In my post last week on herbalism, I discussed intersections of herbalism to druidic spiritual practice and sustainable thinking. In this week’s post, I’ll share my own story about my path into herbalism. This series of posts on herbalism will continue in the upcoming weeks with resources on how to begin to study herbalism and mindsets/ways of seeing the world from an herbalist’s perspective. But for now…my story on why I am now a lifelong student of herbalism!
I was a chronic asthmatic for nearly my entire life, since my original diagnosis at the age of six or seven. I struggled with it throughout my childhood and adolescence; it was always the thing that kept me from doing so much and limited me in many ways. I took four different asthma medications, including two kinds of inhalers, a nebulizer, and then various long-term daily medications….for 25 years. They cost me about $75 a month with decent insurance when I had it, and the insurance company was shelling out about $500/month for them above what I paid (and while I was in college, at points with no insurance, I couldn’t afford all of the medications and then had very bad attacks). When I took the medications each day, they made me ill–first my body sped up and my heart would race and I would get terrible shakes and jitters. These shakes were visible to others, the shakes in the hands and so forth. I was asked at various times if I was “on drugs” because people my age aren’t supposed to shake like that (and I was, prescription drugs). Then an hour or so later the jitters would die down, and I would crash and be exhausted; of course, I still had to work and function in my life after all this. I couldn’t paint for several hours after the medications kicked in; even typing was hard the first hour after taking them. We tried different kinds of medication but all ended up with the same bad side effects. And what was worse was that I still had asthma attacks, fairly bad ones at least once a week. I was, what my doctors called me, a lifelong chronic patient, because I had been hospitalized multiple times for it, been taken in an ambulance, lost consciousness, and almost died during one of the attacks. I was super sensitive toward everything–cigarette smoke, chemicals, air fresheners, high humidity, chlorine pools, etc. All, especially combined with exercise, would set me off for an attack.
Then, I saw an herbalist and a nutritionist a year and a half ago. This visit was not about asthma, but about serious gastrointestinal issues, another area that my doctor did her best to prescribe away, never speaking to me once about food. Between the herbalist and the nutritionist’s suggestions, I changed my diet to address the gastrointestinal issues and ending up eliminating gluten. In addition to my already healthy localvore diet, I started taking probiotics, magnesium, d3, and bitters; this combination made me feel awesome. Turns out that eliminating gluten had an added benefit that both the herbalist and nutritionist pointed out might happen: the gluten was giving me allergic reactions all along my bronchial passageway. Eliminating gluten substantially lessened all of my asthmatic problems. To help strengthen my lungs, my herbalist suggested that I regularly take New England Aster (a native wildflower growing in the Great Lakes Region and Northeast) in tincture form to support my lung health. This worked beautifully, and my lungs are stronger and healthier than they have been for most of my life. (See Jim’s awesome write up on New England Aster on his website).
In a period of only a few months, I found myself eliminating the asthma medications one by one and testing how I felt…I breathed much better, and, perhaps the most shocking, I stopped having asthma attacks almost entirely. Now I get only a few attacks a year, usually because of chemical exposure, and I haven’t even needed the fast-acting inhaler. It was so empowering last fall to go to the field behind my house, find the beautiful purple New England Aster plants, and gather up and tincture enough of them for a full year of medicine. I felt liberated, both from the symptoms of my asthma, and from the detrimental effects of all of those awful medications that made my life more difficult to live. Last winter, I spoke to my doctor during my yearly checkup, and I asked her about the gluten/asthma connection, and she said that the research did exist but it was “inconclusive.” She didn’t really want to hear what I had to say and instead insisted I keep taking the asthma medications. Of course, I feel better and have less problems, so I gently declined her suggestion. She responded that not doing so was seriously endangering my health. I told her I was taking New England Aster, and she asked “Is that in pill form?” I responded, “No, its in gathered in my backyard form.” I’m sad to say that she refused to listen to me….and rewrote the prescriptions (although I did not fill them). Its now been almost a year and a half and my lungs are healthier than ever–I can do physical activity without problem and that is a very exciting thing!
All of this transpired because of two things: 1) a wise nutritionist and herbalist who saw the body as a whole system and sought underlying causes rather than treating surface symptoms and 2) the incredible healing power of foods and herbs. This experience prompted me to begin to study the herbs in a very serious way, because I realized how critically important it was for me to know more, to take care of myself, and to learn more about the plant allies that have been with humanity such a very long time. Thank you to Debbie and Jim for their wisdom and knowledge of the body as a system, of foods, and plants :).
One more thing I’ll mention–since I started sharing this story, I’ve heard of so many other stories that are similar to mine. Stories of how herbs cured long-term illnesses, herbs have empowered people, how they have helped people gain more quality of life, and brought them back to the land. Here’s one my friend Sarah posted on her blog last week. Herbs have their magic and their lessons to teach, all we need to do is listen.