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Herbalism is a huge topic. Its philosophical foundation embodies so much that in many ways it also chronicles the course and progression of human history. This article does not presume to cover every aspect nor the entire history of herbalism because the strictly material aspect of herbalism and its basic origins can be easily found in many places. This article does however, offer a different perspective of herbalism that is far more inclusive of its background and foundation that is not often presented.
Herbalism has always included at its core a decidedly spiritual or metaphysical component around which its philosophical science was organized. Hence, depending on who is writing, they will justify their position with quotes like these from the Western Spiritual tradition:
Genesis 1:29 ("Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed... to you it shall be fore meat") Genesis 9:3 when God says, "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things."
Some of the framework of Herbal theory has come out of Hebraic Kabbalistic concepts that were often misinterpreted but found compatibility with Eastern ideas that had already been in use for thousands of years. That said,"herbalism has pegged it's understanding of life and existance on spiritual principles that can be varified physically and comprise some surprisingly comprehensive concepts that are as deep as they are simple.
In the same way as engineering has its quantitative aspect in its building material of choice and its qualitative aspect in its mathematical models, the product of which is a final built structure; the strictly physical aspect of herbalism is its materials such as herbs, oils, minerals, even animal parts, etc, can be considered as quantitative, the philosophical part is its qualitative foundation, the purpose and product of which is healing. These essential quantification's address the physical and non-physical aspects of life and existence in order to form a cohesive working philosophy. No matter how much is written here the greater part of what comprises Herbalism will be left out because of its sheer magnitude.
Some might marginalize, belittle, diminish or otherwise scoff at the sometimes mystical quality of herbalism saying that it is not scientific. They should remember that no matter what science they may endorse or espouse, it has the exact same historical mystical origins; so much so that science often draws on mysticism to postulate some of its theories.
For example: The “Big Bang” theory of creation is of mystical origin. The link between matter, energy and light is also from mystical writings (see Robert Fludd). The theory of relativity is to be found verbatim in the mystical writings of Emanual Swedenborg.
Politics and industrial interests aside; when competently implemented herbal philosophy is logical and completely consistent, with scientific findings that are only coming to light now but only being admitted to by a few.
Herbs by themselves will do very little if they are not used and applied with a principle based philosophical logic. Among the principles employed in herbalism are the allopathic and homeopathic principles. These are opposing principles but are not at all antagonistic to eachother. The allopathic principle uses the "opposite against each other to cure" while the homeopathic principle uses "like to cure like."
When using the allopathic principle, that is to say; using the opposite element against the malady, herbalism will use something cooling against the heat that may be present in an ailment or body part or, something hot against a cold condition; the idea being that the excess hot or cold energy will be balanced out through its opposite. This is the philosophy of allopathy in practice in an absolute sense. Allopathy should not be confused with the more modern chemical therapies that are offten confused with this principle.
Because the allopathic principle may not always be appropriate its opposing principle may be needed. The opposite of using opposites to heal is the use of "like to cure like;" a concept that Paracelsus also arrived at over 400 years ago. To implement this principle through herbalism it becomes necessary to seek out in nature, “specifics” or "specifica" that replace those of the physical body that have been consumed or depleted by the body because of an ailment and then using the suitable modality for administration. For this reason herbalism sometimes seeks out substances not only from the vegetable kingdom but, also from the animal and mineral kingdoms to fulfill its purpose. In principle herbalism can work comfortably as allopathy or homeopathy depending on the need. In this context only the application of a principle is meant. Homeopathy uses the like to cure like principle but, strictly speaking, in herbalism, homeopathic potentized remedies are not intended. Homeopathy itself is a much higher healing art that, like herbalism and many other finer professions is, practiced by many but mastered by only a few.
In an attempt to find the right "specifica" to address the specific depletion of a particular ailment there is a need to properly prepare the raw material before it is administered for maximum effectiveness. Every plant has a few main ingredients as well as dozens or even hundreds of other components that make up it's chemistry.
Depending on which is needed, different methods of extraction have been developed by herbalists over the millenia. Distillation may be a common technique used in all chemistry and modern heavy industry but, it is not a recently discovered process. Distillation was developed thousands of years ago. It came about as a way of mimicking the digestive processes of the body for the purpose of extracting various ingredients in plants. But that is just one method of extraction.
Every extraction method extracts something different. This is why a whole herb taken internally as a capsule, prepared as a tea, a theriac, a pill, in oil, in vinegar, tinctured in alcohol, extracted, distilled, or, applied externally as an ointment, in a hand bath, a food bath, as a vapor, as a compress etc, etc, etc, will all generally act differently. Knowing how to prepare a remedy and how and when to apply it is part of the art of herbalism.
The most common and perhaps the most familiar preparation of herbal remedies is by the simple addition of hot water to make a tea. The purpose of water is to act as a "capturing medium" for the desired substance(s) in the raw material. The method of extraction separates the useful from the non useable component of the raw material (herb). In absolute terms the theory of extraction is based on the "cleaning of the herb."
Paracelsus often said that all things contain a poisonous component. For this reason he stated that the only difference between a useful remedy and a poison is in the dosing or, in the "cleaning" of the remedy.
Although the medium to catch the extract may vary, as in digestion, heat is the ultimate separating force or agent be it latent as a distilled spirit or intentionally applied. Every industrial process uses heat to separate or refine its raw materials for a desired ultimate purpose. The origin of this simple process is in the distillations used in herbalism to produce remedies.
