Healing with Botanicals

Using Botanicals To Heal

To be sick and tired is overwhelming. For many reasons. Not only does life not stop when our bodies aren’t functioning well, but even when we want desperately to get back on our feet, to do so is easier said than done. Finding answers is hard, and implementing them is even harder. Everybody has an opinion, and some are quite helpful while others are simply not.

Among the frustrations with these awesome but imperfect mortal bodies is the frustration of knowing where to turn for help. You can easily spend a zillion dollars on doctor’s visits, tests, prescriptions, foods, apps, exercises, and gadgets; but at some point, your money runs out, as does your energy and enthusiasm.

Plants can nourish and heal at a Cellular level in a way that you can’t accomplish with prescription medications.

Rather than a one-med-fits-all, it’s a customized approach.

Botanicals usually have a wide range of health-promoting uses and small side-effect profile.

While I have always had an interest in the healing arts of all varieties, for many years I didn’t do much to pursue them. During my years of medical school and residency (while also raising a young family), I was doing well to have enough time to shower in peace, let alone spend any time researching different modalities of healing.

Then I graduated and started into practice. It didn’t take long for me to learn from firsthand experience that there was a whole world of people out there who needed answers other than what traditional medicine could offer. So I started digging. I started searching for answers outside the paradigm in which I had just spent half of my life learning; and in that process of learning, I was opened up to a beautiful world of botanical medicine.

Many people have been taught to fear plant-based medicines. They have been taught that plants can hurt but not really help and that they certainly shouldn’t be mixed with prescriptions. Sadly, when used incorrectly all of those can be true. Luckily, I had the incredible opportunity to learn at the feet of masters (Jean Claude Lapraz, Annette Davis, Jean Bokelmann, and Kamyar Hedayat, just to name a few). From these teachers, I learned how to safely and confidently use natural substances in their many different forms to help my patients optimize healing and strength.    

Sometimes I am asked why I prefer plants over prescriptions. It’s not that I am opposed to prescription medications. In fact, there hasn’t been a day in my medical practice that I haven’t been filling and refilling prescriptions. It’s just that there are several advantages that come with plants that I don’t see with anything else. This is my list of just a few of the benefits of botanicals:

1. Plants can nourish and heal at a cellular level in a way that you can’t accomplish with prescription medications.

2. Many plants have “adaptogenic” properties. There is much more to discuss regarding this, and it will be the subject of a future blog post; but suffice it to say that adaptogens have the ability to build up your general resilience. They also have this amazing built-in intelligence that helps them to know which chemicals in the body need revving up and which ones need calming down.

3. They can be used in many different forms and mediums. There are many, many ways the healing properties of plants can be captured and internalized. Just a few examples are listed below. 

i.) Herbal Teas: Sometimes also called tisanes, these are results of infusing any dried plant, root, flower, or fruit in hot water. Even though herbal teas are called “tea,” they are different from true teas. True teas are made from the fermented leaves of the Camillia sinensis plant. Depending on how the leaves are processed, this plant can make either green tea or black tea. Honestly, it would be more accurate if we started referring to herbal teas as tisanes, but that’s something over which I have no control.

ii.) Essential Oils: On the spectrum of ways to get the medicinal properties out of plants, this is the one that is most involved. Every plant contains aromatic oils (in the leaves, seeds, fruit, roots, bark, or stems), and those aromatic oils contain chemicals with healing benefits. Different ways to capture the healing chemicals include distillation and mechanical extraction. Some plants are easier to cultivate than others, and some contain more natural oils than others. These differences play a role in the large price variations between oils. Some oils are very gentle, and some can be quite caustic. This is why it is very important to use them under the guidance of an experienced/trained professional. Using proper concentrations and combinations is of utmost importance.

iii.) Tinctures: preparations in which raw plant parts are bathed in a solution of alcohol and water for several weeks. Over time, the alcohol will break down the cell walls of the plants, allowing the chemical constituents to become part of the water/alcohol solution. What is then created is a concentrated healing liquid. What’s left of the plant is discarded. Tinctures can be used externally or internally. I utilize them almost exclusively internally. Homeopathic preparations are usually very dilute tinctures.

