Podcast 125: This Is Not The Practice Of Medicine

The pharmaceutical model is the dominant paradigm for medicine in our culture. For those of us who grew up in this culture, it shapes our expectations of what medicine is and how medicine works. Everyone is susceptible to this, including herbalists and students of herbalism. Even if, in the front of our minds, we recognize the limits of a drug-oriented approach, it lurks in the mental undergrowth. It shapes the way we form our questions and the types of answers we look for.

In herbalism, though, we are doing something different. Herbs are not drugs, they’re herbs. Herbalists are not doctors, they’re herbalists! Understanding the differences is important because it allows us to better assess when each strategy is most appropriate. Sometimes, you do need a pharmaceutical. Sometimes, a diet change and a daily pot of tea would actually be more effective. Being able to tell the difference is what allows us to integrate holistic and conventional methods successfully.

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:01):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:16):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:16):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:20):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Alright, episode 125

Katja (00:28):
Oh, that sounds like isn’t that sesquicentennial?

Ryn (00:32):
Sure. Let’s go with that.

Katja (00:35):
Uh okay. So on the pod this week, a student asked a question. All of our video courses have discussion threads on them so that students can type questions right while they’re watching if they want to. And I was answering it and the answer was talking about ways in which holistic herbalism is really, really different from the practice of conventional medicine.

Ryn (00:57):
Which is a topic that we just don’t get bored of.

Katja (01:00):
No, we never get tired of talking about that. Right. Because…

Ryn (01:03):
For reasons that we’re going to discuss here.

Katja (01:04):
Because we talk about like herbalism is not the practice of medicine. And we make that distinction very clearly because we don’t want anybody to think that we are practicing medicine without a license. But also because we are not, like this isn’t the practice of medicine. They’re really two different things and they can be woven together. But yeah, it never gets old talking about how they’re different.

Ryn (01:33):
In part because we find it necessary to do that, not just for our students, you know, but for ourselves too.

Katja (01:39):
Yes. And for the world also because man, everybody, we all grew up in this medicinal model. And so when people come to herbalism, it’s necessary to reset some expectations because things don’t work the same as they do in the medical model.

Ryn (01:56):
Exactly. Yeah. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. But first, let’s get our reclaimer going on and remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (02:07):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. That’s because this is not the practice of medicine.

Ryn (02:15):
They constitute herbal advice, I suppose.

Katja (02:17):
No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and research further.

Ryn (02:35):
And we want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility to final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed by two herbalists on the internet, or prescribed by any number of physicians, is in fact always yours.

Katja (02:49):
Yes. All right, well maybe I should read the question to start with.

Ryn (02:57):
Yeah, let’s start with that.

Katja (02:59):
You know, hold on.

Ryn (03:00):
Or maybe some context for it.

Katja (03:00):
Yeah. But before that I just have to note that like we always sit here and we have our laptops so that we can look at the notes and have everything goes smoothly. And you have your laptop and I have my laptop and I don’t even know why I bothered to bring my laptop because I always just look at yours.

Ryn (03:18):
The grass is greener.

Katja (03:18):
I guess so. Anyway, it’s clearer on yours. I don’t even know. It’s bigger. It’s something. Okay, well anyway, we were talking about this question.

Ryn (03:30):
Was it in the immune health course, perhaps?

The Question: Is Herb X Good for Diagnosis Y?

Katja (03:33):
It was. It was in the immune health course. And so this was where we were talking about immune function and white blood cell count and herbs that can increase white blood cell count. And the question was, wow, does codonopsis also increase white blood cell production as well? I often consider it similarly to boneset. And would these herbs generally be a bad idea for someone with leukemia who already has high levels of white blood count, white blood cell.

Ryn (04:12):
So, maybe let’s just pause and say, okay, you can see the reason that someone’s going to be thinking in this direction. You’re going along, you’re learning about herbs, you’re learning about codonopsis or boneset or other immune tonic. And you’re seeing notes like, Oh, you know, here’s somebody who had lowered white blood cell count and deficient immune response. And they started taking this herb and their immune response improved and they became healthier. And even in some cases, yeah, we did see either greater production of white blood cells or maybe greater activity of them or responsiveness or you know, some other metric that we could look at. And so you say, alright, that’s cool, but a little is good, but maybe too much would be too much. Right? What if we had somebody who already had elevated white blood cell levels? And here’s an herb that’s been shown in some contexts to raise them. And so we put two and two together and you say, I don’t know, four could be pretty dangerous. So you can definitely see the rationale, right? And this line of reasoning is something that’s going to probably make sense to most people who grew up in this culture because this is the way that we would have to think in order to proceed safely. We would have to think this way about a pharmaceutical agent.

