fast food and taking St. John’s wort for the ensuing depression due to nutritional and spiritual deficiencies does not work.
  7. We encourage the use of local organically grown plants over those that are imported; especially those imported from countries with questionable growing practices and labor practices. We also feel that people should be utilizing and harvesting herbs primarily for their immediate community, family and friends or purchase herbs from small ethical companies rather than from large multinational corporations whose main goal is profit for the stockholders. Over harvesting herbs for profit is quickly beginning to destroy our wild herb populations.
  8. We encourage all people who are interested in the utilization of herbs to learn to recognize, draw pictures of, smell, taste, meditate on, and see the plants through the seasons. It is also important to see how and where the plants grow in relationship to the whole environment which includes observation of the terrain the plants are growing on, the animals, insects and other plants the herbs are in relationship with, as well as how the herbs relate to the sunlight, moon light, and so forth. This type of exercise and study helps one to become a more integrated human being.
  9. We feel that herbs are being misrepresented by the big corporate interests

by using excess media hype, false information, and deceptive advertising techniques. This type of business creates a mass demand for specific herbs without any guiding wisdom. The St. John’s wort fiasco is an example of this. This lack of true understanding and education of herbal uses and the continuous need for profits has created a situation of excess harvesting, disrespect for the plants, and mass production of products. It is our contention that herbal medicine making and harvesting must be carried out with the prayers, intent, and love. This type of conscious intent has been a part of healing for thousands of years. To create herbal medicines without this intent will create a continuing downward spiral for humanity and eventually a further degradation of life.

(See Ebers papyrus and others from thousands of years ago)

Basically, the paradigm in which the corporate interests are promoting herbal medicine is light years away from that which has existed for thousands of years. Here is a chart comparison showing the paradigm differences, which we are confronted with. Although this chart is simplified for greater clarity, I feel that it will clearly show the current situation.

Modern Materialist Paradigm Sustainable Paradigm

1. Humans viewed as superior life form.

2. Earth viewed as resources

to be exploited.

3. High impact technology created to change environment, may be seen as extracting active ingredients through high tech means, irradiating products and possibly using genetically modified herbs.

4. Living beyond nature’s limits encouraged. Excess harvesting, utilizing of herbal products based on advertising gimmicks.

5. Competition is promoted; economic growth, expansion of production and market territories seen as progress.

6. Highly standardized institutionalized training. Teachers assigned to standardized curriculum items and thus, are exchangeable.

7. Centralized governing body as seen as positive move. Laws codified with regards to healing and herbs. Regulation

seen as necessary.

8. Separation of spirituality from the rest of life. Herbs and healing put in the secular mode

1. Humans are equal part of the web. Reciprocal relationship with non-human forms.

2. Earth viewed a living entity.

3. Low impact technology: utilizing “whole plant” concepts and keeping integrity of the spirit of the plant.

4. Living within natural ecosystem encouraged; harmonizing with nature; only mild alterations of nature when possible.

5. Making products for self, family, friends, and clients. Big scale sales and mass marketing and economic growth not the goal.

6. Transmission of information from teachers with experience, wisdom and insight. Individualized training.

7. Acknowledgement of ones

position felt from within the Heart, and from others recognizing an Authentic Human Being and healer. Acknowledgment by mentor.

8. Spirituality is integrated into all aspects of life – Whole/world view – one web.

As can be seen from this brief comparison, there is a vast chasm between what is occurring and what the more optimal state can and should be. We feel that the power, money and monopoly that exist at this time over the food production worldwide and, to an increasing extent, over the herbal production, cannot be stopped. The best we can do at this time is to create a network of local herbalists and sustainable growers and support one another to keep the flame of perception of the integrative life alive.

People in the modern times are forgetting what it means to be true human beings. One aspect of a true human being is to have an integrated knowledge about foods, plants and the natural world and ones intimate relation and dependence upon it.

