Podcast 230: Acknowledging Complexity Is Not Gatekeeping

When you’re an herbalist, it’s normal to get questions from people about herbs. Usually they’re thinking that it’s a simple question, and expecting a simple response: “What’s good for IBS?” “Chamomile.” But the truth is a lot more complex than that! When you learn about herbalism, you come to understand that there are no herbs “for” any disease state. Instead, there are herbs who can exert influences on the body, and those may match well (or poorly) with the specific state of an individual person. So you become less enthusiastic about simply giving someone the name of an herb when they ask “what’ll work for…?”

This dynamic is even more pronounced on social media. Whether in an herbalism discussion group or in direct messages from your followers, an herbalist on social media will see lots of these types of questions – and lots of those one-word responses, too! But people don’t take the names of herbs – they take herbs! Which means they prepare tea (using this much plant matter for that much water), or they take tincture (made at this or that herb:menstruum ratio), or they get a supplement (made by this or that brand)… And so even if you give someone the name of a plant, have you really helped them figure out how to take it? How much to take? How often, for how long? All those details can make or break the success of an intervention.

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When you get that kind of question, you want to give a helpful answer – and that can mean an answer that’s quite different from what the asker expects. Instead of simply listing names of herbs, try giving an insight into your own herbal thought process! For example, if they’re asking about “herbs for headaches”, you can briefly describe various patterns that can cause headache – heat, dryness, tension, stagnation, etc – and help them identify what kind of headache they have.

From there, you can suggest herbs to experiment with – and that’s an important phrase, “to experiment with”! Helping people understand that working with herbs involves multiple rounds of self-experimentation is a great service you can provide.

It takes a little more time to construct a response like this, but it’s significantly more helpful to the asker. They might expect you to simply know the right herb for them, and if you just say “it depends and it’s complicated”, that can feel like you’re gatekeeping. But if you share your own decision-making process, you both teach them how to think like an herbalist (even just a little bit), and you help them understand you’re not holding out on them!

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:15):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:16):
And I’m Ryn.

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

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

Katja (00:23):
Woo-Hoo. Today’s pod is an insta-rant pod. No. I got a message on Instagram today. And it’s really early in the morning. We basically just woke up. And I was like this has to be a podcast. And so I said to Ryn we just have to make this podcast right now. He’s like I didn’t even have a shower yet. I was like I don’t care. We have to do it right now. It’s in my head. I have to go say it right now.

Ryn (00:54):
So, hi. What are we talking about? What’s going on?

Katja (00:59):
Okay. We’re talking about… The short description of what we’re talking about is why I can’t tell you how to fix whatever problem you have emailed me about. And I swear I’m not just holding secrets back. I really just can’t give you the answer because I don’t know anything about your body.

Ryn (01:19):

Katja (01:19):
But the longer issue at stake here is that we are, and honestly, we have been at this maturation point of education in herbalism in the United States. And we started “revival.” And I put that in enormous quote marks. Because people think about the sixties and seventies when herbalism was rediscovered in the United States. And that’s really not true. It was rediscovered by privileged, middle-class and upper-class white people. But herbalism never died in lots of places in this country. It never needed to be revived because people with traditional cultures kept it alive.

Ryn (02:08):
Right. You know, to make that claim it requires a pretty restricted view of what herbalism is, what it has been, and what it could be. It leaves out people putting herbs in their food. It leaves out people working with home remedies from Grandma. It leaves out a lot of things apart from that formalized practice of I go to an office. I sit with an expert. They do herbalism upon me.

Katja (02:33):
Yeah. They do herbalism upon me. But even that is a real certain kind of privilege, because there was granny medicine happening in kitchens all throughout Appalachia, and all throughout the south, and all throughout places here people didn’t have the money for doctors all along.

Ryn (02:51):
Right. That word office earlier…

Katja (02:54):
That’s the key.

Ryn (02:55):
It fills in for that place, as opposed to the kitchen or the garden, or yeah.

Katja (03:00):
Right. So, okay. So, we’re going to acknowledge the problem with the word revival, herbal revival, even though that is commonly said. But we are just going to acknowledge that and acknowledge the like white privilege perspective that that’s coming from. Okay. We acknowledge it. Now, I’m going to probably say it a few times because it’s a convenient shorthand. But we acknowledge that it’s imperfect. All right. So, that point of revival started like a child, right? People were just wandering through the woods, literally. Rosemary was on a horse with her 2-year-old in the Rocky Mountains hiking, and frolicking literally, and yay flowers. Yay. I don’t know. I have a headache. Let me try this. And that’s wicked cool as a personal journey. But also, if you think about it as a discipline of education, it is a very beginning point. And I think it is how most of us come to herbalism. That we just are frolicking in the delight of this new thing. And we’re like woo, flowers, woo leaves, woo nature.