iv.) Glycerin Macerates: Also called “glycerites,” these are similar to tinctures but without the alcohol content. Glycerin is used instead to extract the medicinal components from the plant. Commonly, glycerin macerates are made from the embryonic parts of a plant (rootlets, buds, shoots, etc.). They are powerful yet very gentle; and because of this and their sweet taste, they are an excellent option for treating children and those too frail to handle other options.

v.) Capsules Containing Dried Herbs: These come in multiple different concentrations and are usually most potent in combinations of 3 or more different botanicals. Efficacy depends on the quality of the plant, combination of herbs, and integrity of the manufacturer. It is important to buy capsules from a reputable source who can ensure that the product is pure and without fillers that decrease the overall integrity of the product.

4. They are meant to be used in combination. In fact, they are usually MOST BENEFICIAL when used in combinations. Yes, you can overdo it; but generally speaking, a handful of vitamins and herbs is NOT the same thing as taking a handful of prescription medications.

5. When used correctly, they can usually be combined with prescription medications without problems. Of course, there are herbal supplements that must not be mixed with certain prescriptions; and this is why it is important to work with a physician who has training in both worlds. As a rule of thumb, I steer clear entirely of the herbs that don’t mix well with other herbs and/or prescription medications, and I use caution in all the rest. I do not subscribe to the theory of “if it’s natural, it’s harmless.” I don’t use herbs that haven’t been studied extensively, and I buy them only from vendors and professionals whom I completely trust. If you are on prescription medications, you need to be monitored closely anyway; and it is always best to make sure your physician is aware of all things you are taking, natural or otherwise. 

6. Because of the way they are built, botanicals usually have a wide range of health-promoting uses and small side-effect profile. To understand this fully, you need to understand how plants possess a myriad of small, healing chemical components that work synergistically. Prescription medications have 1-3 chemical components that are found in larger amounts and give more dramatic, immediate results. This partly explains why herbal treatments need to be dosed twice a day and taken for days to weeks before results are felt. More on this later…

7. Botanicals exhibit a phenomenon called “tropism.” Tropism refers to the idea that certain plants contain chemical constituents that are attracted to certain parts of the body. For example, ginger is helpful for many parts of the body but especially good for the stomach, thyroid, and digestive system. Lavender is arguably the most versatile plant in the world, having positive effects on nearly every system in the body; but it is especially known for its ability to soothe and calm overtaxed nerves.  

8. You can address multiple areas of the body at once with the right combination. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome with Western medicine is that the entire industry has the body fragmented into pieces. We have specialists in everything from the tiniest little nerves in the ear to the most obscure muscles in toes, but there is really no specialty in “pulling it all together.” No system is an island; and when one goes out, it is often indicative of multiple other imbalances. Unfortunately, that isn’t how we physicians are trained to look at things. For instance, when a person has thyroid issues, it is tempting to just start them on thyroid medication and call it good; but for best results, we also need to address the nervous system, immune system, adrenals, and insulin. And the beauty of herbs is that you could easily find one that addresses each problem and combine them together for a synergistic blend that is safe, effective, and unique. Rather than being a one-med-fits-all approach, it’s a customized approach that can address each person’s individual needs!

In my practice, I have experienced countless patients who are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to prescriptions vs. natural products. I have those who trust completely in the ability of prescription medications to heal them, and these are the people who generally do very well with what they have been prescribed. I have others who absolutely cannot tolerate prescriptions and/or feel like they have no place in our healthcare system. 

I am in the middle. 

I believe that both worlds have their merit and that neither side has all the answers. I also believe that while there is plenty of corruption in the medical industry, there are also lots of honest, hardworking scientists behind the scenes constantly researching and trying to improve life through better chemistry and drugs. 

Unfortunately, the way today’s physicians are trained in their healing techniques has plenty to do with politics instead of health and healing; and it is hard for us to know what is best when our decisions are largely informed by studies that have been funded by large drug companies. I strongly believe that if most people were led to the right diet and lifestyle at the onset of illness, many of them would never need to go further. This is not based on my political or social view. It’s based on experience. 

Nobody has all the answers at this point, so all we can do now is keep learning, keep researching, and keep learning from each other’s experiences. New healing information is popping up every day and it’s our privilege to find it!

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