To ascertain the validity of this statement simply ask an average teen what they can cook – without a microwave – or what can be done about a cold, flu or minor injury without the use of pharmaceuticals. Ask them what phase the moon is in, or what seasonal changes occur with plants. For the most part, these ideas are foreign and are of no particular interest or use to the modern person. They have nothing to do with their life.

We feel we must work at preserving our knowledge of herbs and how to live an integrated life. Possibly archives of information can be gathered and spread around to various locations. Maybe we need to support and encourage oral traditions of healing. We need more than just facts about healing. We need to preserve and honor a view of the Integrated Life. This we feel may be accomplished through networking with others who are trying to live and work in this way. We are not saying to become a big nationally recognized group but instead become guardians of the knowledge so that it is not completely forgotten in the times to come.

Here are some other ideas with regards to the simple things we can do. We feel that herbalists and herbal students need to begin to garden – even if it is on a small scale. This can be accomplished in many ways that can include container planting, converting lawns to herb and vegetable gardens, herbal community gardens, as well as supporting local organic farms and possibly working with them to incorporate the growing of herbs for local people.

Networking with herbalists who have sustainably grown and harvested herbs can be powerful sources of herbal medicine rather than obtaining herbs from some of the many corporate enterprises. Believe me, chamomile flowers obtained from someone who loves their chamomile flowers will be more powerful than an herb sold in the drug store and harvested for profit only! Education outreach programs can also be helpful. Teaching classes in ones home or at local health food stores and co-ops can be very effective. Writing articles for the newsletter of these businesses can also be a positive step.

SPIRIT TALK – SPIRIT WALK

Most herbalists with whom we talk to refer to their herbal journey as a spiritual journey; one of service work to humanity, Nature and the invisible realm. Each describes this in their own way but it basically is a statement that acknowledges a greater Wisdom that they are trying to align with and serve. We feel that this aspect of herbology needs to come out of the closet and be an open and integral part of the reality being presented to the public. Any organizing body of herbalists should not depreciate any aspect of this and state that the “government” or other “certifying committee” or whatever would laugh at us or not take our spiritual vision seriously. To hide such a view is to continue to support the paradigm that is limited, destructive and all consuming. If we feel that meditations with plants is an integral part of being an herbalist then we need to state it openly with no apologies or shame.

Also, some herbalists hold the idea that there can be a “clinical herbalist” who is practicing herbology but doesn’t know nor recognize plants and many times cannot make the simplest medicine. We have seen many sincere students of acupuncture or naturopathy come out of schools and be extremely stressed due to the academic and financial pressures. They were taught all the academically appropriate things but they were not shown what it is to be a True Human being nor were they given the initiatory steps to what a true healer is. This scenario unfortunately echoes the Western medical model and lifestyle and yet is straddling the fence as well; using the herbs but not walking the talk mostly due to the academic paradigm that they are subjected to. Many feel that this is the only model that we can use in order to “make it” in the world. However, the sustainable paradigm as stated earlier is valid and can be the foundation for the academic studies. In the following section I have outlined some ideas gleaned from different times and traditions that may help us to understand the role of the herbalist/healer.

ANCIENT EGYPT

We have to be careful about creating too many rules and regulations by which to practice our healing arts. Some times there are so many rules that the practitioner no longer is looking at the life situation unfolding. This can be liked to the Zen story of how the teacher was pointing to the moon and all the students were studying his hand. The rules and protocol can at some point get in the way of the direct experience. Not that we should neglect our studies or ignore various traditions, but at some point in our practice we have to do our own dance in relationship to what is directly happening in front of us. This is like a dancer who has to learn all the movements, body positions, and routines. At some point they can drop all of the thinking about the dance and just dance. The art has been integrated and is now a part of their whole being. They are able to be in direct relationship with the moment.