This concept needs to be clarified a little further to convey the interplay of the material and non-material aspects of herbalism and the methodology that would explain why things were done the way they were.
In ancient times there was an acute awareness, as is also mentioned in the Bible, that all things on Earth were a proportionate mixture of both good and bad elements – “clean” and “unclean” substances. Today, even though the terms may be different, we accept this more or less as being a material fact. Back then, these concepts very correctly had a more etheric or spiritual connotations. The idea of substances being predominantly clean or unclean is an Old Testament Biblical principle. Then, as now, heat was used to separate the good from the bad to otherwise clean it.
Based on this practice foods were cooked not only to make them more palatable and suitable for human consumption but, that they might also be “cleaned” by the fire. Towards this same end heat is used in the preparation of an herbal remedy to separate out what is clean and useable from that which is considered to be unclean dregs within a substance, thereby rendering it useable and beneficial. In more modern terms it was recognized that everything contains a useful component or a toxic, even poisonous components.
This very simple concept developed into elaborate distillation processes and the art of Alchemy came into being. This art became what we know as chemistry today and the basic equipment designs used then are still used to this day, varying only in scale and further refinement. Out of the endeavour, techniques and practices to produce herbal remedies came most of our sciences and industrial processes.
As you can see herbalism when properly approached is not merely naive folk medicine based on what is believed to be backward, uneducated or anecdotal guesswork. It is a science unto itself.
A digression is needed to fully appreciate the scope of herbalism and the foundation it grew out of. Needless to say, Herbalism grew out of an organized mysticism rather than ignorant trial and error as is often implied. Modern scientific methods and existing evidence alone does not and cannot explain many of the anomalies of the remnants of ancient cultures. The ancients had their own science, only fragments of which have lasted to this day.
How this has been interpreted around the world by the different cultural biases varies to some degree.
In China although the four basic elements are observed, for practical reasons, they have also been interpreted as the five processes - Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood - that are also sometimes termed elements but are not.
In India, Ayurveda is also based on the Four Elements plus the Ether principle.
The fundamental premise of the Elements and their expanded accompanying framework is evident in all of the global herbal traditions. However, with the migration of people all over the world through the millennia much has gotten lost or misinterpreted especially among the jungle dwelling tribes yet, these primal principles remain even if greatly diluted and fragmented as herbal and spiritual beliefs and practices.
In Europe, as in other ancient cultures, there was a universally shared and clear awareness of our Earth being part of a greater universe after which all things were modeled after; the concept of a God that human beings had been made in the image of. Where God represents the great archetype - the macrocosm, the “Great Light” of Genesis, the human being, as an exact copy thereof in miniature was termed the microcosm, the “small light.” Within this simple yet all encompassing absolute idea, all that was and could exist found its representation by analogy. Hence, this paradigm produced the axiom, "as above, so below."
Therefore, the idea that all things could be compared in analogy to the human form which was also analogous to the form of the Great Archetype; God and the universe remained a viable method of explaining and organizing creation up until the present where it is sometimes still implemented. From this very unifying vision of reality came into being the Laws of Analogy which, were the science of that now remote and semi-forgotten time. Upon closer examination this is still true even if not accepted by modern scholars. Anthropologists find that the herbal lore among indigenous people of the world is still generally based on this system and the uses of herbs established through this system is found to be amazingly accurate. So much so that the De Materia Medica, an old herbal book, written nearly 2000 years ago by Pedanius Dioscorides was proven to be at least 80% accurate solely based on the science of analogy. The 20% that was not validated was likely due to poorly prepared remedies or improper administration by the testing laboratories as the old methods of herbal preparation are for most people completely unknown and have less to do with "active ingredients" than far more subtle constituents.
To prove the validity and relevance of these points and our absolute connectivity to them please observe the following chart that generates what the entire world, to this day, uses as its perpetual calendar. It is based on the aforementioned seven main Kabbalistic spheres in their sequential proper order within a day that is subdivided into twenty four hours. The fact that no one has changed this order or even thinks about changing it may suggest to some that it has been given and is maintained from a higher Seat of power.
|3 Saturn||4 Jupiter||5 Mars||6 Sun||7 Venus||8 Mercury||9 Moon|
There is nothing coincidental about our calendar as much as there is no real way of writing off this orderliness without writing off God as well. If the logic behind this is flawed then it could not yeild what it does and definitely gives validity to the rest of the philosophy in general.
Out of Kabbalistic study several geometric concepts came into being among them the simple two dimensional figures such as triangles, squares, pentagons and so on, and the platonic solids. The concept of circles having 360 degrees is based on the association of Kabbalistic theory to the Earth and by extension the concept of a spherical, not a flat Earth. Anyone who has any knowledge of mathematics, physics and engineering will appreciate how much is associated with this elementary principles. Without them, physics, engineering as we know them and the mathematics that supports them would simply not exist as they would have no philosophical foundation.
The astronomical observations also produced mathematics, logarithms and so forth and several very sophisticated cultures flourished technologically because of it; the remnants of which survive to this day often posing the puzzling question – how did they know to do it?
All of this may seem like a digression but, this is actually as much an integral part of herbalism as it is of engineering varying only in how the knowledge is approached. The ancients were not helpless, naive, stupid fools as is often presumed by orthodox science.
The aforementioned astronomical observations were important because through them it was observed that astronomical occurrences coincided with the times that specific plants would grow. Even after having been harvested and stored it was noticed that specific plants would give off their fragrance at specific times of year even after having been picked. Which meant that there was an astronomical effect as well in nature that affected all life in general and specific organisms in particular.