Podcast 101: How Herbs Are Different From Drugs

Herbs differ from pharmaceuticals in important ways. Understanding how they’re different helps us make better choices about what to take, and how to take it, to get the effect we’re looking for. It also helps us avoid common misunderstandings about herbs and herbalism – like thinking that the effect of an herb can be reduced down to the action of its “active ingredient”. And, knowing how herbs are different from drugs lets us set expectations clearly, and recognize that not all preparations of an herb are equivalent.

No one would say that aspirin is “synthetic willow”, but people often talk about willow as “natural aspirin”. In our cultural context we have some understanding of aspirin as a painkiller and fever-reducer. Because willow can relieve pain and reduce fever, and because some of its constituents are similar to aspirin, you can see why it’s common to talk about them as if they were nearly equivalent. But this is misleading, because the herb is actually very different from the drug – it doesn’t have the same side effects or safety profile, and there are certain actions each one has that the other lacks. So taking willow and expecting aspirin-like effects is going to set you up for disappointment.

In this episode we explore three specific ways herbs are different from drugs:

  • Their makeup: drugs seek specific uniformity, herbs express synergystic complexity.
  • Their targets: drugs act on molecular receptors, herbs act on tissues, systems, and patterns.
  • What determines your response to the substance. For drugs, this may include dose and form, along with your digestive and hepatic function and your genetics; for herbs, it starts with the live plant and its environment, on through harvesting & handling, processing & preparation, formulation, dose, and your own personal constitution and current state.

Along the way, we’ll show how the systemic approach and paradigm of herbalism differs from that of the pharmaceutical model of medicine. And we’ll explain how simple principles of holistic herbalism protect us from mistaking herbs for drugs, and give us a solid place to stand when learning new information about plants & health.

If the elements of phytochemistry in this episode caught your attention, you might be interested in our Basic Phytochemistry course! It’s not scary or overcomplicated – we worked hard to keep this material clear, accesible, and relevant to real-world herbalism. Check it out and see for yourself!

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:15):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:20):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast. 101 of them.

Katja (00:00:25):
That’s right. I almost think that 101 is cooler than a hundred.

Ryn (00:00:28):
It has symmetry. Yeah, I’m into it. For sure. Well, today on the Holistic Herbalism podcast our topic is how herbs and drugs are different.

Katja (00:00:40):
Which I’m really excited about.

Ryn (00:00:42):
Yeah. Hey, have you ever heard someone say – or perhaps even found yourself saying – something like willow is natural aspirin? Hmm. It might’ve happened. And the thing is that’s not quite right. Any more than saying aspirin is synthetic willow would be accurate.

Katja (00:01:00):
No, that would not be accurate.

Ryn (00:01:01):
Yeah, not really. S, that’s what we’re going to dig into today. But first, the reclaimer.

Katja (00:01:07):
Yes. This is where we tell you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn (00:01:14):
The ideas we discuss in our podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. These discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So, the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But they will give you some information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Katja (00:01:33):
And we want to remind you that your good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours. And every so often I like to remind everyone that the flip side of responsibility is right. Your good health is your own personal right. It is your right and your responsibility. So, the final say is yours.

Ryn (00:02:02):
Nice. All right, well, so herbs are different from drugs. This comes up pretty often actually. It’s one of the ideas that we find ourselves needing to explain or teach to new students, people who’ve been around for a while. Basically everybody, including ourselves, because we need to remind ourselves about it frequently.

Katja (00:02:21):
The thing is that all of us practicing herbalism in this place and in this time grew up in this place and in this time. It’s hard to underestimate how pervasive medical thinking is in the way that we grew up.

Ryn (00:02:46):
Right, like the pharmaceutical model as the default model for understanding this.

Katja (00:02:52):
Yeah. And even like in terms of well everybody knows. Or just our entire context for things we don’t even… Like you have to stop and say oh, wait a minute. I didn’t even think before I did that thing. I just did it, because that’s the context that I grew up in. And maybe doing that thing – whatever it is, fill in the blank – maybe that’s the right thing to do in this very moment. I’m not saying that everything about the medical context is wrong. I’m just saying that it’s really hard to underestimate how much infused that is in our subconscious. And how big a job it is to really start becoming aware of that. And every time say oh, is this what I’m doing because I’ve really thought it through, and it’s what I think is the right thing for my body in this moment? Or is this what I’m doing, just because that’s what I was socialized to do without really thinking about it?

Ryn (00:03:52):
Yeah, for sure. So, it comes up fairly frequently. One thing that brought this to mind recently was a concern that a client of yours had.

Katja (00:04:01):
Yeah. It was someone with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. And they were really afraid of taking ginger, because ginger is antispasmodic. And so their belief was that if they took ginger, then their joints would become even more hyper mobile.

Ryn (00:04:21):
Yeah. Ehlers-Danlos is this condition where the connective tissue was like extra loose and floppy. And so that means that things can easily be sprained or otherwise injured, but also that you get this kind of like hyper mobility to the joints. Like people who can bend their fingers all the way back and touch the back of their wrist with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have Ehlers-Danlos. But if somebody did, they probably could. And anyway, so yeah. So, this person’s concern here was wait, I’ve been told that I should never take any antispasmodics. And that it would be bad for me, because of this condition that I have. And then I’m reading here that ginger is an antispasmodic. That means I shouldn’t take it, right?

Katja (00:05:03):
And the interesting thing is that I think that comes to the real crux of the difference that pharmaceuticals typically are forcing a particular action. So if a pharmaceutical is antispasmodic, it is in almost all cases forcing a lack of spasm, like forcing a suppression of a particular action. Or instead of suppressing it might be forcing the expression of a particular action.

Ryn (00:05:35):
Right, yeah. And it’ll accomplish this by in the case of the antispasmodic, it’s going to go and interfere with the calcium ion channels in the muscle tissue that determine whether the muscle contracts or relaxes itself. And like we can get into the detail there. But the basic idea is oh yeah, you have a condition where things are too loose already. Don’t take anything that’s going to push it further in that direction. But that warning is given in the context of pharmaceuticals, right? When this person was given that advice, it was not with the doctors thinking about ginger as an antispasmodic.

Katja (00:06:09):
Right. And I think the flip side of that is that ginger’s antispasmodic action is not happening because ginger is forcing a lack of contraction. It’s happening as the result of improved circulation. It is the result of different sort of foundational actions. And if you understand those, then you understand where that antispasmodic action is coming from. That it is relaxing a tightness. Not starting from baseline and then relaxing below that.

Ryn (00:06:50):
Inhibiting tone. Yeah, right.

Katja (00:06:53):
Yeah. It’s relaxing a tightness, not inhibiting tone. That’s a really good way to say it.

Ryn (00:06:57):
Yeah. Right. You know in the case of ginger, right, we know that ginger moves blood. It increases blood flow. And it can reduce inflammation. And then possibly it can have some direct effects on muscle tone. But that’s going to be true if and only if it’s getting in direct contact. I was reading a study just before, and it was looking at the effects of ginger on like asthmatic well mice, you know.

Katja (00:07:22):
Oh man, what we do to mice.

