The roots of herbalism lie in the ancient past. Our ancestors have been using plants for healing as long as our species has walked the Earth and beyond into the unknown origins of our evolutionary history. Through millions of years of coevolution, humans have developed the necessary physiological, biochemical and energetic mechanisms that allow us to assimilate and benefit from the healing properties of herbs. These herbs still play an essential role in our healing traditions and will continue to do so on our journey into the future.
Modern Western herbalism is a very eclectic system of healing drawing on the wisdom of numerous cultural traditions as well as the more recent knowledge of modern medical science. It is also an art as much as it is a science. Herbalism is an empirical tradition based more on experience than theory or book knowledge. Herbalists are life-long students. Every case, every consultation, is an opportunity to learn. Herbalists begin their career with the knowledge of a particular tradition and adapt it to their needs and those of their community. Some become specialists, others generalists. This adaptability and diversity is rooted in the long history of herbal traditions and the willingness of individual practitioners to accept the limitations of their knowledge and continue to learn from experience. This is essential to the practice of herbalism, making it a living, growing tradition based on experiential knowledge gained from Nature, rather than the mechanical application of medical dogma. It would not be inaccurate to conclude that their are as many systems of herbalism in North America as there are experienced herbalists.
Interwoven within this incredible diversity, there are two major trends in herbalism represented in North America. Traditional or holistic herbalism draws extensively on traditional roots. It is characterized by a person-centered approach that recognizes the uniqueness of every individual. The symptoms of disease are viewed as fundamental processes through which a person is able to maintain balance in response to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual stress. The goal of this tradition is to help each person to understand the intimate relationship between how they live, feel and think, and their state of health and well-being, and to teach them how they can reconnect with themselves and Nature in order to re-establish harmony in their lives. The use of herbs is a very important part of this process that helps to support each person's individual healing process.
The second major trend in herbalism represented in North America is medical herbalism or the phytotherapy tradition. This is a more recent approach that is commonly practiced by medical doctors and some herbalists in Europe. Medical herbalists often attempt to incorporate herbalism into a modern medical paradigm. This tradition aspires to be more science-based. This focus can result in an approach that tends to alleviate the symptoms of disease. Diseases are prominent and the individual secondary. There is also a tendency to give precedence to knowledge of the individual chemical constituents of herbs, rather than whole herbs.
As with everything in life, nothing is black and white. There is considerable overlap between these two general trends within herbalism. The philosophical orientation of individual practitioners and schools can fall anywhere between holism and extreme reductionism.
The philosophy and approach to herbalism offered at Living Earth is firmly rooted in traditional or holistic herbalism. We recognize that there is an incredible wealth of valuable information that has become available through modern medical science. Some of this information is relevant to the practice of herbalism, some of it is not, as it is based on a fundamentally different understanding of the nature of health and the healing process than that of holistic healing traditions. At Living Earth, advances in medical science that are important to the practice of herbalism are incorporated into a traditional, holistic paradigm rather than attempting to incorporate herbalism into a reductionistic medical paradigm.