Katja (05:22):
And also I think that even before going any further, I want to say that there’s nothing wrong with thinking this way. We’re going to sort of break this down and talk about why herbs don’t really work in the way that we often expect things to happen when we’re coming from a medicinal model mindset. But it’s always okay to err on the side of safety, right? It’s always okay to say, well, I don’t know, maybe this would be a problem. So I should probably be really conservative. That’s always a fine thing to do,

Ryn (06:00):
Right. Like with elderberry recently, you know. So, we’ve got an article about this topic. If you just type elderberry into our search bar on Commonwealthherbs.com this will be one of several elderberry and elder related articles that will pop up for you. But this was about a concern that some some herbalists have been voicing or responding to lately that elderberry, you know, is understood to be an immune stimulating herb. And there was concern about causing what’s called a cytokine storm, which is a kind of over-enthusiastic to a very dangerous degree kind of immune response. And some folks had drawn this connection and said, Oh, well elderberry has been shown in some studies to increase the levels of these kinds of cytokines. Some of those have been implicated in the cytokine storm or they’re the ones that we’re worried about in that phenomenon. So does that mean that elderberry could cause a cytokine storm? Does that mean that we should not give this to people who may be encountering coronavirus, or that we should be really cautious and people with certain kinds of immune state? And to go back to what you were saying a moment ago, the answer is yeah, you can always be cautious. Sure. You don’t need to take elderberry. Nobody needs to take elderberry, right?.

Katja (07:14):
There are so many plants.

Ryn (07:15):
There are lots of plants that can support health support immunity and don’t have that specific concern. And so if that’s going to make you feel safer, great. Do that. Always do that. No problem at all.

Katja (07:26):
Yeah. The article does go on to say why this is not really something that is a concern. But yeah, but that’s the point. It’s always okay to play it safe 100% of the time. It’s okay to play it safe. Yeah.

Ryn (07:42):
But we can sometimes kind of err too far on that side, right? Or we could at least say it’s fine to err on the side of caution, but it’s also great to know when you are being overcautious even if you continue to do so. That’s fine.

Katja (07:56):
All right. Well, so to go back to this original question, and now that we’ve established that it’s always okay to be cautious. Here’s the thing. Herbs are not pharmaceuticals. And Ryn hasn’t made a note about episode number 101 where we talked about herbs are different than drugs. So if you didn’t hear that one yet…

Ryn (08:20):
Yeah, check it out. We laid out three of the many, three critical or three important ways in which herbs are really different from pharmaceuticals. And that should be helpful. So, check that one out.

Katja (08:32):
Yeah. But the thing is that drugs are what we all, or at least what almost all of us grew up with. That model is what we grew up with. So we think about everything from that perspective. And since a drug could force the production of white blood cells, it could be dangerous for someone with leukemia. But codonopsis doesn’t force production of anything. And very, very few herbs actually do that.

Ryn (08:59):
Right. Yeah. What would it mean for a drug to force something to happen in the body? Well, you could say, alright, we know that there’s a physiological process and if this particular kind of signal is delivered to this particular kind of cell, then there’s going to be this cascade of reactions, right? So, you know, there are cells in your body or structures in your body that produce white blood cells. And they have a number of different influences on their activity level, right? Hormones and neurotransmitters and nerve signals and physical signals from what you actually do with your body and space, right? All these different things are going to influence production, but you could definitely imagine a situation in which we’ve found some chemical key. And if you deliver that key to the right receptor site on those white blood cell producing structures in your body, then it’s like flipping a switch, or it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. It’s like, okay, we’re going to do this now. Everything’s going to happen. And so that’s the way that a lot of pharmaceuticals work, is that they are a substance that your body reacts to. And it says, okay, this is my job now. This is what I’m going to do. All signals say this is time to do this, do this work, do this product, make this job happen.

Katja (10:15):
Now I want to put an asterisk next to that, because I don’t want to get too far into the weeds. But I do want to acknowledge that even though we can create pharmaceuticals that force things to happen, drugs don’t always work for all people. And sometimes you’re just too depleted even to force something to happen. And so there are definitely situations in which we could create a drug that would have a particular intended outcome. And that it just simply would not work for a particular person, because they didn’t have the reserves in the body. Like no matter how many times you say get me a glass of water, if you have no water, you’ld be like, well, I can hand you this glass. But there’s nothing in it because I have no water. And so you could keep poking the person and say, get me a glass of water. And the person can keep responding but it would just be an empty glass. So, I don’t want to follow that too much further because that’s a whole other thing. And it’s fascinating and really cool, but that’s not exactly where I want to focus today.

Ryn (11:18):
Right. So, like in this sort of ideal platonic form of a drug.

Herbs are Nourishment

Katja (11:24):
Yeah, exactly. I just want to make allowance for that. And I want to acknowledge that that allowance is actually very large. And it does play in in part to what we’re going to talk about next. Which is that, so if codonopsis in particular, because that’s the herb we’re talking about right now, doesn’t force production of white blood cell count, then how come we can see that in studies sometimes people take codonopsis have increased white blood cell production. And a big part of the reason is that codonopsis nourishes bone marrow. It’s a food plant. It provides the stuff that your bone marrow needs, or at least some of the stuff that your bone marrow needs, to be healthy.

Ryn (12:12):
Yeah. And stuff means a lot of things. Stuff. It means lots of stuff. Okay. Well what am I saying? This is true on the level of literal nutritive elements like mineral content and, you know, some other things that are just to be considered part of food.

