Podcast 196: We Don’t “Use” Herbs

One of our habits as herbalists and teachers is to avoid the word “use” with reference to plants. We don’t say “I use meadowsweet for headaches” or “I use Japanese knotweed for Lyme disease”. We don’t say “I use chamomile for stomach cramps” or even “I use ginger as a stimulating diaphoretic”. And when students ask “how do you use schisandra berries?”, we stop and have a discussion about the word before we talk about the plant. If you’ve listened to our podcast for a while, you might have noticed this already!

Why do we do it? First and foremost, we don’t regard plants as “things”, anymore than we do animals or people. They are living beings and deserve respect. This is not merely a personal matter. The dominant cultural perspective which regards plants as mere resources to be exploited has visible consequences in our world. Ecosystem destruction is the major force threatening wild plant populations, and overharvesting is another top factor. Both are outgrowths of a view of plants as commodities. Changing our language is a way to change our perspective.

Mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:12):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:13):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:14):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:17):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Today’s topic is a bit of an interjection. It is where we say to you, please don’t use plants.

Katja (00:31):
No.

Ryn (00:31):
Don’t do it.

Katja (00:32):
Don’t do it.

Ryn (00:33):
You don’t use your friends, right?

Katja (00:36):
Let’s not use plants. Let’s do something else.

Ryn (00:40):
Okay. Well, you can ponder that for a moment. So, that’s the day’s topic. Just a little bit of housekeeping first. Remember everyone, we’re not just podcasters, we’re also teachers. And the best way to support this podcast is by enrolling in our very excellent online herbal courses. Is that what that says? Yes.

Katja (00:56):
I did. I added that afterwards.

Ryn (00:58):
Our very excellent online herbal courses indeed. You can find all of our online herbalism courses and programs at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Katja (01:08):
We started this podcast as a way to be of service, be in service to our community, the broader community that extends all around the world. And to provide high-quality herbal education and also fun things to think about for free. And make that available to anyone at all in a totally free kind of way. And so if you think that’s cool, and you want to support it, then the best way is to support it by getting more herbal goodness. And you can do that at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (01:45):
That’s the place. All right, let’s also do our reclaimer. That’s where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:53):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (02:05):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (02:20):
Everyone’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 new information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (02:30):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. And it doesn’t mean that you’re to blame for your current state of health, thank you. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make. All right.

Katja (02:51):
Well, today we want to talk about one of my favorite topics.

Ryn (02:55):
It does come up. It does come up.

Katja (02:56):
It does come up a lot. Which is the exploitive nature that we as humans, and specifically here I am referring to industrialized capitalist humans, have with regard to nature. And in this case with regard to plants.

Ryn (03:12):
To the plants of the nature, yeah. Now listen, I want to get this out of the way first, all right? Nothing that we’re about to say, nothing that we’re going to talk about here is intended to make you feel bad or called out or anything. This is a place where we as a community need to remake our relationship with the world around us and with each other. And that remaking work is hard, right? It starts by recognizing the things that need to change, and we can all recognize them together. So, that’s what we’re trying to do here.

The Verb “To Use” & How It Manifests

Katja (03:42):
Yes. We can just be a group of people pushing ourselves to do better and pushing ourselves to imagine a world that we want, and then to create it. So, now that we have that settled, I want to talk about using plants. Because in the English language that is the verb that is most commonly applied to the situation.

Ryn (04:09):
It’s a pretty standard phrase, you know? And what does it sound like? It’s like oh, well what do you use chamomile for? Or an herbalist talking to another herbalist. What do you use red root for? What do you use since cinchona bark for? What do you use the nettle seed for specifically? And how do you use it differently than nettle root?

Katja (04:27):
Yeah. Occasionally you might hear maybe somebody say what are the benefits of whatever. But usually it is…

Ryn (04:37):
How can I use that herb? What herb do you use for this health problem?