I want to relay a story from Ancient Egypt. By about 500 BC Egyptian medicine and culture was already ancient and their medicine overlaid and steeped in dogma. In fact, some of the early Greek writers maintain that an Egyptian physician could be put to death for instituting therapy outside that which was considered “correct” or “by the book” because the legislator was convinced that the old therapy which had been observed for so long and was collected by the best experts, should not be replaced by a new individual wisdom. Only after four days of no response to the “correct” treatment could other means or methods be applied. To say that this stifled innovation, experimentation and creativity is an understatement. There is a lesson to be learned here which many of our colleagues and other members of society would do well to head.

Some herbalists contend that this scenario will not happen to us because we are too aware to let this happen. However, there seems to be indelible rules that groups follow, the utopian vision, followed by the Manichean idea (good and evil / bad guys verses good guys), then authoritarianism.

THE TRUE HEALER

In an article from a Chinese medicine journal, the philosophic focus of the early Taoist system of Chinese medicine (pre- Mao Chinese medicine) was delineated. Some of the views expressed echoed my own feelings about healing and healers so well that I thought that I would paraphrase and expand on a couple of them.

First, a true healer, as stated in Taoist medicine is an “intermediary to the sacred, cultivating the dual roles of shaman, master of intuited knowledge, and sage, master of scholarly knowledge, connecting above and below, inside and outside, energy and matter. ” This statement is profound and needs to be meditated upon by those who are nurturers, caregivers, and healers of all kinds.

When we study a subject such as herbs, for example, we can learn about the plants chemicals, its leaf formation and other various parts and constituents but by engaging the intuition we bring varied parts into unity and see everything as connected. It goes to a more fundamental place than what the scholarly knowledge alone can do.

In other words, we need to do the scholarly studies of a subject but we have to bring it back into the circle of wholeness. Living and thinking in a fragmented way never allows for the intuition to develop. We have to begin to see again that wholeness and unity is what underlies all the phenomena of life.

Here’s an example of combining intuition and scholarly knowledge. When I approach an herb I observe what family it is in, where it grows, when it blossoms, when it seeds, how the seeds are spread, its colors, its tastes, and what parts are used. I may look at some current herbal texts to see how others have experienced the plant and I may even look at some ancient texts to see how it was historically used. Then with all this fragmented information, I begin to make a collage in my mind and the whole of the plant essence is put into a larger and interconnected picture. The plant essence/spirit begins to reveal itself to me and I can receive information as to how it may help in the healing process. I never think, ” What herb do I give for such and such disease.” This is fragmented thinking and not wholism. Even the clients I see, I put into the context of their whole life; their location, job, age, home, food, season, their history, family past, and so forth. The condition that they are complaining about is not separate from the whole.

The current medical paradigm that dominates our culture promotes more and more disconnection and fragmentation. It sees body organs as existing separately and not interconnected. It sees a person in mechanistic ways; it removes the offending parts without looking at the deeper causes and karmas involved and the concept of supporting and sustaining the Vital Life Force is for the most part completely non- existent.

The next statement that I thought was wonderful is the healer ” aspires to the Tao of medicine, a process which requires the actualization of his/her individual path by working to become a self-realized being.”

This is so beautiful. The healer is working on their own self-realization by aligning himself or herself with the Tao or the Deeper intelligence of life. Can you imagine going to a physician who practiced just these two philosophic statements? The sessions would take at least two hours as the physician really gets to know you and maybe even your family. He/she would discuss with you your lifestyle, aspirations, losses, fears and loves. He/she would help you to see the interconnectedness of life and how it moves in a beautiful and full circle. He/she would teach you to live in harmony with your own constitutional needs, with the seasons of the year and the seasons of your life. And he/she would teach you how life and death come from the same source. The physician would be practicing Body/mind/ spirit medicine.

Recently, a survey was taken and the physicians interviewed stated that it became “financially non- viable if they spent more that 8 minutes with a patient.” I’ll let the reader sit with this; I need to make no comment on it.

