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Herbal Energetics in Clinical Practice: An Energetic Model in Applying the Healing Tastes for Western Herbalism

Herbal Energetics, the study of the subtle energies emitted by plants has been an integral part of healing practices around the world for centuries. The Asian medical healing systems of India, Tibet, China and the Middle Eastern Unani, as well as in the traditional western practices of the Greeks and the Native American Cherokees, all knew that understanding of the energetic language of each plant was essential to understanding it's medicinal value and how to administer it. The knowledge of the medicinal and energetic properties of herbs in ancient cultures was culled from wisdom handed down over generation by the shamans, holy men or sages of that culture.

The medicinal properties of herbs are related systematically according to their physical and energetic properties, which includes the elements, tastes, heating, cooling and digestive effects and other special potencies they possess. It gives us a structure in which the plant can be easily identified and used wisely according to an individual's constitution and disorder.

Hippocrates, Greek philosopher and physician, worked with a systematic approach called the Four Humour system. This system categorized each individual as one of several physiological constitutional types. Likewise plants were also classified and applied according to this systematic approach. In this model, like all traditional natural healing models with a theoretical foundation, the individual was evaluated, according to their constitution and pattern of illness. The effect the herbal application had on the systems and organs was also considered. It was then matched to the disorder and a prescription made.

A mechanistic view of nature has occurred, since the 17th and 18th centuries due largely to Newtonian physics. The result is treating disease separate from the person who experiences it. The disease is diagnosed and drug protocols are administered. Herbs are being applied in much the same way, solely according to their therapeutic properties and chemical constituents. The disease is separated from the individual, just as a plant's chemical compounds are separated from the whole living plant. We must treat the whole person, just as we must consider the whole plant in order to benefit from its full healing potential.

This medical model is based on the illusion of isolation. Its premise is the whole is just the sum of independent parts so the whole does not affect the parts. This approach to healing isolates the disorder from the totality of the individual and the chemical constituent of the herb from the overall therapeutic effect of that herb.

This approach is based on the elution of isolation. It sees that one aspect of a person can be isolated and treated separately regardless of other aspects of the person, or that an herb can be in isolation irrespective of the rest of the plant's components. The end result becomes asking questions such as:

"What is in this herb?"
"What is this herb for?"
"What herb can I use for depression?"
This simplistic approach of using medicinal plants isolates the disease from the person and the chemical aspects of an herb from its overall individual therapeutic effect.

With this mechanical method of using herbs symptomatically the disease is isolated from the person and herbs are given to treat the disease symptoms, just as modern medicine does today. To illustrate this let us look at depression, we take St John's wort And at times we may combine several herbs together to form a formula for this condition, and yet our approach has not changed: St. John's wort because of its hypericine, resin, alkaloids and other chemical constituents is still good for depression, therefore if you have depression, take St. John's wort. While this may work for some of the time, it doesn't always. For not every form of depression is relieved by the same herb. In other words it becomes a "hit or miss" approach: there is an essential ingredient missing in this equation.

As already mentioned most traditional cultures have used herbs energetically. To use herbs energetically, we look beyond the symptoms of the disease to alleviating the underlying imbalance, which caused the disease or disorder. This causes varies according to each individual because all aspects of the person are taken into account, not just the disease the person is suffering with.

In the similar fashion each herb is evaluated energetically and according to all aspects, such as its tastes, properties, colors, attributes, growing conditions, actions, chemical constituents, etc. the appropriate medicinal plants are then chosen that will alleviate the underlying cause of the disorder. Herbal energetics is matched with that of the person, the disease and its cause.

In other words instead of making the depression the main treatment focus, it looks at the individual to see what is occurring in the body to cause the depression in the first place. Treat the cause not the disease; in eliminating the cause, the depression disappears.

Possible causes of depression:
1. Stress or anxiety
2. Liver, digestion and bowel congestion
3. Allergenic reactions to foods: milk and dairy products, peanuts, shellfish, wheat and soy.
4. Allergenic reactions to chemicals: paints, pesticides, household cleaners, and benzene.
5. Allergenic reactions to heavy metals: lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and aluminum.
6. Nutrient deficiencies: B vitamins, C, D, E, choline, chromium, and iron.
7. Prescription medications: captopril, propanolol, metoprolol, clonidine, methyldopa, reserpine, prednisone, and numerous others that are used for common diseases.
8. Overindulgence in recreational drugs: caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine.
9. Underlying ailments that may cause depression: diabetes, schizophrenia, infectious hepatitis, lung or heart disease, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, bulimia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the list goes on and on.
10. Seasonal influences
11. Thyroid &/ or stress-hormone imbalances
12. Gender influences
13. Body toxicity
14. Excess heat exposure
15. Total body depletion

This list can be made longer, but hopefully you get the point, there are many causes to the same disease. These causes will vary from person to person and according to each person's inborn body constitution and whatever health imbalances exist.

