Rants + Raves: Should Herbalism be Legalized?

Love can’t be standardized. (photo from WeHeartIt.com)

“’Tis mine to be in love with life,
and mine to hear the robins sing;
‘Tis mine to live apart from strife,
and kneel to flowers blossoming.”
Alex Posey, 19th century Creek Poet

The more I study herbs and their uses throughout the ages, the more I am convinced that the whole “legalism of herbalism” dilemma is somewhat of a microcosm of our society’s state of affairs. It is another example among the millions of contradictions that are our reality these days. We are somehow made to believe that we are a separate entity from the rest of the web of life, and that falsity is furthered by our fierce consumerism and our dependency on man-made “solutions” that are really more problematic than the maladies they claim to heal.

As I make these beautiful, simple remedies that not only “work,” but bring with them a sense of oneness and connection to the planet, I am constantly in awe of just how disconnected from ourselves, our world, our neighbors, we as a people truly have become.  Watching television, you are inundated by this powerful force that seeks to convince you that you are missing something that only a product at CVS or Target can return to you. It seems as though our society is obsessed with final products, things we can buy, things that are packaged for us, everything in a convenient little box. That goes for products, value systems, entertainment, education, medicine, and just about everything else.

It follows that there seems to be a general lack of appreciation for anything that doesn’t fit into a box. When I went to NYU back in 2003-2007, the east village of New York was still lined with little sweet independent shops, including Aphrodisia, an amazing herb shop. Just a few years after graduating, I returned to visit my favorite places, but to my dismay they were mostly replaced by name brand stores because the shopkeepers couldn’t compete. It was so sad, but something I would find myself getting used to. I just never thought it would happen in the East Village. I think that if herbalism were to be standardized, it would be the same sort of thing.

We’d be selling out. 

Sadly, it would be inevitable that large-scale companies begin to hijack herbalism and try to cash out. I also think that the average American is so brainwashed by the big pharmaceutical companies that it would be too revolutionary for them to adjust to the idea of using natural medicine that isn’t always an immediate solution. While people are beginning to become more aware of healthy eating in general, our society still needs a major reevaluation of what well-being means. If the big pharmaceutical companies had anything to do with it, they’d probably make more and more herbs seem “dangerous” to prevent people from ditching hardcore drugs and opting for long-term tonic herbs that treat the whole person and not just the symptoms. Or worse, they’d exploit herbs and massacre the gentle ecosystems like they did with Echinacea and St. John’s Wort during the herbalism boom of the 1990’s.

An herbal Essences ad from back in the 70’s when consumers valued things like “the green essence of mysterious herbs and enchanted flowers.”

I can’t ignore the current threat of legal action against herbalists without having a system of regulation to ensure that herbs are administered in a responsible way. It must be bizarre to be a working herbalist and have to always “hide” your work or do it on the down low. However, I think that herbalism is indeed a part of the whole medicine wheel, as my teacher Rosemary Gladstar says. My opinion has always been that in our day and age, we are facing stimuli and health threats that haven’t existed before in the world. We have to always keep in mind the entire picture: we must remember that while some of us wish to live on an island free of all chemicals and radiation, pollution and twisted conceptions of a “normal” way of life (waking up hours after sunrise, staying up well beyond sunset and using electricity instead of natural sunlight…never made sense to me!) — we do live in this world and can’t escape that entirely. It follows that since we are living in a time where technology has changed our rhythm of life, and there are major ramifications of that, we can’t only depend on natural remedies to heal the harmful effects of modern life.  Healing has to be wholistic and take it all into consideration.

Because the external stimuli are so unnatural, unfortunately I think we cant depend only on natural solutions to fight them. Therefore I believe that herbalism is one part of a realistic health protocol for this day and age. Therefore I do not discredit modern medicine by any means. Whether it is a reaction to or a cause of our state of affairs I do not know. But it is a part of life we cannot just ignore. And maybe it’s OK that it herbalism is not legalized, not standardized, because that would be like caging a butterfly. They can legalize and scrutinize those perfectly measured out chemical medicines all they want, because that is their nature. They wouldn’t work any other way. But herbalism is meant to be free, to be the people’s, to be grassroots. It wouldn’t bow down to such boxed-in regulations. Our role as herbalists is to just believe in the herbs and to continue to find revolutionary ways to fit them into the situation at hand.

In my mind, herbalism is one of the last forms of magic and pure beauty left in the world. The herbs connect us to our deepest selves, they help shed the external layers that society imposes upon us, and calm our bodies and souls just by being there for us. I have this natural aversion to products that take herbs and try to make them mainstream, such as large-chain vitamin stores. When we offer our loved ones our own hand made herbal products, I believe it awakens something inside of them that inspires great hope. It reminds us that there is still that magic in the world, there are still other ways to walk. I hope that herbalism is never subjected to the ugly faces of consumerism and standardization so predominant in our society. I hope that instead it remains free, until one day we are all more balanced and ready to rethink our concept of well-being. That would happen when people start to question the existing system, when they listen to their bodies rather than to clever marketing schemes. Then, we won’t need to worry about the threats of standardization, because people will value balance and will seek what is good and true.

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6 thoughts on “Rants + Raves: Should Herbalism be Legalized?

  1. I agree with you. Especially because you can travel with a handful or a bucket full of tinctures in your purse and not be in trouble in any legal way, like you would be with some things, and yet you cannot have a “legal” job as an herbalist in some ways. I do agree that if it became legalized, it would be subjugated to standardization and other silly things. Instead, it’s great that it is how it is- herbs are powerful and people are accountable. people need to be humble about the things the prescribe, just as they should be. This is great, thank you for sharing 🙂

    • My pleasure. It’s astonishing that in the UK herbalism is a fully recognized field, complete with state funded degrees and all. Policy on health care says a lot about a country…it reflects the society’s connection (or lack there of) to Mother Earth.

      • Indeed. Now that I think about it, one of the benefits of having it more standardized would be that people could afford to get it with health insurance instead of always having to pay out of pocket. I feel like things are moving back in that direction though, more alternative things are becoming more popular, and there will always be the herbalists doing living-room classes and apprenticeships, I think 🙂

      • That’s a great point. It would be nice if more alternative healthcare practices were AS recognized as mainstream, so it would be as accessible to people. I have a feeling that we are headed towards a mix of both, like you say, and that is probably the most balanced path.

  2. Jenn Allen says:

    You shout it from the rooftops, my herbal sister!

    I believe that self responsibility is a major contributor to why people would much rather pop a pill than create a health protocol that includes, diet, exercise and herbal and mental support. In order to create a wholistic protocol one must recognize maladaptive patterns and own up to them. Americans don’t like to look at thing that are messy and uncomfortable. They would much rather put a band aide on it and continue numbing themselves with “things”.

    • Very true. Responsibility and recognizing the very real and powerful effects of our actions. The more I think about it and discuss it, I find that this issue reveals layers and layers of truths (and lies..) about us as a society, and as individuals.

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