More and more the modern medicine is loosing its heart and connection to the Divine. Micro-medicine (looking at the blood, tissue etc with high powered instruments to find the “culprit” in an illness) is taking the place of the older, gentler, wholistic ways.

The healer who is humbly seeking her/his own self-realization will have a compassionate heart and become a transmitter of the healing energy. The patient is never seen as a commodity but as a Body/mind/spirit unit whose suffering is a reflection of the whole world’s suffering and whose realizations will benefit all.

With this Taoist type of healing philosophy, health is not the absence of disease, but an active process of refining the Vital Life essence and maximizing physiological functions so that the patient can also be moved along the path of self realization and reintegration with the wholeness of existence. Trying to have a long life is not guaranteed to anyone nor should it be the goal of any healing system, but helping someone to gain some inner peace and helping them to be more whole is profound.

Also, a person who is teaching the healing way must not only transmit cerebral knowledge through words and terms but must transmit true understanding which can be defined as knowledge that has been fully digested and reflects the interconnectedness of all aspects of life. When a person is with a true teacher this transmission of the Vital Essence or Chi engenders a deep insight into the student.

It is time to embrace the ancient ideas of what the healer and healing entails and to allow them to take root in our culture. Herbalists who are embracing a path similar to what has been delineated in these words, need to not be afraid to state their position and to be willing to create a different paradigm of healing – not in opposition to what exists – but in a different tract all together.

ANCIENT HEALING

We may find that there is healing wisdom to be gleaned from past centuries, which we may find to be relevant to the current times.

Towards the beginning of Plato’s book of Charmides, Socrates describes a certain leaf that, if given to an ailing person at the same time that an incantation is spoken, will cure him. But, he continues, without the incantation, the leaf will be of no avail. It is implicit in this and other ancient references to “magical” cures that the curative value of natural substances is realized only when accompanied by words either written or spoken.

Since antiquity, the need for verbal accompaniment to enhance the herbs or other natural substances has been recognized as being an important aspect of healing. There was a definite perceived effect of the power released by the practitioner’s words. In fact, in some cases the substance itself is not believed to have any inherent curative value but rather is understood to work in tandem with the words that accompany its application. It was thought that the words spoken with the medicine was an additional means of establishing a sympathetic link with the “non-human” forces who are actually expected to perform the cure.

Many people studying ancient medicine have labeled all ancient curative strategies as either “medical” or “magical.” The magical is considered the use of words to invoke healing. The medical indicates treatments in which the application of the substance alone brings about the cure. Thus, this had created two schools of thought that are in opposition to one another, the magical and medical views.

However, in the late classical period of history, healing practitioners were “doubling up” strategies, engraving their powerful words upon powerful substances that were believed to have a strong affect upon the body. And at the time when substances were being applied certain words, prayers, and incantations were again used.

This part of healing is a sadly neglected aspect in our current medical paradigm that I feel needs to be reexamined

The idea of “incantations” or prayers being uttered when utilizing any healing modality may help us to see life as a whole rather than thinking that they are separate parts. To separate life into two different arenas: one aspect being the “material world” and another our “spiritual life” will create a schism in the mind that may lead to a sense of fragmentation and aloneness. How can our spiritual life be one thing and our job another? How can we take an herb and still maintain that we are separate from nature? How can we help someone and not invoke the help from the Invisible realm? The herb, its essence, it’s very existence is the workings of a magnificent Wisdom. This needs to be acknowledged and not hidden from view.

LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF PRACTICE

For some of us, we have worked with the legal system of the US and registered ourselves as non-profit (501C3) healing ministries. When applying for this status, we revealed our intent and the use of herbs, aromas, hands on healing, and so forth right in our declaration of intent or constitution. (Our outline of this is listed below for those interested.) Practicing as a “minister” is embracing the full intent of the statements made above about the healer and herbal medicine. We can embrace the fact that we are not working for personal profits but are trying to become self -realized through service work and by re-aligning ourselves with the web that joins together heaven and earth. This acknowledgement and declaration is very empowering to do.