Ryn (04:15):
So, here we’re doing like phylogeny is recapitulating on ontology. Ontogeny.

Katja (04:21):
This is my husband. He has a degree in philosophy.

Ryn (04:25):
There’s this phrase, right? Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. And it means the development of the individual organism is a reflection of the development of that species as a whole. And this idea is fraught, and it has a lot of problems. And it’s an older idea. But look at it as when you have a little embryo that’s on the way to being a fetus, it sort of looks like a little tadpole for a while. And then it sort of looks a little fishy. And then it sort of looks a little mammalian, but not all the way maybe entirely homosapien just yet. And then eventually you get fingers and toes and everything. And that’s pretty cool. But now we’re doing the reverse of that. You’re talking about how the development of the practice of herbalism, at least in this sort of boxed area.

Katja (05:15):
Yeah, in this space.

Ryn (05:17):
Has some resemblance to the way that one person can come to the practice and start in the woods, or start with a flower, and kind of develop from there.

The Delight of Herbalism Moving Towards Complexity

Katja (05:26):
And so I want to really embrace the delight that sparks that process. I want to hug it. I want to be grateful for it. I want to also be in awe of it. That this excitement, this delight is what helps drive us back into connection with the earth. And it is critically important. And I want every person to be able to experience it. And maybe every person doesn’t want to experience it for plants. That’s fine. They don’t have to. They can experience it for rocks. Some people are super into rocks. Some people are super into whatever they’re super into. But I think all humans need that spark of delight. That’s just part of humans, right? That finding the thing that you love and really just face first right into it. So, I don’t want to put that spark down, but I want to acknowledge that it is the first step. We have all been there. Some of you are in that spot right now because you just discovered herbs a short time ago, and you’re so excited. And some of us had that spark a really long time ago, and we’ve been in this practice for a long time. And the spark is always there. It’s never going away. That delight is always going to stay inside you. But then the more you learn, the more complexity builds and the more depth that we see in the situation. And that complexity is good, is what I’m trying to say. That complexity is important because systems are complex. Human bodies are complex. Nature is complex. And we need to come to the point of developing that complexity in order to really fully understand the thing that we fell in love with.

Katja (07:30):
And so that spot, that is where herbalism is right now. The entire herbal community in the US is in this place of moving into that place of complexity. Moving out of the simplicity of hey, this is a thing? This is amazing. And nurturing and feeding that spark into a flame, into a fire that is ready to accept all of the complexity and all of the full interconnected systemness of herbalism. There’s a problem when that happens. And that problem is that we have to shift how we think about the thing that we fell in love with. Most of us – certainly me – when we started herbalism, we were like oh, I have cramps. What can I take for that? Oh, I have a headache. What can I take for that? And then we get online, or we get our books, or we get our whatever. And we say, what’s the herb for this? And then we get a response back from the book, or the internet, or the whatever. And we try it. And it works, or it doesn’t work. And we say yay, plants. I planted. I did a plant. Well, you didn’t plant like gardening, but I did a plant thing. I did an herb thing. And that feels really good.

Katja (09:13):
And so we just keep going. Like every time something happens, we say okay. Well, now I have a cold. What’s an herb for the cold? What’s an herb for this and that? What’s an herb for this and that? And we get into that habit because we start to have some success. Not always, it doesn’t always work. And then we say well, that’s fine. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And we kind of accept that, and we move on. And we just get into this habit of searching for the one thing that I need right now and asking for the thing that I need right now. And that’s good. That’s the crawl before you walk, the walk before you run thing, right? That has to happen. It is good. But then a certain point comes, and you start to realize it doesn’t always work. Why doesn’t it always work? Or well, there’s a lot of responses coming back about herbs for headache. How do I know which one is the right one? I don’t know. Do I just take the one off the top? What do I do? And you start. Because you are building experience, you start to begin to recognize complexity.

Katja (10:18):
And then we have to change the questions that we ask. Instead of saying, what is the herb for this thing? We have to start asking, how do I understand this system? And when we start asking that question, we start realizing that there is no herb for this thing. All herbs are specific to an individual. Yes, tulsi does things, and it will help a lot of people. Or yesterday in the community somebody was trying to think of… In our student community space, somebody was trying to think of some herbs they wanted to include for a presentation in their workplace. And they had this big list. And we were saying, you know, just pick one of those herbs, and linden might be a really good choice. Because it does help so many people. It has such a low allergic potential, such a low drug interaction potential. And it tastes good.

