Western Herbal Medicine: A Tradition

herbalism indigenous healers women healers of the world May 08, 2024
red clover blossoms

Because I grew up in United States, I learned Western Herbal Medicine, which as a whole, leans on American and European plants to support our medicine-making. I supplement it here and there with other forms, notably Ayurvedic, when appropriate, but I am through-and-through a Western herbal girl. This means I make a special effort to include the weeds that grow around me, and I focus on North American plants in my remedies. I also formulate my medicines using 4-6 plants on average, which is a technique I teach in my herb school courses. Compare this with Traditional Chinese Medicine where you may find 40-60 ingredients in a single formula!

For my documentary book Women Healers of the World, I interviewed a wide range of practitioners -- 21 women from 16 world healing traditions, including everything from Native Nations to Polynesian to Gaelic to Tibetan-- so it covered a slew of thoughts, practices, ideals, teachings, and cultures. Because 2024 is the 10th publication anniversary for this award-winning book (and project from my heart), I'm sharing bits from the book to inspire you to learn more. The following is a brief excerpt from the World Healing Traditions essay in the book:

Western Herbal Medicine

Today, western herbalism is generally considered to include European and North American methods along with some Russian methods, and it is distinct from Asian, African, South American and other forms of practice. Western herbal medicine draws heavily from Native American traditional uses of plants and includes philosophies from Native American, Greek, British, European, and even North African and Middle Eastern traditions.

It can be categorized by the use of common plants for creating and maintaining health without the inclusion of astrology, shamanism, astronomy, necromancy, or other folk traditions though it can include the use of intuition and even animal products such as beeswax and propolis.

Philosophies and schools of western herbal medicine have included the Doctrine of Signatures (based on a plant’s physical features), Regulars (healing techniques based on purging the body violently), Thomsonian (based on Samuel Thompson’s more gentle criteria of healing), phytotherapy (a chemical-oriented approach to medicine), and the Eclectics of the U.S. (upscale reformist practitioners in the 19th century who included a variety of medicaments in their therapies).

To read more about this and16 other incredible world healing and health traditions, see the book Women Healers of the World, available here, now celebrating its 10-year publication anniversary.

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