Like in all practices, there are different approaches to herbalism. Some practitioners will swear only by formula and other by simple.
I am one of these herbalists, trained as an Ayurvedic practitioner and aroma therapist (Heroic tradition), that, through the course of my practice and collected experiences, have changed into a ‘Simpler’: a term which refers to an herbalist using/suggesting the use of one single herbs, often practiced by the wise women.
In this text I wish to introduce three healing traditions: Scientific Tradition, Heroic Tradition and the Wise Women Tradition, and bring a focus on practices of using herbs/remedies.
At the base of it all, there is a global understanding of what disease means, what healing means and what plants/ herbs/ green allies are.
Diseases are diseases, they exist on their own and manifest as intrusions in our body, whether through bacteria or virus. Our civilization is now confronting a new kind of sickness named auto-immune diseases, where the body’s defense mechanism acts against itself. Even though a lot from this text can be applied to this modern disease, it would need a whole dissertation on its own.
The scientific tradition understands diseases as unwanted and bad, and will do everything to exterminate them also when one’s health is in parallel damaged by medications and/or technology’s side effects for example.
The Heroic tradition understands diseases as inbalance in the Body, and restoration of the balance will be achieved by cleansing and purging, having some kind of repentant actions to bring back the body to its “original state”.
The wise woman understands diseases as being fully part of life, from this perspective, diseases are becoming our allies in teaching us ways to know ourselves even better and engaging with ourselves with even more love and compassion. The diseases are becoming an initiation path into living our wholeness in the spiraling of Life. The diseases are treated with love and nourishment and rest. The wise woman understands healing as a transformative experience in one’s life.
In Scientific and Heroic traditions, healing is in the hands of the healer, the practitioner. In Scientific tradition, the sick person is passive, not being responsible for their own health, applying the given prescription and understanding the doctor as the one that knows better.
With the Heroic tradition, the sick person is asked to participate in the process by undertaking cleanse: taking some herbs, adapting the diet and other holistic prescriptions. Yet due to the complex system these traditions are born from, it can be quite overwhelming for the seeker to fully integrate what has been shared.
The wise woman shares with the seeker and gives them simple tools to empower themselves, guiding them in better life choices and getting to know plants allies that may be of support. The wise woman understands the complexity of life and that disease is a full part of it and cannot be avoided, she knows how to strengthen the body, to minimize aggravation. The wise woman is keeping it simple, being accessible and safe to all.
The Scientific and Heroic traditions may rely on rare, exotic (to us when practicing, TCM -stands for: Traditional Chinese Medicine- or Ayurveda outside of their regions of origins) and sometimes dangerous plants. As for example, the use of extract from the highly toxic Digitalis purpurea /Foxglove for heart issues (tachycardia and arythmia), while tinctures of Leonorus cardiaca/ Motherwort and Craetegus monogyna/ Hawthorn, have both antispasmodic properties, regulating the heartbeat, with absolutely no danger nor side effects.
As an Ayurvedic practitioner in Germany, I was very often referring to plants native from India/ Asia continent. Even though there are more and more practitioners that are seeking to work with local plants, as they understand the importance it has in a local and integrational comprehension; still the practice broadly taught, focuses mainly on plants native to India/ Asia continent.
The wise woman gathers the plant that grow around her home, she knows and uses safe, humble and profuse plants. This way she is also guiding the seeker to become more resilient, finding their green allies right at their doors.
If the Scientific Tradition uses plants, they transform them into drugs, and will use them only in time of sickness.
The Heroic tradition may recommend tonic herbs, often in powder/press pill form, as preventative.
And the Wise woman uses her herbs as nourishment, drinking Nourishing Herbal Infusions (30gr of nourishing herbs: Nettle, Red Clover, Oats, Linden, Comfrey, steeped in a liter of water, step for 4 hours to overnight), as a way to mineralize and strengthen the body and weaving deep relation with her green allies.
The Scientific tradition sees plants only having one or some interesting aspect, a molecular compound that can be extracted and be directed to attack and cure a disease.
The Heroic tradition sees plants with properties and understands that their actions can be strengthened by in synergetic combinations with others in order to resolve the problem.
The wise woman knows her green allies and relies on the plurality of compound contained within one plant, acting synergically together, within a sphere of actions. And exactly because of their complex and rich array of uses, they are powerful enough to be used on their own, nourishing the body and restoring health.
The scientific tradition will extract a certain compound from a plant and turn it into a synthetic preparation, highly concentrated for a target action, often with side effects.
Heroic tradition often uses dry plants in powder form (for ingestion), in Ayurveda there is a wide array of extracting plant properties may it be an herbal wine, infused ghee or oils but for convenience reasons the powder plants: pressed into pills or loose powder, are the main ways of using herbs.
The wise woman is using the whole plants: dried for teas and infusions for nourishment; and fresh for tinctures, extracting the plant properties into a more concentrated form in case of sickness or to alleviate a chronic condition.
To craft a designed formula for a complex profile of symptoms, the Heroic tradition, often suggests a combination of powdered plants to be taken together with warm water, milk and sometimes Honey. These combinations are created in a ratio system having 1 or 2 main plant(s) (3 parts), 2 to 3 support plants (2 part each) and 2 or 3 digestive support plants (1 part each). It is in the willingness to integrate the whole complexity of symptoms that the heroic tradition relies on the uses of 1-2 power plants for the main issue and their 2 to 3 supporting herbs for the other related symptoms.