Ryn (00:07:24):
Yeah, right. But the study involves making a ginger extract and then putting it through a nebulizer, so the mice could actually breathe it in, so it could get direct contact with their lung muscles.

Katja (00:07:37):
Wow. That’s funny.

Ryn (00:07:40):
But again, this was like oh wait, we understand that sometimes we give asthmatic things in a nebulizer. And we have them breathe in their medicine, and they call it an inhaler. Ginger has historically been looked at as a relaxant agent. Maybe we can nebulize that, and we can have them breathe it in. And of course this study wasn’t done on ginger. I should really say it was done on 6-gingerol and 8-shogaol and these other like individual constituents of the plant

Katja (00:08:04):
Isolated out. It wasn’t the whole plant. And that’s a whole other problem.

Ryn (00:08:08):
Right, right. And we’ll get into that as one of the big differences between herbs and drugs here in just a second.

Katja (00:08:13):
Yeah. So, the bottom line is that understanding the mechanism of action, understanding why an herb or how an herb gets to a certain end result, is really, really important to understanding how to work with the plants themselves.

Drugs are Complex, but so are Herbs

Ryn (00:08:30):
Yeah. So look, understanding how drugs work is complex, right? People go to school for this. We spend a decent amount of time with say pharmacists. And they have to study for a long time before they’re allowed to hand you your bag of pills. There’s a lot involved in it. And everybody understands this fundamentally, right? In our culture we respect pharmaceuticals. We understand that they’re complicated. Everybody knows that aspirin can help a headache. But everybody also knows that you need a lot of training to understand exactly what it’s doing inside of your body. And I mean honestly, you don’t need buckets of training to get the broad strokes of it here, right? You can understand that aspirin is going to interfere with this enzyme called cyclooxygenase. And that’s involved in the formation of these things called prostaglandins. And prostaglandins are chemicals that enhance the inflammatory process and really turn up the fire there. And they can also send a pain signal from that nerve that’s been damaged all the way up into your brain, where you actually experience it. So, you can trace that back and say, Oh, all right. Well, aspirin interferes with this enzyme. This enzyme makes this message. This message makes inflammation and also sends the pain signal to my brain. So, if I go all the way back and interfere with that enzyme, then I’m not going to be in pain. I’m not going to have this inflammation, great. So, you can understand that. All right. But still, it’s complicated. And we know that there’s more detail to that story. And there’s lots of things with numbers and letters.

Katja (00:10:05):
Yeah. That is a very simplified version of the pathway. And to be fair, even to go back to we all know that aspirin can help with a headache. Well, sometimes it doesn’t. And if you understand all those numbers and letters and the pathway, that can help you understand why aspirin didn’t help with this headache as opposed to that headache. But being able to really dig down into all that stuff, you have to understand a lot about how this chemical is functioning in your body.

Ryn (00:10:37):
Yeah. So, understanding how drugs work is complex. But understanding how herbs work is also complex, right? The tendency is to often assume that they work, I don’t know, the same way drugs do. There’s some chemicals, and you eat them, and then they do their thing.

Katja (00:10:52):
Yeah. It’s just a natural anti-inflammatory. It’s just a natural version of aspirin, but it works the same way. Well, no it doesn’t.

Ryn (00:11:00):
Right. And that’s usually taken to mean something like oh, in the herb there is a drug like chemical. And usually just one.

Katja (00:11:09):
You know, and aspirin is a great example of that even. Because we can even say well, historically they did extract the salicylate compounds and then turn that into… Well, okay. But they did stuff to that. And that whole process had to happen chemically. It isn’t the same as the plant and the way that those chemicals that they isolated and then did stuff too would function in your body, if they weren’t isolated and done stuff to.

Ryn (00:11:41):
Yeah. So, if you have a problem, and you’re trying to solve it – like a medical issue – and you’re trying to get relief, then a Google search is a good start. But you know it’s not a medical degree. And a Google search doesn’t make you a clinical herbalist either, right? In herbalism in particular a lot of the problem here is that as much as we need to learn about herbs – including things like how to grow them, or how to find them, and how to make them into an effective remedy, and all kinds of other steps like that – along with how does the earth do what it does in the body, we also have to intentionally reprogram our thinking. And get away from the idea that herbs are like dirty drugs. Like there’s a drug in there somewhere and a bunch of other crap, right? Or that they’re weak drugs. Like yeah, there’s some in there, but not as much as in my aspirin tablet. Or even it’s a green drug, right? This is like the positive spin on it. It’s like no, this is natural. And that means that it can never have any side effects or unintended consequences. It can’t harm you. It’s natural. It’s safe. It’s green, right? So, let’s get into three specific ways that herbs are different from drugs. And we’re going to be talking here about the makeup. Like what is actually the substance you’re ingesting here. The target. Like how and where does this act in the body? And then the response. And what shapes whether that response is to accomplish your goal or not. All right. And we’re going to use a running example through all of these. We’re going to be talking about the difference between aspirin and willow, because it’s a really great test case for these general ideas.

Katja (00:13:25):
Yeah. On so many layers too, right? Not just because there’s a common constituent. Not just because there’s a historical connection. But also because it is probably one of the most common oh, willow is just natural aspirin. It’s one of the most common times that we say that. I think probably anybody who’s an herbalist at some point in their herbal life has said that. So, if you said that this week don’t feel bad. I think everybody has said it at some point.

Ryn (00:13:56):
Yeah. I’ll often say that in an herb walk if we’re like standing under a willow tree. And then I’ll say and here’s the ways in which that’s not actually the whole story.

Katja (00:14:05):
Yeah. And just to like kind of go back to an idea from last week that you have to start somewhere. So if this is new, and you’re like wait, but I always thought it was the natural aspirin. That’s okay. You have to start somewhere. And then you build the nuance, and you build the deeper understanding. So, let’s get into that deeper understanding.

Difference 1: The Makeup of the Substance

Ryn (00:14:27):
All right. So, the first one is here about the makeup of the substance in question. So, when we look at drugs, what we see is something specific and uniform, right? The idea here is that in your tablet you have the active ingredients. And then everything else in there, like the binders that help this tablet hold together, and if there’s any kind of like a coating on the outside or…

Katja (00:14:56):
Coloring agent.

Ryn (00:14:59):
Preservatives even, all this stuff, that’s all to be considered inactive. We’re not going to think about it. We’re not going to pay any attention to it.

Katja (00:15:05):
We’re not going to study it. Because it doesn’t matter what actions those colorings have.

Katja (00:15:10):
Yeah, for sure. And sometimes they do. In a number of cases in a pill or a tablet or something, there might be gluten in there. There might be casein, like a milk protein or even lactose, milk sugar. And so of course that’s going to be relevant if you have celiac disease, or if you have a really strong dairy intolerance. It’s going to matter a lot for you if the drug that’s supposed to solve your health problem of whatever kind contains a substance that your body regards as a threat and responds too with a bunch of inflammation or other kinds of symptoms.

Katja (00:15:46):
But even just the differing list of inactive ingredients. That’s why for some people the generic brand doesn’t work. Or the name brand doesn’t work. Only the generic works or whatever else. Just because a drug says it’s supposed to work a certain way doesn’t mean it’s going to work that way in your body. And one part of the enormous list of reasons that is true can be that list of inactive ingredients.

