Evolution of an Herbal Remedy
In trying to determine
where to start this part of the site, I reflected on my own introduction
to herbal medicine. Unlike many, this came rather late in life,
in Hawaii, about 30 years ago. My mother and I both wrote for
the local newspaper. She had a column on Hawaiiana and we used
to take turns editing for
each other. She was close friends with several kahunas and used
to take their stories and weave them into articles. One of these
was about popolo berries. Solanum nigrum berry
juice was used in a number of remedies, but my mother had focused
on its use in the eyes. Some days later, she had a complaint,
and I pointed to the popolo growing in front of the house;
and she said, "Darling, the articles are for entertainment."
My mother had absolutely no
intention of applying her "lessons"
to herself, but she was a good writer. My own interest in herbs
did not exactly take off like a rocket. However, it became a permanent
part of my life's path by 1980 when I began to interface the energeticsair,
fire, water, and earthof herbs with astrology and to evolve
the basis of what was to become kitchen doctor, now a web
By that time, I was living
in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The herbs were now in jars, all dried
and put away, far from the living plants I had learned to appreciate
in Hawaii. Being in a totally new climatic zone, I didn't have
a clue what the herbs looked like when they were living. For someone
who had been listening to Auntie Margaret (Machado) in Kealakekua
tell stories of her petitions to plant spirits, the desiccated
desert herbs in jars seemed like victims of some disaster. I was
very fond Auntie Margaret, but she taught me that we go to the
forest and explain our problem to the plants to see if any plant
wanted to volunteer to help. For instance, she said, if her niece
was having a baby and she wanted the delivery to be easy, she wanted
a plant that would increase her elasticity so the baby and mother
would have a gentle experience. If no plant offered itself as medicine,
she kept walking until there was a willing volunteer.
You can imagine that I was
stymied when I first saw shelf after shelf of dried herbs in jars.
At first, I just didn't understand how they got into the jarswhat
kind of terrible accident had happened? Little by little, I adjusted
to the realities of my new life, and with the benefit of my rising
understanding of energetics, I started to see food and spices as
well as herbs as medicine. I realized that one could stimulate
metabolism to lose weight or reduce congestion; one could pacify
wind to relieve allergies and environmental sensitivities. It was
becoming endlessly fascinating for me, and I love the potential
of the astral chemistry that was integrating into my psyche.
However, I now became a predator.
I would buy herbs in stores, without any reference to their previous
life history and how they got into the stores. I began to discover
hair raising facts about irradiation of spices that made me frantic
with concern for health as well as the efficacy of traditional
medicine. For instance, black pepper is considered to be tridoshic.
This means that it is good for all the imbalances: vata, pitta,
and kapha. However, the press I was reading suggested it
was irritating and that it resulted in gall bladder problems and
perhaps some other conditions. I wondered if the loss of vitality
and essential oils transformed a hugely medicinal seasoning into
something to avoid.
As my own attention focused
more and more on the medicine, I came appreciate the distinctions
between fresh and dried as well as natural and adulterated. I also
came to respect and admire those who are at the other end of the
process of creating herbal medicine, not to mention how my love
for Nature has increased steadily over the three decades I have
now been working in this field.
To make my position clear,
I am a medical astrologer and philosopher, but where herbal medicine
is concerned, you can best understand my role as the formulator.
I take what is known about the health and what is known about herbs
and try to create a match: something that relieves symptoms and
hopefully also something that addresses underlying causes so that
the disease can be better managed. The psyche of the formulator
is something like that of a psychologist, physiologist, and chemist
rolled together. Important as formulation is, it is only one part
of the whole.
After publishing my book on
botanical cancer treatments, I became acutely aware of the need
to guarantee an adequate supply of plant material. I also learned
a lot about how different people source their plants and how they
operate laboratories. It is endlessly interesting, but it is also
an environmental nightmare, and this is why I started this web
I am part of the problem so
I want to be part of the solution. It is my moral obligation to
face what I have done to plant world and do my part to heal it,
in short to do as much for the plants as for the patients with
whom I have been so deeply involved for so many years.
Plant medicine begins with
a seed, a tiny bundle of potential concentrated in one speck with
a myriad of future possibilities, including that of being poisoned
by herbicides, acidic air or water, or epidemics that ravage crops.
The life of a plant can be brief or very long: it can be like lettuce
or cilantro or perhaps as incredible as that of a redwood.
Like people, plants need water
and sunshine; but they use what is given to them differently. Many
plants perform invaluable services. They convert solar energy to
foodall of our nutrients are really concentrated sunlight.
They provide medicine, building materials and paper, feasts for
the eyes and perfumes for our pleasure. Each plant species is unique
and each individual plant within the species in unique as is each
flower and leaf on every plant.
The pharmacology of plants
is also extremely complex. Not only is there variation from specie
to specie but also variation according to geographic realm, sunlight,
angle of the sunlight, soil, water, companion plants, age of the
plant, and time of year harvested. Then, each plant contains a
complex number of constituentsacids, alkaloids, saponins,
etc.in tremendously varying proportions, as different, I
have opt explained as one Mozart symphony to another. By this,
I mean you make music out of a combination of notes, not many to
chose from actually, but you arrange these notes in various sequences,
you give more or less time to each note, and then you impose a
rhythm on the notes. Then, you assign various members of the orchestra
different roles with respect to the symphony.
Unlike people, plants receive
their information directly from the sun. They do not have to read
books to learn nor go to therapists to find out who they are. They
know because they are "tuned in" and reverent. Plants
are the original sun worshippers; but their value to us is in how
they convert light energy into chemicals that can be used as food
and nutrition. I believe that, over and above photosynthesis and
the facilitation of human respiration, plants step down Cosmic
Light and pass along inspiration and love in addition to nutrients.
Making an herbal medicine is
a lot like performing a work of music. You choose your herbs the
way you would interview musicians. They audition: you like some;
you reject others. Then, you have to get the musicians to work
together. The end result is a masterpiece, but just as I might
write down a simple formula and publish it in a book, every single
person who makes that formula is going to make it differently.
Not only are they will there be variation, but there will be substitution.
Let's say the original symphony
was scored for harp, but you cannot find a harpist so you give
the harp part to a flute. It may be all right, not quite the same,
but acceptable. Likewise, one may not have barberry so one uses
Oregon grape root. Most herbalists would be satisfied with this
substitution, but it must be clear that standardization is not
what most herbalists wish to see. We need to look at herbal medicines
as somewhere in between food and medicines. Just as we can put
different veggies in our stir fry dishes, we can allow for variation
not only in the ingredients of an herbal formula, but in the potency,
not just from lab-to-lab but batch-to-batch in the same lab. This
is Nature at Her best, and it is entirely acceptable that herbal
medicines have this variation.
This does not, however, mean
that "anything goes." It surely does not. Recently, I
was put into a situation in which I had to move some of production
to another lab because the owner of the lab with which I had been
working for years was ill. Not only was this a major undertaking,
but many issues came into focus.
Each lab has different equipment
so the processing methods vary. Of course, they source from different
growers or wildcrafters in different parts of the country; but
they also use different extraction techniques, allow different
amounts of time for extraction, have different pressing and filtering
equipment, and so on and so forth.
In the course of the upheaval,
there were moments of overwhelm and moments of riotous laughter.
I thought of the plant spirits in Hawaii, the rows of dried herbs
in Santa Fe and Chinatown, the capsules and tablets in bottles,
the teas, the syrups, and the herbs extracted in vinegar, lemon
juice, wine, glycerin, and alcoholand not just "any
but certified organic 190 proof grain alcohol or vodka or gin or