Possible herbal treatment for depression:
1. St. John's Wort the most common herb that is used for relieving depression;
2. Eleutherococcus senticosus and Ashwagandha are two beneficial herbal adaptogens.
3. Ginkgo biloba & Gota Kola are powerful antioxidants that are beneficial for brain circulation.
4. Avena sativa, wild oat groats and straw are nervine restoratives that assist the nerves to normal function over a period of time.
5. Dandelion root, Gentian root and Mugwort contain bitter constituents that can help alleviate liver and bowel congestion;
6. Verbena officinalis, Vervain is tonic which improves liver activity and calms nervous irritability and exhaustion;
7. Burdock root can relieve depression from general body toxicity;
8. Mugwort or Rue can be useful if there is an excess amount of heat in the body;

Each of the herbs mentioned above is totally unique and different, and yet each relieves depression in its own way. This is quite a different protocol to just giving St. John's Wort for any one type of depression.

The symptomatic approach of administering herbs is that only the depression is addressed while the individual who has depression is totally unseen. We must never forget that every form of depression and disease is due to a different cause. Herbal energetics is not a new model, but it is a model that is not being practiced and applied today to its fullest potential. There are three basic steps that must be learned to bring herbs into practice.

As mentioned earlier, originally herbs were used in the West according to a systematic approach, called the Humor system. Just as each person could be categorized as one of several physiological types, so also herbs were classified and applied for healing in a corresponding manner. The individual was evaluated, taking into account the tendencies, which may be causing the disease. Then the effect the herbal medicine has on the organs and body systems of the individual and the disease are considered.

Energetic herbalism is a model of understanding the language of plants. It is a way of knowing the herb according to the plant's energy and how it matches the condition. In herbal energetics, we look beyond systems of disease to the underlying cause of the disease. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of the individual is taken into consideration, as is their unique inborn constitution. Finally an herbal remedy is then found to match that person's particular physical, vibrational, and constitutional needs.

Ayurveda Herbal Medicine is based on the theory of tridoshas. This theory explains how the five elements Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Ether/Space, which make up physical creation, dynamically combine to manage all processes within the human physiology. The five elements are the basic building blocks of all life and through them we can determine the fundamental nature, called, the constitution, of the individual. It is a comprehensive system of healthcare that works toward prescribing a way of life, rather than a treatment of specific diseases and disorders. The skill of the practitioner lies in identifying a persons unique constitution, (according to the tridosha system), diagnosis the cause of the imbalance and deciding on the herbal protocol.

To determine the root cause of a dis-order or imbalance we need to look at the commonalities of the complaints and symptoms to determine its origin. The cause of a dis-order has energetic qualities. The qualities of the dis-order and the individual are interrelated. The energy of a dis-order manifests out of the energy occurring within the person. In other words there is a direct relationship. Just as herbs have certain attributes so also do illnesses and imbalances have attributes. If the energy of a dis-order is not diagnosed before herbal treatment, then the condition will continue to worsen or reappear in the future. Either way, the energetic root cause of the dis-order still remains.

Not using the herbs energetically to an imbalance or dis-order is often the reason that the herbs seemingly "don't work." The incorrect diagnosis and wrong herbs used for the case gives little or no results. It is not the herbs that are impotent or useless. The energies of an imbalance occurs out of the individual qualities and tendencies of the person's unique constitution.

The most accurate way to determine what is taking place within an individual, is observe the imbalance and determine its energy independently first and then include the information found on the person's constitution. This then gives you a well-rounded overall picture of what is happening in the individual's internal environment.

1. Determining the individual's constitution and present condition;
2. Determining the underlying factors causing the illness
3. Determining the flow energy flow of the dis-ease;
4. Determining an herb's attributes and taste;
5. Matching the herbs energy signature to the determined condition and the individual's constitution.

As mentioned earlier traditional cultures throughout the world have used herbs according to their energetic effects on the body and mind. The Webster's dictionary defines energy as "vitality of expressing" and ‘the capacity of acting." In other words to explain the energy of an herb, therefore, has the capacity to act on the body in a particular way. Every herb has a signature of the Elements with its unique attributes. The energy of an herb is an inherent part of the herb. This is its unique gift to those who use it. One of the best ways to tell the inner qualities of a plant is to experience its effect on how you feel after ingesting it. The next step is to observe how your body respond or reacts from it. The plants that give you more strength, energy and activate your blood circulation are usually warming in energy. Plants on the other hand that cause you to urinate, sweat or relax you are classified as being cooling in energy.

Practitioners of herbal Ayurvedic medicine prescribe remedies on the basis of their attributes or energy/quality. These are determined according to the twenty attributes or qualities. The twenty main attributes (ten pair of opposites) or the fundamental qualities are the positive and negative, the yin and yang of all forces of the universe. They are the basis for the properties of all objects in nature both material and mental. We experience everything through these ten pairs of fundamental qualities. The relationship between a pair of qualities is the basis of two of Ayurveda's fundamental rules.

First, that like increases like; second, that a quality is decreased by its opposite quality.
Other qualities exist but these are the most essential.

