Originally published January 9 2012
Bioregional herbalism -- a more sustainable model of natural healing
by Tara Green
(NaturalNews) Simply substituting echinacea for flu shots or arnica cream for Ben-Gay can still leave you hooked into the unhealthy and consumerist mainstream model of health. If you want to develop a truly holistic sense of health, learn to experience both yourself and the plants you turn to for healing as part of the same ecosystem.
The herb version of "Think globally, act locally"Bioregional herbalism stems from the concept that a truly holistic style of healing needs to draw on available natural resources within an individual's local area. This means that the herbs you take do not make an extra demand of resources in terms of manufacture and transportation. Many traditional herbal healers believe that any health imbalance is best cured within the same environment where the illness originated.
For many people, this is a novel notion since we are used to seeing national and even international studies recommending a specific herb as the cure-all for a specific disease, even if that herb grows best only in a narrow corner of the globe. Bioregional herbalism encourages people to learn which herbal healing resources grow naturally in their specific area and to draw on those resources.
Linda Conroy of Moonwise Herbs in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, gives an example: "If I have a fungal infection popular herbalism suggests I reach for Tea Tree Oil and I remind myself that it comes from Australia. What resources does it take to bottle that herb and transport it to me? Now wisdom tells me that the people who lived on this continent had all the medicines they needed, so that leads me to look for an anti- fungal herb in my backyard. And so I reach for Red Cedar (Thuja plicata). I can make a strong infusion, a tincture or an oil with minimal impact to the planet."
The herbs vary by region, but the principle remains the same. Herbalist Kiva Rose, located in western New Mexico, writes "Healing begins at home, growing from the same rich soil we spring from. The plant medicines are intertwined with ours: blooming uninvited outside the front door, growing from the terra cotta pots on our kitchen windowsills and shooting up in well-tended community gardens. Using herbs from close to home is a tradition honored by curanderas and vegetalistas, Sami shamans and modern medicine women. Traditional healers have long known that the medicine we need the most, grows very near to us."
Know your bio-regionWe all know which state, county and city we live in, but many of us are disconnected from a true sense of place, lacking any concept of the bioregion in which we live. Rose, who teaches classes to help familiarize people with herbs in her area, notes that bioregions are not defined by government. "Each is a specific life zone defined by its watershed and indicator species, and by their relationships to each other. A bioregion may be defined by its wildflowers and red earth, by the Ponderosa pines and prickly pears of the Gila, or by the mangroves and Cherokee roses of the Everglades. Bioregions are not subject to or confined by manmade boundaries like national borders, state or county lines or city limits. Instead, they flow along the lines of rivers and rainfall, migration routes and weather patterns."
Bioregional herbalism allows you to interact with your environment in a more meaningful way as well as protect natural resources. As herbal healing gains popularity, many manufacturers are mass-producing herbal remedies without sensitivity to the impact of harvesting large numbers of plants from one area. The herbal supplements available at mainstream retailers like Wal-Mart are more likely to be produced without sensitivity to whether a plant species in a specific area is stressed from a year of too little rain. They may harvest wild plants without consideration as to whether the stand of plants will be able to re-seed for another year. For example, the demand for echinacea has already wiped out many wild stands of the plant.
If you want to become a more responsible participant in maintaining the environment and in shaping your own health, try to locate a herbal wildcrafter and/or herbal grower in your area. Many of these herbal experts also offer classes, teaching students about how to recognize and work with the plants within their bioregion.
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