Katja (12:29):
Nourishment. Yeah.

Ryn (12:32):
But in the case of codonopsis, it’s also tied in with the herbs effects as an adaptogen, as an herb that improves hormonal communications in the body. And so again, when we think about the whole variety of different influences on the bone marrow to produce white blood cells and to make them healthy and strong, codonopsis is helping in what we’d call a nourishing way, both through like direct delivery of literal building blocks, but also through, let’s call it, creating a nourishing environment, right? Like how you want to create a nurturing environment for children to grow, right? You want to create a nurturing environment and that includes not just like is there food available, but also, you know, are all communications between parties taking place in a respectful manner. Is everybody’s voice being heard? Are we all clear about what’s going on around us? And is this happening in your body at the level of the marrow.

Katja (13:29):
And that, by the way, that’s what the endocrine system is doing it. The endocrine system is communicating. And when we hear endocrine, we typically think about reproductive health and maybe stress management, because those are the two things we focus on. But hormones are responsible for sending jillions of different messages throughout the body. And a lot of them have to do with your bones. All alright. So why, why are we talking about bones? Why aren’t we talking about white blood cells? Because white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.

Ryn (14:01):
And red ones too.

Katja (14:01):
And platelets. Bones are gloriously complex. We sort of think of them as just like cement blocks or whatever that are formed in the shape of the skeleton. But they are so dynamic. So one of the things that happens there is that these different cells are created. And so if your bone marrow is very healthy, then it will make healthy white blood cells that are sufficient to do the job that needs to be done. But here’s the thing. Not every bone marrow is healthy. And so not every white blood cell is going to be produced in a quality manner. And that might seem like a kind of shocking statement. We are so accustomed to hearing well, like, yeah, white blood cells are just made in the bone marrow. So we just think that just happens. But it doesn’t just happen. So here’s an example that you can see, right? Sometimes it’s hard to think about these things microscopically, but here’s an example you can see. Think about your fingernails, right? Some people have strong, lovely nails that don’t chip. And they’re naturally smooth and they grow in the right shape. And other people have thin nails that chip often or they split or they grow with like a curve over the edge or whatever, or they have really strong ridges in them. So just because your body is supposed to have fingernails, that doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to have nice fingernails.

Ryn (15:35):
I’m finding it so hard to not like investigate my nails right now. It’s like oh, what’s going on in here?

Katja (15:39):
Right? You have to make sure that you provide your body with all the stuff that it requires to create good quality fingernails. It’s not a guarantee. So this is true like hair, you know, if you, Oh, remember it was so hard for me to grow my hair out past, like I got it to my shoulders. And then I couldn’t get it any longer than that. It just would not grow longer. And then I started drinking nettles like crazy and it was providing more of the resources that my body needed to produce hair. And suddenly I grew my hair down to my butt. And you might be looking at me now because I have really short hair now.

Ryn (16:20):
You had long hair.

Katja (16:23):
I had really long hair.

Ryn (16:25):
It was long. And it was longer than it looked too, cause it was curly. So if you straightened it, it was like really long.

Katja (16:31):
So, the point here is you’ve had experience with this kind of thing, either in your own body or maybe you have a friend with chipped nails or whatever. And so this is about providing what your body needs. And if you live on Doritos and Twinkies and pizza, then you maybe don’t have all of the resources that are required to have nice fingernails, which is why we talk so much about food.

Ryn (16:59):
Yeah, it’s not just the nails y’all. It’s like basically everything.

Katja (17:01):
It’s your whole body. Yeah.

Ryn (17:03):
You are what you eat. You are what you assimilate. Yeah.

Katja (17:06):
And so now that I have pulled pizza and Twinkies and Doritos into the discussion, I just also want to say that first off, you do not have to be perfect. Please don’t hear that and immediately say, Oh my God, if I ever eat a potato chip again, my nails will chip.

Ryn (17:22):
And my bone marrow won’t make white blood cells anymore. No, no, it’s not that extreme, right? Your body’s more resilient than maybe, I dunno, maybe what’s really best for us.

Katja (17:31):
Yeah. So don’t take that as like a sign that you have to be perfect in everything that you eat. You just have to make sure that you get what you need. And then the flip side of that is that we also, anytime that we’re talking about a requirement of nutrition, in order to create health, we also need to recognize that food justice is a serious issue in this country, That only people who have means and privilege have access to really good quality food. And that people in marginalized communities, people who don’t have a lot of money, who don’t have a lot of privilege, do not necessarily have access to good quality food. And so we can’t look at somebody and say, hey, your fingernails are splitting. I guess you just don’t care about your health, right? Because maybe they don’t have access to the food that they need to grow healthy fingernails. Or maybe right now you’re in a big funk and the only way that you’re finding comfort for yourself is through cake. And you know, that happens too sometimes. So this is not an opportunity to make judgments or to feel guilt or shame. This is an opportunity to recognize that food is critically important to being healthy. And that that has implications all the way around. But you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to get what you need.