Katja (04:41):
Yeah. It’s everywhere. But when we say that we use plants, it implies that they are for our use, and that we have some kind of right to them. That they’re just resources for us to take, and that is absolutely not true. They are living beings playing critical roles in the larger body of this earth, just like we do. And they are living beings who have a life with a plan and preferences and goals just like we do. In fact, they share some ridiculous thing, like 93 or 95% of our DNA. Like we’re just not that different actually.

Ryn (05:24):
Right. Yeah. If you sort of step back and think of your existence as an organism moving through the world interacting with other organisms, a plant is doing the same thing basically, right? And you can kind of step back another step or another type of perspective shift. And you can say are there really any resources that are out there? And really the whole point of the world or the point of the universe at large was for us to be here, and for us to go and take that stuff and do stuff with it.

Katja (05:53):
No.

Ryn (05:54):
I don’t know.

Katja (05:55):
I mean, that is a mythology that gets handed down in many places.

Ryn (06:03):
But the point is that it’s not the only way that we need to relate to the world around us. And that there are a lot of other options, in fact. Yeah. And what we’re trying to say is that there are issues associated with this perspective, and the way that it’s manifested, right? So, if you look out, and you say there’s things out there nature provides. I’m here to take ’em. That leads to behaviors that we can now recognize are having problems, serious problematic influences, on not just an individual part of the world or a field or a tree. You know, like the giving tree, for instance. Or, you know, a town or whatever, but like the entire world is feeling the effects of this. Places that… as distant as you can imagine, right?

Katja (06:48):
I want to think about this in terms of sand for just one moment, because sand is definitely not something that most people would think about as being alive or being like a thing with agency.

Ryn (07:03):
Weren’t there news articles a few years back about how we’re running out of sand.

Katja (07:06):
We’re running out of sand is where I’m getting.

Ryn (07:08):
Because we we’re using the sand, and now we’re using up the sand.

Katja (07:11):
Yeah. And we are, in fact, running out of sand. Sand is actually becoming really expensive. And so this is what I mean when thinking about what happens when we think about the natural world as a resource. If it is a resource, then it’s fine for me to take it. And if I’ve got a bulldozer, or a front-end loader, or a dump truck, then it’s okay for me to take that sand and go do something with it. Even if I do something cool with it. Even if I sand roads so that people don’t get into car accidents with it. I’m not saying that there’s something inherently bad with taking sand necessarily, but the world is not a resource. That doesn’t mean that we don’t build things together and whatever else.

Ryn (08:03):
It doesn’t mean that we don’t consume. It doesn’t mean that we don’t kill. It doesn’t mean that we try to stand apart in that way either, right? Like these are two different ways that people kind of separate themselves from the world at large, or from nature with a capital N, or other kinds of distancing work like that. Both in the sense of things that are to be used and then also in this other sense.

Katja (08:24):
Yeah. I want to sort of think of the opposite example of beavers. I mean, I suppose if you ask a beaver, they might think of a tree as a resource. Whatever, they are taking the lives of trees. And they are eating them. And they are building dams with them. But then there’s this amazing book called Eager Beaver. And it is about the absolute necessity of beavers in terms of water maintenance. Like they are doing critical work. And it’s part of why there are so many droughts in the west, because all the beavers were removed,

Ryn (09:05):
Healthy streams, healthy waterways. Everybody who lives there. All the plants that grow there. Yeah.

Mindful Consumption & Wild Harvesting Issues

Katja (09:10):
Yeah. So, I guess I want to maybe promote the concept of beavers as the reality that we are living creatures. We must consume things. We can’t not eat. We can’t not drink. We can’t not breathe, obviously. And that wouldn’t be appropriate. But we can do this in a mindful way. We can think about our impact.

Ryn (09:36):
Yeah, nothing that we’re saying here should be construed to mean like never make tea. Obviously, this is not what we’re talking about. We’re drinking tea right now.

Ryn (09:44):
Right. But it’s this idea. It’s the framework. And it’s that particular verb, and the way that we use the word use.

Katja (09:54):
Yeah. The way that we just build our awareness of our relationship with our surroundings, our relationship with the living earth that we are a part of. And to make sure that our consumption is appropriate, our consumption is not harming other things more than it needs to.