Ryn (00:16:12):
Yeah. But again, the ideal is that you ignore all of that stuff. And this comes into play again with brand versus generic. That a generic drug is considered to be the same medically speaking as the brand name, as long as that active ingredient is the same, and has the same amount, and all of that. The inactive ingredients, we disregard those entirely. All right. So, that’s part of it. It’s worth saying that this specificity has a couple of layers to it. So, you can look at aspirin. And you can say oh, there’s something in here based on salicylic acid. And then you can look at willow. And you can say oh, there’s salicylic acid based compounds in this plant. And this is the basis of that comparison or that idea that willow is your natural aspirin. But some of aspirin’s effects are actually dependent on the specific form that it takes. So, in aspirin what you have is called acetylsalicylic acid. And with chemistry when you add bits of word to a name, you’re adding bits of molecule to your molecule.

Katja (00:17:23):
Yeah. It’s like if you imagine those molecular diagrams back from chemistry class in high school, and don’t panic. But just imagine those. And then every time you tack a suffix, or a prefix, or some part of a word onto a word, you’re also tacking more molecule onto that diagram.

Ryn (00:17:43):
Yeah. So, there’s something called an acetyl group that can be attached to salicylic acid. And when you do that, you have acetylsalicylic acid. Okay, great. But that acetyl group actually seems to be responsible for the major part of the blood thinning effect that you get when you take aspirin. And this is relevant, because if we understand that, then we can say all right. So, if you’ve got acetylated aspirin here, or acetylated salicylate, then you know that that can have a really strong blood thinning impact. And that’s in some cases a reason not to take this medication. You know that if you’re already taking a blood thinner like warfarin, you don’t want to take a bunch of aspirin on top of that. Because you can thin your blood so much that you’re now at the risk of bleeding, or stroke, or other kinds of problem. But we can also know that that specific form is responsible for it. And that we shouldn’t expect the same thing to be true of all the other herbs that have salicylates in them, right? Meadowsweet and birch bark and wintergreen and willow don’t necessarily thin the blood and definitely don’t do it to the same degree that aspirin does.

Katja (00:18:51):
And for that matter, those herbs don’t have salicylic acid in them. They have salicylates in them. And it’s different. In the salicylic acid – it’s just like we were saying with the acetyl group – we’ve put more words on there, so that means something very specific. Just because the word salicylate is in both of them doesn’t mean that it is the same compound.

Ryn (00:19:23):
Yeah. Okay. But again, the main idea here is that the goal, the ideal, the like platonic ideal of the pharmaceutical is that it has that specific chemical that we consider to be the active agent. And that that is there in a uniform presentation, right? Like you don’t want your aspirin tablet to have 20 different forms of salicylic acid in it. That wouldn’t be the drug anymore. That would be a problem.

Katja (00:19:48):
Yeah. It’s standardized. It’s the same every time.

Ryn (00:19:50):
Yeah. All right, now with herbs if we were to analyze them on a molecular level, we would find a lot of different chemicals. Like lots and lots of them, right? Not just the list of half a dozen or a dozen that you get on your tablet. Because there’s that one active ingredient and a bunch of inactive ones. In herbs we have lots and lots of active ingredients. And we don’t really consider any of them to be inactive, right?

Katja (00:20:15):
Well, we don’t. You and I don’t. But some people might. Depending on the purpose that you’re studying the plant, you might consider some of them oh, well that’s just a starch.

Ryn (00:20:29):
Yeah, that’s not relevant.

Katja (00:20:30):
But wait a minute. If that starch was a polysaccharide that might be relevant.

Ryn (00:20:35):
Exactly. Okay. So, the slogan from… and I think this is a Michael Moore saying, Michael Moore the herbalist. The slogan here is the active ingredient in willow is willow. The active ingredient in St. John’s wort is St. John’s wort. The active ingredient in kava is kava, right? We can’t reduce these herbs down to one superstar chemical and say that’s what makes the herb work. And we know that because people keep trying.

Herbal Action is Based on More Than a Single Constituent

Katja (00:21:03):
Right. And that’s such a fundamental difference. And going back to the idea of having to reprogram our thinking, is that when we are thinking in the pharmaceutical complex construct, we are thinking in reductionist isolationists science. And sometimes there’s a place for that. When we are thinking in an herbal context, we must be thinking with systems theory. Because we are working with complex systems. Not just the human as a complex system, but also the plant as a complex system. So, like if we try to apply isolated or reductionist thought practices to our herbs and to the human body, we’re not going to get it right. We have to be thinking about herbs as a system.

Ryn (00:21:56):
Yeah. And if we look at the system that is willow, right, then yeah. The salicylate compounds in there play a big role. And what’s their role? Well, we know that they’re antioxidant. That they do reduce inflammation. They can relieve pain. They can help bring down a fever. If you work with them over a long period of time, they can relieve inflammatory processes all throughout the body. They’re most famous for addressing and rheumatoid arthritis and other kinds of arthritis-like joint and connective tissue pains. Salicylic acid has even been found to fight tumors, to kill off fungi and possibly other kinds of microbes as well. So, it’s got a bunch of effects. But they’re all kind of pointed in a similar direction. If we were to look at this from an herbalist view, we’d say like oh, a lot of cooling actions here. Some antimicrobial qualities are going on. Yeah, this makes sense. Lots of anti-inflammatory stuff, okay. But in willow again, this isn’t the only chemical present. So, some others that we find in there include things like apigenin, which is another anti-inflammatory and can also relieve spasms. We find quercetin, which is a really famous anti-inflammatory, and can also relieve allergic symptoms, and has antihistaminic effects. We find catechins, which are – you guessed it – anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and fight cancer, and counteract diabetes, and protect the heart. And then there’s a bunch of tannins that are astringent. And they can fight or prevent bacterial infection or proliferation in wounds. They can help to heal wounds.

Katja (00:23:40):
Now wait. There’s a couple of things there that I think are really important, especially because you put that in the context of rheumatoid arthritis. When there are tannins present, that has astringent action. And a big part of the problem in rheumatoid arthritis is that there’s too much fluid building up. So, even those tannins, there’s nothing like anti-inflammatory necessarily that we even need to think about with tannins. We can just stop at the astringent aspect and already we’re helping the rheumatoid arthritis. Because that astringent aspect is going to help squeeze that extra fluid out. So like, right. And then actually there were two other things I wanted to add in there as you were going through the list. Because a lot of those were things that fight cancer. And that could be its own whole podcast topic. But I just want to put in there – especially because this is something that we’ve been talking about lately as we’ve been filming the immune health course – that to say that an herb fights cancer doesn’t necessarily mean well, just take a bunch of willow tea instead of seeing your oncologist.

Ryn (00:24:47):
No, it does not mean that.

