The purpose of this booklet is simple. It is a rapid reference for holistic health professionals and herbally informed lay people. It is designed to the direct choice of herbs which are likely to facilitate healing based on individual herbal characteristics, or so-called “keynotes.” This booklet is designed to stimulate empirical usage of medicinal plants. (While herbal scientific citations relating to plant chemistry, clinical trials, etc. are interesting—a forthcoming book I am working on will have over one thousand of them—they are unnecessary in the context of this work, and would be a distraction.)
On the one hand, this booklet was born out of an appreciation of the clinical work of naturally oriented eclectic physicians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—men of stature and clinical skill such as John W. Fyfe, M.D. I have drawn information as well from the tradition of homeopathic medicine in India, where interesting applications are made with herbal “mother tinctures” (crude herb extracts). On the other hand, it contains distilled practical information from grandmothers, back woods herbalists, and North and South American shamans. Also, I have learned from peak herbal experiences during travels I have taken expressly for the purpose of studying and harvesting herbs in their native habitats. While in the company of wild plants such as Queen of the Meadow (Eupatorium fistulosum) deep in West Virginia; Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) at numerous sites in Peruvian jungles; Echinacea growing on the prairies of Kansas and Missouri; or the great Ko ‘O Oko Lau (Bidens campylotheca) on the Pali of Hawaii, novel insights seem to have been mysteriously transmitted to me by the “spirit” of the herbs themselves.
Herbs exert their healing in context. The individual person consuming them, the person administering them, and any co-therapies applied with them are critical to the manifestation of their effects. In my case, I generally use herbs in the context of a clinical practice where I remove structural and “energetic” faults by spinal and cranial/sacral adjustments, and acupuncture meridian therapies. Dietary changes according to body types are always prescribed. When major blocks are removed, herbs can work more rapidly, and smaller quantities of herbs are required. This virtually eliminates any problem of herbal toxicity. Once I have cleared gross structural faults, when patients do not have significant structural problems, or when they are resting at a plateau of health and want further improvement, I take the opportunity of applying herbs specifically to watch the magic of their solo healing. That is the setting in which I have discovered several herbal “specifics.” When patients had complex and confusing symptoms which did not favor the choice of a single herb, that is when I created broadly haling formulas such as “Sarsaparilla/Ginseng compound” and “General Formula.” This booklet will help you achieve positive results by presenting both single herb “specifics” and combination formulas that have been well tested.
Encountering the Herbal Spirit of Healing
The most important early herbal expeditions I made began around 1980. At that time, I studied, collected, and prepared extracts of the master herb, Echinacea, flourishing in its native Midwestern habitats. I pitched a tent on a prairie where the herb grows. One night, as I camped beside a lovely patch of Echinacea, there arose a spectacular, shaking electrical storm (which I did not expect and endured with trepidation). As I peeked out an unzipped edge of my tent flap to observe Thor’s fury, I saw the flickering heads of Echinacea (at about my eye level) backlit by flashes of lightning, shaken by thunder, and pelted by wind and driving rain. They seemed as joyous as I was uneasy. It was as if there was a great Echinacea chorus singing to the heavens, accompanied by the world’s most powerful “wind instruments” and “percussion section.” Their song was one of jubilation.
From that experience I came to realize that medicinal plants are not just groups of chemicals but that they are the material embodiment of coalesced Nature forces and earth energies from the area in which they live. I sensed that Echinacea seemed to “absorb” the stimulating and purifying power of the storms, holding it in its colloidal plant fluid for healing release later in those who would consume it. With that experience so strongly impressed upon me, I knew I had to make herbal preparations that preserved the living energy of the plant so that it could be transmitted to my patients and accomplish its healing work.
At this time, no North American manufacturer was making a bonafide fresh plant extract of Echinacea angustifolia, so that is what I did. The rather global healing results of the extract were so outstanding for my patients and for those of close colleagues with whom I shared it, that I was inspired to make it commercially on a small scale. That resulted in the beginning of my herbal company, Phytotherapy Research Laboratories (PRL, Inc.), which produces and supplies other specialty herbs as well on an ongoing basis.
Another of many memorable experiences took place while I was on an herb gathering trip in West Virginia. I was driving on an isolated rural road when a grand plant I had never seen before caught my attention. I was compelled to pull to the side of the road and stop so that I could become acquainted with what I later learned was Queen of the Meadow (Eupatorium fistulosum). I was enthralled by the “stature” and “dignity” of the plant, by its striking reddish purple steam and dark green leaves arranged oppositely in perfect geometric whorls. It was perhaps seventy-five feet from the edge of the road to where the plant stood. As I drew near to Eupatorium I began an instinctual “dialoguing” process that I have natively employed with plants since I was a child. I do not speak words, but rather think thoughts and evoke images which I sense they understand. I communicated how beautiful I thought she was, and that I was honored to meet her. In my encounters with plants so far, I have generally not experienced instant feedback. Communication from them diffuses slowly into my being, usually at the subconscious level. After a few minutes I was aware the “Queen” had communicated that shewas the “upright plant.” I did not know how to interpret this, but the herb impressed a very strong image in my mind.