Ryn (10:20):
We have some degree of self-awareness. And as a result, we have a responsibility to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings.

Katja (10:29):
Yeah. Listen, it’s complicated stuff. But we can start thinking about these complicated things around this one word. We can think about use. And when we just think about the word use, and now it turns into a resource. And now it’s kind of a clean your plate situation. Like if something is available for my use, then probably I’m going to use it up. And then we’re going to be running out of sand.

Ryn (11:01):
It does seem to lead that way when you get humans involved. You know, like really you think to yourself, and you, the example human here, right? You think to yourself ah, I’m just a person. I’m going out foraging in my lovely fantasy of whatever. But what I need to be doing is thinking about the reality of the impact of all of us, not one at a time. All of us humans on the plant populations. And it’s intense, right? You want to prepare your mind for this moment. Contemplation. Because it’s not just whatever you picked today or this summer. It’s what land has been developed, and what land has been covered in herbicides. And the way that changes in climate are impacting the lands. And all of the things that are going to impact the health of an individual plant or a plant population at large.

Katja (11:46):
And you know, before we get too far on this thought, I want to tie it back to this does not mean you can’t go out and forage in your lovely fantasy of peace and happiness. You can. You absolutely can. But it is about the mindful doing of that. And sometimes the mindful doing of that means collecting a few seeds, bringing them back to land that you steward or a bucket on your porch, and then growing your own stash of that plant. And also maybe stewarding the area where you got the seeds from. So, this is not in any way about not drinking tea, not having herbs. It’s about doing it in a non-exploitative relationship way.

Ryn (12:35):
Right. And also thinking beyond the individual, right, in the same way as recycling. Recycling is good. Individual’s should recycle. I throw the bottle into the bin. I do the thing. Yes. But it’s more important for us to get agreements and regulations and so on that impose this kind of act on larger organizations, and companies, and states, and militaries, and things like this. Because that’s the scale at which this is going to matter the most. So, we think about the impact of commercial exploitation of plant populations, right? It’s not just you out there foraging, this is a huge industry. We sort of want to say this is becoming a huge industry. But I think that’s just an artifact of that every single year there’s an enormous increase in sales numbers, and other things like that, and shelf occupied by herbal products, and whatever. But the fact is this has been a huge industry for at least two decades now. And it’s been ramping up the entire time.

Katja (13:24):
And if you just think about how many more people are interested in herbalism and then foraging in general these days, it’s exponential, y’all. When I first got into this, I knew all the herbalists. I knew them. I don’t know. There weren’t a lot of herbalists. And okay, there’s probably somebody in Montana that I didn’t know. But I knew all the herbalist, and that was only 25 years ago. We’re growing is what I’m trying to say. We are growing. We’re growing a lot.

Ryn (14:00):
There’s a big explosion, right? And it’s up to us, you know, again on the individual level, to think about who we’re buying from. To make sure that we’re not buying stuff that is exploitive in nature to the extent that we can do that. And then to demand better of companies that we do buy from, right? Think about seaweed that’s getting overharvested. And you know, in line with the promotion of seaweed as a new health food, or a rediscovered health food, or however people are doing that. Obviously, seaweed is fantastic, and it is a health food. But there’s overharvesting that’s going on, right? And it’s happening in a particularly annoying way.

Katja (14:37):
Yeah. So, there are actually guidelines to protect seaweed populations. And in recent years there are even seaweed agriculture projects that are happening that would take pressure off wild populations.

Ryn (14:55):
But things like in a given area of ocean, you can harvest this much of this percentage of the amount of seaweed, the amount of kelp that’s there, the amount of bladderwrack that’s there in this area per year. Some kind of cap, essentially.

Katja (15:09):
Yeah. And those are put in place specifically so that populations remain large enough to grow back and to recover from what was harvested every year.

Ryn (15:20):
The idea is sustainability. Great. Sounds good. But there are loopholes.