Katja (00:24:49):
I’m not saying that. But any given cell in your body can turn cancerous individually. And in fact that happens all the time. And you have processes in your body that deal with those individual cells. Now when it’s on that individual cell level, you do not have a diagnosis of cancer. There’s just a cell that has become cancerous, and your body knows what to do with it. So, many, many times when we say that an herb fights cancer, what we’re really saying is that it supports, stimulates, nourishes, regulates, modulates the functions in your body that already exist, that take care of this problem before it gets out of hand and become something diagnosable. And so even just within this discussion of the ways we need to change our thinking, there are all these ways that we need to change our thinking just to be able to have the conversation. And there was one other thing that I wanted to mention here, because we’ve kind of been a little bit saying salicylates and salicylic acid a little interchangeably. But I think it’s worth teasing that out just a smidge. Because when you take an aspirin, and you have salicylic acid, that is what is in the pill. And that is what you swallow. And that salicylic acid goes into your stomach. And that’s where we get some of the problems with ulcers and whatever. When you take willow and when you put it in your mouth, it is not yet salicylic acid. It is at that point a salicylate compound. And it won’t become salicylic acid until it gets to the liver and is metabolized into that form. So, when it is in your stomach, it is not yet in its acid form. And this is part of the reason why willow doesn’t contribute to ulcers the way that aspirin pills do.

Ryn (00:26:54):
Yeah, there we go. Okay. So again, the overview here is that we’re looking at the difference between that specific uniformity of the drug versus the synergy and the complexity in the herb. We had like at least half a dozen pretty famous constituents in willow that we can point at. And they’re all working toward a common goal. But this means that we can’t reduce the herb to like a single drug like action, right? We can’t say it’s like one chemical that’s doing the job. It’s not doing the one thing.

Katja (00:27:28):
And those are just the parts that have been studied.

Difference 2: The Target of Where the Substance Works in the Body

Ryn (00:27:31):
Oh, and there are so many others, yeah. There are a bunch of others that have been and that we could name. And there are plenty more that probably haven’t been yet. So yeah, absolutely. But again, in most cases this is actually a strength rather than a weakness. So, let’s look at another element here that differs between these. And that’s the target. Like where does this substance go to work in your body? So with the drug, the target is again, in the idealized terms it’s like one specific molecular receptor in your body. And that’s not to say that there’s only one in your whole body. But that like say it’s a receptor that’s found on every single cell in your body, or only on your blood cells, or only on nerve cells, or something like that. The drug is going to go and bind to that receptor, and have an impact on what that cell does and how it behaves, and that that explains its effect, right? So, for aspirin you would be saying that almost everything that it does hinges on this effect it has with the cyclooxygenase enzyme. And that that effect is like at the top. And then all of the other things that aspirin does cascade down out of that, right? Like you have that up at the top. And then there’s like a tree. And it’s like well, if you don’t have cyclooxygenase, then this doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen. This does happen when it normally wouldn’t. And everything else is kind of going to cascade down from there. So, you can explain most or all of the effects of your drug by understanding what that one specific target is supposed to do.

Katja (00:29:10):
It’s kind of like a drug is… You know, they set up all those dominoes. And they tip the first one. And it makes that intricate pattern of all the dominoes falling. And it’s like a drug is targeting one specific domino in that setup. And it will just stop that one specific domino from falling. So, everything that would have happened after that domino fell will now not happen.

Ryn (00:29:42):
So, that’s the target there. With herbs it doesn’t make sense to talk about there being a molecular level target or like a single receptor that’s the target of the herb again, because of the chemical complexity of the plant. If you wanted to be reductionistic about it in that way, you would at the very least need to say that the target is every receptor site that every chemical in the plant could possibly attach to.

Katja (00:30:10):
That would be like nearly your whole body.

Ryn (00:30:11):
It would be a lot of them, yeah. And so we don’t find it helpful to speak that way. Instead we talk about herbs effecting a tissue in the body, or affecting a system, or better to say it affects a pattern of activity in the body. So, when we talk about willow for instance, willow is indicated where there are patterns of heat, patterns of dampness, and patterns of laxity in the body at large. And if we talk specifically about taking it by mouth, to try to be a little fair and be like what’s the closest comparison to taking an aspirin pill, right? If you take willow tea or tincture by mouth and drink it in, then its targets tend to be in the digestive system, the nervous system, and in the musculoskeletal system. Those are the system level areas of the body that we can see this herb affecting most clearly and most directly. So, we wouldn’t say that willow operates by cox inhibition, right? The cyclooxygenase enzyme. We would say that willow has a series of effects on your digestive system, your nerves, your musculoskeletal system, where it cools things down. It dries things out. And it tightens things up. And that language, well, you might compare that to inhibition of cyclooxygenase enzymes. And you might say hmm, that seems kind of folksy, Ryn. It actually is very precise and very useful as long as we understand the language that we’re using to talk here, right? And I say that it is very precise. But it has the strength of allowing for you to get very detailed about it. And to say well, which specific patterns of heat is willow good for? Is it heat everywhere? Is it heat in the upper part of the body? Is the heat and these organs only? Is it heat manifesting with damage? Like we can go into a lot of detail about that. But at the same time this is also very easy to understand for anybody off the street, right? I can say willow is good when things are too hot. And they can say well, I know what I feel like when I feel too hot. Yeah.

Katja (00:32:24):
You know, and even just that analogy can help even a beginning herbalist to make a choice. I have a headache, and that headache feels hot and stabby. So, I need to choose an herb that can cool down things that are hot. Versus I have a headache. It’s dull. It’s cold. It’s slow and throbby, but not pounding. It’s like that slow kind of throb. And so maybe I need something that’s going to warm me up a little bit. Because the primary thing that I feel in this headache is cold.

Ryn (00:33:03):
Or dampness might be a good example here too, right? Willow drains excess fluid from your body. And you can say yeah, you know, willow makes sense if you’ve got maybe some pain, maybe some headache, maybe some whatever else. But it’s most indicated if you have that and also some water retention, some extra fluid in your system.

Katja (00:33:21):
Right. But whereas a dehydration headache, that’s not going to be a good choice. I think that this really comes back to we acknowledge that pharmaceutical medicine has a system that takes a long time to learn that’s very specific. And that has certain words, and that those words are important. And you need to understand the vocabulary and how to apply it appropriately. But we think that because herbalism is folk medicine, because it’s been called that.

Ryn (00:33:55):
And it is that. I mean, that’s not a let’s reclaim folk medicine.

Katja (00:33:59):
Yeah, yeah. That that means that it’s not complicated, and it doesn’t have precise language and whatever. But the reality is that this system does exist. It is complex. It is very precise. And just because you can use it at the top level even for a very beginner, doesn’t mean that you can’t drill down through that language and continue becoming more and more and more precise using that language. So, it may sound imprecise at first, just because the word cold is a word that you already know. You didn’t have to learn a new vocabulary word. But you can actually apply that with deeper and deeper and deeper levels of precision. And you can get all the way down to a molecular level with that if you want to.

Ryn (00:34:52):
Yeah. And that familiarity is again, not a weakness, but a strength.

Katja (00:34:55):
Yeah. Because it means that everybody can grab onto a starting point, but you can take it as far as you want it to go.

