I continue to get questions as to what herbal philosophy is and it is not an easy thing to understand. Many individuals who are new to the herbal community do not understand how much thought goes into supporting individuals with their challenges. Modern herbal medicine has grown up from a variety of different philosophical traditions and they have blended together to form the herbal systems that each herbalist now uses. As we develop ourselves, we are all exposed to different systems of thought and they all play a role in how we support others. For some, this is modern medical thinking. For others, older philosophical systems are the basis of reasoning on how we support an individual’s health and wellness.
Before I was able to delve deeply into my herbal path I was exposed to a lot of Western medical thought; I was a biology major for my undergrad with mostly pre-med students. This is its own philosophical system. While many in the west would like to say that this is not philosophy but fact I have learned that the more you learn the more uncertain even some of the most basic physiological systems are. For instance, most of us grew up knowing the five different tastes. Of course, there are only five. In Ayruveda however there are 6 and in the past 10 years new tastes have been described by Western medicine. Maybe we don’t know everything.
In general, philosophy suggests why we do what we do. Herbal philosophy is no different. Most traditional views of herbal medicine have a philosophical, or thought system, of how they work. Ayruveda follows the tri-dosha theory. Traditional Chinese Medicine, the five elements theory. Greek medicine gave us the humoral system which has continued to be used through most of Europe today. And even the Eclectic and Thompsonian physicians, herbalists of the 1800’s in the United States, had their own philosophical systems that contributed to how they used herbs.
Learning the basic philosophy of an herbal system makes it much easier to work with the plants and to support yourself and others. Basic herbal philosophy these days focuses on knowing the energetics of a plant. Is it hot or cold? Moist or dry? Are you moist or dry? Hot or cold? What do you need to bring your body back into balance? If you have been feeling cooler lately, as it has been winter, you may want to include more warming foods into your diet. Or if you are running too warm, maybe you should look at reducing the heat in your body, often through lowering inflammation.
Using these two balance beams, we can bring our body back into balance. The two being hot/cold and moist/dry. First and for most we can describe our ‘normal’ nature. Keep in mind that what feels normal to you may not be your state of health. For me, I tend to be cold and dry. Because of this I focus much of my energy on hydrating and warming myself. In more Western thinking, I have low blood pressure. While this is not very common, having low blood pressure means that my circulation is not great and I tend to feel colder with lower blood volume. There is also less fluid circulating through my body, leading to a general state of dryness. Now there are other things that play into this state other than my low blood pressure but this gives you an idea of how my physiology and my energetics co-exist.
Which side of these balance beams do you tend to stand on? Use the following simplified descriptions to get a feeling for what your basic energetics may be.
Hot: My body feels hot to the touch. I have a lot of energy and tend to be social. I enjoy spicy food.
Cold: My body feels cool to the touch. I tend to be more relaxed and introverted. I enjoy cold foods.
Moist: My skin and hair are more oily. I tend to sweat more easily.
Dry: My skin and hair are more dry. I tend to feel thirsty. I do not sweat easily.
Bringing yourself back into balance is not a quick fix. It is something that you can forever pay attention to. Balancing your energetics through wellness practices and herbs is an everyday process to support yourself. Here are some simple things to consider if you are straying too far from center.
1. Drink a warm drink
2. Increase exercise and use your own techniques to energize yourself
3. Have warming herbs and spicy food such as garlic, ginger, and turmeric
1. Drink a cool drink
2. Meditate and use other methods of relaxation
3. Have cooling herbs such as peppermint, gentian, and hibiscus
1. Include more water and less drinks containing tannins (coffee, dark sodas)
2. Include more Omega 6 containing foods (flax, salmon, other fish)
3. Use a humidifier
4. Include moistening foods and herbs such has oatmeal, dairy, licorice root, and mullein
1. Reduce dairy and other fat intake
2. Increase exercise
3. Include more diaphoretic herbs in small amounts
Keep in mind that all herbs tend towards one side of each balance beam. Ginger for instance is both warming and drying (use when you are colder and moist). If you are cold and dry, having ginger may make your drier. Finding the herb that is perfect to fit your exact energetic imbalance, based on these two balance beams and others, is one of the skills that herbal practitioners engage to best support your health and wellness.
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. The Dancing Herbalist posts on this blog every Thursday. For more of our posts, join us on Patreon. Jillian also presents regular live classes in The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online. For more learning opportunities or to work one-on-one with Jillian with her wellness and herbal consultationsvisit The Dancing Herbalist.com.