Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Herbal Remedies, Wildcrafting, And Open Gardens

Herbal remedies are valuable components of wild areas and gardens.  Botanically, herbs are any seed-bearing plant that does not have a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering.  Herbal remedies have a broader definition which includes any plant used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume.  Herbal remedies have a early and long history of human use, as evidenced by their presence in human archeological sites.  As human societies developed, oral and written herbal lore and remedies were codified and systems of nutrition, healing, and medicine that used herbs were developed in Egypt, Greece, India, China, and other tribal cultures.  
Modern science has changed the status of herbal remedies by developing science-based medicine.  Herbal remedies rely on traditional information and evidence that is anecdotal, intuitive, or observational.  Traditional information sources generally do not involve the systematic testing that science uses.  In recognition of this traditional knowledge basis, the FDA regulates herbal remedies as nutritional supplements, rather than as medicine.  There is an active debate among practitioners of traditional medicine and science-based medicine about the efficacy and potential harm of herbal remedies and traditional medicine.  This debate is not easily resolved, as there is a lack of common research methods between the two healing approaches.  
Science-based medicine appears to be a rigorous, quantitative approach that identifies and insures the reliable use of compounds and procedures as singular agents that can be used individually or in combinations.  However, the scope of science-based medicine is limited to agents that can be investigated in laboratory and clinical settings and whose mechanisms assume the basic established principles of chemistry and biology.  
Traditional medicine appears to be qualitative, lacking the rigorous testing and demonstration of treatment efficacy or harm in large populations.  Testing traditional medicine and herbal remedies with scientific methods is often not possible.  Traditional medicine systems may contain proposed mechanisms that are not based on established scientific principles of biology and chemistry.  Mechanisms proposed for traditional medicine are often focused on energy and basic elements (earth, air, fire, water, space, hot, cold, wet, and dry).  Traditional herbal remedies generally contain mixtures of active substances, as found in whole plants, that cannot be separated into isolated compounds for scientific study. 
For now we must recognize that traditional medicine is generally not supported by scientific study.  Instead traditional medicine and herbal remedies are supported by many centuries of use and refinement that may or may not be appropriate for specific individuals.  While these time-honored traditions may not always be scientifically accurate and efficacious, they do indicate that there is a special relationship between humans and the herbs that are collected, prepared, and used.  Otherwise why would humans pay so much attention and effort to herbal remedies through history?  Future refinement of scientific methods may bring the capability for more detailed study and testing of herbal remedies as complex mixtures of active compounds that have physical, psychological, and spiritual effects on human health.
Apart from traditional medicine, a wide variety of suggested healing methods have been developed over the past 150 years and these are called alternative medicine.  While these methods often refer to traditional sources, they do not represent traditional healing methods.  Instead they are derived from the opinions and creativity of individuals without testing to demonstrate efficacy or harm, either through traditional sources or scientific methods.  Just as is necessary with traditional medicine, we should be careful to evaluate the accuracy of statements by modern practitioners of alternative medicine.  Buyer beware of unsubstantiated claims.  There are a large number of products in the marketplace that are worthless at best and potentially harmful.  
Herbal remedies can be obtained from wild and garden sources.  Increased interest in herbal remedies suggests that cultivation of herbs in gardens will become more important as pressure on wild herb populations increases.  Wildcrafting is the collection of herbal material from wild sources.  There are well-known traditions in many cultures for wildcrafting.  An excellent summary of wildcrafting principles and ethics was made by Howie Brounstein and is quoted below.
Wildcrafting Checklist
Do you have the permission or the permits for collecting at the site?
Do you have a positive identification?
Are there better stands nearby? Is the stand big enough?
Are you at the proper elevation?
Is the stand away from roads and trails?
Is the stand healthy?
Is there any chemical contamination?
Is there any natural contamination?
Are you in a fragile environment?
Are there rare, threatened, endangered, or sensitive plants growing nearby at any time of the year?
Is wildlife foraging the stand?
Is the stand growing, shrinking, or staying the same size?
Is the plant an annual or a perennial?
Is tending necessary and what kind?
How much to pick?
Time of day? Time of year?
What effect will your harvest have on the stand?
Do you have the proper emotional state?
Move around during harvesting.
Look around after harvesting. Any holes or cleanup needed?
Are you picking herbs in the proper order for a long trip?
Are you cleaning herbs in the field? Do you have the proper equipment for in-field processing?
*Wildcrafting is stewardship*
© HB 1993
Growing herbs in gardens is a constructive and delightful way to lessen the pressure of wildcrafting on wild herbs.  Growing herbs in our gardens has been a process of discovery, partnership, and renewal of relationships between us and plants.  When I began homesteading on the hill, there were a few native herbs.  Soon, other herbs moved onto the land, as garden spaces were opened up through clearing and cultivation.  There is enough space here to create many types of gardens.  Conditions vary continuously through intersecting gradients of moisture, light, soil type, wind exposure, disturbance, and animal grazing.  Herbs come onto the land through birds, mammals, wind, vehicles, and our planting efforts.  The herbs find the locations that they favor in which to grow.  We often see herbs moving to different locations as conditions changed through the years.  It is an exciting adventure to see plants coming and going through time, as they move around enjoying their favored habitats.  Learning what herbs will grow where has been a life-long experience filled with patient observations and critical memory of conditions and plant species.  
Here on Beaver Creek, we have dedicated our efforts towards growing herbs wherever they do best.  We encourage traditional medicine to grow, even if it is often considered a weed in other gardens.  Dandelions, nettles, and plantain are examples of herbal remedies that are considered weeds by some.  We encourage these species because they provide valuable medicine that inspires our care for others.  When we give herbs priority, we allow them to grow wherever they chose.  Our gardens may look unkempt, but they are filled with traditional medicine.  We now have many species of herbs growing on the land.  Examples include aloe, angelica, aster, bee balm, blackberry, blueberry, burdock, calendula, camomile, cascara, cedar, chives, cleavers, coltsfoot, comfrey, dandelion, dill, dock, Douglas fir, elecampane, feverfew, foxglove, gentian, hawthorn, honeysuckle, hops, horehound, horseradish, juniper, lavender, lily of the valley, lungwort, monkshood, mullein, nasturtium, nettles, oregano, Oregon grape, pearly everlasting, pennyroyal, peppermint, periwinkle, plantain, quince, red alder, red clover, red current, red raspberry, rhubarb, rosemary, sage, self-heal, spearmint, St. John's wort, strawberry, sweet woodruff, thyme, usnea, valerian, vetch, violets, white birch, wild rose, willow, witch hazel, yarrow, and yellow dock.  Their traditional uses have been summarized in Grieve’s Modern Herbal.
Posted by michael

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