Katja (15:25):
Yeah. Even though there are these guidelines, there’s one particularly egregious company that we know of that’s for sale in grocery stores around here. And it’s found its ways around these guidelines by using private contractors and then switching the contractors every year. So, that any one of them can report that they follow the guidelines, but collectively they are absolutely not following the guidelines. And so then the company that contracted each of these individual harvesters is not being held responsible. So, that is a way that they are like meeting the letter of the law.

Ryn (16:07):
This is a loophole you can steam a barge through.

Katja (16:11):
Yes, exactly. And listen, this is an example that we happen to know, because we know people in the industry. And we know personally that these things are going on. But what we want to point out is that this is happening across the wild plant industry. This is not just affecting seaweed. This is affecting many, many, many, many wild harvested plants, maybe all of them.

Ryn (16:39):
Yeah. You know, including popular ones like the cohoshes and the seals.

Katja (16:47):
Ginseng.

Ryn (16:47):
The sengs and yeah.

Katja (16:48):
Yeah. The sengs.

Ryn (16:50):
So, you know, actually for some recent updates on these topics, in the show notes I’m going to put a link to a recorded webinar from the sustainable herbs program. And this is highlighting a recent report called Wild Check. This report was put out by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, or the FAO, and also the wildlife trade organization called TRAFFIC, and the species survival commission of the international union for the conservation of nature, the IUCN. So, there’s a lot of acronyms there. I just kind of wanted to expand them. Because I think that when you hear the words in the acronym, you’re like oh, that’s what they’re doing. IUCN, great. Union for Conservation of Nature. Aha. Now I get it. But the key takeaway from their report was that first off habitat destruction is the primary threat to wild plants, okay. And that over harvesting is another major factor. The two of these are the big ones. But it’s really worth reading. There’s a lot of detail in there. They highlight some specific plants that are both fairly common in commerce, fairly popular in the United States for sure, but also have a lot of ecological issues with them. And this is again about wild harvested plants in particular. But you can sign up for some newsletters and some other projects and things at the sustainable herbs program website. It’s a really great one to poke all around after you read this report. And then also there’s a couple other organizations I want to highlight for you. One is called Fair Wild. They’re working to, or they have a certification standard for people who do want to trade in wild harvested plants, but want to be certified as doing it sustainably and responsibly and effectively,

Katja (18:38):
They want to submit themselves to oversight.

Ryn (18:40):
Exactly.

Katja (18:41):
Yeah. Which is excellent.

Ryn (18:42):
So, Fair wild does that, and you can view their entire standard. It’s not going to be a black box like some stamp that’s on a thing, and you have no idea what it means. They’re like this is everything that we’re checking. These are all the criteria we care about. This is how we score them and whatever. This is what people need to achieve if they want to get this stamp, you know? So, it’s good to look into things like that. But this is a really quality standard for wild harvested plants in, in commerce, including herbs and supplements and all that kind of stuff too. And then the other one I’m going to link you to is United Plant Savers. So, that’s a fantastic organization doing work to improve sustainability in a number of ways, including encouraging people to declare land sanctuary, and to intentionally cultivate some at risk plants, and things like that. So, a lot of good work from them.

Knowing From Where & How Plants Get To You

Katja (19:34):
Yeah. So, what this really comes down to is that you personally have to know where your plants are coming from. You have to know how they got to you and was there exploitation to get that plant to you? So, not just of the plant population, but also of the human population, right? So, was it grown with slave labor or child labor.

Ryn (20:00):
Bananas, bananas.

Katja (20:01):
Bananas. Yeah. Bananas, chocolate, yeah. Oh my goodness. But herbs too. And so that, and also is the sale of it damaging local communities who are dependent on those plants? And even I’m thinking here of like quinoa and maca. Oh, and you know, there are these nuts, pili nuts.

Ryn (20:24):
Pili nuts.

Katja (20:24):
And they come from like one volcanic area. And once we had like two ounces of them, and they were so delicious.

Ryn (20:31):
They were really good.