Ryn (18:53):
Yeah. So it’s that way with fingernails. It’s that way with white blood cells too, right? You can create strong ones that do their jobs really well, but it’s not a guarantee, right? You might make some wimpy ones. And maybe they break down too easily and don’t really help you very much. And again, it could be because you’re lacking the materials to make them sufficiently strong. It could be that your body’s trying to compensate by shifting some resources to make more, but it just doesn’t have everything it needs. So it does the best it can, but it’s not all the way there.

Katja (19:26):
Yeah. Like maybe you’re sick and your body’s like, I need a lot of white blood cells, but it doesn’t really have what it needs to do that. So it shifts quantity, but you suffer on quality.

Ryn (19:39):
Or something else could be going on. Like maybe your body is doing just fine at producing your immune responders, but they’re getting misdirected. Like, maybe you’re eating a food allergen you didn’t realize you had. And every time you eat it, your body is mounting an immune response and drawing on your reserves. And now they’re all busy with that and they’re not doing their normal surveillance of all the corridors. So yeah, all kinds of things could be going on. And again, just because the job or the general work of bone marrow is to make blood cells, it doesn’t automatically guarantee that one particular individual’s bone marrow is going to be doing that job very well. So we have to help.

A Complex Supply Chain of Support, Not Manual Override

Katja (20:20):
Yeah. We have to have to help. And now we’re back to codonopsis, right? Codonopsis doesn’t just force your body to crank out white blood cells. Instead it creates like a supply chain so that the job that needs to be done can be done well. And again, that supply chain is not just nutrients, because there are other types of nutrients that your bone marrow also needs. But it addresses some of those nutrients and also some of the communication channels, and some inflammatory markers, and some other things that need to happen in order for this job to be done well.

Ryn (20:54):
Yeah. And you know, codonopsis has, like, if you were drawing a flow chart or like a diagram of effects, it’s not like one straight line that goes from this to this to this to this. It’s going to branch, it’s going to be a web of effects. They’re going to interplay with each other.

Katja (21:12):
A very complicated flow chart.

Ryn (21:13):
Yeah. It’s going to be great. And that’s what we like about herbs, right? This isn’t a drawback. Because you could look at that and say, well, but I want something that’s going to boost white blood cell count and I want it to be like one straight line. Take this, that happens. But with herbs, that’s usually not what we’re actually looking for. And again, it’s a big difference between herbs and drugs. With your drugs, you don’t want it to have multiple kinds of effects because you’re going to call them side effects. And they’re going to complicate your approval from the FDA and whoever else, right? So it’s a really different intention like from the beginning of trying to create or to produce a substance like this. It’s a very different intention if you’re working with pharmaceuticals versus when you’re working with herbs. And when you apply the model of one to the other, then it doesn’t really work out very well for you.

Katja (22:03):
Yeah. I want to note that we’re describing some super supportive actions here. And I don’t mean that to imply, or we together don’t mean that to imply that no herbs have very active actions. Right? So like if you were to do a thyme steam with thyme, or it could be an oregano steam, or a, you know, whatever, there is a direct, very active anti-microbial action there. And you really can kill a bunch of germs by breathing that in when you happen to be sick. And that will happen because the steam releases some volatile oils that have anti-microbial action, but only on contact. So this won’t go all the way through your bloodstream and come back and do the job that way. It happens as you breathe it in. That’s not the only action that thyme has. It’s not actually literally like you’re inhaling Lysol, which, please don’t do that. That would be a terrible thing. Do not do that. But it is going to have that action. And the temperature of the hot steam plus some other actions of the thyme are going to help raise the temperature of your lungs, which makes it hard for viruses and bacteria to live in there. And it’s going to stimulate the mucus in your lungs to do the work that it needs to do as part of its immune response. And like, there’s a lot of different mechanisms by which a thyme or oregano or sage or any of those plants breathed in a steam will help your lungs to fight off an infection. And yes, one of them is a direct sort of assist, right? Like, hey, I’m going to help you do the things you need to do. And also I’m just going to clean up these dishes for you.

Ryn (24:03):
Yeah, right, right. Now I’ll just put a little aside here that there is a category or a class you might say of herbs that do function more like pharmaceuticals and that tends to be plants that have very strong chemistry in them. And by that I mean that they contain some chemicals in a high enough concentration that are so powerful that they almost override or that they cast a shadow over the network of other effects that are happening in that plant, right? So you imagine an herb like, well, a poisonous plant for instance like water hemlock or something where it can shut down your ability to breathe and then you can die from that. And that’s pretty scary, right? And so obviously in that case, this is not some plant that is benignly providing some nutritive assists to your body in something that it was already trying to do. You know, or even like a less extreme example, but something like a lobelia. If you take enough lobelia, it can trigger you to vomit. And again, that’s not from lobelia providing vomitous nutrition. It is an alkaloidal, you know, chemical influence on your system. And it leads to that result in a forceful way, right? So those kinds of herbs do exist. But if you’ve been following us for any length of time, you know that those herbs don’t form the core of our practice. They’re, you know, the 5% of the work that we do is with those stronger herbs that have more, what we’d call, low dose, you know, drop dose herbs.

