Bioregional Herbalism, or “Go Outside”


North America is a big place.  Every region has its own potent medicines that fulfill humans’ biological needs.  Coevolution is a beautiful thing, as is biodiversity.  There is no reason to believe that the newest trendy superherb from South America, India, or anywhere else is going to do something for us that we can’t accomplish with a plant from our own climate.  Humans wouldn’t have survived this long without appropriate medicines in the absence of a global economy—and before everyone gets all hot and bothered about life expectancy, let me say that yes of course we’re living longer than we used to, but germ theory (the genesis of modern medicine) is a whopping 150 years old, which is literally nothing in the face of tens of thousands of years of coevolution with plants.  This is a constant source of frustration for me in my clinical practice, because no, I won’t put goji in your formula, since I can’t grow or wildcraft it here in Zone 4—how about some nice schisandra, rosehips, or hibiscus?  Or (crazy, I know) you could just put down the poptarts and eat berries.

Anyway, soapbox aside, I am a bioregional herbalist from New England, so my plants are not necessarily your plants.  In general I do my best to provide useful information to keep your family healthy with plants that grow widely in North America, but many of you live in a completely different sort of place from me.  If you’re living in a cabin in the arboreal forest or a yurt in the Mojave desert, listen to the spirit of the vast font of herbal knowledge available on the internet, not the letter of it.  It helps to learn how to organize the uses of herbs in your mind; then you will find useful herbs in these categories (“herbal actions”) growing in your yard and you can take it from there.  This is the format I follow in my classes, because developing a sense of how to think about herbs helps us learn to use all herbs effectively, instead of simply collecting herblore one plant at a time.  Learn the actions and the herbs just fall into place.

The herbs you need grow near your house, just take the time to learn who they are—a demulcent is going to act like a demulcent, regardless of what herbs are reviewed in the New York Times.  You do not need to send away for herbs from the opposite end of wherever to care for yourself.  If you did, we’d all be dead.

7 thoughts on “Bioregional Herbalism, or “Go Outside”

  1. Love this post. Bang on. And despite those that will always hop to the latest trendy superfood or magic herb, it seems that there is a real push to get back to bioregional roots and to relearn native plants. I’m very happy to see that happening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find it interesting that a lot of the same folks who are really serious about buying local organic arugula at the food co-op also buy into the cure-all phenomenon of the magic herb from the other side of the globe. Call it an herbalist’s pet peeve.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, and something I have been thinking about a long time, but have not seen it articulated until now. I think Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine are great, and have a lot to offer folks native to those areas…personally, the Native American wisdom of herbalism has always resonated with me, and its nice to know I am not the only one that embraces the idea that everything you need is right in your own back yard.

    Liked by 1 person

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