September 14, 2013
By Dr. Mercola
Numen is the animated force in all things living, and this is strongly demonstrated, although often taken for granted, in plants.
Even our DNA contains much of the same material found in the plant world, which gives new meaning to the idea of healing plants.
It’s a scientific fact that is explored, fascinatingly, in the documentary Numen: The Nature of Plants. As Bill Mitchell, ND, naturopath and co-founder of Bastyr University stated in the film:
“You’re as much carrot as you are a kangaroo, as you are a bird. A lot of that DNA, that memory comes from the very origins of life.”
Herbalism Is the Oldest System of Healing on the Planet
The use of plants as medicine is one of the only forms of healing that’s embraced by every culture and ethnicity, and that has endured since ancient times and is still in use today in most areas of the world.
What makes this all the more intriguing is that how and why plants work is still largely a mystery. Modern science can uncover cells, molecules and atoms, but science cannot fully explain the healing nature of plants, or the intricacy and complexity of life.
One only needs to view the amazing time-lapsed photos of sprouting seeds and flowers blooming in the video below to appreciate this…
Herbs, Like Foods, Are Complementary to Human Health
In the past I have regarded herbs, in many cases, as an alternative to drugs, useful for treating various symptoms but not to treat the underlying cause. I have since revised my opinion on this quite significantly, and now realize that herbs can help support your health from a very basic level, just as foods do.
When I interviewed Donnie Yance, who is a clinical master herbalist, he explained that foods and herbs share quite a few similarities, including being pleiotropic -- which means they produce more than one effect.
This is expanded on in Numen, which explains that the complex mix of chemicals in plants work synergistically to address underlying imbalances in your body that may lead to disease.
As herbalist Matthew Wood said:
“It is very seldom that herbs are strong enough to kill germs. A few of them can, but then they become drugs. Killing germs isn't how traditional medicine works.
It works instead by changing the environment, working to address imbalances in organ systems and tissue states, not targeting a specific bacteria with a single chemical extracted from a plant or synthesized in a lab.”
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, you could walk into a drug store and find hundreds of herbal extracts for sale. Upwards of 90 percent of the population at that time knew how to use the medicinal plants growing in their backyards to treat common illnesses and injuries; they had too, as this was virtually the only ‘medicine’ available.
With the rise of what is now known as conventional allopathic medicine shortly before World War One, herbalism slowly fell out of favor and became to be thought of as folk medicine. Rather than viewing nature as the source of healing, as had been done for centuries, people began to view drugs and other ‘modern’ healing methods as superior.
We’re Now Separated from Our Natural Roots
When you shop for food in a grocery store, you’re completely removed from the natural process used to grow your food. And in many cases, that ‘natural process,’ too, has been transformed into an industrial process that is at the heart of mass food production.
This is but one example of our increased separation from nature, a state that often leads people to feel significantly unbalanced. Said Ken Ausubel, CEO and founder of Bioneers:
“If there’s been a single disconnect in Western civilization, it’s this idea that somehow we’re separate or distinct from nature, when in fact the opposite is true… we’re connected to the ecosystems around us and we can really only be healthy when the land and the air and the water around us are also healthy. And if they’re not, it’s going to show up in our physical well-being.”
Now, with the US spending more on health care than any other industrialized nation, while at the same time experiencing soaring rates of chronic disease, it has perhaps never been more evident that our disconnectedness from nature is backfiring.
Environmental Pollution Is Poisoning Humans, Too
Infertility, immune system disorders, obesity, and other chronic illness are on the rise, and it’s becoming very clear that environmental chemicals are at least partly to blame. Yet, there is still a reluctance to acknowledge that when you poison nature, it is akin to poisoning yourself. The average American has 148 chemicals in his or her body, and this chemical exposure begins in your mother’s womb.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like phthalates and bisphenol-A, are interfering with hormones and linked to the rise in male birth defects and testicular cancer in young men. You’re exposed not only when you use products containing them, but plastics containing these chemicals are dumped into the environment, where the chemicals enter waterways, with unknown effects.
“At the molecular level we’re wreaking havoc, and then that cascades up to the cellular and organism and ecosystem level,” said Martha Herbert, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
Healing Is About Wholeness, Not Parts
Modern medicine excels at treating emergencies and certain serious illnesses, like bacterial infections, yet often misses the mark when it comes to healing other more subtle, yet no less devastating, conditions.
