Holistic medicine consists in the treatment of the spirit, soul, and body. Herbalism, in order to be holistic, must entertain the possibility that there is a spiritual side to the plant as well as a material side. This leads us to the even greater possibility that Nature as a whole is a living, spiritual being.
The School of Traditional Western Herbalism is founded upon the concept of holistic herbalism. We view the person and the medicine as having both a spiritual and material level of existence. This infers that we look upon Nature in a similar manner. In doing so, we depart from the conventional scientific approach, which views Nature, humanity, sickness, and plant life as mechanical entities. While we depart from the scientific mainstream we do not abandon science, but attempt to include it within a broader, spiritual perspective.
The view that Nature is a living being is found in almost all pre-technological cultures throughout the world. It is usually associated with pre-modern religions (medieval Christianity, Taoism, Shinto) and people living close to the land (American Indians). However, this perspective is not innately opposed to any religion and may be incorporated into any broader philosophical, religious, or spiritual perspective.
In the West the doctrine of the Living Nature was associated with the pagan tradition of Platonic, Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and Hermetic philosophy. Plato taught that the entire material world was but a reflection of a spiritual world. Aristotle pictured a world tied together in a great chain of being from God to Nature. These perspectives were incorporated into medieval Christianity, which maintained that Nature was a living entity and that the things of Nature embodied wisdom and spiritual teachings. Eventually, Sir Frances Bacon introduced the theory that the natural world was essentially a machine without a soul. It was an object which could be manipulated, forced, and twisted to reveal its secrets. The investigator, meanwhile, would be an objective scientist who abolished all subjective faculties from his or her scientific personality, including spirit or soul. Bacon separated God from Nature God had no rulership or expression in Nature and Nature had no relationship to God.
The scientists of the preceding centuries had not automatically separated Nature from sentiment, soul, and spirit. It has been shown that even the anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius, which dissected the body and laid Nature bare, were designed according to classical concepts about the residences of the soul and spirit in the human being. His approach precedes from the whole to the parts, the opposite of the modern method. Leonardo da Vinci, whose "Vitruvian Man" is taken as the symbol of the scientific revolution, also attempted to fit his dissections and anatomical knowledge into classical categories representing a spiritual view of the world . Indeed, the "Vitruvian Man" with his arms stretched forth within a circle and a square is so appealing partly because it infers a deeper, mythological context behind human nature. J. W. Goethe, living after the Baconian revolution, attempted to reinstill the subjective element into scientific consideration alongside the objective approach.
The most comprehensive doctrine of knowledge based on Nature in Western culture is found in the work of the sixteenth century alchemist and physician, Paracelsus. He attempted to build a science that was entirely based upon the idea that Nature was alive and ensouled. He experienced the internal reality of the Living Nature and drew his insights from that experience. Thus, he taught that there was an inherent way of knowing Nature and natural processes which was revealed when there was sympathy between the investigator and the subject, the scientist and Nature. This knowledge grew out of unity with Nature, rather than alienation. He called this way of knowing the "Light of Nature" (lumen naturae). Paracelsian philosophy was named “Naturgewissenshaften” in German, that is to say, "the Wisdom of Nature" or, in Latin, Natura Sophia.
The twentieth century finally demonstrated that science, separated from soul and spirit, could create human monstrosities, like the Nazi eugenics programs or experimentation on concentration camp inmates, destroy natural resources, and threaten the entire planet. This has caused a backlash against scientific mechanism, and yet, the machine still churns on and we find ourselves, in medicine for example, still heretical for advocating a link between spirit and body.
The curriculum of the Institute of Traditional Western Herbalism represents an attempt to teach a natural science herbalism based on a spiritual view of Nature. It is therefore based on the Natura Sophia approach. The utilization of the subjective faculties, as well as the objective, makes our endeavor more difficult but then, life is more difficult than the simplistic model utilized in conventional science.
Understanding the Herb
We teach a comprehensive and holistic approach to understanding the medicinal plant, in which tradition and modern science are used. The goal is to see the logic in the plant. This starts with natural history how it is trying to survive in the wild. This innate personality or essence shines through everything in the plant its appearance, growth habits, environmental niche, chemistry, and medicinal properties. Thus, we need to know the following about a plant:
Names, Common and Botanical:
Flavor: pungent, bitter
Quality: warm and dry
Impression: astringent, aromatic
Constituents: volatile oils to 4% including azulene, Alpha and beta pinines, sesquiterpine lactones (convert to chamazuline), achilleine (hemostatic), thujone; flavonoids (hypotensive, diuretic, relaxant, sedative); bitters; alkaloids; sterols; tannins; amino acids; vitamin C. The volatile oils make it an aromatic stimulant but the flavonoids make it sedative so it encompasses opposite traits. The achilleine is hemostatic, but the flavonoids also influence circulation, as do the volatile oils in general, which stimulate periphery circulation.
Homeopathic Provings: Produced hemorrhages of bright, red, arterial blood
(Henry Minton). Achillea millefolium does not have a well developed profile in homeopathy.
Traditional History and Uses: Throughout the world used as a hemostatic to control bleeding. Yarrow is especially suited to conditions where the bleeding is bright red. It increases the venous pick-up of the blood, as seen in its treatment of bruises, where the blood is quickly drained from the wound. It promotes rapid clotting in a cut, yet it will prevent clotting in a bruise. This control over the circulation of the blood is also seen in its nearly worldwide traditional use as a diaphoretic and febrifuge to bring on sweating, open the peripheral vessels, and bring heat to the surface. It is beneficial in fever, or chills and fever. Removes old or new adhesions of blood. Head injuries. Lessens blood congestion in internal inflammation of the abdomen, liver, intestines, blood vessels. As a bitter and astringent it also acts on the mucosa, reducing inflammation and engorgment. Thus it is a remedy for stomach and GI inflammation and irritation, hepatitis, abdominal congestion, high blood pressure, excessive menstrual bleeding, uterine fibroids, blood filled cysts. The logic of this plant shines through all these uses: yarrow regulates the circulation to control bleeding, heat, fever, and chills, blood congestion and inflammation, and menstrual problems.
Flower Essence: protection. Yarrow is especially beneicial for people who are around sharp tools and weapons a lot. It has been known as carpenter's weed or soldier's woundwort.
Organ Affinities: circulation, blood, skin (diaphoretic); GI tract; liver and portal system; kidneys (diuretic, cooling); female (acts like an estrogen reducer), bladder.
Contra-indications and Toxicity: careful during pregnancy; it stirs up the blood and could be emenogogue, but in practice it usually decreases excess bleeding and can sometimes help keep the baby if there is inflammation and heat.
© 2007 Matthew Wood | Last updated: 8/20/07