Difference 3: The Response to the Substance

Ryn (00:35:02):
Yeah. And as our reclaimer points out every week, we’re very interested in people being able to take responsibility for their own health. And if there’s an easy or an understandable way to accomplish that, great. So yeah, we find that this works that way too. Cool. All right. So, then the third target here or the third point here was that the response to this substance is going to be determined differently for drugs than it is for herbs. And this is basically like does it work for you as an individual or not? And so with drugs you sort of assume that there’s going to be consistent preparation, right? We talked a little bit earlier about the potential differences between brand name drugs versus generic drugs. You know, up to 20% of variation in those active ingredients is allowed when you make your generic drug. So, they can be fairly substantially different. Now, I’ve seen some things saying that like realistically it’s more like 5% in the real world. But they’re allowed to have a greater degree of change to that active ingredient. And then of course any level of variation in your inactive ingredients is allowed in your generic formulations. So, let’s just recognize that they’re not exactly the same, but we can treat them as if they were. All right. And we’ll leave out manufacturing errors and other things like that.

Katja (00:36:24):
Yeah, I don’t think we can treat them as if they were. But they are treated as if they were. Yeah.

Ryn (00:36:30):
Okay. So, then the other things that are going to determine how your body responds to the drug are going to be, well of course the dose that you take and the form that it’s delivered in, right? Like some drugs can be given as a tablet or as a liquid. There can be many different variations on the tablet. Like it can be immediate release, and delayed release, and all of this.

Katja (00:36:49):

Ryn (00:36:50):
Yeah. Lots of different things. So, the dose and the form are going to play a role here. There’s a big role here for your digestive and your liver function to affect the way the drug impacts you. Basically a matter of just like with food, you’re not what you eat. You’re what you digest. With drugs you’re not what you take, but what you metabolize. So you know, you need to actually dissolve the tablet inside of your body in order for it to get in there.

Katja (00:37:22):
You know, I had a friend whose husband ran a porta-potty business. And when they dump out the porta-potty… This is kind of gross, but whatever. It’s actually funny. When they dump out the porta-potties they have to screen the contents, because people drop all kinds of stuff. Like glow sticks, and watches, and like who knows what gets dropped in there. And they can’t just dump that into the waste treatment system. So, they screen the stuff first. And she was saying that the most common thing that shows up on those screens, like the thing that is just on all of the screens… And you might be thinking well, glow sticks probably, because of the dark or like whatever. No, it’s Centrum One A Day. And they know that it’s Centrum One A Day, because there they are, still red, still stamped with the Centrum little logo, totally undigested going directly through people. And that cracked me up. But also it is exactly what you’re saying. If you take the thing, but you didn’t digest it properly…

Ryn (00:38:26):
Yeah. And this could be for any number of reasons. You know, one of the ways that they will do an assessment about whether your generic drug is allowed get on the market, like whether it’s close enough to the original, is they’ll take it and drop it into a vial that’s supposed to simulate the acidity level of your stomach. And see how long it takes to dissolve and how much is left over. And if that’s comparable to the brand drug, then they’re like okay, this is a good generic we’ve got there. But I think you were about to say what if your stomach acid isn’t up to par.

Katja (00:38:59):
Right. Your stomach acid isn’t a vial in a chemistry lab.

Ryn (00:39:02):
Yeah. You produce different amounts based on what you’ve done, and what you’ve eaten, and haven’t eaten. And did you take an antacid immediately before swallowing your pill? And like lots of other things get in the way there. So anyway, digestive power and then liver metabolism too, that’s a whole other layer. And you know, the health of your liver is going to impact this. The diet you have, whether you eat the nutrients required for all of the many steps of liver metabolism. That’s not a guarantee on many standard American diets. So, there’s a lot that could get in the way there. And part of your liver metabolism function is also genetic in nature. And there can be other genetic elements to the way that you respond or don’t respond well to a drug. So, that’s an area of really active research right now, because sequencing genes is lot easier than it used to be. And so, you know, there’s a lot of interest in like personalized medicine. With the idea that we’re going to look at your genes and say oh yeah, people with this genetic marker tend not to perform well on this medication. This other one tends to go better for them. Stuff like that, it’s all largely theoretical at this point. But that is a direction that medicine is trying to take.

Katja (00:40:15):
I think also in this pile of determinants, it’s worth noting that in order for a drug to be approved, it does not have to be effective in 100% of the people in the trials. The percentage is shockingly small. It is much less than 50%. So, if a drug did not work for the vast majority of the people in the trial but did work for a minority, that drug could still be approved and put on the market. Now, that’s not necessarily bad. Just because a drug doesn’t work for 70% of the people doesn’t mean that that drug shouldn’t be available. It just means that we should only give it to the 30% of the people, who it actually would help. So, we do need to be able to determine like if only a minority of people respond to that drug and the legal limit. I can’t remember what it is for approval. It may vary from drug to drug, but it’s very small. It’s like 20 or 30%. And that is not a problem. As long as we can determine which people are in that group, well, then fine. If it does what it needs to do for those people, I don’t think we shouldn’t have it. I just think that we need to be aware that drugs usually don’t work for the majority. We need to figure out which drug is right for which person, just like we have to figure out which herb is right for which person. But having grown up in this context, we have this sort of subconscious understanding that a drug works. And it will work for all the people, because it does this thing. And that is the one thing. And it will do it, and it will work. And so if you take the drug, it will work. Well it won’t. It will work for the people it worked for. And it won’t work for the people that it won’t work for.

Ryn (00:42:14):
And then there’s lots of gray area in between.

Katja (00:42:15):
And that’s not actually a problem. We just need to get the right thing for the right person. Okay.

Factors Determining Herbal Effectiveness

Ryn (00:42:20):
Yeah. All right. So, with herbs, the efficacy or the response to a given herb once it gets its way to you has really a lot of things that can influence it, right? So, we can start with the plant growing out there in the wild and about what that plant is exposed to in terms of the soil conditions that it’s growing in, the weather that is exposed to, the microclimate or the climate that it’s growing in. All of those kinds of things are going to shape the health of the plant. And it’s not always to say that the easier a plant has it, the more medicine it makes. In a lot of cases the things that we’re relying on from the plants to exert these medicinal effects in our bodies are produced by the plant in response to a challenging environment. And so we find that plants that are growing wild, they tend to be much stronger medicine than plants that are grown in like a greenhouse, and pampered, and have it super easy all the time. They’re not as challenged, and so they don’t need to respond as much. And their responses are these secondary metabolite chemicals that they make to protect themselves, or to defend themselves, or to heal themselves. And that then we harvest and ingest, and then they have similar actions in our own body.

Katja (00:43:35):
You know, but on the other hand too we say that nettle has a lot of mineral content or whatever. But if that nettle was farmed on a conventional farm that has been a farm for a really long time and hasn’t had minerals replenished in the soil, well then that nettle doesn’t have a lot of mineral content. It only has it if it has it.

