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Herbalism: A Holistic Approach to Health

Holistic-healthHerbalism can be defined as the use of plants for the detoxification of the body, support of the immune system and prevention of disease, and for the treatment of ailments, chronic illnesses and injuries. The idea is to use herbs to restore balance in body, mind and spirit and maintain a naturally healthy human system; the achievement of holistic health in other words.

The earth is an ecosystem whose components exist in equilibrium, and the human system is a microcosm of this complex organic arrangement. From this point of view we can look at ourselves as cells in the body of an earth which breathes the same air as we do, has the same minerals at its core and whose vascular system is the rivers and their tributaries which carry water, just as our arteries and veins carry blood. From this point of view it naturally follows that the earth supplies all of the nutrients and medicines necessary for its inhabitants to live healthily. Plants deliver a vast proportion of the goods.

The roots of the holistic approach to health possibly lie in folk medicine. Folk medicine refers in part to the use of indigenous plants by a native, rural population for the maintenance of health and curing of ailments. The people of the mountainous regions of Vermont, for example, have often chewed gum from the spruce tree to cure a sore throat. It seems safe to say that the spruce tree would not be available to help the inhabitants of a desert region to cure a sore throat, but there will be an indigenous plant somewhere in the area that can do the same job, and the local people will know which one it is. The plants used in diverse regions of the world are different, but folk medicine is the same everywhere, insofar as the tradition is passed down unmodified over generations by word of mouth. Those who pioneered these traditions originally learned about the plants by observing which ones animals chose to cure their own ailments.

Today we can follow in the footsteps of our ancestors by looking for herbs in our own locality. The very act of getting outdoors and acquainting yourself with the natural world is in itself beneficial to health. Fresh air and the fragrance of flowers, the sound of birdsong and the breeze rustling the leaves, the hum produced by industrious insects going about their business on a miniature scale, the sound of running water-not forgetting moments of utter silence-are all simple sensory delights which have a calming and therapeutic effect on the human psyche and are available to everyone.

Holistic healing recognizes this and seeks the integration of the human being with its natural environment. If you haven’t got time to go out exploring the fields and woods then you can grow herbs in your own garden. If you don’t have a garden, or suffer from any condition which restricts your ability to move around, you can grow them in pots.

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