Katja (11:20):
So, you are going to get more traction explaining one herb that is probably going to help most people and probably not going to hurt any people. Than you will if you give them this whole list of herbs, and it’ll be a little bit overwhelming. So, I don’t want to say that there can be no generalization whatsoever. There can. But when you really are starting to get into okay, I have this kind of pain. And it is starting at my shoulder, and radiating down my arm, and ending with numbness in my fingers. There’s not an herb for that. We need to know more. That could be caused by a lot of things. It could be caused by a pinched nerve. It could be caused by a lot of tension that is restricting the flow of blood. It could be caused by damaged nerves, which is not the same as a pinched nerve. It could be caused by damage in some other part of the nervous system, the brain, the neck, the whatever. It could be caused by an autoimmune state. It could be caused by an inflammatory state. Those could be coincidental. It could be an inflammatory autoimmune state. It could be caused by a food allergen. It could be caused by a sports injury. It could be caused by… There’s just a lot of things that could go on. And if we just say oh, here’s the herb for pain that turns into numbness and tingling. Well…

Ryn (12:47):
Oh, prickly ash.

Katja (12:48):
Right? But there’s not one herb that would address all of those different causes. And so when we start to get into something like that. When it’s just nausea, we can pretty reliably be well, ginger. And that’s going to handle 75% of the cases. And it’s okay. But when it starts to get to a little bit more complexity, the answer becomes a lot more complex. Like the complexity is not linear. You get a little more complexity in your question, and you receive a lot more complexity in your answer.

Complexity Changes the Questions You Ask

Ryn (13:24):
Well, I mean, one way I’ve been thinking about this recently has been people do not take names of herbs. And so what I’m thinking about there is, you know, you were talking about Instagram earlier. Or if you look on Facebook groups of discussion about herbs and herbalism, you’ll see a common pattern, right? Somebody makes a post. And they say hey, what’s a good herb for eczema? And then people will start responding. And a lot of those responses will be a couple of words. They’ll be the name of an herb: milk thistle, burdock.

Katja (13:56):

Ryn (13:57):
Whatever, right? And I look at it now, and I say but people don’t take the names of herbs. They don’t take the word marshmallow. They might take marshmallow as a cold infusion. And they might prepare that overnight. And they might drink it every day at a dose of at least a quart prepared with a couple of tablespoons of chopped marshmallow root per quart of water, right? That’s something a person might actually take. Or a person might take a couple of teaspoons of marshmallow powder stirred into four ounces of water and slugged right down straight, straight.

Katja (14:32):
Or they might apply it topically.

Ryn (14:34):
Or they might apply it topically. Or they might… I don’t know. Some people take flower essences. Some people take all kinds of different things, you know? So, people don’t take the names of herbs. And even at that level of just saying here’s something that you should try, people are often not even giving the minimal degree of specificity, right? And that can matter. Especially for certain herbs where there’s a big difference in what you get when you take them. Burdock is an example. If I take burdock as tincture, I get some of its activity. I get some liver stimulation, right? We get some movement internally. But I don’t really feed my gut flora. And so if somebody’s problem is something that can be improved by feeding the gut flora and changing the composition or building them up, then burdock can be a good recommendation. But if you just say burdock, maybe they go grab a tincture. They don’t get that effect. Maybe they buy a supplement capsule. You can’t stuff a whole lot of inulin, that prebiotic fiber, into one of those little supplement capsules, right? Those are a different type of subset of the constituents of the herb. But if that person makes a nice strong decoction of burdock. If they start eating it in food. Okay, now we’re really going to feed your flora. So, yeah, people don’t take the names of herbs. And that’s only one part of what you’re talking about here. Because you’re also talking about individual herbal energetic patterns. You’re talking about that person’s drug list and potential contraindications that might come around there.

Katja (16:07):
Right. We haven’t even thought of that yet or said that yet.

Ryn (16:10):
We’re thinking about the rest of their health history. We’re thinking about what flavors they like, you know? All of those layers can be completely left aside in these kinds of discussions. And the thing is that the person asking that question may not be aware of any of that.

Katja (16:26):
That’s the real key. That is the real thing that got me started this morning. Because we get so many emails, y’all – so many DMs on social media, so many, so many – with people saying I love your this. I love your podcast. I love your newsletter. I love your whatever. What’s the herb for this?

Ryn (16:44):
Which is nice, by the way.

Katja (16:45):
Yeah, we do like that. We like that a lot. But then the next part is, I’ve been having this problem. What’s the herb that I need? And then I feel awful every time that I have to say I really can’t tell you. And it’s not because I’m a jerk, and I just don’t want to give you the answer. It’s because I would need to talk to you for like an hour before I really have a solid idea of what herb I want to tell you. Which does not mean that I couldn’t just throw out the name of an herb, and maybe it would give you a little relief. I really want to be clear that yes. I could just say you know what? Probably some blue vervain would help you. And it probably would take the edge off. It probably would make things a little bit better. But we can do so much more. And especially when somebody’s asking about a big pain thing or asking about anything with any kind of complexity at all. I don’t want to just be like oh, just say some chamomile. You’ll be fine. Even though chamomile probably would offer some benefit. We can do more than some benefit. But we can’t do it like a Google search. It has to be specific. I have to think through… Anybody, not just me, but anybody would have to think through your body. Are you usually hot? Are you usually cold? What is your background? What is your inflammatory state right now? So, how is sleep playing into this? What parts of your body do I need to support in order to get what your body needs to fix the problem?

