Herbal Medicine and Social Justice

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Health care and accessibility

Plants and trees have been an integral part of human civilization and culture since life evolved on Earth. In fact, human beings have co-evolved with our green relatives and so, we have been genetically programmed to interact mutually and synergistically. We contain similar biological patterns that are expressed in a variety of adaptations. We all hold the exact same building blocks or elements, such as carbon, but arranged uniquely  making us a separate system and yet, inextricably linked to all life. We and all other living organisms are descended from the same biological source; our ancestors, bacteria. Each and every species on Earth was sourced from these original life forms as they  initiated new forms and structures evolving into more complex and creative functions.

 

There is no organism on Earth that is not bacteria morphed into a more complex shape.” ~Stephen Buhner

 

This is a major reason why an Earth-based medicaments, aka herbal medicine, is so well adapted to alleviating human illness and disease. Plants and humans have always lived in symbiosis and plants affect, reflect and correspond to human organ systems and tissue states. We are also energetically congruent and each plant holds a unique formula of elements that can be matched to individual human strengths and weaknesses.  And until about mid- 20th century, after WWII, plants were the primary form of health care for the human race. Even now, many of our pharmaceutical drugs are plant derived chemicals that have been extracted and altered or synthetically mimicked to create mass, concentrated isolated compounds and then distributed only by government regulated pharmacies and drug companies.

 The majority of these preparations are only accessible to individual citizens if they obtain a prescription from a licensed physician and then have the financial capacity to pay for it. They are often very expensive and therefore, unavailable unless the individual is insured. Insurance is only provided to those who are either employed by a company that offers an insurance plan, who have extra income to buy their own insurance, or who have an income so low that they qualify for one of the state health care plans. Private insurance plans are extremely expensive and often still insist that the person pay co-pays and deductibles. The state offered plans are often comprehensive (at least in New York), but many physicians do not accept payment from these and people may have to travel to find doctors.

Whether the person is able to pay for a prescription drug or not requires first that they obtain the prescription. To do this they must make an appointment to see a physician with the legal ability to write a prescription.  This requires that a doctor is found who is willing to accept new patients. Sometimes the wait time for new patient appointments is months, particularly if the doctor has a reputation of being skilled and personable. It is unfortunate and disheartening when searching for a physician you are told that they are not taking new patients. If a doctor is not available, there are always crowded emergency rooms and urgent care clinics that often provide substandard care(I have met some amazing ER docs who are brilliant and compassionate, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm) and whose doctors and nurses are often overworked and overwhelmed.  Emergency rooms and Urgent care clinics are also very expensive and  insurance is almost a necessity for access to them.

Herbal medicine in human history was a form of healthcare that was a given birthright and always accessible to everyone regardless of social or economic status.  It was an essential element of community and the overall prosperity of the collective goals of the people to thrive and grow together creatively. We have been sadly disconnected from this primal source of health and well-being although there has been a recent resurgence of herbal medicine practices that has been bringing these simple yet powerful remedies back to the people.

This is in no way to discount the absolutely amazing abilities of modern medicine to be life-saving in many, many instances and the deep and sacred work being done by our modern, conventional physicians and nurses is invaluable. One modality does not supersede the other and each have their own unique place and function in creating health and balance in the human community. This is about rediscovering compassion and making the gifts of human innovation and tradition available for the betterment of all life on Earth. It’s about the beauty and absolute genius of humanity being brought forth, nourished and rewoven into the conscious heart of healing. It’s about decolonizing and demanding a stop to the Conquest that has been an impenetrable obstacle to the forward evolution and balance of nature on all levels.

 

Decolonizing herbalism

 

  • Decolonization (or decolonisation) is the undoing of colonialism, the unequal relation of polities whereby one people or nation establishes and maintains dependent Territory(courial governments) over another. It can be understood politically (attaining independence, autonomous home rule, union with the metropole or another state) or culturally (removal of pernicious colonial effects.)”~Wikipedia free encyclopedia 

 

The people of the Earth have been subject to the colonization or conquest of their earth-based, peaceful, egalitarian cultures for thousands of years. It seems that it is unclear what triggered the first breach of the delicate and precious balance of nature and its intelligent capacity to provide precisely enough food and resources for the life it supports. This has been a question asked by philosophers, religious thinkers, and scholars for as long as we have lived in disharmony and strife.  It has been discovered by archeologist Marija Gimbutas, that the Neolithic cultures of Old Europe from 7,000-3500 BC were peaceful, egalitarian, matrilineal and yet advanced civilizations with complex agricultural and economic systems. The religious concepts of these people were rooted deeply with their relationship and interaction with plants, animals and all of the elements where humans were not viewed as superior but equal in respect to the circle of life.

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This civilization was slowly dissolved and overtaken by a series of invasions from the East by people known as the Indo-Europeans. This society is believed to have originated in the steppes of Southern Russia north of the Black Sea. These migrations or invasions began to occur in waves staring around 4300 BC. by this culture that was patriarchal, dominator and militaristic with powerful Gods and Goddesses that ruled relentlessly and demanded devotion and sacrifice for their appeasement. This led to the eventual end of peaceful civilization and subsequent societies of conquest that bred more warrior cultures, such as the Roman Empire. This dominator antecedent spread from East to West ultimately invading and colonizing the Americas. Our modern civilization is the result of thousands and thousands of years of conquest and it pursues to continually colonize and invade as it is a powerful force based on fear of scarcity. This force is driven by greed and a thirst for power over not just other people, but all life so that it may maintain what it believes necessary for its own survival.