A few months later when I purchased a new car, its upholstery, carpet and plastics were heavily discharging noxious vapors (“outgassing”) which caused me to feel poorly, and eventually to lose significant muscular support to the low back. My psoas muscles (which attach to the lower lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral discs, and are reflexively associated with kidney “energetic”) became so compromised due to the influence of the toxic vapor exposure on the kidneys, that I developed lumbar disc syndrome. My posture became rather bent to the side due to disc herniation. I became frustrated because I knew what was aggravating my back, but I had no idea what to do to solve the problem other than wait several months for the vapors to dissipate from my car. One day as I was feeling quite defeated and despondent from my condition, out of “nowhere” the previously impressed image of Queen of the Meadow flashed strongly in my mind, signaling that the herb would help me. I made a tea of the root I had collected, and after the first cup, my pain began to subside. By the next day, I had improved unbelievably, and soon I was well. I became “upright” again, and I understood the herb’s message. I used the tea intermittently as a counter measure and preventive for a couple of months.
As often happens in my practice after I encounter a significant herbal cure, the hand of the Creator directs new patients my way with the symptoms that the herb will cure. I saw several new patients who had the peculiar combination of exposure to noxious vapors and lumbar disc syndrome. Queen of the Meadow helped many of them. This finding was not idiosyncratic. Its validity has been corroborated by the patients of many health professionals who have used the products from my herb company.
The Four Powerful Ways Herbs Heal
Medicinal plants can be tremendously therapeutic because they have the capability of manifesting four therapeutic characteristics at the same time. The finest conventional nutrients rarely, if ever, powerfully exhibit all four of these attributes concurrently. Those grouped effects are:
1. Fat solubilizing, pro-excretory, drainage action;
2. Free radical quenching, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating;
3. Oligoelement (micro-nutrient) providers; and
4. Psychospiritual healers. “Energy” donors.
The way herbs are prepared can strongly influence the degree to which all four effects are evident.
Fresh plant extracts which contain the juice of vital herbs preserved and stabilized with grain spirits emerge as hydro-alcoholic solutions. They exhibit all four of the above characteristics, especially the first and fourth ones. Tablets and capsules (and to some extent teas from dried herbs) strongly exhibit the third effect, and may exhibit the second and fourth effects as well.
The essential oil and flavonoid component of herbs is soluble in alcohol. The hydro-alcoholic solution is able to penetrate fat depots and the lipid matrix of cell membranes, and to get into areas where toxins and toxic metabolites have accumulated and sequestered. The essential oil and flavonoid aspects cause “drainage” and excretion of toxic metabolites out of the burdened area. In most cases, whole herbs and water-based tea extracts do not have this property to a high degree. Instead, whole herbs and water based tea extracts are useful when “drainage” is finished, and rebuilding of tissue is desired. Tea extracts of certain Chinese herbs, for example, are very well known for their tonifying and nutritive value.
Herbs in general contain a wide array of flavonoids, many of which are far more therapeutic than the familiar citrus bioflavonoids. Flavonoids are spectacular free radical quenchers, and hence, anti-inflammatory agents. Many herbs in the Compositae family contain polyacetylenes, which often exhibit anti-inflammatory and antibiotic effects. When I was developing a novel anti-allergic product from a great Hawaiian herb, I rediscovered from antiquity (and brought into cultivation), Bidens campylotheca var. campylotheca, the academic researchers with whom I collaborated showed that one of the herb’s ingredients was nearly as potent as the powerful drug indomethacin in terms of anti-inflammatory activity. When free radicals are neutralized, inflammation is reduced. When those two phenomena occur, it results in an immune system sparing effect—all over the body! Patients simply feel better.
Properly prepared fresh plant extracts contain the juice of the herb in colloidal suspension. Tiny amounts of trace elements, individual to each herb, are held in the suspension ready for maximal absorption as oligoelements (trace minerals in roughly the one millionth gram range). This level of concentration tends to activate metabolic pathways, with the trace minerals servings as co-factors and catalysts in biochemical reactions.
Finally, if herbs are prepared by simple ancient methods, they have an astounding ability to transmit “energy,” the imponderable stuff of God’s creation, to those who consume them. That phenomenon has caused all ancient peoples observing it to revere medicinal plants. This “energy,” in the ephemeral bioelectric realm, is invisible to most, but can often be perceived as an enlivening force in the psyche. It uplifts the mind and spirit of the consumer.