When we received our approved application from the IRS it made us know that we can legally do our work in this country and that we were following the laws of the land by practicing our healing as part of our spiritual journey. No longer did we have to look over our shoulder and tell people that we were not practicing medicine – because we are not practicing medicine as it is currently being defined. We are supporting Life, Vitality, Wisdom and Compassion. We have aligned our hearts with the Light of the Wisdom of the Universe and are practicing how to be whole and true human beings.

Creed and Constitution of EverGreen Wholistic Ministry

Dedicated to gentle healing of Body/Mind/Spirit

January 1995
*Articles of Association Amended February 1997

EverGreen Wholistic Ministry’s purpose is to educate people in the care of their body as the temple of the Soul and to help them to rest their minds in the realization that Divinity inheres in, as well as transcends, every particle in the Universe and all its beings.

EverGreen Wholistic Ministry is not affiliated with any established religion nor is it the intent of the Ministry to promote its philosophy solely without regard to the philosophic or religious belief of those who seek its service.

We acknowledge and put our trust in the Divine Spirit of the Universe for the Spirit makes things live or die, to suffer or be healed. By the Benevolence of the Divine Spirit, compassion and loving kindness is placed in the hearts of the Pastoral Counselors to help awaken the healing light within an individual.

We encourage the use of gentle means for healing the body/ mind/ spirit from its afflictions and sufferings. This may include the use of herbs, aromas, pastoral counseling, laying of the hands, prayer, chanting, meditation, and any other non invasive, positive means of caring.

We teach that each person is responsible for their health and well-being and that the choices they make each day will affect their inner peace and Spiritual enlightenment.

We encourage each person to learn about the healing plants and to use them for their food, medicine, and as teachers of the Sacred road to wholism for the herbs are the Sacraments for healing.

We ask each person to respect the Earth, for she is the manifestation of the Divine, and that each of our actions on the Earth shall be taken with a sense of mindfulness to the environment and to the well being of others. We, as a ministry, are against the use of violence and war as these create great suffering for all Life. What we do to the web of life affects all of Creation.

We believe that the use of drugs, whether recreational or medicinal, will eventually lead to the disintegration of the body/mind/spirit complex thus we discourage their use. If the use of a particular pharmaceutical is used for a life threatening situation then this may be supported but with caution as to its side effects to body/mind/ soul.

With heart and soul, each of the Pastoral Counselors of this Ministry shall endeavor to relieve the client of their troubles by educating them in the ways of wholistic living and thinking. For it is stated in the Ancient Vedic Scriptures, “ A healer, even though well versed in the knowledge and treatment of affliction, that does not enter into the heart of the person with the virtue of light and love, will not be able to heal them.”

Furthermore, this Ministry does not contemplate pecuniary gain or profit to the members thereof and is organized for nonprofit purposes.

This association is organized exclusively for charitable purposes within the meaning of section 501 (c) (3) Of the Internal Revenue Code.

Not withstanding any other provision of these Articles, the association shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on (a) by an association exempt from Federal income tax under section 501 (c ) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 ( or the corresponding provision off any future United States Internal Revenue Law) or (b) by a association contributions to which are deductible under section 170 (c ) (2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 ( or the corresponding provision of any future United States Internal Revenue Law).

Upon winding up and dissolution of this association, after paying or adequately providing for the debts and obligations of the association, the remaining assets shall be distributed to a non- profit fund, foundation, or corporation which is organized and operated exclusively for charitable, educational, religious, and/ or scientific purposes an which has established its tax exempt status under section 501 (c ) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Notwithstanding any of the above statements of purposes and powers, this Ministry shall not engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of its specific purpose.

EverGreen Herb Garden and Learning Center is an auxiliary of EverGreen Wholistic Ministry :

A non – profit ministry dedicated to gentle healing of body / mind / spirit.

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