The implications of this paradigm are interwoven in all aspects of modern life including the way that we provide for the illness and suffering of our people. Our current conventional healthcare system is profit driven and it is rare to find aspects of any human system qualified by money to be in the best interest of the people.  It’s not to say that this is impossible, but there would have to be a strong voice calling for the checks and balances required to ensure that compassion, trust and healing were made paramount above all else.

Plant based medicine cannot untangle the multiplex of issues embedded in our health care system, but it can provide a means of self and community care that is obtainable and affordable to the many instead of the few.  Herbal medicine still remains primarily grass roots although its traditional doctrine has begun to be explored, validated and represented in the language of science. The current predicament is located on the edge between the old ways of the folk or traditional herbalist and the demand for herbal wisdom and products in that is becoming popular in the dominant culture.

 

Health Freedom

Alternative medicine has become a major part of the healthcare of many people in the United States.  There are numerous modalities available and herbal medicine is one of the most notorious.  Herbalists practice in every state in the country with many of them seeing people with every health issue there is, including cancer and other serious conditions. Herbal medicine can address the entire spectrum of human dis-ease and often complements other methods of healing as well as allopathic medicine.  There is not, however, any professional or standardized licensing statutes and so, herbalists can technically be considered to be ‘practicing medicine without a license’.  Most herbalists do not want to be licensed, regulated or in any way conscripted into the broken medical system that would interfere with our ability to provide services and set our own prices. If herbalist were bound by licensure or even registration, outside forces would have the potential to ascribe regulations that may not be in the best interest of the individuals and communities served by herbal practitioners.I realize that this is a complicated issue and with many valid perspectives that exceed the scope of this article.

Another matter concerning access to herbal medicine is the current FDA regulations that require compliance by herbal companies making preparations. These are the Good Manufacturing or GMP laws and its provisions have made it very difficult for small, local companies to continue to exist.  I have extensively explored these laws and believe them to be a mixed bag. Because of the widespread commercialization of herbal medicine , quality of products can vary greatly and these laws can help assure that the utmost care and exaction is incorporated into the medicine making process. Unfortunately, many small companies cannot afford the expense of meeting these guidelines eliminating local, grass roots, connection to often exquisitely made herbal medicine.

7Song of the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine commented extensively on this topic and you can read about it here: http://7song.com/blog/2012/10/quick-comments-on-the-gmps-good-manufactoring-processes/

There are many factions working on this topic, particularly the National Health Freedom Coalition. This is a collaborative effort started by lawyer and health freedom advocate Diane Miller. This organization has been actively striving to create safe harbor laws state by state across the country. These safe harbor laws allow unlicensed practitioners to practice freely while committing full disclosure and transparency ethics.

The National Health Freedom Coalition mission statement:

To promote access to all health care information, services, treatments and products that the people deem beneficial for their own health and survival; to promote an understanding of the laws and factors impacting the right to access; and to promote the health of the people of this nation.

According to Diane Miller, the US constitution decrees that the burden of proof falls to the government. This means that if the government believes that there is a danger in allowing free access to herbal preparations or practitioners then they are accountable to proving it and providing funding  and/or resources to correct any problems that they conceive. The way the law is being enacted, the producer or practitioner is being required to prove that they are not doing any harm and that their activities are safe. In essence, these laws are  unconstitutional.

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“The goal of NHFC is to create a national environment in which laws and public policy are no longer based on unfair discrimination against particular practitioners or treatments, or on the demands of special interest groups or institutions, but rather are based on true issues of the healing relationship, i.e., an informed environment, ethical conduct of practitioners, reasonable standards of actual harm, and available avenues for client complaints. Public policy and laws will need to change to reflect health freedom values.” The National Health Freedom Coalition.

 

Our modern world is a complex system merged with all of the traditions and values of the past that have evolved and morphed for better or worse with the conditions and cultural values of the present. It is entirely expected that, as a people we will be called upon to redefine the patterns, systems and relationships that are correlated with modern healthcare. It is my hope and intention that has we move forward into the future, we will learn to embrace the gifts of our modern medical genius and yet, be able to maintain the simple balance and compassion offered by traditional healing arts. We are all response-able to making our own contribution to the process whether we act as practitioners or citizens seeking health care we can become aware of what is available to us in the present, understand the decisions that have been made and the results of those decisions, and become conscious of the future we are leaving for our descendants based on our actions and choices right now.

 

In health, ~Lisa

 

Resources:

From the Ground Up Herbal Zinehttp://groundupzine.wordpress.com/pdf/

Thanks to Sandra Lory and Dana Woodruff  for their decolonization efforts! Dana can be found at:http://dandelionessherbals.blogspot.com/ and Sandra at:http://www.mandalabotanicalsvt.com/

The National Health Freedom Coalition: http://www.nationalhealthfreedom.org/aboutNHFC/mission_statement.html

The Well of Remembrance by Ralph Metzner

The Civilization of The Goddess by Marija Gimbutas

Signs Out of Time-Marija Gimbutashttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whfGbPFAy4w