Ryn (18:27):
Yeah. You were talking earlier about the state of herbal knowledge amongst the general public, and the state of education amongst herbal practitioners, and all of that. And we definitely have seen a greater awareness about herbalism in the course of our careers.

Katja (18:43):
Yeah. Like a skyrocketing awareness in fact.

Ryn (18:46):
Yeah. And you can look at that in different ways. Where I was just looking recently at the, herbal market report from the American Botanical Council. Because they finally got the one for 2022 out there. And it’s always interesting to read because it gives you some window into so what are people buying, you know? It turns out people are buying a lot of psyllium husk supplements these days. That it’s finally deposed elderberry at the top of the best sellers list.

Katja (19:14):
Yeah, at least in 2022.

Ryn (19:16):
In 2022, yeah. And so I look at that, and I’m like well, what’s behind that, right? And there can be different elements. But you’re like well, is there just a lot of constipation going on out there? Are there people who are finally getting the message that fiber is an important part of your diet, and you can’t really just run on carbs and proteins, like sugars and proteins? Is it that people heard that this is another good way to try to help your cholesterol levels? Because with that one, it’s like the fiber is going to bind up some of the extra bile that’s secreted in your intestine and carry it out before it gets recycled. And that can help to eliminate that stuff. But in any case, you just look at a trend like that. And you think okay, so what does that mean for people who might come asking me about things? And we look at that especially when plants are suddenly popular, or when there’s a trend going on. Apparently, people on TikTok haven’t really played with that one, but they’ve been doing chlorophyll water. Where they’re taking chlorophyll tincture, like the Chloroxygen product or whatever. Just squirting it in some water and drinking it, and being like this is going to solve all my health problems. And look, I love chlorophyll. I think it’s good to get chlorophyll in whatever way you have to. We usually like to do that with leaves.

Katja (20:33):
Yeah. If you just take the tincture, you are missing out on all the fiber. The chlorophyll is awesome, but fiber too, y’all.

Ryn (20:40):
Yeah. And with some of those products you actually have to be careful about your copper intake. There are things to be aware of. But of course a trend like that comes around. And it’s usually presented as it’s a cure-all. It’s good for everybody. It’s the miracle thing. And herbs are miraculous, but none of them is a miracle for everybody. Herbal miracles are particularized.

Gatekeeping vs. Acknowledging Complexity

Katja (21:05):
I mean, you need your own personal miracle. That’s the situation. Recently also in Q&A a week or two ago, one of the students was talking about this. The more that they learn, the more that they’re thinking about how do we explain to people the difference between I need more information from you in order to give you the information that you’re asking me for versus just outright gatekeeping. This is an actual complex situation, and we have to work on it together for a while. Versus I just don’t want to give you the answer, or just buy my course. And that’s the worst. That’s the worst. That’s when I really feel bad. When I’m like listen, I can’t answer this question for you in a dm. But I do have a course that has literally all the stuff that I am thinking about. And I don’t know your body, but you do. And so if you worked through that course, you would see all of my options. And then you would also see okay, if it’s this situation, then we would go this way. But if it’s that situation, we would go in this other way. But you know which situation you are. So, you know which of those two ways would be the right one for you to try.

Ryn (22:21):
Right. And, you know, sometimes it’s a two-option decision. But more often we need to build a tree, and we need to have branching paths. And some of them circle back, and some of them spiral around, and that kind of thing happens. But yeah, this is something that we deal with very frequently. And if any of y’all out there are herbalists. And people are asking you questions. And you’ve, you’ve felt the same kind of struggle. Then here’s one way that we often try to navigate that. So, we’ll say to the person yeah, well headaches are different. Some people respond better to herbs that are warming and bring blood up, and some people respond better to cooling herbs that take the blood down out of your head. And some people need a really strong relaxant, and some people need a little tonification up in your skull. So, there are different things that one could try. And that’s why I’m not just going to give you a single answer. But in the meantime, when you asked me this question, you did mention a tension pattern. And so you might want to start out with the relaxants. Here are a couple of simple ones to give a try. Try skullcap, try betony. See how that does for you. That will give you some information. If it works great, okay. It seems like we found the right thing in the first try. That’s cool. If not, that also gives you information. And that helps you make your next option, your next choice down. So, we give some person a sense of what we have in mind and an idea of what our decision-making process looks like. And then we also say maybe you start with this.