Katja (20:32):
We’ve never had any since, because I was like oh my goodness. These come from such a tiny location. My lifetime supply is probably this entire two ounces. And now I see them. They’re making pili nut milk. And I was like what? How is there possibly enough pili nuts for this? So, I have to look into it and see. Maybe they started…

Ryn (20:55):
Cultivating somewhere else,

Katja (20:56):
farming, cultivating them. But I don’t know. Anyway.

Ryn (21:01):
But it’s something to check into. And this is kind of what we’re advocating for is to find out. Especially for the things that you eat the most, or that you enjoy the most, or particular herbs from far away that you just really come to love somehow. Try to maintain right relationship, even if it’s something from across the world.

Katja (21:17):
Right. So, even in situations where there isn’t damage to local communities directly, because their food source is being sold out from under them or whatever. We still need to know is the local community receiving a fair wage for the product, and usually that’s not happening. Usually it’s the marketing company that is receiving all of the money. And the local indigenous community hardly gets any of the profit. And listen, that is often true across all types of agriculture. I’m thinking about dairy farmers in New England who get pennies. Not just pennies per gallon of milk, pennies per hundred gallons of milk. And if you think about that, that makes absolutely no sense. Like how is it possible that they are getting paid pennies per hundred gallons? But I paid… I don’t drink milk. So, I honestly actually don’t know how much milk costs, but I bet it’s $5 a gallon. Okay, so my point is that farmers are generally not getting compensated fairly for the enormous amount of work that they have to put in to do the work. And when I say the word farmer…

Ryn (22:43):
We’re talking about people in the fields.

Katja (22:47):
Yes. People in the fields, not necessarily…

Ryn (22:50):
The landlord and the spreadsheet operator. Okay fine, you’re doing your thing. But we’re talking about the people in the field.

Katja (22:56):
Yes. The people in the fields. Yes. So anyway, the point here is that we need to make sure that everything is on the level. That what we are getting to help make ourselves healthy is not causing harm somewhere else. And often the answer to that question is not good.

Ryn (23:22):
It’s not what you’d hope it to be.

Katja (23:23):
Yeah. But that’s not necessary. The answers could be good, and we can demand that they are.

Ryn (23:30):
Yeah. And when they are, when we find some co-op, some organization, some company, whatever, whatever type of group of humans working together it is. But if they’re doing it right, if they’re doing good in the world – locally, globally, everywhere in between – that’s great. And then we can feel happy about that, and we can share them with others. This doesn’t all have to be negative. We can be excited about the ones who are really doing a good job, and setting an example, and raising the bar, and yeah.

Katja (23:55):
Yeah. This is why I get excited about Mountain Rose. That’s an example of a large company that is really trying to do things right and to be responsive to issues when they come up. I can think about small companies. Like here locally we have Foster Farm botanicals who produces a lot of herbs. Actually, they sell a bunch of herbs to Mountain Rose, but they also sell here locally.

Ryn (24:23):
Yeah. It’s also places like the one we get the za’atar from.

Katja (24:26):
Yes. Land of Canaan. It’s a Palestinian co-op, and they’re specifically working to create fair paying jobs for Palestinians on Palestinian land. And that’s pretty amazing, because za’atar is such an integral part of Palestinian cuisine. And here also making sure that these people have fair work to do, and so that’s really cool. Anyway, so even that is international, right? That’s not local at all. And yet that trade is supporting really excellent things.

Ryn (25:09):
So, you know, we’re thinking about this and about the effort to find this stuff out. To analyze a new company when you’re considering buying their product or whatever. And there’s a parallel. Because it quote used to be in some mythological past that you had to spend a long time finding the plants that you needed to harvest, and then also tending to them, and stewarding the wild populations. And that might mean protecting them in various ways or supporting them. And the point here is this hasn’t really changed. Just because you can easily buy something online doesn’t mean that you don’t have any responsibility to take some time and find out if it’s a sustainable product. If the company’s doing the right kind of thing. By and large sustainability isn’t really regulated. And in a system without regulations to make it happen, that work falls on us personally and us collectively as the ones who are purchasing these things. I keep trying to go from you statements to us statements here. Us, as groups of herbalists, as organizations, as communities.