How to Choose Herbs
Perhaps one of the most interesting questions which arises when one has some experience with herbal medicine is the matter of how to distinguish between herbs which have been represented in herbal literature as working on the same organ(s)/system(s). Let us take the example from the medical model of an individual with elevated total cholesterol. One might reasonably conclude that herbs should be used to assist the liver since it has a lot to do with cholesterol. There are many herbs which help the liver and could reduce cholesterol: Gentian, Centaury, Dandelion (quite bitter and cooling); Blessed Thistle and Milk Thistle (more neutral); Yarrow, Hyssop, K’o Oko ‘O Lau (Bidens campylotheca) (warming). How would you know which one to use? In the Western medical model you would not. You would have to guess unless you had reliable herbal keynotes to offer some guidance.
In native medical systems around the world, there were sophisticated ways of using herbs, based on subtle levels of perception. Individual characteristics of herbs were matched to individual characteristics of the patient. The patient’s psyche, “energetic” character (meridian system), constitutional inheritance, and structural tension were always taken into account to help direct therapy and aid the choice of herbs.
The most successful natural health professionals have embraced historical knowledge in disciplines such as traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and ayurveda, to help them match therapeutic substances to the individual patient. Additionally, most use some type of pre-administration screening (PAS) based on muscle testing to see if the herb or nutrient under consideration strengthens a weak reflex related to the health complaint. PAS can also be performed by monitoring changes in the pulse or chiropractic leg length measurements.
Whatever your background, and whether or not you are familiar with and capable of performing pre-administration screening, herbal practice is very much aided by the type of keynotes you will find in the following pages.
Safeguarding the Future of Herbal Healing
No one has a monopoly on understanding the mysterious and marvelous world of healing herbs. The sixteenth century Swiss physician and legendary herbal healer, Paracelsus, advised that we must learn our healing craft from all persons, from the beggar to the prince. Now, in modern terms, the value of that advice is seldom appreciated. Commercial interests at work in today’s marketplace aim, by invoking the name of science, to redefine age-old herbal wisdom, minimizing its importance in the process.
For healing (as opposed to palliative drug intervention) simple and inexpensive galenicals—herbal extracts processed with water and alcohol in a low technology fashion—or powdered (encapsulated) herbs generally work far better than the more costly pharmaceutical drug concentrates of herbs called “standardized extracts.” The latter are processed by industrial means, in huge batches, and are frequently subjected to toxic organic solvents and/or other disruptive reagents. Because of this over-processing, the subtle nature and synergistic biochemistry of the simple herb is invariably destroyed. (It is due to the economies of scale that standardized extracts are much more profitable than galenicals.)
Standardized extracts are herb-derived pharmaceuticals, not herbal medicines with historically proven value. They are well suited to the same type of clinical trials as synthetic drugs, and just like drugs, most of them develop significant toxicity and side-effects with long term use, though the side-effects might not be as quite as strong as those synthetic drugs.
Historically, single herbs or formulas were not recommended for consistent use over a long period of time (unless they were very dilute). Such practice would have signaled negligence or ignorance on the part of the prescriber. When used wisely, herbs best serve as subtle agents of health so that advanced and intractable disease, which might well require conventional drugs and surgery, does not develop.
Herbal extracts of non-poisonous plants do not pose a toxic threat unless they are misused in large quantities over an extended period of time. The typical dose of 10–25 drops of fresh plant extract contains small amounts of “active ingredient” as compared to drug substances. These small amounts affect the body as bio-energetic catalysts because they are compatible with the subtle but powerful body energies. Small quantities of natural chemicals provoke healing responses from the human body and encourage it to resume healthy functioning. Herbs are generally not used to override aberrant physiology as are drugs, but rather to shift physiological function back to normal by sequential steps of therapeutic intervention, changing at appropriate points along the way. (See Appendix A “Herbal Dose-Related Response: A Critically Important Phenomenon.”)
As the pharmaceutical/medical industry usurps authority from ancient herbal wisdom (which is rapidly occurring), soon medicinal plants will be disempowered. If applied in the same context as drugs, their negative side-effects will justify regulatory agencies such as the FDA in limiting access to them (now occurring as well). Medicinal plants will gradually, almost imperceptibly, lose the link with enlightened human consciousness, which through gratitude for the marvel of their healing has energized them for millennia.
The notion that herbs should be or need to be prepared and used as pharmaceuticals is a grand illusion, driven by our market economies. Chronic care in Western medicine is largely a failed paradigm. Why throw herbs into that failure?
We need to contemplate and always strive for healing—the resolution and disappearance of imbalance—as opposed to embracing palliative care, which attempts to slow the progression of persisting disease by the process of chronic drug administration.
To me one thing is certain: those who love herbs because they have walked among them as friends, praised their beauty, and given thanks to the Creator for their beneficent presence, have the greatest chance of using them successfully for deep healing.
The way to safeguard the future of herbal healing is to walk in the footsteps of enlightened ancient healers, to “meet” herbs where they grow in Nature, to improve empirical clinical practice by better communication and teaching among herbalists, and to educate the public regarding the subtle and sophisticated aspects of using medicinal plants in the context of natural healing.