Within these practices one can understand that ingesting dried plants in powder form is hard on our digestion, we are not supposed to intake our plants that way. We will either make a tea or infusion from the dried plant; or eat the fresh plant integrating them into our food; or other ways to extract the plant properties through a variety of medium: alcohol being the most common, wine, vinegar, fat: oils, tallow, clarified butter…
If we are taking our herbs in a more digestible form (infusion/ Tinctures…) we do not need to add digestive support plants when taking an herbal formula.
When a tincture or herbal preparation is made with 3 to 5 different plants we will need to increase the intake tremendiously in order to reach the desired effects. And in case of disease, we may need to address different plants, for different actions, in different posologies.
This doesn’t mean that when taking one herb we take her exclusively, we can take 3 to more herbs during the same period, but at different times, adjusting the dosage to what feels right to our body in a specific time.
The wise woman knows that plants are complex and that one single plant can address a large spectrum of symptoms. We may start this path asking ourselves: “what is this plant good for?”, what a rude way to engage with a new friend, what if we just start to get to know each other and experience the richness of relation.
And that way, we will start to build a relation with the plant, understanding how we are engaging together. Using plants one by one, we feel into our body, and feel what is needed.
And “as exception is what made the rules”, the wise woman does, on rare occasion, rely on Simple formulation never exciding 3 plants taken together. This is not to be used in time of sickness but rather as a nourishing or tonifying combination. There is for example an ancient wise woman recipe, that can be found as well in Chinese traditional medicine, this recipe contains 3 herbs that will support women from first blood through all ages.
As this practice is deeply entertwined with Spirits communication, I had a clear encounter with the Wyrds: 3 women & sisters weaving together, combining their talents and strength into a creation or services. We remembered the Moiras Artemis visited, where she got to become the goddess of Birth: Clotho “the spinner” weaving the thread, Lachelis “the alloter” measuring with her rod, and Atropos “the inflexible” cutting the thread with her scissors. The 3 women/sisters weaving can be found through many story-telling of the ancient time: the Fate, the Norms, the Parcae…
As an honor and reverence for the 3 wise guides, weaving past & present & future, I decided to create a nourishing and tonifying line of products, exception to the Simple.
This text doesn’t seek to place one practice above another, as all of these traditions have their place and rights within our world. We can be grateful for the scientific tradition to offer us access of surgery in case of accident or to remove, rapidly, with ease and less pain, a growth in some part of the body.
The Heroic traditions are well proven systems of medicine through the ages, underlining the importance of nutrition as prevention. Offering understandings and enlightenment in the complexity of our lives and world.
In the path of Reclaiming: women’s place in history, women’s body sovereignty, women’s rights… it is important for me to notice that both Scientific and Heroic traditions have been developed by men, most of the time excluding women, or seeing women as potential carrier of male baby (as an extensive Ayurvedic literature would teach women how to act in their pregnancy to make sure they will birth a boy.).
We should also remember that the rise of the Scientific tradition is based on the witch hunts (or extermination of all women having divergent practices than the one preached by the Church state). Having exterminated all women healers and under the control of the religious states, women were forbidden to come out of their homes and to practice their innate capacity to heal the people. I express here my gratitude for all women doing the work of restoration: Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English have done extensive research on this topic, here is the link to read or listen their audio zine: “Witches, Midwifes and Nurses”:
The wise woman way*, is a way of living, a way of interacting with life that is absolutely accessible to all, no need for extended and expensive academical studies and/or training. It is a wisdom carried through all the cells of our Body, it is driven by our own experiences and enriched by true relationship. It is a hands-on practice, learning by doing and exchanging with our fellow wise ones. It is a tradition that remind us that plant medicine is people medicine, safe and accessible to all.
It is a path I feel aligned with, that resonates with what I have been seeking when entering the field of natural healing and self-exploration. It is a practice that I found inclusive and integrative, a practice that reveres and honors nature as sacred and healing, a practice that is actively engaged in resiliency and regenerative practices.
A practice that has supported our way on Earth and that gives back to women their place in the history of the survival of our species, not through wars and invasions but through nourishment and deep relationship to the land we live on.
Even though I have never meet nor personally trained with Susun S. Weed, she has been a great source of inspiration and knowledge in my journey. She is one of the herbalist that re-awakened the Wise Woman tradition in the 70’s, as she trained herself with native women from America. She is spending her life sharing her knowledge and wisdom offering abundant free articles and videos, as well as other deepening practices courses. Her books of 30 years are still being printed, they are full of resources and accessible to all.
In appreciation and gratitude to the Wise Women that have and are weaving the tapestry of healing and remembrance, claiming sovereignty and integrity of ourselves.
*The wise woman terminology, as no intention to exclude men, men are invited to join this dance and weave these practices into their life and family lives. The terminology is rather a celebration of the wise women before us that discovered so many aspects of our survival: agriculture, architectural design and technologies, engineering of fermenting, healing arts, the art of plants preservation through alcohol, wine, fats…; the art of weaving and making clothing …