Katja (26:13):
But you isn’t wrong. You personally, you listener personally, and also me personally, and also Ryn personally. Each of us personally has this responsibility. And then all of us collectively as the herbal community has this responsibility.

Changing Language, Shifting Relationships, & Building Awareness

Ryn (26:30):
Yeah. These two things run hand in hand, you know? And so this is why we get a little fanatic. Or we regularly stop our Q & A sessions to be like okay, I’m going to answer your question. But I’m going to rephrase it first, because you used the word use in there. And so this is why we’re that way about it, right? Shifting that one word in our speech. And it is, let’s say, pretty difficult to do it.

Katja (26:54):
It’s really hard.

Ryn (26:55):
And feel free to hunt through our podcast archive and catch all of the times that we said I used this herb for whatever, and then didn’t stop afterward, okay. But it’s difficult to do. But it’s worth doing, because shifting that shifts our entire relationship with the plants that we’re talking about. When we work to stop saying use, it’s constantly building this awareness about how casually we exploit plants as resources. And the work of changing that vocabulary keeps it present in your mind to work on that relationship.

Katja (27:25):
Yeah. It’s not like if you ever say use, that oh, well I can see by your language that you’re exploiting your community. No.

Ryn (27:36):
You can tell because of the way people tend to react when we start to do the shorter versions of this episode. And we just say a few things like oh, we try not to phrase it that way. I like to say I work with the plant. So, it’s not just like a thing that I’m taking, but collaborating with this life. And then people are like oh wow, yeah. And they sort of catch it immediately most of the time.

Katja (27:57):
Yeah, but the thing is that listen, it is a verb in our language. And it comes out, because you’ve been saying it all your life. It’s just a verb in our language. And I mean, you use a screwdriver. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But we choose this particular word, simply because it is common, and it’s something that is a tool that we can use to build this awareness. Oops, I just did it.

Ryn (28:26):
Yeah. I’ve been thinking about language as tool and language use, and so on as we chat here.

Katja (28:34):
It is a meditation. It is an active meditation that we can do to help us shift awareness. So, it is not like a thing to feel guilty about. It’s not a thing to call people out on. It is a thing to help you build more and more awareness about the relationship that we are consciously building, intentionally building with the plants who we work with and all of the plants in our communities.

Ryn (29:07):
Right. Yeah. That inner work or that inner shift is the important part here.

Katja (29:12):
Right. You could do that inner work and still have the word use in your vocabulary. It would be fine. So, whatever gets you to this awareness is cool. But for me this works very well.

Ryn (29:26):
And by the way, this is also a great habit to develop, if you’re interested in doing clinical herbalism, or selling herbal products, or really any kind of public facing herbalist work for a bunch of reasons. So, one is that it’s going to break you out of or help break you out of this is used for that phrasing or framing of your idea. So, what does that sound like? Oh, this herb is used for headache, whereas that herb is used for menstrual cramps, right? That’d be one way to put it. If we can break out of that and change the verbs around a little bit, we might instead say this herb is really effective at improving blood flow to the head. And so for a deficiency-type headache, it can be really helpful.

Katja (30:11):
It doesn’t get us locked in.

Ryn (30:13):
Yeah. But again, it’s the difference between this herb is used for X versus this herb does Y.

Katja (30:22):
It also, while you’re thinking about your next thing there, herbs don’t work on medical diagnoses. Medical diagnoses are shorthand. They are kind of like acronyms. I mean, they’re not actually acronyms. Well, sometimes they are like PCOS. But they are a shorthand way for doctors and other medical professionals to communicate without having to list out 10 million symptoms every time that they’re talking about a specific sort of situation. Instead they gather up all of the most common symptoms. They give it one word or maybe two words to fill in, to be the container for that whole group of symptoms. And that’s reasonable. That’s logical, right? Otherwise you’d just be restating things over and over and over again. It would be an in inefficient way to communicate. But the thing is that not every person experiences a particular diagnosis in the same way. Each person has a slightly different collection of symptoms and a slightly different expression of PCOS, or migraines, or whatever it happens to be. And so when we say well, you can use ashwagandha for PCOS. Well, can I? There’s a lot of ways for a person to have PCOS.