Ryn (00:43:59):
Right. So, there’s that. Then there’s the way the plant’s handled. Was it harvested, and then carefully dried, and then kept in airtight water safe containers and everything before it was processed or before it was just cut up and shipped to you? How old is the plant material? All these things are going to influence the potency there. And then how it was prepared, right? Like, was this just cut and sifted. And now you’re going to make tea with it? Or are you going to be the one doing the preparation from there, right? Are you going to make tea it? Are you going to make a tincture? Are you going to infuse it into oil? Are you going to grind it up and put it into a capsule? You’ve got tons of options, but they all have a big influence on the way the herb impacts your body. And then we can think about formulation, right? Is it put together with other plants? What’s the dose that you’re taking? How frequently are you taking it? And then also things that are individual to each person like your constitution. Do you run hot? Well, willow is more likely to be a good herb for you. Do you run cold? Well, less likely. It doesn’t mean it never will be, but it’s just first line prima facie evidence, you know? So, your constitution and your current state of course. And that includes the problem you’re trying to solve, right, this headache you’ve got.

Katja (00:45:17):
Right. Is this headache a hot headache or a cold headache? Is it a dehydration headache or a headache with a lot of dampness hanging around?

Ryn (00:45:25):
But it’s also going to include your current whole body state too, right? So yeah, so lots of different factors there are going to shape the way that you respond to the plant. And some of these are unique to herbalism and are not really relevant for pharmaceuticals.

Katja (00:45:41):
I think also you were mentioning preparation and handling. And somewhere in the middle of that is also I think like format. I’m thinking here of essential oils in particular, because essential oils only contain the parts of the plant that will evaporate. And if you were told that… Okay, this is a silly example. But if you were told that nettle has a lot of minerals. And then you got a nettle essential oil, which that doesn’t exist. But if you did, there wouldn’t be mineral content in that essential oil, because minerals don’t evaporate. So, when you see a claim. And then you say oh great, I’ll just get my essential oil. Well, that claim isn’t necessarily going to be in that essential oil. If you aren’t working with the whole plant. If you’re working with a portion of the plant, like only the essential oil.

Ryn (00:46:49):
Or only the alcohol soluble things you got in your tincture.

Katja (00:46:51):
Yeah. If you’ve extracted it, right. If you do a tincture of nettle, you also aren’t really going to get much of the mineral content. Because minerals don’t really extract very well in alcohol. And even if they did, you’re still taking a very small dose. So, the flip side of that is did you buy a commercially prepared capsule and was that capsule standardized? And is that standardization a non-natural standardization? For example, did you get milk thistle that had 80%…

Ryn (00:47:24):

Katja (00:47:29):
Yeah, I always like to say sillymarin. And then I was like no wait, don’t say it that way. But why wouldn’t you say sillymarin if you could. Oh, sillymarin. Yes. Anyway. Or if you get a kava tincture, and it’s standardized on the kava lactones. But that is not the percentage that reflects how that plant is found in nature. Then that’s going to change the way that this interacts with your body as well. That’s not necessarily bad in all cases. It’s just different, and it needs to be accounted for.

Ryn (00:48:05):
It is different. And it’s good to regard it as a different substance, you know? So, if I have St. John’s wort. And I powder it, and I consume that powder, that’s one thing. Or if I put it in some capsules, and I consume it that way, that’s one thing. If I take a St. John’s wort supplement that contains all of the ingredients in the herb, but it’s been standardized to make sure it has at least 5% hypericin, well that’s different. Because the ground up powder doesn’t have 5% hypericin. That’s much higher than what would normally occur in the plant or in that standard powder. Okay. And then if I then have also another supplement that’s just straight up hypericin, that’s again very different. So, each of these, we regard them as a different substance. And we expect them to behave differently in the body. And this is also useful when you’re researching, because very, very frequently claims or statements are made about an herb based on research about a constituent of that herb. And that can be useful information. Sometimes that can point us in a direction or backup some stuff we already know. But it’s not a one-to-one correlation.

Katja (00:49:17):
Remember that most studies are done for the purpose of making money. So, when they are studying herbs, what they really want is to be able to profit from that. And in order to profit from an herb, you have to patent the extraction process. You can’t patent the herb. So, what they’re really studying is find me one chemical in this plant. And a particular way to extract it that I can depend on a particular result. That will ultimately be patentable, and that I can turn into a product to sell. And that’s not necessarily true of studies done in other countries. It’s not necessarily untrue, but it’s not necessarily true. But when you’re reading studies especially done in the United States, understanding that that is the background motivation for the vast majority of them, will help you understand the reason that they did the study in the way that they did. And how that study could be applicable to what you’re actually trying to find or could not be applicable to it. Again, none of this stuff is good or bad. It just is. And if you’re aware of it, then that will inform your research.

Ryn (00:50:38):
Yeah. And also briefly, this is not like us saying that the actual individual researchers who are out there with the Petri dish are the ones who have these motivations and goals in mind. This is a structural situation. So, it’s a matter of what gets the grant money. Where does that come from? What are they looking for? What are they most interested in promoting or pursuing? So, for those of you who care about clients and are out there in your lab, like we hear you.

Katja (00:51:01):
Sometimes scientists are looking for that. But that’s because maybe they’re trying to create a new drug to solve a very specific problem. And that’s great.

Ryn (00:51:14):
That’s noble work. Yeah, for sure.

Katja (00:51:15):
Yeah, that’s fine.

Drug-Herb Differences are Clarifying

Ryn (00:51:16):
But it’s just not the same thing as plucking some flowers from the field and making a tea for yourself. So, we’re just trying to make sure we don’t confuse those. All right. So, those are three key points, right? So, you’ve got the makeup of the thing, the target of the thing and the way that the response of your body to the thing varies, right? So, understanding these differences is valuable I think, because first of all it clarifies some common misunderstandings about what herbs are and how they work. And especially this myth of the active ingredient, where you could emphasize each one of those words. The, because it’s the only one. Active, because these others aren’t active. So, that myth there. Willow is not just salicylates. St. John’s wort is not just hypericin. For that matter, cannabis is not just THC, or CBD, or both of them, right? Sometimes these quote unquote full spectrum cannabis extracts there are really not. Even if you’re only interested in the cannabinoids, you’ve got to recognize that that’s very different from what the plant itself produces and even the effect that it can have.

Katja (00:52:28):
Yeah. That’s the thing, right? If you were interested in a full spectrum extract of cannabis, you would just tincture it. However it’s still wouldn’t work. Because the way that they grow the plant is specifically creating imbalance in the plant.

Ryn (00:52:46):
Yeah, the hybridization, and the environments they put them in, and everything else. Yeah. So, we could go on and on and tell those stories. So lots of… Huh?

Katja (00:52:56):
But we won’t.

Ryn (00:52:57):
We won’t. We’re at it for a while today. So, the other reasons that I find this to be important to keep in mind is that this helps set your expectations a little more appropriately. Drugs can be fast acting. Drugs can be miraculous. They can accomplish things that herbs sometimes just plain can’t, right? If you have somebody with sepsis, you need some pharmaceutical antibiotics and a bunch of other interventions. That’s just how that gets to be.

Katja (00:53:26):
Okay. Maybe if every situation, like if everything is right. And you get really lucky in an off grid austere environment, you might be able to manage sepsis naturally. But that would not be my choice. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that.

Ryn (00:53:46):
So, right. And I mean there are some… Anyway, so yes, there are miracle drugs. They exist. But we prefer to save them for when we actually need a miracle. And that’s not the way that our culture behaves with drugs. Herbs are miraculous too, just in different ways.

