Herbalism: An Unbroken Tradition of HealingMar 13, 2023
“Herbs are like letters of the alphabet in the language of life”.
--Gabriel Cousens, MD
Herbs have woven their way through my life since childhood. Perhaps like you, many of my childhood memories are infused with the fragrance of plants as they mark significant passages of life.
My earliest herbal memory is painting my skin yellow with dandelion flowers in the spring and then blowing dandelion flower seeds to the wind in the fall. It was one of my greatest joys. Memories of home cooking are peppered with the fragrant recollections of my European grandmother serving her homemade sauerkraut juice to remedy a sore tummy; my mother, and her daughter, brewing up chamomile blossoms to treat conjunctivitis; and our growing kombucha to aid digestion long before it was a popular thing to do.
The scent of family meals was heavy with herbs from the garden such as tarragon, sumac, rosemary, juniper berries, oregano, thyme, basil, chives, and many more, added to food for medicine as much as for flavor, as grandma would emphasize as she served up each meal.
Not an evening meal passed without the finishing touch of a freshly picked herbal tea to ease digestion and help a good night's sleep. Usually, at grandma's house, it was Sage from her beloved plant that was likely older than I was.
Even in the depths of a cold Ontario winter, grandma's cupboard was full of dried nettle, sage, chamomile and mint ready to heal most ails. Our meals were created around herbs. Each dish exploded with flavor and tradition passed on through the generations.
Until I moved away from Ontario at 21 years old, I measured the passing years by the annual growth of the great Elderberry tree that grew behind my grandparent's garden shed in Fenelon Falls, Ontario.
Spending my childhood listening to the herbal lore passed down through my family I was continually reminded: our relationship to plants is ancient.
Humans are inherently designed to engage with the magic and medicine of our living Earth, of which we are a part of, as organisms of the Earth ourselves.
Herbalism is our oldest system of healing dating back to hunting and gathering traditions. All cultures have their own traditions of herbal healing, and while they may change shape over time or fade into the background as popular culture takes over, these traditions still remain unbroken and alive if only in fairytales, lore, mythology and oral tradition.
How was it that whole populations of ancient people (and still, traditional cultures today) knew how to take care of themselves with herbs and other healing methods?
These questions stayed with me as I aged, went through university and sat in anthropology, botany, and biology classes. No professor had a clear answer to them either. So, at 21 years of age, I moved to New Mexico and studied with a shaman directly. After a year of profound change and transformation (a story for another time), I met wise women healers and herbalists, who reminded me: herbalism is an unbroken tradition of healing.
These healers, my teachers, reminded me that encoded in our DNA as a human being is a ‘remembering’.
We have the ability to heal, in fact, our body is designed to heal. Our body is designed to recognize the medicinal qualities of a plant, and the plants nudge our body back to a place of health. I have spent my life studying this, and seeing it in action in thousands of people in a career spanning two decades.
The beauty of using herbs is: everyone already uses them. The thyme and rosemary, ginger and garlic in your kitchen. These are herbs.
What makes your ginger a simple spice versus a potent medicine is defined by the method of preparation and how much you use. This is the art of herbalism. While there is certainly an advanced level of herbalism that requires thousands of hours of study, what I’m talking about is ‘people’s medicine’.
Accessible, kitchen herbalism that everyone can use, without any special training or degrees. This is the level of herbalism that I believe can change lives. When we put a herbalist back in every household, we put personal empowerment and the ability to heal back into our hands. And I believe, one cup of tea at a time prepared by a skilled hand can remind us of the health and personal freedom that has always been available to us.
Before I go, I’d like to share a simple, yet timeless recipe with you today. This is the exact same Fever Tea recipe that has been used for generations.
Recipe from the Natural Family Care Kit
1 Part Elderflower (Sambucus spp.)
1 Part Mint (Mentha spp.)
1 Part Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
STEP 1: Steep 1 TBSP of herbal blend in 1-2 cups of boiling water for 10-15 minutes with the lid
STEP 2: Strain, and drink while warm to reduce Fever.
Option to add honey and adjust dose accordingly for children over 1 year old.
Shelf Life: Prepare this blend using dried herbs and store it in a labelled jar long before you need it, so it’s ready to use when necessary.
Once you have prepared the herbs as tea, drink while still warm and consume within 24 hrs.
This simple, yet effective cup of tea ties us to generations of people who have relied on the steadying hand of herbs since time immemorial.
And let me know how you like it!