Ryn (31:44):
Yeah. And it gets you into a whole bunch of traps too. Because if you keep trying to just say well, we use this herb for PCOS. Then it’s like well, does that mean it’s some sort of anti-PCOS herb, and what would that mean? And what’s the action that we’re talking about here? You get pretty stuck. And the capacity to actually be helpful and effective is limited.

Katja (32:09):
That’s like what happened to lemon balm. Because people were like oh, you can use lemon balm for hyperthyroid. And then people started saying well, wait a minute. That must mean that if you have hypothyroid, lemon balm will hurt you. And that’s not the case, right? But we got trapped there, because of oh, we use that for hyperthyroid.

Ryn (32:31):
Right. So, on a related level changing your language here can also encourage some clarity around things like preparation or dose or other details like that. Basically encouraging you to have more detail in your statements than use this herb for that problem. Like use lavender for relaxation. Use linden for high blood pressure. Okay, cool. Now tell that to somebody who doesn’t know anything about herbalism. They’ve never heard of the difference between infusion and decoction. Maybe you even said go get a tincture. And then they go to the store, and it says extract on the bottle, and now they’re stuck, right? This is what we’re talking about for a lot of people.

Katja (33:09):
And it’s not unreasonable. I mean, a tincture is a weird word to start with, but then is that the same as an extract? Is it not? Honestly, actually the answer is not uniform. It depends on how they made it.

Ryn (33:22):
Yeah. So, it’s really common though to do that and to just say oh yeah. You can use sassafras for this liver problem. You can use schisandra for anger. Whatever it is that comes to mind. But that doesn’t really tell you very much, right? And there could be an enormous point of differentiation, right? Like maybe somebody heard you can use nettle for the swollen prostate, and they got a capsule of nettle leaf extract. Well, they got the plant right, but not the right part of the plant. And it’s probably not going to help them in the way that they’re hoping for or as much as say a properly made nettle root capsule could have done for that individual. So, there’s like levels of detail that can get missed when you just say use this herb for that problem.

Katja (34:05):
Yeah. This also helps us to build awareness of other exploitations, right? So, we’re thinking again, of changing our speech as a mechanism of building awareness of our relationship with the larger world. Plants are not the only thing being exploited right now. And the more that you focus on shifting your language in this way, the more that you become aware of other places in our communities where exploitation is happening. Whether that is ecological exploitation, like the exploitation of waterways, or the exploitation of land development and the pressure that puts on wild communities. Or we could be talking about societal exploitation, and there is no shortage of examples of that.

Ryn (34:55):
We can do all three at the same time and call it a golf course. Sorry, golfers. I know. I’m sorry.

Katja (35:03):
Not sorry. Anyway, that kind of awareness makes you better able to serve your community. And the more that you focus on changing these relationships first off in your personal life. And then you start to make these changes. And then people around you start to notice that you’re making these changes. And it creates ripples. And you can get really active about them too. You can intentionally draw other people into making these changes. But the key here is that the more that you are focusing on seeing exploitation and changing it, the more that you see exploitation and change it. And that is good.

What To Say Instead

Ryn (35:49):
We’re into it. Yeah. So, what can we say instead? Let’s try a few examples. How about I use lavender for headaches? Well, instead we could say I work with lavender as a relaxant when my neck is tense.

Katja (36:05):
I like that. We could say how do you use chamomile for cramps? And instead of just answering well, you’re going to need to make a really strong infusion or a good strong tincture. Right? I could just answer. But we could instead say how do you take chamomile when you have cramps? Or what’s the best way to work with chamomile when you have cramps? Or in what way should I prepare chamomile so that I can help somebody who’s having cramps? Those are all ways that we could say that. And also in what way can I prepare chamomile so that I can help someone who’s having cramps? Oh, isn’t that actually lovely?

Ryn (36:48):
Yeah. Again, it kind of like forces you to contextualize what you’re actually doing. To give a little more detail to seed it a little closer to reality.