Katja (00:54:02):
Yeah. In the everyday kind of way. And the everyday kind of way is also critically important. It’s critically important. Just the,

Ryn (00:54:14):
It’s not as flashy.

Katja (00:54:16):
It might not be as flashy, but it is the thing that keeps you going. And I don’t know, sometimes they are flashy. Sometimes they’re pretty amazing. I personally think that lobelia is pretty darn flashy.

Ryn (00:54:30):
Well, that’s fair. That’s fair. But you know, understanding these differences between herbs and drugs, it also helps us make better decisions about what to take and how to take it. Like if we stopped thinking of willow as natural aspirin, then we won’t worry about drinking too much willow tea and getting an ulcer. Because too much aspirin can definitely give you an ulcer.

Katja (00:54:54):
And I’ve definitely had people say oh, I can’t work with willow, because I have an ulcer. Well, actually those two things aren’t correlated.

Ryn (00:55:02):
Right. And with willow the tannins in it are going to help to heal up that ulcer.

Katja (00:55:06):
And the anti-inflammatory component.

Ryn (00:55:08):
Right. And the form of salicylate that you have in willow is not going to worsen your ulcer situation.

Katja (00:55:14):
Right. Because there’s no acid in it.

Ryn (00:55:17):
Right. Okay. And then you’re also not going to be taking your willow tea to try to get a blood thinning effect from it, right? Because we recognize that again, the form that’s present here doesn’t behave the same way as aspirin does in regard to blood thinning.

Katja (00:55:33):
Because no acetyl group.

Ryn (00:55:34):
Yeah. And you’re also not going to try and give willow to every single person who comes around with a headache. Because that is the general way with the drug. It’s like oh you have a headache? Take some aspirin, see if it helps. And you can try that. You can be like yeah, take some willow. See if it helps. But you’ll also recognize that there are ways to determine or ways to predict whether it’s going to be more helpful or less likely to be helpful based on things that you can observe. And simple questions that you can ask the person who’s suffering, to help you to get a better sense of what it feels like for them on the inside.

Katja (00:56:09):
Plus you won’t say oh here, try willow for your headache. Oh, it didn’t work. I guess herbs don’t work. Which is so funny, because if we take aspirin for a headache, and it doesn’t work, nobody says oh, I guess drugs don’t work. Like that doesn’t happen. And so why is that so common with herbs? It is because people think herbs oh, they’re just weak drugs. Oh, they’re just… No. Instead we should think oops, I didn’t choose the right one. Oh, I didn’t apply the right herb to the right situation. Oh, I didn’t understand the situation, or the herb I was trying to work with. We should think those things instead of oh, herbs don’t work. It’s just a myth. It’s just an old wives’ tale.

Ryn (00:56:53):
So, in other words there’s only the hard way. And that’s our motto for everything. But here like what do we mean by that? What is herbalism really like with this lens, with this difference. What we’re getting here is that herbs are not only not drugs, but that it’s a whole separate system. It’s what you’ve been saying as we’ve been going along here. That there’s a whole other paradigm here that you need to be working within.

Katja (00:57:20):
Sorry, I gave away the ending.

Ryn (00:57:22):
No, it’s good, right? Like you need the whole thing. You can’t take the herb and put it into the pharmaceutical paradigm and expect it to behave the same way or perform the same way. It’s going to get in your way there.

Katja (00:57:36):
And of course the reality that this is a whole system, and that it’s complex, and that it takes time to learn it, and that you need a structure in which to learn it. A lot of that means that in the moment that you are in discomfort, you may not have time to go through all that. You may be too busy, because our culture doesn’t make space for real self-care. You may be whatever. And so the point here is that you’re not bad if you choose to take a pharmaceutical. You do what you need to do to deal with the situation you’re in in the moment that you’re in it. And if in the moment that you’re in it you’re like oh my God. This whole herb thing is complex, and I am really excited about learning it. But it’s not the system I grew up with. And it’s like learning a whole new language. And I haven’t done all that work yet, and I need to do something. I need to fix this problem right now. Well okay, go see a clinical herbalist or take the pharmaceutical. Do what you’ve got to do.

Ryn (00:58:39):
Well, yeah. And you know, sometimes just try the herb. Because occasionally this for that like. You know, take this herb for that problem. Sometimes that way of working with herbs does work, right? Willow does relieve headaches for a lot of people.

Katja (00:58:53):
Yeah. Or like do the very minimum. Like hold on, am I hot or cold right now? Okay, now I’m going to Google herbs for headache. And I’m going to pick the one that’s the opposite of what I am. Like just a tiny little bit of whatever on top of it.

Ryn (00:59:06):
Right. Yeah. And then also just recognizing that with herbs you have this added benefit that they tend not to be dangerous. Very frequently the dose of herb that you can work with that’s going to be effective is also very safe for you. Even if it’s not the most particular plant for your body, and your constitution, and your tissue state, and everything else. Very frequently that will be safe. If it doesn’t match, if it’s not the right fit, it may not work. It may make it slightly worse. But it’s not like a case of a drug, where choosing the wrong one can kill you. And yeah, I know there’s herbs that can kill you. But we’re assuming that you’ve gotten past that stage of plant safety.

Katja (00:59:50):
Yes. And I guess to go back to that there’s only the hard way part is that it only works if you’re going to do it. And it only works if you have the space to do it. And so you need to make that space. And that can be as simple as I’m going to go out, and I’m going to buy a tincture. Because that’s all I have time for right now. But I am going to make sure that I take it five times a day. Like I’m not going to take one dropper full once and think that that’s going to fix my problem, unless it is a low dose plant. Somebody recently asked, and I don’t think I’ve answered the question yet. But they were asking about elderberry syrup. And instead of taking a teaspoon a day, could they take a tablespoon every three or four days? And is it like vitamin D, that it’ll like stick around for a while. And my very first thought was a teaspoon a day isn’t enough. Like the first part there wasn’t enough. But so, you know, make sure that you have the appropriate dose for the herb that you’re working with, and that you make space for that. And that doesn’t mean that you have to sit down to tea time five times a day if you don’t have time for that. Sometimes what it means is that you take a really good quality capsule. And I do that sometimes. There are times that I am really struggling with sleep. And Gaia makes a really good ashwagandha extract. And there are times that I buy that capsule. And that doesn’t make you not an herbalist, if you work with a capsule sometimes. You just need to make the space to do the thing. But not to do the thing, because Google said ashwagandha will fix the problem. So, you took one capsule a day and oh, it didn’t fix the problem. So, herbs don’t work. Like okay, I know that ashwagandha is going to help with my sleep issues. And I need to make sure that I have space in my life to get enough of it into my body. And right now I don’t have a lot of time. So, I’m going to buy a high potency capsule from a company that I trust that I know is very effective. And I’m going to take the right number of them, which might be several, several times a day. And that’s the space that I can afford to make in my life right now. Or maybe that space that you can afford to making your life right now is to sleep 10 hours a night, and make sure you’re eating all the best food, and drink a quart of nettles every day. And the hard way doesn’t have to mean it’s only that second thing. But you do have to think it through.