The first column of attributes tends to have a downward energy that is contracting, descending and cooling in nature, gross or yin qualities. This energy serves to create and manifest the physical body, and relates to the Water Element.

The second column relates to the attributes with an upward ascending, expanding energy and warming in nature, light, subtle or yang qualities. This energy serves to create vitality and relates to the Fire Element.

2. WET / DRY

The taste of an herb determines its qualities or healing attributes it posses. In Ayurvedic herbalism herbs are classified according to six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Taste is considered therapeutic for several reasons. The Sanskrit word for taste is rasa. It means delight or essence, both of which are healing. Everyone needs some of each of the six tastes every day. Tastes of herbs are seldom single, though one usually predominates.

Sweet, sour, and salty tasting herbs increase water- urinary and fluidity.
Bitter, pungent, and astringent tasting herbs increase air- nerve system function.
Sour, salty, and pungent tasting herbs increase fire- digestion and liver activity.

When diagnosing and determining the energy of a dis-order, it is helpful to first observe the energy of the individual's body. That is, the constitution or body-mind type, because this affects how the illness or disorder develops in that body. The constitution is the (seed) inborn genetic blueprint that develops from birth. It is molded and shaped by the Elements of nature, just as a seed is grown and shaped by the environment. It can be altered over the course of time according to the choices the person makes by the foods, herbs and spices consumed, water intake, lifestyle habits adapted and mental attitudes maintained. Each person's constitution is unique according to the variations of the five Elements and their attributes.

The three doshas or constitutions are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They represent our genetic blueprint and fashion how we respond, both psychologically and physically to our environment. The constitutional type, Vata is a combination of Air and Ether. Pitta is the combination of Fire and Water; Kapha is Water and Earth. These elements are the foundation of all life.

An understanding of tridosha system helps us know a person's constitutional predisposition, assisting the herbalist in creating a therapeutic herbal program that integrates all aspects of that individual's life. The principles and qualities that follow are what an herbalists looks for in determining an individual's constitution.

Vata: governs all movement, respiration and the nervous system. Its qualities are described as being dry, cold, light, mobile, subtle, rough, hard, erratic, dispersing and clear.

In a deranged condition it will cause coldness, dryness, tremors, abdominal distention, constipation, weakness, insomnia and numerous other neurological complaints, and lack of stamina.

Herbs that reduce excess Vata are nutritive tonics, demulcent with a pleasant sweet, salty and sour taste and warming qualities. Herbs that aggravate Vata are bitter, astringent and pungent.

Pitta: governs all transforming processes, metabolism, all chemical reactions, digestion and circulation. Its qualities are described as hot, sharp, fluid, light, oily, soft, and mobile.

In a deranged condition it will cause a jaundiced appearance or a yellowish tone to the skin, eyes, urine and feces. This may be accompanied by increased hunger and dryness, burning symptom and inflammations.

Herbs that reduce excess Pitta are drying and cooling, with bitter, astringent and sweet flavors. Herbs that aggravate Pitta have a warm moist nature with pungent, sour or salty tastes.

Kapha: governs all cohesion, liquidation, growth, body stability and strength. Its attributes are cold, wet, heavy, slow, dull, smooth, and cloudy.

In a deranged condition it will cause a diminution of digestive function, excessive phlegm and mucus, heaviness of the body, coldness, and a great desire for sleep.

Herbs that reduce excess Kapha are drying, warm and eliminative with pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. Herbs that aggravate Kapha are sweet, salty and sour.

One of the unique aspects of Ayurveda Herbalism is that once you know the dosha-constitution of an individual you then know which herbs to prescribe. For instance, herbs are classified according to which dosha they increase and decrease.

Everything in the universe is composed of the five elements. These combine into the three doshas or bioenergetic forces that govern our health and determine our physical constitution.

The Ayurvedic system recognizes that each human being is born with a unique arrangement of the three doshas, and this equilibrium is what is responsible for the distinctiveness among people. A particular dosha constitution indicates a heightened tendency to manifest imbalance or disease in a particular way as characterized by the dosha. Our constitutional balance influences how the body and mind will tend to react when experiencing a particular stimulus, such as food, herb, weather, or emotions. By recognizing and maintaining an individual's constitution, Ayurveda can teach each person how to achieve his or her own state of health. From this we can create a line of herbal treatment protocols unique to the individual's requirements. This personalizing aspect of Ayurveda can be integrated into any natural healing system.

Walter Shantree Kacera, Ph.D. D.N.
Therapeutic Herbalist & Ayurvedic Nutritionist with 30years experience in the Natural Healing Arts. He founded "SPIRIT of the EARTH"-Balance Life Gardens an Herbal Education & Nature Awareness Centre in 1983. He teaches Certificate Courses in Therapeutic & Practical Herbalism, Constitutional Ayurvedic Medicine, & Clinical Iridology.
SPIRIT of the EARTH, 'The Living Centre' 5871 Bells Rd., London, ON. N6P 1P3 519-652-0230

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