Katja (24:04):
Yeah. I think that that part’s really important. Because the key here is if I just list an herb. If I just say you know, chamomile is my favorite for headaches. Actually for me in my body and the type of headaches that I usually get, it’s ginger and chamomile together. But I do have an outlier kind of headache that does not work with ginger and chamomile. That one has to do other things. Okay. But so, if I just say well, ginger and chamomile works for me. Try it. It’ll work for you. And then it doesn’t work for that person, then I’ve really turned them off to the whole idea of working with plants.

Ryn (24:48):
And also maybe working with you. This herbalist didn’t help me very much. I don’t know.

Katja (24:54):
But if I explain that there’s a lot of complexity in the situation.

Ryn (25:00):
More than it seems like.

Katja (25:02):
Yeah, more than you think. People don’t think very much. Even when we work with clients, and they fill out our intake form. Usually the first thing they say when we sit down with them is that was a long intake form. I have never sat down and thought that much about my health in my whole life. That’s the most common thing that people say. So, usually it is more complex than you think. And so if I explain a little bit about the kinds of factors that I am thinking about. And then I say okay, try a thing. It might work if this is the thing that you need. If you need relaxants, then these may help you. If it does not work, that gives us data about how to choose a better direction for you. If we present it that way, then people know that when it doesn’t work, or if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that they should just go back to taking aspirin and forget that whole natural thing. I never want to try that again. They understand right off the bat that this is a decision tree. And if that didn’t work, that tells us what our next step is.

Ryn (26:13):
This is actually also what we are doing in different types of contexts when we’re talking to somebody, and we want to make a recommendation. So, sometimes we have appointments that are two hours long. And we can get the whole health history. And we can learn about the person’s habits and about their likes and dislikes. And we can get a good idea of what it’s like to live in that person’s life. And that helps us to make a rational choice of what to recommend, right? Sometimes we have a lot less time to work with people. We might be doing a free clinic and have 30 minutes start to finish to bang something out. Or we’ve done things where we were trying to see as many humans as possible in a day. We were doing free clinic work in an underserved community or something like that. And it’s like all right, tell me what’s going on. Let me ask you a few targeted questions to try to narrow down as quickly as possible. Try this. Come back tomorrow and let me know how it worked. Okay, next. And so if we can try to understand what our thought process is like in those moments. Oh, the person comes in, and they’re dealing with a digestive thing. Okay, is it hot? Is it cold? Is it tense? Is it lax? What are we doing? You are moving through those kinds of thoughts in your own mind as you’re asking questions, as you’re making suggestions. You can help people who are brand new to herbalism do that. Like you say about gatekeeping, right? This doesn’t have to be well, you can maybe learn how to do that in 10 or 20 years. This is more like here’s the thought process we’ve got. Here are some of the considerations in mind. You don’t have to understand everything that we have in mind. You don’t have to know all of the decision tree that I’m envisioning here. But if you can see the first couple steps, then you can start to climb the tree.

Katja (28:05):
Yeah. And so even when we’re working in a situation like that, we even can give people options one, two, and three. We can say okay, based on the information I have right now, I have some thoughts. But there are still some variables. So, we’re going to start with chamomile, because I think what’s going on here is tension. And I think if we can relax the situation, that’s going to really help a lot. If that doesn’t work, here is our next approach. And here’s why I think it could be helpful. Okay, it wasn’t just tension and relaxation. It was also that we need to get more blood moving into the area and relaxing wasn’t enough to get the blood flowing. So, we’re going to also add a circulatory stimulant. We’re going to add ginger to the mix. And then if those two do not work together, then that means that I am in the wrong direction entirely. And the issue really is that there’s just too much heat going on, and we need to cool everything down. And so we are going to change strategies, and go with blessed thistle and blue vervain, and really try to cool things down. Okay, that didn’t take me very long to say. I needed a little information to figure out what my starting point was from the person. But you can get that in a reasonably quick conversation. Especially if you’re not typing with your thumbs on your phone through a DM on social media. But if you’re talking to somebody, you can get that information that you need to at least find a starting point for experimentation. And if you’re communicating to the person that this is not the answer. This is our path of experimentation, so that we find what is the right thing for your body. They definitely are going to understand that. People understand that all things don’t work for all people. And so, if we are presenting it in that way. And if we then give them a few options to try. That helps them understand herbalism so much differently than just what’s an herb for headache? Oh, feverfew.

Ryn (30:16):
Here’s the name of it.

Katja (30:17):
Here’s the name of the herb, yeah.

Ryn (30:18):
Figure out how to take it. Good luck. Go to Amazon maybe and get the first thing that pops up, or the one with the prettiest label, or the cheapest one. Ooh, yeah.

