Dearest Herbal Enthusiasts.
Since the dawn of humanity, people have utilized herbs to promote health and ward off illness. Everyday knowledge of herbs by common folk has formerly been used to treat digestive problems, infections, bites, cuts, and tend to other common health concerns. Many families of old would have been overseen by a grandmother who knew the ways of the plants. Communities gave rise to clinics that housed herbal specialists and apothecaries to provide medicines. Central to health care (and disease care) of the past have been shamans, herbalists, acupuncturists, clergy gardeners and herbalists, and various other forms of herbal doctors.
In many parts of the world today the use of herbs and the role of herbalists has greatly declined - replaced by pharmaceutical medicines and medical professionals trained in the use of modern diagnostic equipment. Herbal medicine, however, remains a viable and important source of health-promoting ingredients. Plus, traditional forms of diagnosis (to be discussed momentarily) remain superior in many ways to the measurements of modern equipment.
We are surrounded by many medicinal herbs and mushrooms, but very few understand their uses and benefits, nor know how to identify or find them. Commerce moves medicinal herbs all over the world. However, the stores, pharmacies, and individual distributors of our area fail to offer the necessary array of herbal medicines for a complete health-care system. Many of the products available are made of herbs of inferior quality. Many available preparations are improperly made or made of the wrong part of the plant or made of old, stale material. Many very important medicinal herbs are simply not readily available for the common person.
In the past I have run classes on herbal medicine, mostly geared toward home-care medicine. Usually, I had a study-group format with an open door. We met weekly and were open to new and occasional members. We covered identification of local herbs, preparation of products ("tea", tincture, salve, cough syrup, etc), Chinese herbal theory, Native American herbal medicine, modern herbal materia medica, traditional diagnostic skills, medicinal mushrooms, and other related subjects.
Since my teens I have regularly harvested a variety of medicinal herbs. My primary method of preservation has been herbal tinctures. In many cases it is necessary to use a fresh herb to produce the highest quality tincture. For this reason it is often easier to make better quality products at home than large manufactures can in their factories. I have found it almost necessary to prepare tinctures myself with fresh herbs from the local environment.
One benefit of tinctures is that they are easy to combine. A fully stocked liquid apothecary allows one to easily measure and mix tinctures in order to create custom formulas. Many pre-made formulas available through practitioners and stores are not precisely what an individual needs. It is often best to treat an individual as an individual when considering a mixture of herbs. Sometimes it is appropriate to utilize pre-made formulas, and so a fully stocked apothecary includes a selection of formulas found useful by the practitioners and a large selection of individual herbs to be mixed into custom formulas when the pre-mades are insufficient.
As a sole producer of tincture, cough syrups, and other products made from wildcrafted herbs, I have not been able to comply with the FDA regulations that came into effect in recent years. Although I no longer make products for public sale, I have not been able to shake the realization that many wonderful and necessary medicinal herbs of our area are not being utilized properly.
Although it could be of great benefit to create a local herbal product manufacturing, I think the real solution to our herbal medicine deficiency is to relearn home-preparation of herbal medicines. Although herbs indeed can be dangerous, main-stream media has largely exaggerated the dangers of herbal medicines while ignoring the dangers of the products and practices of their advertisers and financial backers. With some basic education many herbal medicines become safe to use. The practical obstacles between people and the medicinal plants that surround us is largely educational and for this reason a functioning herbal clinic that guides people in the use of local herbs is one avenue towards a more available herbal medicine. When practitioners and individuals learn to use wild and home-grown plants to prepare medicines themselves, they can tap into a living system of herbal medicine. Much of what is common today as theories and products is full of commercial fluff, but has no life to it.
In order to make living herbal medicine more available to the community I am offering training in herbal medicine - including plant identification and harvest, medicine preparation and formulation, and health intake and assessment. We have a class of dedicated students working toward a student herbal clinic. The clinic will begin when students are ready.
Curriculum is based on several areas inherent to clinical knowledge and skills:
1. Materia Medica - Herbal medicine is, of course, based on the use of herbs. In order to utilize the herbs, one must know some basic information such as part used, correct harvest time, best method of preparation, indications, contraindications, dosage, use in formulas. It is also good to not just rely on standard information, but to develop an intimate, personal, and intuitive knowledge of each herb through experience. Because of this latter aspect of herbal knowledge, each individual's materia medica is different. Each student will develop a comprehensive materia medica of their own, which will also be combined into a group materia medica for the clinic.
2. Diagnosis - Clinical health assessment is key to deciding on appropriate herbs for each case. Traditional herbal medicine, of course, did not depend on modern day technology (x-rays, cat scans, lab tests, etc.) but on use of the human senses, including the mind.