Nowadays, natural medicine is often viewed with skepticism. Some people outright dismiss natural medicine entirely and label those who practice it as frauds and pseudoscientists. While there are far more advocates of plant-based medicine nowadays than throughout the last century, there’s no doubt that the general consensus is that natural medicine is a ho-hum, last-ditch attempt to treat a problem, or a novel way to manage a mild issue like an allergy.
Most forms of natural medicine aren’t going to pack the same degree of punch as synthetic pharmaceuticals. But they’ll also very rarely be recommended as a replacement for these strong drugs. Natural medicine is just that – natural – and it helps the body maintain a state of homeostasis (balance) by bolstering the health of various systems or organs.
The Synthetic Epidemic in Modern Medicine
In modern society, most of the medicine that we use is entirely synthetic. Some of the drugs are based on natural products and compounds, but even these have usually been modified to the point where they are hardly recognizable from their original form.
There almost seems to be an unspoken rule in modern Western medicine that says that synthetic medicine should be used before natural medicine. This is part and parcel with the current medical paradigm.
Unfortunately, one of the major drawbacks of our current medical paradigm is that we work symptomatically. Our whole medical system is designed to cover up and manage the symptoms of illness, rather than treating the illness itself.
In this sense, our doctors rarely heal people of any illness. Instead, patients end up continually taking medication for months or years while the body slowly fights off the illness itself – made more comfortable by the medication, certainly, but also oftentimes hindered by the toll that the drugs take on their body and immunity. Or, in many other cases such as with depression or IBS, patients remain sick and continue to medicate for the rest of their lives.
There are some benefits of this approach. Because of this belief, many of the medicines that we use are incredibly powerful and produce immediate results. However, when used over the long term, they almost always produce undesirable side effects due to the way that they tax the body. Powerful pharmaceutical drugs push the body into overdrive, generally producing states that would never be found naturally.
The other drawback of this is that people have become so accustomed to powerful, fast-acting drugs that they no longer have the patience or belief for the power of natural medicine.
Even though people used natural medicine for as long as we have existed, with pharmaceutical medications being a relatively new innovation, nowadays people are unimpressed when a herb or plant medicine fails to produce powerful and immediate results.
Natural Medicine Throughout History & Traditional Cultures
Nature’s medicine, in most cases, has not evolved to perform the function of a pharmaceutical by providing immediate and potent relief (although some plants, such as the opium poppy or cannabis, certainly do.)
Nature provides us with medicine that helps to keep us healthy, not to cover up the symptoms of disease and ill health. When used properly, nature’s medicine helps the body maintain a state of equilibrium and optimum health. When faced with illness, properly trained practitioners of natural medicine will work to identify the underlying imbalance or pathology and then use herbal medicine to gently correct the problem without straining the body.
It’s also worth it to mention that many of the diseases that modern humans struggle with are also relatively new. A lot of them result partly or entirely from human behavior and interference with natural cycles. It makes sense that we would need new medicines to fight off these new diseases.
If you look at paintings and pictures of people from indigenous cultures, they always seemed healthy and filled with vigor. Even though most conventional sources tell us that the average lifespan was much shorter, people nonetheless looked healthy and energetic up until the very last days.
This isn’t to say that people never got sick. However, disastrous epidemics like those that befell the native Americans upon the arrival of the Europeans were rare, if they occurred at all. The native Americans were clean, spiritually and physically healthy people that lived in harmony with nature and were thus subject far less often to dis-ease. The Europeans, however, lived in an increasingly disharmonious and unhygienic state that led to the rampant development of disease.
Natural Medicine of the Ages
Nowadays, people might live longer. However, after entering seniorhood, the effects of old age become prominent in a way that they never were in traditional cultures. Even though our lifespan is extended, our lives themselves are more frequently riddled with illness and degeneration. This increases the need for medication to combat these symptoms and produces a cycle of medicating symptoms that are, themselves, caused by medication.
Most accounts of history will tell us that the lifespans of indigenous cultures were much shorter than ours, using this claim most often to defend or promote pharmaceutical treatments. However, it was certainly not uncommon for indigenous folks to live long, energetic and exciting lives long past seniorhood – without the use of pharmaceuticals.
The native Americans had a very strong and subtle relationship with nature. They understood that plants were an extremely valuable source of nutrition and of vital importance for anybody hoping to live a long and healthy life.
Most of this knowledge was passed on verbally from generation to generation. Because the indigenous peoples saw no need for writing, much of this knowledge was lost during the British colonization of North America. Although Western Herbal medicine has provided some assistance in recovering some of this knowledge, the lack of traditional wisdom is still felt as a heavy absence today.
Final Thoughts: A Symptomatic Approach to Good Health?
Herbal medicine is not synthetic medicine, there’s no denying that. But it’s still medicine, and should be respected and treated as such. It is immensely helpful for encouraging your body to remain in balance during times of stress and to retain or bolster immunity when you know you’re going to need the extra strength.
The best part about natural medicine is that you can do it all yourself! Or at least, most of it. Herbal and natural medicine is an art that can be taken up by anybody. And, one of the most excellent and fascinating aspects that you’ll discover as you practice natural medicine? You’ll find that plants growing in your region tend to be the best for treating and managing health issues that arise as a result of natural conditions in that region!
Such is nature – always aiming to return to balance. Good luck on your medicine journey!