Embracing the Complexity in Your Learning

Katja (30:29):
Don’t do any of those things. Yeah. So anyway, yes. It is this complexity that we need to understand as people studying herbalism. And not just understand, but also embrace. It is time to just jump in all the way in – not dangle our toes, but all the way in – to the complexity of the interconnectedness of the human body as a system.

Ryn (30:59):
And by the way, there are lots of ways to engage with that. This doesn’t have to mean that you need to go and learn physiology at an MD level, although that is helpful. It doesn’t mean that you have to go and learn phytochemistry at a doctorate level, although some of that is helpful, right?

Katja (31:15):
Right. Bits of it is helpful, yeah.

Ryn (31:17):
It doesn’t mean that you need to learn how to work with a thousand herbs, so that you have a maximally broad palate to work with. It doesn’t mean that you have to learn all the intricacies of human relationships, and social justice, and environmental effects on health, although all of those are helpful to learn. But it may be that you are more interested in one of those than another, right? Or that you have a greater talent for one of those than another. Like Katja is really, really good at understanding people’s emotions, and how they’re impacting their decisions, and how those are impacting their health. And then somehow explaining that to them in a way that they feel inspired and excited. She’s just got that talent somehow.

Katja (32:04):
If you think you can’t give up gluten, I can help you give up gluten. Is what he’s saying. Yeah, that is true. I do have a really high success rate of convincing people to do things that they thought they would never try.

Ryn (32:18):
Yeah. But it’s because you can find the motivation. And I think a lot of that is because you can see the emotional patterns and the emotional history in a very short order of talking to someone. So, that’s like a particular talent. And that might not have been the first thing you thought of when we were talking about the complexity of influences on an individual person’s health status and what makes the right herb for them, you know? But that’s one piece of it. So, there are lots of them. And that’s good news because that means you’re not going to get bored. And it also means that you can follow your talents and your interests.

Katja (32:52):
Yeah. I think what you’re really getting at here is that the word complexity does not mean graduate school. All people are capable of a complex understanding of people, of nature, of herbs, of systems. If you hated biology and chemistry in high school, that does not mean that you cannot do complex work as an herbalist. You absolutely can. It is a matter of seeing the connections, and asking some questions, and even just coming down to the basics of energetics. Is this hot or cold? Is this damp or dry? Is this tense or lax? And really coming down to those six things. Everybody can understand I’m feeling cold right now. Or this person looks like they are too hot all of the time.

Ryn (33:59):
And complexity there can emerge as you work with that system, as you work with plants with those concepts in your mind and in your body. And you develop your own nuance to them. You start to recognize well, sometimes you see redness. And it’s not only heat, it’s not only frank heat. It’s because there’s some dryness contributing to that. And I need to address that first before I just start throwing refrigerants at the person’s face. So anyway, that is also something that can be developed. And many of these types of complexity are things that you can learn to work within. And they may involve book study. But they may also, or even more importantly, involve getting in touch with your senses.

Katja (34:43):
Yeah. Like gut study. That’s also why we say that you have to practice this stuff. You can’t just listen to us talk about it. You also have to go practice it. Because this is the stuff that you know in your gut. But you won’t know it in your gut unless you actually practice it. It’s like muscle memory, but it’s your gut feelings.

Ryn (35:06):
It’s also like meditation practice, right? You meditate in a structured way on your cushion with the idea that ultimately those mental patterns that you practice are going to emerge for you when you need them, like in a moment of stress, or fear, or despair. Those can be times when if you can get into that meditative state of mind, and see past the clouds to the blue sky, and all of that kind of stuff, that’s when it’s actually helpful for you.

Katja (35:35):
Yeah. The cushion is…

Ryn (35:37):
It’s an important practice, okay. But it’s about what happens off the cushion. And the same thing here. When you sit down with herbs, and you taste them. You turn all your tincture bottles backwards, and you taste them one by one and say okay. That’s fennel. That’s ginger. That’s calamus. That’s angelica. Those two are similar, but not the same. That’s also that kind of training and practice.

Katja (35:59):
So, the word complexity is not the same as gatekeeping. This is absolutely no hey, this is so complex, you’re never going to be able to do it. This is, this is complex, and we just need to open ourselves to that complexity. But it is the complexity of life. It is the complexity that is not like taking exams in school. It is not like math where your math teacher… Listen, you’re good at math. Let me just tell you that right now. You are good at math. I promise. If you think you are terrible at math, it’s because your teacher didn’t explain it to you well. It is not because you’re stupid. Basically actually nothing is because you’re stupid. It is about having someone teach it to you in your language, in a way that gets across to you, and also in a way that’s exciting.

Ryn (36:54):
Yeah, you’ve got to want to learn something to really learn it well.

Katja (36:58):

Ryn (36:59):
When we try to force people to learn stuff, it doesn’t always stick. Because you pay attention in a different way if you think this might actually matter to me someday.