Physicians often rely on lab tests and blood work over the patient’s own words, and may use this information as proof that nothing is wrong, when in fact the person still feels tired, foggy or depressed. Part of the problem is the breaking down of a whole person to a set of parts and evaluating each organ in isolation from the rest of the body. Another part is ignoring the bigger picture, which is that lab tests do not give the whole story of a patient. As Tieraona Low Dog, MD, said:
“I think the truth is many people have a kind of soul sickness, they have a soul pain, a spirit pain. And you can’t find it in laboratory values, you can’t find it in a scan, but in no way does that make it less real.”
Unfortunately, conventional medicine is not well equipped to deal with these types of emotional pain or other underlying conditions that modern medical tests miss. This is also evidenced by many physicians’ complete lack of attention to lifestyle factors that could be influencing their patients’ health, like sleep, stress, and diet… they don’t tell you that a trip to the farmer’s market for healthy food and perhaps some herbal preparations may hold the cures you’ve been searching for.
Nature Is the Source of Healing: Whole Plant Medicine
Most synthetic medications are based on compounds in plants. Scientists cannot create these substances but must, rather, try to make copies, But in their synthetic models they often end up with compounds that your body doesn’t recognize and doesn’t know how to handle. As Herbert explained:
“You target a particular chemical and you hit it really hard, and the system is expected to just have the response that you want it to have, but actually you have all these other effects… we call these side effects. They’re not side effects, they’re effects, they’re just not the ones you wanted.”
A plant, however, is a complex of thousands of biomolecules, many of which are countervailing, so if there’s one effective compound that may have a toxic effect, it usually contains a countervailing compound so that it doesn’t harm your liver, for example. It’s the interplay of chemicals that make the plant work, which is why you can’t study herbal medicine by isolating a certain element; you’ve got to study the whole plant. This is what conventional medicine is largely missing.
Of course, the ultimate ‘herbalism’ is the food that you eat on a daily basis. Dark green leafy vegetables, herbs and spices are excellent sources of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and anti-cancer substances that can dramatically influence your health. Christopher Hobbs, clinical herbalist, put it well: “The real medicine is hiding in the produce department.”
You Can Feel the Power of Plants Every Time You Walk in the Garden
There’s a deep connection with plants that many people feel intrinsically when they walk into their garden. This connection continues when you use plants for healing, including when you prepare tinctures or teas from herbs, which you can do in your own kitchen. According to many herbal experts, this relationship with plants and nature is nearly as important as the herbal medicine itself.
As herbalist Rosemary Gladstar said:
“I think one of the most unique places about herbalism and modern herbal healers is that we still maintain that deep connection with the plants. We're not looking at just single components as being the magic bullets in our bodies. There's still a deep prayerful relationship, whether you go to the plants and consciously pray or you have awareness with them, or just the way you are with them when you're harvesting them or making your medicine or even giving the medicine. There's a deep connection with the spirit of the plants. It's not just that there is a chemical constituent that will cure your condition; it is the relationship that the plant has to us and how those plants have served as our healers for literally thousands of years.
For anyone who works with the plants, whether you're gardening, or just being with them, backpacking with them a lot, that experience of having a plant communicate with you in some way happens. It takes you by surprise at first, but the plants want a talk to us, they want to help us.
They work on so many different levels in our bodies. Yes, they can work just as chemical constituents, but that's the least potency that they have… when you develop a relationship with plants, that kind of sacred plant medicine will happen. Just by working with them, they begin to speak to you and you begin to hear them. It happens when you garden. You know, when people go into the garden, they transform. That's why so many people garden. They go into that garden and they begin to feel things and be different, and in a way that's plant spirit medicine at its finest.”
10 Steps You Can Take to Harness the Healing Power of Plants
After watching Numen: The Nature of Plants, you may find yourself driven to deepen your relationship with the natural world. If so, here are 10 tips to do so:1
- Learn to identify three medicinal plants you don't already know that grow in your region and learn their uses.
- Add at least one of these herbs to your garden or to pots on your windowsill.
- Make a tincture, tea, syrup, or salve. Or make one of each!
- Harvest and dry mint, lemon balm, calendula, nettles, or any other plant growing in your region.
- Find a plant to sit with quietly each morning for a week; draw the plant.
- Identify one healing skill you would like to have but don't, and find a way to learn it—perhaps by taking an herb class, or re-certifying in basic first aid or CPR.
- Make an herbal first aid kit.
- Organize local healers for emergency response in your community.
- With medicinal plants grown in your region, learn how to treat one condition that you and/or someone in your family struggles with.
- Join United Plant Savers, which aims to protect native medicinal plants of the US and Canada.