Katja (25:41):
Well, okay. So what you’re really saying is that even when we work with them, we are not working with them in that override format. We are working with them in a very low dose to have a very mild version of their strong action.

Ryn (25:54):
Exactly. So that’s, that’s kind of an aside. But you know, for the majority of this episode in particular, when we’re talking about how herbs are safe and herbs are nutritive and herbs are supporting the body and assisting what’s going on. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, because otherwise it wouldn’t be a rule, would it.

Katja (26:11):
But so what we’re really getting at here is that when we think about pharmaceuticals, pharmaceuticals are like a manual override. They are saying, Oh, I the doctor, not “I” the doctor, but the doctor in this example, recognize that this thing needs to happen. And I do not see the body is doing that thing. And therefore I’m going to force that to happen. I’m going to manually override the body’s practices, the body’s functions with this pharmaceutical, and make the thing happen that I think should happen. And for the most part, herbs don’t work that way. There are herbs that can do it, but we don’t usually work with them because they’re not what’s needed in today’s health landscape. Yeah, Fox glove can do that. But you know, I’m thinking about digitalis. And the thing is that today, if you need that kind of a heart medicine, go get it from a doctor, because they have way safer dosing methods for a pharmaceutical that is made. It’s called digitoxin and it’s made from that plant or maybe they synthesize it now, I’m not sure. But regardless, they can dose it very specifically. It’s safer to work with the pharmaceutical version of that. But also today we’re dealing with chronic illnesses. We’re dealing with inflammatory illnesses. The landscape of today’s, the bulk of today’s, work doesn’t really required that kind of an action.

Ryn (27:49):
Right? Yeah. Sometimes you need a pharmaceutical because you need a strong forceful intervention right now. And you need to maintain you in a state. But sometimes a diet change and a pot of tea every day is actually going to be more successful. And being able to tell the difference is what’s actually the key here.

Katja (28:05):
Right. Not that no herbs can be worked with in acute situations because obviously, like in terms of infectious disease, there are lots of herbs that can be super helpful. But the way that they’re doing that help is by supporting what the body is trying to get done, instead of overriding what the body is trying to get done. That’s the big difference that we’re looking for here.

Ryn (28:29):
Yeah. And again, speaking as holistic herbalists in the way we practice, 95% of the time the herbs are there to provide support, to provide assistance, to provide maybe some gentle stimulation to help the body do what it was already trying to do in the first place. And you know, for a little more on that idea, check out episode 75 of the pod where we talked about foundational health strategies and evolution’s expected inputs. And that was a lot about this aspect of holistic herbalism, where there are things that the body expects or that evolution had in mind, I guess you could say as we were going along. What we mean is that there were aspects of the way that we lived as humans for the first couple of million years that our species was on the planet. And our physiology developed in that environment with physical forces and nutritional inputs that are vastly different from what we have now. And getting closer to that is a way to prevent a lot of the modern illnesses, a lot of the diseases of modernity. And herbs can really help us to do that, because herbs are wild. And herbs are, in a lot of ways, closer to our ancient way of living.

Katja (29:51):
Yeah. Also I have no idea how you remember all the things we ever talked about on podcasts, but you always do this. And I’m like, how do you remember that? Like I don’t remember what we talked about last time.

Ryn (30:04):
Well, okay, I didn’t know the episode number off the top of my head. I had to look it up.

Back to the Question: There are No Herbs For Diseases

Katja (30:08):
Yeah, but you remembered that we talked about it at all. Okay. Well anyway. Alright. So back to the original question. I honestly, I have no idea whether I would give codonopsis to somebody who has leukemia. I cannot answer that question.

Ryn (30:23):
Right, because the word leukemia isn’t enough to answer that question.

Katja (30:26):

Ryn (30:28):
You would need to see the person and talk to them and get a whole story and figure out if there was…, Yeah.

Katja (30:32):
Yeah. There are no herbs for diseases, right? Because we grew up in this model, all the time, people are like, well, what’s a good herb for rheumatoid arthritis? What’s a good herb for whatever. And there are no herbs for rheumatoid arthritis. There are herbs for people who maybe have rheumatoid arthritis, but not everybody has it the same.

Ryn (30:55):
Yeah. I mean, what’s a good herb for somebody from Massachusetts? I don’t know. What’s going on for them today.

Katja (31:02):
Yeah. Even that you can’t say like, is it a person who is living downtown in Boston or is it a person who is living like in rural wherever western Mass. They don’t need the same herb. Yeah. So, the thing is that every body is different. And the other thing is that, now stay with me here. Stay with me. Diseases are made up, right? They’re not real. The word rheumatoid arthritis has no inherent meaning. Every diagnosis that we talk about, that is a code word. That is a specialized language.

Ryn (31:43):

Katja (31:45):
It’s shorthand. It was developed to describe certain sets of symptoms that the conventional medical world has collected together and called a particular disease state. But we could organize those symptoms differently. We could choose to focus on different symptoms. We could even look at the symptoms and assign them different types of meaning. So the system of conventional medicine has developed these words, these diagnostic words, that have meaning within that system. But they only really have meaning within that system. As soon as you get out of that system, and just that sentence alone is complex, right? The idea of coming out of that system.

