Plants as Medicine
by Becky Rubright, A.P. : September 2010

I was sitting in my living room a few weekends ago when this lovely older woman came to my door. She apologized profusely for bothering me but she had been driving past my house for months, back and forth on her way to taking her sons to school, and asked for some branches off a large tree in my front yard. She explained that it was a neem tree and that many Indian dishes, especially soups, have neem added to them. I had heard of neem in lotions and shampoos but I had no idea that’s what my tree was. I told her to feel free to stop whenever she wished and take as much as she liked. Later, a quick search online revealed that it is practically considered a standing pharmacy in South India, with all parts of the tree used in an astounding number of ways.

For several generations in our culture we’ve become removed from the natural medicine that is all around us. The sometimes literal roots of so much of what we take pharmaceutically actually come from the natural world but scientists isolate the active components and then synthesize it so it can be made in large quantities. This disconnect from nature has started to shift in the last few years for a variety of reasons and a walk down your grocery aisle will confirm it; cleaning products with lavender oils, cold medicines with echinacea, and bottled drinks with ginseng.

I studied Chinese herbs, which are mostly different from our native plants. The herbal pharmacy in the college I attended had shelf after shelf of hundreds of different herbs. Every part of a plant was represented; barks, leaves, flowers, roots, all dried and cut. Chinese herbal prescriptions start with a “classic” formula, most of which are hundreds of years old and are particular combinations of herbs for a specific imbalance within the framework of Chinese medicine. Then it’s modified for the individual patient so you could most effectively address their complaint. These herbs would be taken home, boiled, strained, and then drunk over several days. They taste awful but they are effective.

In my private practice it would be difficult to have a raw herb pharmacy – it’s not easy to convince most people to drink anything that tastes bad and many of the herbs would spoil before I could use them. Instead, I use a reputable company that oversees all aspects of their formula production, cooking the herbs together and then making small pills from the extraction. They are all classic formulas or standard variations of them. Even better, they are significantly cheaper than pharmaceutical drugs.

Chinese medicine is a holistic approach to understanding the way our bodies function so, while you may have three or four diagnoses from your M.D., you’ll only have one from an Acupuncturist. The diagnosis you get reflects the state of Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang in particular organs or functional groups. They’ll sound strange to you without more explanations I don’t have room for here but bear with me for a few examples!

You may have been told you have high blood pressure, migraines, or vertigo but these can all fall under the imbalance of Liver Yang Rising and most likely you would be given Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, the name of a very useful classic formula. Likewise, any variation of Qi, Blood, and/or Damp Stagnation in the lower abdomen can also look like endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or fibroids and you will definitely be sent home with Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan, another classic formula.

Not everyone I see is recommended herbs but there are a few patterns of imbalance that I almost always suggest herbs for including; menopause, insomnia, depression, allergies, asthma, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Because I always encourage you to consider your alternatives, I suggest you do some online research about Chinese medicine and herbal remedies to see if they’re right for you. Or better yet, just give me a call or email and I’ll be glad to personally answer your questions.

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