Our Best First Line of Defense
By: Cindy Hebbard
Petrochemicals are used in the manufacture of hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter medications, and are the base for most commercial body and facial care products. Heart valves, IV tubing, hip and knee replacements, and other medical devices are produced with numerous plastics and other petrochemicals.
Throughout much of the world, plant-based medicine is still used for most chronic complaints with greater success reported than those choosing modern pharmaceutical medicine. And this is not just in developing countries. Throughout Europe, complementary and alternative medicine, including acupuncture and herbal and homeopathic medicine, is used nearly as often as Western medicine for the treatment of disease. In Germany, 98 percent of all pharmacies now sell homeopathic medicines.
With a broad view of the whole person, including their diet, environment, and situation, CAM has a primary focus on the prevention of the disease in the first place, making detection and diagnosing, along with their often invasive and expensive practices, unnecessary. And the person need not suffer.
For example, if a woman has a severe mold problem festering in the basement of her apartment building, which begins to travel up through the walls, and settles into her cupboards and clothes closet, and she experiences daily headaches, her doctor might prescribe a medication without asking about her home environment, and order a battery of tests. After reviewing all the test results, they may or may not ever come to a conclusion about why she is having headaches. She may spend years taking the medication, experiencing low-grade side effects for which she may need a second medication, and her body may begin to have new symptoms caused by the mold in her walls.
On the other hand, a CAM practitioner, whether an acupuncturist, naturopathic physician, or herbalist, will first provide simple remedies, often plant-based, for her pain, and then begin to ask the woman a number of questions, and search for the root cause of her condition, and what changes may have taken place around the start of her symptoms. In this way, they will search together for the problem that has caused the headaches, the imbalance within her life, and be able to address that root cause, and thereby eliminate the headaches altogether.
In the United States, many believe that we have the greatest health care in the world. We certainly spend significantly more per capita than those in any other country. But the United Nations’ Healthy Life Expectancy Repor, released in 1997, which measures how healthy we are during each year of life, showed that we were 24th in the world. The latest UN HALE report shows that we have fallen to approximately 33rd. And in June of this year, CNN reported that the U.S. has fallen to 38th in overall life expectancy.
We would likely spend less money and feel healthier throughout life if we moved toward a more integrated approach to wellness, choosing nourishing, mostly local food, safe herbal remedies, and other simple strategies to address nagging chronic complaints before they fester into greater imbalances and more serious disease.
Pharmaceutical medications have their place, but our modern medical approach is to hide symptoms, and not associate the small stuff with a growing health threat. We are a complex whole, and what we ignore or suppress can become a more complicated concern.
There is a growing body of research showing that community-based support for the ill, disabled and aged populations improves good health and longevity and costs far less. Loneliness and lack of social support have been linked to higher mortality rates, and increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and viral infections.
As we move toward a post-oil society, we would be wise to learn about our local plants and other allies provided by the natural world. Regardless of where we live on the planet, we have an abundance of plants to support optimal health and well-being, and to treat most chronic disease. And this is especially true here in Vermont. Our natural world is alive with hundreds of plant medicines with a long, rich history of supporting people’s health and vitality. And we have an abundance of great teachers and practitioners of plant wisdom.
There is a saying in herbalism that whatever we need to restore good health and emotional harmony will come to our backyards. I once had a profound experience in this way. When my daughter turned 16 and began to practice her independence, she acted out in ways that were extremely challenging for me.
On a warm spring evening during this difficult time, I went to our backyard to decompress. I lied down on the ground to feel the earth, and realized that I was lying in a bed of Star of Bethlehem flowers. There were thousands of them; they covered our entire yard. In herbalism, Star of Bethlehem flowers are used for comfort and reassurance of our spirit!
Now, I had lived there for more than seven years at that time, and had never seen a Star of Bethlehem flower in my yard, nor in our neighborhood. I lived there for two years more, and the following spring, I could only find about a dozen of these precious little flowers. They came to me when I needed them most, and seemed to have moved on when they were no longer needed.
Hippocrates told us “Let your medicine be your food, and your food be your medicine.” Using foods and herbs as medicine is safe, cost-effective, accessible to all, and our best first line of defense — both now and in the post petroleum world.
Cindy Hebbard, a Certified Herbalist, is a member of Post Oil Solutions Board, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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