Hippocrates, who has been described as the father of medicine said, “Let thy food be thy medicine”. Yet, our culture today would like us to believe that medicine in the form of doctors, insurance, big pharma, etc. is the only way forward. Herbal medicine has been diminished to “snake oil” and “folk medicine”.
While there is reason to be cautious, and every reason to say that modern medicine has brought many benefits to our society, this disconnect between our food and our medicine is largely a new phenomenon. Humans and herbs have been in relationship for thousands of years. In 2012, 50,000-year-old skeletal remains of Neanderthals were found with yarrow and chamomile stuck to the teeth. While no one alive today can assume the purpose behind these ancestors’ behavior, scientists noted that yarrow and chamomile have little nutritional value and a bitter taste. Many animals self-medicate , and so it wouldn’t be a radical leap to believe that our Neanderthal brethren might do the same.
Since time immemorial, humans have been interacting and shaping our environment. Inadvertently, we have created evolutionary pressures on flora and fauna; in turn, they have also pressured us. Cannabis, for example, started off as a very small flower with mild euphoric effects and a very long, high-tensile fiber. Via human intervention, today’s cannabis has diverged into two wholly different plants: Hemp and marijuana. Hemp has no measurable psychoactive value but over time the fibers have become longer and sturdier. Marijuana has seen its flowers become disproportionately large with enhanced psychotropic properties. Co-evolution continues to define our relationship with cannabis today, as evidenced by its growing (if not already well-established!) popularity around the world.
The effects of various cannabis strains and subspecies vary due to selective breeding. When a person walks into a dispensary, he or she is confronted by many choices. Each variety has a name, taste and expression within the body. Each strain seems to have a unique personality, allowing a consumer to choose a product based on the personality traits that best coincide with their own needs – like they are choosing a friend or an ally.
One could say humans are biologically made to commune with certain plants in ways that other animals, including those most closely related to us, are not. This is especially evident in our co-evolution with entheogens – plants that can elicit the Divine from within. Virtually all cultures had access to mind-altering foods. Neurotropic fungi can be found in almost every ecozone across the globe. Non-fungal entheogens are also available worldwide. Examples include the Peyote and San Pedro cactuses as well as rain forest plants that make up the Ayahuasca mixture. Entheogens may have profoundly influenced our development. Some writers have speculated that while it is common to think of the use of mind altering substances as strictly maladaptive, especially in a contemporary punitive environment, there may have been selective benefits for this type of substance use in our deep past .
Herbs and Me: My Sacred Practice
In case you haven’t picked this up already, I’m one of those druids … you know the type: The ones on the herb, man! I have had psychedelic experiences; in fact, I am indebted to those spirits for having transformed me and pushed me into the wings of Isis, who is now my patron goddess. I regularly and legally use cannabis as the Hindu god Shiva uses it to aid meditation and my sacred practice. In addition to my medical reasons for using it, weed and I are great friends. While making an ally of this powerful plant was a personal choice, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that choice to everyone. My herbal practice typically centers around safety as much as efficacy.
In my practice of animism, natural spirits are equals. A mouse spirit is not less powerful than that of an elephant, and so on. I would say the same holds true in herbal medicine. The humble spices in your kitchen cabinet or the weeds on your lawn might not enable you to see God, but many of them are capable of supporting your everyday life. Scott Cunningham’s books on magical herbalism can be particularly insightful for the clinical herbalist. He makes clear the links between magical and medical purposes. Herbs used for purification and exorcism – rosemary, lavender, mullein; for example, are herbs with strong antimicrobial properties. Herbs that calm often have a magical link to love, and so on. Like cannabis and its many strains, each herb has its own personality profile that can be taken into account when deciding on an herbal regimen for the self.
I take many herbs daily. Ashwagandha is the friend I can lean on; it has the virility of a stallion with the control of said stallion reined. It gives me focus and keeps me centered. The Hindu Goddess Lakshmi is said to incarnate on the earth in the form of holy basil, or tulsi. It has an almost laughing nature, giddy and warm. Reishi is as cooling as a cucumber; I feel her gentle compassion flowing like water through my veins, keeping inflammation in check both figuratively and literally. Since adding her to our regimens, my husband and I have noticed her “mediation” in our arguments! Communing with these plant spirits has improved my quality of life. They bring me clarity, strength, and calm, and I am grateful for our relationship. Together, we can take on the world.
Herbs and You: A Call to Communion
Herbs are team players. There is a concept called synergy in herbalism where the medicinal constituents within similar herbs, will work together in a harmonious way. The herbal support team pumping through my veins whispers to me that they would enjoy working harmoniously with humans again. Here are some gentle recipes that are hopefully both delicious and uplifting!
Please use these recipes at your own risk and practice good judgment.
Full Moon Meditation Tea
- 2 parts chamomile
- 1 part lavender
- 1 part linden
- 1 part oat straw
- Optional: A splash of rose water or sweetener of choice
Herbal teas are typically infused at a 1 tsp herbs:1 cup of boiling water. Allow the herbs to steep for 15+ minutes in a sealed container (like a mason jar) so the essential oils cannot escape. I would use a heaping tablespoon of this tea in a cup of water. You can use more or less, but don’t overdo it.
This tea should bring about a sense of calm – like a sigh of relief with a smile as you settle into your meditation. These herbs all have properties that soothe the nervous system and invite protection while inducing a state of love, openness, and otherworld.
- 1 heaping tbsp tulsi/holy basil
- Juice of 3 lemons
- 3 cups of frozen strawberries
- Sweetener of choice (I use a half cup of sugar … but I have a major sweet tooth, so you do you.)
- Spring water
Brew a strong cup of tulsi tea – 1 heaping tbsp of herb in about 1.5 cups of water, steeping for 15+ minutes. Put tea, lemon juice, sweetener and strawberries into a blender and blend to a smooth consistency. Dilute with water to taste. Serve cold; drink and enjoy!
This concoction is great for the dog days of summer. Lemon and strawberry are astringent foods, which help to remove damp heat from the body. Lemon, strawberry, and tulsi are also anti-inflammatory foods. Tulsi is an adaptogen, meaning it assists the body in counteracting most of life’s stressors and gives us energy.
Isidaya is a Zen Druid by day, a Green Witch-Shaman by night, and a Unitarian Isiac forever and always. A student of human nature, she has a special interest in Spiritual Alchemy – turning the soul from lead to gold. In real life, she is Mother to her Golden Horus-Child, an herbalist, and an aspiring psychologist with a focus on healing trauma and addiction.