Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Community Herbalism

I have some very specific goals for 2007. In addition to various parenting, homeschooling, financial, and homekeeping goals I have some goals for personal enrichment.

One goal high on my list is knitting. I have the needles, I have the yarn, I have the books that are supposed to help me teach myself. I also have a mental block. It can't be that hard - I see people knitting all of the time. Also, I'm not untalented or uncoordinated; I crochet, knit on looms, braid, and do other handwork. Anyway, I need to learn this so I can teach my children, and because I want to make more than simple hats. I also think it is important to tackle the things that at times seem overwhelming.

I also want to learn to sew. I can sew a straight seam, but have never worked with a pattern. I need skills like pinning and ironing. My plan is to take a class. I've come up with a plan for a basic quilt and have started looking for used fabric.

My biggest goal, however, is to become a community herbalist. I don't want to go to a natural college and learn using the current educational model. I want to learn as people have learned ever since people figured out that certain plants had benefits that went beyond nutrition. That means I'll have to grow herbs, learn to identify wild herbs, and learn their preparation and uses. Part of that learning can come from books and the many online courses offered by master herbalists. Hopefully I'll find someone local who is willing to be a mentor, but I plan to do my homework first so that I can identify the simple herbs that we would have learned as children had we been raised 100 years ago. Right now I'm pretty much limited to identifying rosemary, lavender, basil, mint, and thyme. I may know a few others, but with less certainty.

(Wait...I can identify sage too! And parsley, and cilantro, and dill!)

Why herbalism? I believe in it. I know that herbs and other foods are powerful medicine, and amazingly they are available to all of us. I don't need to become an M.D to use herbal medicine. I can fix a cup of ginger infusion when my stomach is unsettled, no Pepcid or Mylanta required. I can offer echinacea tincture to a child coming down with a virus, and add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a hot bath to soothe a stuffy nose. I can infuse calendula in oil and make a salve for my father-in-law's red, sore hands. We can soothe burns with aloe vera.

I can make herbal infusions for my children instead of buying multivitamins (okay, we have multivitamins, but when they are gone we'll stick with good nutrition and herbs). Papa can gargle with salt water when his throat is sore, and then sip on slippery elm tea. We can drift off to sleep inhaling the scent of lavender in our sleep balm. We can make elderberry syrup for immune building. I can use jojoba oil for dry skin and hair.

I believe that people should have the power when it comes to their health. For many years our parents and grandparents ceded their authority to the medical establishment, and lost that power. We see it when we hear about women birthing on their backs with epidurals, episiotomies, vacuum extractions, failure to progress, and cesarean sections (no criticism meant to those who experienced any of these things - I certainly did). We know it when doctor's dole out prescriptions for lowering cholesterol or blood sugar while only making half-hearted attempts to talk about diet and exercise. We know it when we hear about children harmed by vaccines, or when we find out that the mercury in our mouths is poisoning us, or when we read about a depression epidemic. Something isn't right, an the medical establishment isn't the answer. We need to take back our power.

Community herbalism calls to me because it is about more than using herbs and plant medicine for my family. It reaches out to the wider community. There was a time when everyone knew the basic uses for certain herbs, while perhaps the mother of the family knew more, and then in each community there may be one or two people who had extensive knowledge of plant medicine. They were wise-women, medicine men, green witches. I imagine in a time post peak oil the knowledge of herbal medicine will become valuable, as we live in smaller communities with fewer resources.

I am not saying that there is no place for conventional Western medicine. It can and does save lives. To me, the flaw of Western medicine is the fact that it treats acute illness and serious chronic conditions after they develop, instead of trying to prevent them to begin with. Also, every little thing requires pharmaceutical intervention. One example that comes to mind is bronchitis. Millions in the US develop it every year, and most of those people will take antibiotics for it, even though two well-regarded studies now show that most of the time antibiotics aren't effective in the treatment of bronchitis. What most of those people need is a week of bed rest with nutritious foods, herbal infusions for comfort, and lots of sleep. But they can't get it! Somehow, missing work became a sign of weakness, and of course the employer hates it because of lost productivity. They are so short-sighted...keeping the ill person out of the workplace reduces the spread of infection, thus minimizing the loss of productivity. Most people can't afford to take the time off of work, which says a lot about our employment policies. Papa is allowed 6 sick days per year (and as a SAHM he shares those with me by taking off a day if I am too ill to care for the boys), which means he can usually only take off the day he feels the worst.

Anyway, those are some of my plans for the coming year.

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