Katja (37:08):
Right. So, it is the job of a teacher to hold your interest, and inspire you, and make you say you know what? Actually that’s super interesting to me. Because that’s what’s going to unlock your ability to understand it. So, none of this stuff about complexity is about you are not smart enough to learn it. It is all about ooh, you asked this question. And I need to explain to you why the answer is not the simple answer that you think. And I’m not hiding my secret perfect pain remedy. But there’s just a lot of complexity for me to get to the pain remedy that is going to help you specifically. None of it is hard. It is just that there are a lot of steps involved.

Ryn (38:00):
Yeah. And this is a helpful thing to say to people, right? So, to bring it back around to the inciting incident today. If you are a participant in some social media groups. Or if you’re getting these kinds of messages. Then think about what we’ve said here today and about how that can help you to answer those questions in a more helpful way. If there’s a thread like that, and you see somebody’s asking about herbs for IBS. And people are putting in ginger, and peppermint, and chamomile, and this and that. It’s a public service if you go in there and say hi. Here are some thoughts. There are different things that might help. IBS can mean different things to different people.

Katja (38:42):
Right. There are so many different types of IBS.

Ryn (38:45):
Yeah. There are some common overlapping patterns. Usually there’s a spasmodic element, but not always. Sometimes people get that label just because the doctor wasn’t sure what else to call their problem today, and they had to give it a name. So, just to say there is some kind of complexity to that. Here’s a couple of thoughts about places to start. Some of these other suggestions people have made are reasonable. But recognize that they may not be the best answer for you. And that you can get to that best answer with a little bit of experimentation.

Katja (39:16):

Ryn (39:17):
Like I said, that’s a public service, okay. If once a week or once a day, if you’re really ambitious, you get into one of these discussions, and you put a note like that in there. That’s helpful to everybody who looks at it. And maybe we can encourage some of those one-word answerers to give a little more of their thought process. Those folks had a reason for recommending that herb. And maybe it was hey, I’ve had that problem before. I worked with this, and it really helped me. That’s good. But if they were to also say I had that problem before. It had these specific features. And this herb helped me in this particular way. That would be so much more productive, so much more instructive.

Experiences Matter, Not Diagnoses

Katja (39:57):
Right. Because for all you who are still listening, here’s the key. Every person’s IBS is different. Just like a one-word herb answer is not the answer because am I going to drink it as tea? Is it a cold infusion, a long infusion, a short infusion, a hot infusion, a this and that? Am I going to decoct it? What am I going to do? The same is true for a diagnosis. They are not the same. Ten people with PCOS all have different symptoms. They all have different expressions of PCOS. It feels different from one body to the next. Endometriosis. There are some things in common, but there are a lot of things that are not common. And we can’t just go spouting off herbs for IBS until we understand hey, you know what? Actually are you constipated, or do you have diarrhea? Because both of those get called IBS. And the answers to those two questions are going to send you down wildly divergent paths.

Ryn (40:56):
Yeah. So, just in the same way that people don’t take names of herbs, people don’t actually have the name of the illness that they get labeled with, right? They have a set of symptoms, a set of experiences, a set of disruptions to quote-unquote normal hormonal patterns. Whatever they have going on, that’s what’s going on. But that may not be identical to the label or to the standard simple definition of the name of their illness, or their discomfort, or whatever.

Katja (41:29):
Right. So, even when somebody… So, if somebody just says, what’s a good herb for IBS? Okay, well whoa, there’s so many kinds of IBS. But even when somebody is more specific. I have pain going down my arm, and it’s making my fingers numb. Okay, well, there’s a lot of causes for that. And I need to be able to tell you that there’s a lot of causes for that. Because I need to know more about what’s going on in order to figure out which herbs are ultimately going to support that. Just like IBS isn’t enough. I need to know more so that I know whether I should tighten up your guts or help them relax.

Ryn (42:06):
Another way to improve on those single word herb name answers would be a simple if statement, right? Well, if your IBS is primarily a bunch of cramping and dry pellet poops, then get you a nice moistening relaxant herb. It could be Linden. You probably think of that just as a nervine plant, but sometimes it’s the best thing for these digestive issues. Or get marshmallow or get a lot of seaweed in your diet, you know? So, you give context with a simple if it’s like this, if it feels like that, if it looks like this. That alone bumps up the level of help you’ve actually given to somebody above just throwing out an herb name.

Katja (42:48):
Yes. All right. So, for anybody who emails or contacts in any way, we love you. We appreciate you. And I’m so sorry that always the answer is like ah, it depends. I would need to talk to you for a really long time, until I would really know. And then often I say but listen, we have a course about that. And that would help you because it lays out all the different options. And then you can pick because you know your body. You can pick the ones that fit for your experience, what you are feeling in your body. And I know it sounds like a sales pitch. I know it sounds like a whatever. But one way or another, no matter how we’re helping people, we have to figure out a way to find out how they really feel in their body – not just the name of what they feel, but what does this feel like – so that we can get the right solution for them.