Ryn (01:02:27):
Yeah. And I’m sort of thinking to myself over here, it’s actually not very hard to start down the path of the hard way, right? Like you know, some basic energetics and some basic herbal safety and all of that is really pretty easy to get into. And then you can start to make your own experiments from there. And I guess the major thing too is to be observant. And say like how do I respond to this? And to be observant of all the layers of it. I didn’t respond too well to taking one dropper of ashwagandha tincture once a day. Does that mean I write the herb off entirely? Well, what if I try this Gaia capsule? What if I try making a decoction and drinking a quart of it? And lots of different ways of recognizing all those factors that can influence how you respond to the herb.

Katja (01:03:13):
Wait, but ashwagandha decoction is really bitter. That doesn’t taste good. I would never do that. Oh, hold on. What if the really bitter part is part of what I need in my body? Ahhhh, right? Yeah.

Understanding Phytochemistry Helps

Ryn (01:03:25):
So, yeah. So, just taking the things that we’ve talked about today and recognizing how they can influence do herbs work at that big level. So, we’re basically just inviting you to dig deeper and to appreciate the herbs on their own terms. And here’s your commercial break for this podcast episode. So, as this episode has hopefully made clear, a study of phytochemistry is one way to appreciate herbs on their own terms and to appreciate their kaleidoscopic complexity.

Katja (01:03:57):
And to be able to feel confident when you’re reading a scientific study, or when you’re talking to your cousin who’s a pharmacist and is always dissing your herbal ideas, or whatever. Getting some solid phytochemistry can give you not just a lot of great knowledge, but also some confidence.

Ryn (01:04:19):
Yeah. And you know, this is our basic phytochemistry course. It’s not scary. It’s our attempt to make this accessible and understandable. And so even if you hated chemistry in high school, don’t worry. This is not like that. It’s actually fun. It’s actually useful. We really tried to orient the whole thing towards stuff that will actually matter to you as a real life person in the real live world.

Katja (01:04:40):
He keeps saying we. But you guys, he did all of the work on this course. And it’s awesome, I have to tell you. It’s not just because he’s my husband. It is because it’s really, really good. I think another part of this that’s really important is that understanding phytochemistry helps you debunk a lot of stuff. It’s the thing that helps you understand is frankincense essential oil really going to cure cancer. Oh, hold on. Whoops. No, that doesn’t work that way. It’s the thing that helps you understand oh, that’s why if I infuse that herb in oil it works better, or it doesn’t work at all, right? It’s going to help you make better herbal products. It’s going to help you not waste a bunch of plant matter, because you’re going to work with it in the most effective way for extraction. It’s going to help you do better research, because you’re going to be able to read new sources of information and understand what they say.

Katja (01:05:41):
Basically it’s really important is what we’re saying.

Ryn (01:05:43):
It’s pretty good. So, go check it out. You’ll find that and all of our courses at commonwealthherbs.com/learn. And now the shout outs.

Katja (01:05:53):
Yes. This week we’ve got some shout outs. First off to so many of you who congratulated us on the hundredth episode last week. I definitely started a list, and then the list was too long. So all of you, thank you so much. Yeah. And also to Anna whose friend told her about the pod, and she loves it. So, thank you for telling us, Anna. And also thank you to your friend, whoever is out there who’s Anna’s friend who told her, a shout out to you too. And a shout out to everybody who likes the pod and tells a friend.

Ryn (01:06:31):
Yeah. We have one for FrumpyGrump on Instagram, who definitely has the best Instagram name that I’ve seen. FrumpyGrump. That’s fantastic.

Katja (01:06:43):
I love it.

Ryn (01:06:44):
FrumpyGrump says they love the pod, and it puts them in a good mood. Nice. That’s just what we hope will happen.

Katja (01:06:49):
That is. That’s exactly what we want to have happen.

Ryn (01:06:54):
You can be grumpy and in a good mood, right?

Katja (01:06:56):
No, you can. And frumpy too. Yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact I think that Elsie is doing that right now. She’s napping behind us in a sunbeam with a blanket. Yeah. Awww, good Elsie. To Rachel who is starting our free course: Four Keys to Holistic Herbalism. She’s doing that now before she moves on to the Family Herbalist program. And I’m really excited about that.

Ryn (01:07:23):
Yeah, me too. We have one for RaeBellows and also for groundcherryrevival, who both wrote reviews for us on Apple podcasts. Thank you. Thank you. That helps people find our podcast and spreads the herby goodness further in the world.

Katja (01:07:40):
Yes. Also, RaeBellows was writing in her review, or in their review, that they’re an herbalist in an area where there aren’t really other herbalists. And actually I was just writing about that this morning to our students in the online program. I was reading about how sometimes we have to build an herbal community for ourselves. And you can do that. You can just invite a friend for tea. Maybe at first you don’t even talk about herbs in particular. You just start out with some tasty tea and maybe some herby cookies, like the recipe for ginger-chamomile cookies that you can search for on our blog. And you just let it be a simple timeout in your day. And over time that friend might turn out to love herbs just like you do.

Ryn (01:08:28):
Or differently from the way you do, which is also really good.

Katja (01:08:30):
Yeah, which is also really good. And if you have a friend, and you want to be study buddies in any of our online courses, you and your study buddies can get discounts on our courses if you sign up together. So, in order to do that, just email us directly at info@commonwealthherbs.com. I don’t have a good way to like set up a thing on the website for that yet, but it’s coming. But if you just send us an email, if you have three friends then there’s a 50% discount on one of the enrollments. And you can spread that out among the three of you any way that you want to. And if you are a group of five friends studying together, then one of you gets a free enrollment. And you can spread that discount around the group any way that you want.

Ryn (01:09:25):
That’s like 20% per person.

Katja (01:09:28):
Right, yeah. Or like if one person in the group doesn’t have a lot of spare cash right now, but other people in the group have some, then you can give that one person in the group a much larger discount, and everybody else a smaller discount. That’s totally fine too. Any way you want. So if you are a group of three people or a group of five people, and you want to be a study group, email me. And I will set you up with a custom study buddy discount.

Ryn (01:09:57):
Cool. All right, well that’s it for us this week. We aren’t sure what we’re going to talk about next time, but we’ll figure it out.

Katja (01:10:06):
It will be the hundred and second email, I mean podcast. And the only thing I can think of when I hear the hundred and second, isn’t that an airborne?

Ryn (01:10:15):
I am pretty sure.

Katja (01:10:16):
The screaming Eagles, I’m pretty sure. Maybe we should make it be herbs for…

Ryn (01:10:23):

Katja (01:10:24):
Air people. Thank you.

Ryn (01:10:26):
Air humans. I presume that there are no actual eagles conscripted into the military yet.

Katja (01:10:33):
I don’t know. Maybe they have. I think they conscripted pigeons at some point. Dogs. There could be actual eagles.

Ryn (01:10:43):
All right. Well, no promises on this one by the way.

Katja (01:10:46):
No, but tune in next week to find out.

Ryn (01:10:49):
What does the hundred and second episode actually turn out to be on the Holistic Herbalism podcast. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea, and we’ll see you then.

Katja (01:11:01):


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