Katja (36:58):
Yeah. And you’re focusing on the help that you’re providing in that way, and the person you’re providing it to.

Ryn (37:07):
Yeah. No, that totally matters.

Katja (37:08):
I’m so excited about it.

Ryn (37:09):
Absolutely, right? Well, how about this one? The Chippewa used uva-ursi for UTIs.

Katja (37:16):
And like because of that, I should?

Ryn (37:18):
We could say something more like the Anishinaabeg work with uva-ursi to resolve urinary burning and itching and pain among many other things.

Katja (37:27):
Yeah. Or even we learned this tradition from the work that…

Ryn (37:34):
Yeah. And we can also expand this into other words beyond use, other sort of common phrases, or things people will say, or the way that they’ll structure a question.

Katja (37:45):
One of these that’s really common is people will say something like what’s calamus good for? And I would much prefer to say how can I work with calamus? Or what can calamus do in the body? Or even what is calamus good at like a person, right? And in general you can say the same words for plants that you would say for human. For example, Ryn isn’t good for getting the dishes done. And I don’t use him to keep the kitchen clean. Because…

Ryn (38:17):
But I do the dishes though.

Katja (38:18):
He does do the dishes, and he does keep the kitchen clean. But that is not his use, right? If you talk about plants the same way that you talk about people, then you’re acknowledging their inherent value as living beings who have a right to exist and not be completely demolished by humans.

Ryn (38:37):
We’re into it. So, yeah, to bring us to a close here, let’s not use plants, and let’s not use people either. Let’s support each other. And as we’ve said before, mutual aid and community support are the ways toward the future that we want to see. So, I want to urge you again to check out our Herbal Community Care Toolkit online herbalism learning course experience extravaganza to learn about some abundant and multi-talented herbs. These are plants that you can find at the grocery store or growing as weeds in your neighborhood. We teach you how to prepare them at home to make effective remedies for common health issues. And we do it while staying safe and avoiding herb-drug interactions. And then the idea is that you can take and share these ideas and teach them to your community. And teach them how to make them too.

Katja (39:31):
This course is available by donation. And so there’s three different donation levels. And if none of them are appropriate for you, do not worry. Just shoot us an email, ask us, we’ll just pop it into an account for you for free or give you a code that will make it free for you. But we want people to have this information, so that we can all be working with the plants and working with each other to make our communities stronger.

Ryn (39:59):
Nice. All right. Look, we did it. We’re a week after our last podcast. Here we are with this one. Hey, by the way, in case you missed it. To find all those courses online…

Katja (40:11):
Oh, right.

Ryn (40:13):
It’s at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Katja (40:16):
I was supposed to say that, wasn’t I? online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (40:19):
Or you know, just follow the link in the show notes.

Katja (40:23):
Okay. Anyway, as you were saying.

Ryn (40:25):
We did it.

Katja (40:26):
We did it.

Ryn (40:27):
Yeah. So, we hope you’ve enjoyed this series here, this 3 pod run on some of the effects of climate change. This is definitely going to be a topic we come back to again in the future. But for the next few episodes, we’ve each picked out a couple of our favorites from our extensive back catalog of the Holistic Herbalism podcast.

Katja (40:47):
We’re coming up on 200 episodes.

Ryn (40:49):
It’s getting close

Katja (40:49):
While we pack over the next few weeks. While we frantically pack over the next few weeks. We actually have said we need to kind of brainstorm something really fun and special to do for the 200th episode.

Ryn (41:04):
Yeah. So, we’re going to run some of our favorites for a little while. And then we’ll come back with some brand-new stuff for you.

Katja (41:11):
Yeah. We will be moving, and then we’ll be moved. And by the time that you’re really wanting a nice pumpkin spice item, we will be back with all new episodes for you.

Ryn (41:27):
All right, everyone. So, until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (41:33):
Or some pumpkin spice.

Ryn (41:35):
And quit it with the “use it”, will ya? All right. Thank you.

Katja (41:40):
Bye bye.

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