Sunday, July 08, 2012

Reality of Herbal Fanaticism

The climate and landscape of alternative care has been changing rapidly over the last couple of decades.  In herbs, we've gone from a time when medicinal herbs were something we did for our families, to a full-blown industry, with all the elements (good and bad) that entails.
Herbs, healthy eating, learning to manage stress, and a myriad of alternative preventive models have come to the forefront, allowing individuals to make a real difference in their own lives.  In many cases, people have come to the study of herbs because they've learned to manage or even cure chronic illnesses that the allopathic medical community could not relieve. 
Even when we had our shop in the mid-90's, we listened to our customers who were disappointed in the care they'd received by doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and drug companies.  It is hard not to jump on the bandwagon sometimes, but throwing the baby out with the bath water is not the answer.  I personally despise drug companies and insurance companies.  They've clearly demonstrated that they will choose money over mankind (or any species, for that matter) every time, but talk to the parent of a child whose life depends on a medication, and it changes the dialogue.
With the advent of heated discussions about funding insurance over the past 4 or 5 years, I've heard more and more herbalists saying that there is no place for the allopathic model.  This is to me a childlike fanaticism.  Charming, but foolish.
The argument is that with proper prevention and care using herbs and lifestyle, there is no need for medical intervention.  On the surface, I admit that this argument sounds good.  We can control all kinds of diseases that typical Americans moderate with drugs.  Lots of herbalists treat themselves and their clients for things like diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic liver disease, bacterial infections, cancer, you name it.  The other day I saw several postings about treating dental abscesses at home.  Nevermind that *anyone* can show up and declare themselves an herbalist - we'll leave that for another day.  In fact, there are many, many things that can be successfully treated with alternatives, good choices, and proper education on how to use these modalities.  The truth is, the average person "cherry-picks" from the options that would help, and  doesn't have time (or inclination) to devote to learning all there is to learn about what is required.  This can be like teaching a man to fish where there is no body of water.

What they don't seem to be considering are all of the things that happen to people that cannot be healed with an herb or sutured up with some sinew in the backwoods.  If I average it out, I'd say that I've seen a doctor about once every 5 years, and have been hospitalized about once every 10 years.  I'm pretty healthy, and we use herbs for most any discomfort or self-limiting illness in this house.  We try herbs first.

There are things that no amount of herbal knowledge will help.  An ectopic pregnancy in my 20's had one and only one lifesaving solution - surgery, stat.  A couple of my siblings were involved in car accidents that would have left them disfigured and disabled without surgical intervention.  A brother-in-law developed bacterial meningitis from a tooth abscess.  An herbalist friend who treated her own high blood pressure suffered a debilitating stroke.  A sibling with Hepatitis C was cleared of the virus through medical intervention.  A sister-in-law born with a heart defect so severe that her parents were advised not to name her, is now 57 because of medical intervention.  These are just people in my close little world.  The list of things that herbs and diet cannot address is long.  Do we choose to ignore them?

In earlier times, it was fairly common for women to die in childbirth.  Children born with congenital disease or malformations were doomed to live (or die) with them.  People wandered around with puss-y sores and growths, poorly healed compound fractures, and all kinds of remnants of alternative healing, because that was the only thing that was available.

So now, when I talk to someone who has embraced this model, saying they don't need doctors because they can cure everything (and just how do they get those things diagnosed?), it makes me think about the damage they are doing to their brothers and sisters who work in herbs, and the legitimacy that so many have fought so long and hard to achieve.  Showing up at the emergency room as a failed herbal experiment is exactly the sort of thing that brings the whole industry under scrutiny.  This lack of responsibility that eventually falls back on allopathic medicine when it is too late to be of any help is how we lose options and access to herbs. 

At a recent herb festival, I found myself in a cluster of long-time herbal friends ranging in age from 49 - 70ish.  For the first time, the talk turned to medical issues some of the group or their loved ones were experiencing.  Stuff happens as we age, no matter what kind of life we've led.  A little life experience can go a long way...

There is an important place for all healing methods, and we would do well to remember that in order to keep what we have.  Fanaticism blinds us to the value of that which we are not interested in seeing, but that doesn't mean that it isn't there.
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