Ryn (32:35):
Right. And whether it’s fully possible to do that or not. Like a large part of what I was thinking about when I was reading back through the notes here for this topic was that was that, you know, this model, the pharmaceutical model, primarily is the dominant paradigm for medicine in our culture. And anybody who grew up here, that shapes your expectations of what medicine is. How it works.

Katja (32:58):
What health is.

Ryn (32:58):
Yeah. Right. So we’re all susceptible to that. And even if up here in the front of your brain, you’re like, Oh no, I recognize the limits of just trying to solve everything with drugs all of the time. And I know that that’s not great. And that’s not what I want from my doctors and whatever. Even if you’re doing that actively, like back over here in the undergrowth, you know? Some stuff is lurking and it’s hard to shake. So that’s why we like to keep talking about this stuff.

Katja (33:24):
So when I say that diseases are made up or diagnostic words are made up or whatever, it is true. But that does not mean that I am saying conventional medicine isn’t real. Right. I’m just saying that it’s one approach to health and it is not the same approach that herbalism has traditionally been. And so when we try to overlay herbalism and conventional modern medicine together, while it’s obviously not impossible to do because people do it all the time, it’s not ideal. It doesn’t come together seamlessly at all.

Ryn (34:04):
It would be like from the one direction saying what is the right herb for migraine? And we talk a lot about why that’s problematic, and how well there’s lots of different tissue states or energetic expressions that can be taking place in a migraine. You could have one kind where it’s very hot and there’s lots of blood in the head and your face is all red and flushed and pounding and full. And for that maybe we want willow and betony and skullcap, but you could have another kind of migraine where all the blood is drained out of your head and it’s tight and it’s dry. And you need like linden and maybe some evening primrose and tulsi to moisten and increase blood flow upwards. Right? So the name migraine doesn’t really match very well to any particular herb. And so saying what herb is right for migraine is a question that’s going to lead you into a dead end. But today I’m thinking to myself, we could come at this the other way too and be like, what’s the right pill for somebody with a hot constitution?

Katja (34:56):
Yeah. You can’t say that either.

Ryn (35:01):
Do we give them Advil? I don’t. Where do you even start? Right? And there you’re like, yeah, I’m really running into that wall there.

Katja (35:10):
Neither system is better or worse, right? If you need a skin graft, then you need the system of conventional medicine. And the words that they use to talk about things, and all of the different parts of that system are required if that’s what you need. If you need open heart surgery, you need all of the parts of that system. And you don’t necessarily always need that. You don’t always need open heart surgery. Sometimes you need something different. Sometimes you need you know, some camomile tea and an early bedtime. That’s what I need when I have a migraine.

Ryn (35:50):
And some fish a couple of times a week. And a walk. And more sleep. Yeah.

Herbalism and Conventional Medicine are Separate, Parallel Systems

Katja (35:54):
Yeah, yeah. So it’s like finding the right tool for the job here. Neither tool is better or worse. Each one has advantages. Each one has some drawbacks. But to be clear that we want to choose the right tool for the job. And also that intertwining them is, like, you can’t be in one system and just drag some tools from the other system in. You need to be able to think about the two systems parallel, but as separate wholes. Kind of like once you get married to somebody, you don’t really become one life. You still have two lives. You’re still, you know, we still have our own personalities and everything else. Or like once you become a parent, you’re not really just somebody’s mom. You still are a real life person with a real life and real everything except to some people you’re just somebody mom. For a long time that even becomes your name. Oh, you’re just Amber’s mom. Oh, you’re just Johnny’s mom. Like, Oh, you’re just whatever. And so that might be a thing that you’ve experienced. And that’s the same here. Is that herbalism is not just weak drugs. It’s not just natural medicine. It has its own whole life and its own whole all that stuff. Yeah.

Ryn (37:24):
Yeah. Right. Okay. So yeah, so again, you know, at the top of every podcast episode, we say that we’re not doctors, we’re herbalists, we’re educators. And that we’re not practicing medicine. And we do that because we want to be within the law. Right. We don’t want anybody to come along and throw us in the clink for practicing medicine without a license.

Katja (37:48):
Yeah. And we also don’t want anybody to come along and think, Hey, that sounds like medicine. I should do that because it sounds like medicine.

Ryn (37:56):
Well, for us, that’s kind of the more important part, honestly. Like I’m not most days worried about somebody thinking that I’m a doctor or trying to be one and getting in trouble for it. I’m much more interested on the day to day basis about people recognizing that I’m not some kind of ultimate authority that, did you do what I say? Because I have a podcast, I don’t know.

Katja (38:16):
Because I teach school, like herb school.

Ryn (38:18):
Because I have a fancy website. I mean maybe I’m a half decent web designer, but I don’t know. Not really, honestly. But anyway, look we’re not an authority. We’re a source of information. And with herbalism, there is no one definitive source of information. You can look at podcast episode 100, the definitive guide to herbalism, and learn about that.

