Why Bioregional Plant Medicine
This is an excerpt from a small booklet on herbal medicine I wrote a few years ago.
First Nations people believe that the medicine harvested from the area where you live is the most potent for your person. I believe this to be true. Beside this belief, there are three reasons to choose plant medicine from the area you live: the interdependence of life, sustainability of medicine for all people, and enhancing the local economy.
The Interdependence of Life
Medicine people who live close to nature say that when a plant appears in abundance, its medicine will be needed during the season to come. Watching nature year after year, one understands that plants respond to their environment. Some years pine cones drip from their trees, other years there are few to be found. When it has rained all summer, branches bearing berries droop under their weight. It’s easy to pick them by the handful. The berries are plump, sweet, and juicy. If summer is hot and dry, berries become sparse and mealy to taste. Trees make fewer leaves during drought to conserve water. If the air is hot and humid, trees sprout more leaves to cool off and release excess moisture. These are just a few examples of plants adapting to environmental changes.
Most of the medicine plants create, they make for themselves, but what they make can be used as medicine for humans as well. Take the scent of a plant. A plant’s scent is a complex blend of volatile oils designed to serve the plant in two ways. The first is to attract pollinators: bats, bees, and butterflies. Pollination is to plants, what sex is to humans. Humans use the same volatile oils in perfumes and aftershave lotions to lure desirable mates.
Second, the volatile oils kill bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections. They are part of the plant’s immune system.
Herbalists understand that the relationship between humans, plants, and disease in a specific geographic area is more entwined than can be conceived of by our limited perception of interconnecting events.
Echinaceaangustifolia’s purple flower once dotted the grasslands that swept across the central regions of North America. Now it is hard to find outside of cultivated flowerbeds. It was difficult to find on the wild prairie even before factory-style farming encroached on the native grasslands. Echinacea was harvested to near extinction in the early 1900s. A popular heal-all amongst European settlers, echinacea roots were shipped back to the old country. By 1900 there were over 200 proprietary preparations of echinacea in Germany while the freely harvest plant, which had provided medicine for the local people for centuries, was disappearing.
The same is true today for plant medicine from India and the Himalayas, the Amazon Rainforest, the mountains of Peru, and other exotic locales. Plants used by local people are disappearingto far away lands, mostly North America and Europe.
In 2003, 14 billion dollars worth of wild plants were exported from the Himalayas. Most of these plants were harvested indiscriminately. This carelessness threatens the biodiversity of the region, the livelihood of the people who live there, and their access to traditional medicines that are both less expensive and less toxic than pharmaceutical medicine.
By knowing and using local plants one slows the exploitation of plant medicine from other areas of the world and supports the revival of plant knowledge in one’s own corner of the Earth.
Using local plant medicine decreases the shipping, manufacturing, packaging, and marketing of herbal medicine. With the elimination of each step in the process, worldwide sustainability of the medicine is increased.
In today’s global markets the tenuous balance between prosperity or poverty for people leading simple lives dangles by a thin thread—a thread held by mega corporations and governments more focused on global economy than the well being of villages, towns, and cities. Nothing is more stable than a local economy where needs are met by local produce, products, medicine, and services. Plant medicine gathered from nearby wild places or grown in backyard gardens certainly and easily fit in a local economy.