|photo by Lisa DeNardo|
When I was 20 years young and still very inexperienced at living on my own, I came down with something very nasty. I felt like I was going to die, and it scared the crap out of me. I didn't know what to do. My first instinct was to call mom. It seemed the most natural thing to do. After all, she had taken care of three kids through countless health issues. Surely she would know. I don't know what I expected, maybe some sound advice about resting and eating and then comforting words about how everything will be all right. What she said, however, was "well, go to the doctor".
I took her advice and did go to the doctor. I don't remember much of it now. I was probably given an antibiotic (which was probably useless for my cold or flu) and sent back home. But what I do remember is the feeling of helplessness. I didn't like the fact that I didn't know how to take care of myself when I was sick. But it was even more unsettling that my mother couldn't help me either. I can't blame her of course. She, like so many others of her generation, was a product of the "better living through chemistry" era. The relied upon home remedies of a couple generations ago had been eschewed, to be replaced by the pharmaceutical wonder drugs that promised to eradicate all disease. What was lost, along with the old knowledge of traditional healing ways, was a sense of self empowerment in our ability to take care of very basic health issues on our own.
I think that experience was the first time I felt that loss. I could not, at that time, articulate this sense of loss, because I didn't really have any experience of having a traditional healing system to draw upon. It was more like an ancestral memory, a sort of deep knowing that things used to be different, that there was a time when calling mom for help with healing was the most natural thing to do, that mothers were healers, and the fact that that was no longer true was something to be deeply concerned about.
This felt sense, that something was amiss, has led me in countless ways along my journey. And when I eventually came to study the healing plants, I had the sense that a piece of the puzzle was found. What could be more empowering then relying on the plants growing around us to keep us healthy and soothe our ills and discomforts. The knowledge of how to use these plants lifted me out of my fear to a place of empowerment. And as I began to use these healing plants, my confidence grew, and my doctor's visits decreased. When I started having children of my own, I was able to take care of the inevitable and constant minor boo boos and health issues that came up. What an amazing feeling.
This is the feeling I try to put forth in my class…that sense that herbal medicine is incredibly empowering. Yes, we still need health care practitioners to help us in many situations, but there is quite a lot we can handle on our own, if we know how and have the allies to help us. Even then, when you have the information and the herbs on hand, it can be frightening to take that leap, to trust yourself instead of an "authority figure". At that point, we are standing at the precipice of reclaiming our power. (Do we dare?)
And so, when folks come back to me and describe how they have handled a challenge on their own, where they otherwise would have run to the doctor, that is when my heart soars. In the telling of these stories there is at first an element of fear, of uncertainty. They are not quite sure they can do this. Maybe they give themselves a time frame (If I don't start to feel better by tomorrow, I'll go to the doctor). They feel a little safer, so they try. When they start to feel better, their confidence is boosted, so they continue. Now they are noticing a big difference. Maybe this is the first time they have even been so bold. When they are well again, the magic happens. They are empowered, and they are on fire. They can't wait to tell me. I never get tired of hearing these stories.
But even with the satisfaction of empowering other people to reclaim the herbal tradition, I will always be most grateful for having reclaimed it myself, for my own children. Recently my eight-year-old son developed a mild fever. This usually energetic and boisterous boy was tired and not feeling well. He spent the day resting on the couch, drinking lots of herbal teas while I took care of him. After a good night's sleep the fever was gone and he was nearly back to normal. At dinner that evening I thanked him for allowing his body to rest and drinking his tea so that he could get well quickly. He smiled and said, "yeah, I'm glad I have an herbalist for a mom". Oh my heart! With those words I knew I had healed my own sense of loss from all those years ago. My children knew they could look to their mother for that sense of comfort and healing. And I hope that one day they will provide the same sense of comfort to their own children.