Ryn (43:51):
An analog here is like hey, what’s some good music for a party?

Katja (43:56):
That’s exactly it.

Ryn (43:58):
Who’s at the party? What kind of party are we having? What do you actually like already? That can give me an idea. I’m going to be your DJ, but give me something to start with, okay. Otherwise you’re going to get polka, all right? It’s good for a party. Yeah, it’s all right.

Katja (44:17):
That’s the best example that I have ever heard ever in my whole life. I love it.

Ryn (44:24):
Yeah. So, you know what? I actually want to… We normally do this at the front, but I want to do this now. Because you might hear this differently than usual. So, this is our reclaimer for the podcast episode, right? That’s where we remind everybody that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (44:39):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (44:51):
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 we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you must adhere to.

Katja (45:07):
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we are talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research and experiment with further.

Ryn (45:20):
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. 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, that’s always your choice to make. So, you see how this is exactly what we’ve been talking about for this whole episode, right? It’s another set of ways to express very similar ideas. Yeah.

Expect & Offer More Complex Answers

Katja (45:49):
So, we will go back. We’ll get back to the business series. I have a bunch more types of businesses that I want to talk about. And that’s coming. But just I felt like… This morning I was on Instagram, and I was replying to a DM. And I was like man, here’s the same unsatisfactory answer again. And I’m trying to apologize that I just don’t have a simple answer.

Ryn (46:24):
And trying to give someone a place to start.

Katja (46:25):
Yeah. Trying to give a place to start, trying to give a whatever. And I’m like argh, I just need to talk about this for longer than I can type with my thumbs. I’m really bad at typing with my thumbs, y’all. I don’t know. And yeah, so I still think… Listen, it would be awesome if we just could give people the answer, like THE answer. That would be so awesome. But we can’t, and I do feel bad about it. But also, I feel a spark of delight about it, because this is so exciting. It is so amazing to look at how everybody’s body is different, and to see the complexity in nature, and to see the complexity in the way that we all show up in the world. And then to see that there are pathways to address all of it and bring it into a place of… I don’t like the word balance, but at least more comfort. And I just really do get so excited by the beauty in that.

Ryn (47:33):
And you want to go there. And that’s why when something gets reduced in that way of tell me the name of an herb for my problem. Then you feel this argh, that’s not going to help.

Katja (47:42):
I feel so constricted.

Ryn (47:43):
I know that’s what you’re asking for, but it’s not what you really need or even what you want, honestly.

Katja (47:48):
It will be disappointing if I give you the answer that you’re asking for. That answer will be disappointing. It will not serve you. And so yeah, as a learning community, we just need to start asking more complex questions. And we need to start expecting more complex answers. Because by the way, in places all over the world and also places in the U.S. That did not have their traditions interrupted, this kind of complexity is expected. They know it is complex in these ways. I mean, I’m making a huge generalization here. But it’s not weird to see oh well, hmm, the answer depends. That’s not a weird answer. But it is for us because we’re just coming to that point as a body of making that shift in our thinking. And a lot of people are still coming from herb training materials that are from the seventies and eighties and even the early nineties. And even though they’re just starting learning today, they’re learning from materials that are old. And so we just have to keep making this push to come into the new century of herbalism. I don’t know, whatever. I’m like off in some weird world now. But to just like make that leap. And just recognize that the complexity is there, and that it is accessible complexity actually. We just have to embrace it.

Ryn (49:33):
And that if we do that as part of the way we respond to these things. If we acknowledge the complexity. If we try to open the doorway so you can start to see it. And begin to lay out some paths. To try not to frame them as answers, but to frame them as experiments. That acknowledging that complexity is not gatekeeping. It’s serving people in the best way we can.

Katja (49:56):
And It’s not scary, and you’re not going to have to learn chemical equations or any of those other things that were maybe uncomfortable in school.

Ryn (50:03):
Unless you want to.

Katja (50:03):
Unless you want to. But it’s absolutely not necessary. That’s not what we mean by complexity. It is this web, the mandala of each individual person, the patterns. And that is stuff that anybody can learn, even if you think that school wasn’t for you, even if you didn’t get good grades. Just don’t let the word complexity psych you out. It is complexity that is available to you. We just have to say oh, I expect there to be decisions to be made here. I expect there to be choices that I have to make as I go along, so that I get the answer that’s right for my body and not any other body. My body.

Ryn (50:58):
Yeah, exactly. All right. So, that’s that for this episode of the Holistic Herbalism podcast. We’ll be back soon with some more thoughts on starting herby businesses. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Don’t gatekeep. Drink some tea. And enjoy the complexity. Bye everyone.

Katja (51:21):


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