When I hear the word “herbalism”, images of candlelit apothecaries, exquisite antique bottles of tincture, and the age old mortar and pestle come to mind. Even today, this isn’t too far from the mark – a resurgence of the age-old practice is in full swing and the craft has not changed much. Nor should it.
But along with this return to botanicals, there has been a corresponding re-birth of the snake oil salesman who slaps “miracle cure” language on their remedies. You’ve probably seen what I’m talking about. I operate on the principle that good information is a wonderful thing, but exaggeration and hyperbole are worse than no information at all.
When I speak to trusted herbalist friends who are following a deep calling to work with plants and are immune to the allure of material gain, they often speak about the herbs as allies, not magic bullets or cure-alls. They advise that a conscious, healthy lifestyle is by far the most powerful healing agent and that the effects of herbs will most likely not be experienced without it.
My friend and master herbalist David Winston has a great philosophy on how to properly use plants to heal the body. He views herbals as a secondary course of treatment that can work wonders if we have what he calls “our foundation” running properly.
In a recent sit down with him, David shared the following bit of wisdom with me:
“In my mind, anyone who is a competent herbalist doesn’t just use herbs. We look at diet, diet is foundational. We look at sleep, sleep is foundational. We look at exercise, we look at lifestyle. I don’t care how many herbs you take, if you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re eating a lousy diet, if you’re not getting exercise, if you have an unhealthy lifestyle, you have unhealthy relationships, herbs won’t make up for that. So, we have to deal with the foundational things.”
Each of the foundations that David mentions is equally important, but I want to focus in on one in particular: diet.
When folks see the healing results that our patients in the Sacred Science film achieved with tribal medicines, the question we often hear is “what were the herbs that he/she was taking?” or “Do these native herbalists and shamans travel? Where can I find them?” But what tends to fall by the wayside is that a baseline component of their treatment was a plant-based diet.
And I’m not referring to the American version of vegan or vegetarian that relies on processed fake meats made of seitan and tofu smothered in starchy gravy with pretend cheese melted on top. In Amazonian healing traditions, the prescription will most likely include a back-to-the-land diet of locally harvested vegetables, non-gluten grains like quinoa and wild rice, fruits, and an occasional meal of local fish.
If you think that meal plan is tough, get this – they also forbid the use of any spices, including salt.
Why is this? In the jungle, this period of veggie-centric eating is part of the traditional healing dieta. Meals are kept extremely simple so that the more subtle compounds in the prescribed herbal medicines can do their work without interference from outside substances.
According to the native healers that we work with, a rich and overindulgant diet not only disguises symptoms and interferes with the herbal treatments, but also indulges the patient’s ego. I’ve heard it said that eating the American way can create momentary comfort (or escape) from the inner truths that need to be unveiled for an individual to heal.
Today’s takeaway: Many people, including myself, have their exotic herbal regimen down to a science and get great exercise, but occasionally let their diet slip. Herbs are fascinating, and their mysteries hold a ton of promise for the future of our species. But they sometimes steal the spotlight. The tinctures, the teas, the tonics, and the infusions are important, but if you’re eating the SAD (Standard American Diet), these subtle approaches aren’t going to be effective for you.
Last, but not least, if you’re looking to try out a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, the Vegetarian Health Institute just released a FREE step-by-step guide on how to thrive on a plant-based diet. You can check out their vegetarian / vegan guide
here – https://thesacredscience.com/vegetarian-guide
I hope this information helps you on your path!
Director, The Sacred Science
PS: For the advanced herbalists that are reading this: the dieta is not only used to heal illness. In many Amerindian traditions, veteran herbalists (mostly shamans) and their apprentices will follow a 30 to 60 day dieta for the sole purpose of more deeply connecting with a particular herb. The nutritional protocol here is very similar to the one mentioned above, but can actually be more rigid. I have met herbalists who will live on unseasoned brown rice (not even salt!) and water for a 30-day period while they work with various preparations of a single herb. Do not try this without expert guidance!