Katja (38:42):
And discover that there is no definitive guide to herbalsism. Right. There can’t be. All of this is to say that every body is different and so nobody has leukemia in exactly the same way as somebody else having leukemia. Nobody has migraines that are exactly the same as somebody else’s migraines. And also there’s not exactly one way to fix any of this stuff. Like maybe you’re having migraines or hold on. I won’t make an example up. I’ll use my mom. My mom has in her life had terrible migraines. When I was in school I can remember there would be like days and days where no one could make any noise in the house and everything because mom had a migraine. And she had to be in bed. And everything was really awful for her. And I remember at some point that she started taking Imitrex, which did make a really big difference. And she had some special form of Advil that worked sometimes if she took it at exactly the right time. And then sometimes she took the Imitrex. But she didn’t want to take it too often because she didn’t want it to stop working. And she had like all these different drugs that she had learned over time, some were prescription and some were over the counter. She learned over time exactly how to time them so that they would be most effective. And that was what she needed to do at that point in her life, because that was what was available to her from a resource perspective. At that time in her life she didn’t have time to think about, so why am I getting these migraines and what should I be doing different about my life so that I don’t get them anymore? Or, gee, I wonder if I could do this naturally or whatever. Like that just wasn’t a reality in her life right then because she was too busy and too many things.

Ryn (40:29):
Yeah. But also never had any any push or any invitation to consider things in a different way.

Katja (40:37):
Yeah. Like, no introduction to, Hey, there’s a different way. And then much later in life my mom was not listening to things that we say. Because it’s pretty impossible to, you know, like when you become an herbalist, you want to work with the people that you love most. And you want to fix everything about them and make them totally healthy and happy and whatever. And that doesn’t work. And so instead I had given my mom some of Paul Bergner’s recorded lectures. And finally she was like, Hey, did you know that if you eat too much sugar, this could happen? Oh my goodness. Did you know that this happens if you eat gluten? And I was like, we’ve been saying this forever. But it’s true. Like nobody’s a prophet in their own town or whatever that saying is. In their own land, something like that. And so, eventually my mom did become introduced to a bunch of ideas, and had that introduction at a time in her life where she had some resources to be able to act on it, right? Because it’s not just knowing. It’s also being able to take the action. And now she doesn’t get migraines anymore. She has drastically made changes in her diet. She has made changes in her lifestyle. And she just almost never, I mean, maybe once a year or so, she almost never has a migraine anymore. My point with this example is that there’s not one right answer. And there was a time in her life when the pharmaceuticals were what she needed to do to keep herself going, and to just get through the day and deal with everything that was going on in life. Later in life when things were a little bit less complicated for her, she had the space to investigate other options and then to start to take action on those other options.

Ryn (42:39):
Yeah. And you know, look, the tools, how to say this, the agents that you’re working with aren’t the determiner of which system you’re working in. Okay. So it’s totally possible, and there’s lots of folks out there, who respond to a situation like that and say, I’ve got a migraine. I need to find migraine herbs. They do a Google search. They find feverfew or meadowsweet or willow. Maybe they take them. Maybe it works, because sometimes it works, right? Sometimes you literally can just Google an herb, all right? So, we don’t like to do it. We don’t advise it as best practice. But Hey, sometimes it actually does it for you. And so in that case, you had a symptom, you looked for a painkiller, essentially. You took it and it worked. Great. That wasn’t holistic herbalism, right? That wasn’t working in the model of identifying all the causative factors and saying what’s going on. And let me analyze my life pattern and what could be the things that are contributing to this state. And how can I rebalance them. It was more like medicine. It was more like.

Katja (43:40):
Allopathic herbalism.

Ryn (43:40):
Exactly. Yeah.

If you Feel Better at the End of the Day, You Win: Intertwining Approaches

Katja (43:43):
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Because the bottom line here is if you feel better at the end of the day, you win. Right? You don’t get a gold star because you never ate something that wasn’t organic. You know, like you don’t win because you never had to take antibiotics. I mean, that’s great, but nobody has a perfect body. Nobody makes it all the way through life with no illness or with no pain or with no injury. And there’s no way to survive life without dying. Like at some point you’re going to die too. And so really the answer is how can you best make it through so that you can get through your day, you can feel the least amount of discomfort that you can. You can do the most stuff that you want to be able to do. And there’s always more that you could do.

Ryn (44:44):
Right. And the thing is that you can do all of these things simultaneously, right? You can have bandaid herbs or medications or whatever to paper over a symptom now because that’s how you get through your day. And at the same time, you could be building a foundational health on a systemic level, right? Trying to build healthy systems in your body through diet change or working with gentle tonic, supportive, nourishing, and adaptogenic herbs, right? It’s absolutely possible. And for a lot of people, maybe even the best approach.

Katja (45:15):
Right. Because you’re getting some space and some comfort in the short term as you work on your long term. And the more that you reduce your discomfort, the more energy you have to work on those longer term strategies. So, key here is to not judge yourself or others for whatever choice you’re making right now. You make the choice you need to make right now and then try to look at your body and say, Oh, what could I be doing to strengthen myself for the future? What could I be doing to, instead of just putting a bandaid over this to like actually repair the underlying damage that’s causing this problem or whatever. And it’s fine if you intertwine some conventional medical approaches while you are learning some new holistic approaches. All of that is totally fine. Just that, to sort of come back around to the very beginning, just that we recognize that they are two different systems. And they do require, ultimately, two different kinds of thought. Although as we shift from one to the other, often there is that space in between where we sort of think about the new system with the rules from the old system.

Ryn (46:39):
Yeah. And that’s not like a linear journey. It’s not like you begin and you’re like all shuttered in your conventional wisdom and your pharmaceutical model, and then suddenly you see the lights of the holistic herbal day. And you’re like, ah, now I understand everything from the soil up to the tallest leaves. You know, that’s not how this works. You’re going to have cycles on this. You’re going to spiral around. There’s going to be times when you’re like, I don’t care. Just give me the painkiller. Or there’s going to be times when you get hit by a car and you need to get a bone set and maybe some antibiotics and whatever, right?

Katja (47:10):
You need to get a bone set.

Ryn (47:13):
A bone set, and then maybe you take some boneset.

Katja (47:16):
You may also take some boneset.

Ryn (47:19):
Right. So, yeah. But we do think it’s important to kind of try to do all of this at once, right? To see the places where these two different models work together, to see where they can work in parallel, even though they’re doing work in very different ways. And also to see the places where actually one of these models doesn’t actually serve you very well. So, you know, when it’s the car accident, we’ll do our best to take care of you with our emergent responder first aid skills and wilderness medicine. But really it’s better if we can get you to a hospital. And on the other hand, you know, if you’re like on the way towards congestive heart failure, well it’d really be better if we switch up your diet and get you started on herbs and overhaul everything now and do the whole holistic approach. But if you need to take a statin for awhile, I’m not going to point at you and call you names about it.

Herbalism to Build and Rebuild Health

Katja (48:10):
Right. It’s like if you, if you’re on that path, let’s fix it now before you need surgery rather than getting to the point where you need surgery and then we don’t have a flower for that. Yeah. You know, there was something else that you had here in the notes that I wanted to kind of circle back around to. Because I had been talking about what we do is not the practice of medicine. And that we don’t mean that well just so that I can be legal I’m going to tell you that it’s not medicine. It’s actually not medicine. And I was talking about how diseases aren’t real, and how we don’t treat diseases because legally we’re not allowed to, but because herbally we don’t want to. That’s is not the direction. We build and rebuild health. And so if you need a disease to be treated right now, it is fine to go and get conventional help for that while you are acknowledging, Oh, I need to rebuild some health here because clearly some stuff has really broken down. And so I need to spend a long time, it might be six months, it might be a year, rebuilding foundationally the stuff that has dilapidated, that has deteriorated, that got me to this disease state. And so the doctor can focus on that disease state. But what we care about is looking at a person’s health and saying, Oh, I see, I see the symptoms that you’re having. And I see where this came from, and the things in your body that broke down to get here. And even, Oh, I understand why they broke down. Like you had to work two jobs for a long period of time to make ends meet and you weren’t getting enough sleep. And a lot of these symptoms are the domino effect from that. And how do we build those backup or whatever. Just that is one example. And so we’re looking at this in a very systemic way, and a conventional medical practitioner might be able to patch you back up to get you back to work in this moment, which might be needed because you have to pay bills and stuff like that. But what we’re looking at is how do we unwind the damage that happened, and go back and literally patch every hole so that you don’t need to patch yourself up and go back to work, you know.

Ryn (50:50):
Hold yourself together with duct tape.

Katja (50:51):
Yeah. So that we’re not doing that anymore. We have literally gone back and fixed all of the structural problems. And now you don’t need to address that disease state anymore because all of the structural problems that lead to it no longer exist.

Ryn (51:05):

Katja (51:05):

Ryn (51:06):
Right. Yeah. But again, it’s going to be best if we can work fluidly, if we can move with some agility between different perspectives. And it’s going to help us to be able to see more sides of the problem. Yeah. That’s what we like.

Katja (51:21):
So it’s okay. In fact, it’s really good to learn how to collaborate, especially if you are a practicing herbalist, to learn how to collaborate with conventional medical practitioners. It’s not always easy because sometimes they’re not interested in natural therapies or sometimes they think that they aren’t effective. But when we can educate people and help them understand that we’re not trying to do the same job. We’re not competing for the same work. And that instead we’re doing complimentary tasks here. Then we can really work in partnership to do the short term work that has to be done and then the long term rebuilding as well.

Ryn (52:15):
That’s what. All right, well that’s it for us this week. Thanks for listening. And we’ll be back next week with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other, Drink some tea.

Katja (52:29):
Drink some tea. Maybe have a nice nap.

Ryn (52:34):
And have a nap. There we go. Sounds great. Bye.

Katja (52:57):
Bye Bye.


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