Plants have been part of our lives since the beginning of time. We get numerous products from plants, most of them not only good and beneficial for our health, but also crucial to our existence. In this essay we will explore the connection between plants, medicine, our food, and modern science.
The use of plants to heal or combat illness is probably as old as humankind. For centuries Native peoples of various cultures have used plants as medicine for all sorts of healing. Plants were at the basis of Indian and Chinese medicine for millennia, and they still are to this day. It is from these roots that the Western pharmaceutical industry grew to be how and what it is today. Unfortunately the modern view of plants is very different from what it was. We were once connected to nature, honored and respected nature, and tapped into its greatest potential, where plants were viewed and appreciated with utmost reverence. In modern times, we are greatly disconnected from nature, where we often either fear or disregard the presence and importance of plants. Most people cannot fathom using wild edibles today, whether for food or medicine. Likewise, most cannot be bothered to grow some of their own plants for culinary or medicinal purposes.
The modern medical and pharmaceutical industry has dissected nature into its parts and along the way lost so much of the whole picture. What was once a trusted and natural approach to health thanks to plants, has today become nearly 100% synthetic. So why this great change and disconnect? After the post-war era, economies began to boom and an evermore sophisticated technology was spreading through every sector leading societies to change drastically. Our populations boomed and money and profit became the driving factors. Dabbling with plant medicines was pretty much looked upon as primitive and unscientific. Of course in order for something to be profitable today it needs a patent, and nature in its unmodified form cannot be patented. So we extracted what we wanted out of plants, synthesized it, and patented the final products as pharmaceuticals and various formulas were born. We even modified entire plants and their species, both physically and genetically, in order to make them more profitable. We were driven to meet the growing needs of the world populations, but also driven by greed.
What did all this innovation and separation from nature lead to? Within half of a century we have caused some of the most destructive damage upon this planet—its people, living beings, and ecosystems. What this all has also led to, is that we have decreased the quality of our environments and food supply and increased our rates of sickness and disease. This is why, today, a quiet, yet significant revolution is under way. More and more people, like you and I, are saying “enough!” to the madness that has swept over this planet. More and more people are rekindling their connection to nature and combining the best of ancient wisdom and modern evolution by seeking the pure and unadulterated benefits that plants can offer us.
Plants: Our Food and Our Medicine
We have so much to benefit from by returning to plants in their most natural state. The famous father of medicine, Hippocrates was quoted as saying:
Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine shall be thy food.
I live and teach by these words for I know their power experientially. Within the last century not only have we sharply disconnected ourselves from nature, we have forgotten how to feed ourselves and what a human body needs to thrive. A diet for optimal health, as we know today, should be whole-food, plant-based. Given this, it makes even more sense to apply what Hippocrates was saying. Plants serve as our food. Plants also have numerable healing and health benefits. It goes to reason that plants serve an extremely significant role in the creation of our health: Healthy eating is the best preventative medicine. Numerous edible and medicinal plants can also be used to heal an illness, should we find ourselves in any such a situation.
We really should be so grateful to plants for the food, health, and healing remedies they have provided, and continue to provide us with. Plants have been used as medicine and used extensively as diverse healing modalities for millennia for anything from external to internal infections, mental and emotional imbalances, as well as for every imaginable physical illness. We have come to use them as teas, tinctures, oils, creams, and more. Everything that plants provide is geared towards both preventing and healing imbalances, be they acute or chronic. For example, we know that just by eating a diet high in plant foods, where about three-quarters of our daily food comes from plants, we can effectively prevent and/or greatly reduce and/or reverse the three main chronic diseases of our modern society: cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
So what makes plants so special? A segment of our sciences has focused on deciphering their role in nutrition, which led us to learn in the past few decades about a group of compounds called, phytonutrients – beneficial compounds found only in plants that can help prevent and even heal many diseases. The cruciferous family of plants, for example, is quickly gaining status as helping to ward off cancer due to the phytonutrient groups it contains. Plants also contain outstanding vitamin and mineral profiles, and are the only sources of fiber. Finally, plants harness their energy directly from the sun and aside from the chlorophyll content in the green parts of plants, there is also living energy—Chi—that we obtain when we consume or use plants in their freshest, most unadulterated forms. All of these factors make our human organism thrive, as intended for us as living beings on this planet.
Plant Medicine and Science
While all that may sound nice and lovely, you may be wondering about what science has found when it comes to plants’ specific role in medicine. Aside from the qualities of plants referred to above, most modern science is often all too silent or ignorant of the power of plants for medicinal use. On the one hand, there are some outstanding research studies that have coherently linked many plants as being effective options for specific conditions. On the other hand, there is both a lack of proper science in this field and a resistance by many lay people to understand plants beyond the limited science. Too many of us today have given away our independent thinking skills and only rely on what the often biased and limited science tells us.
This is why when we research certain plants with respect to their healing or preventative potential, aside from holistic sources, we may be hard pressed to find quality research or information available. If there is a pharmaceutical or supplement involved, that then becomes a bit of a different story as it has a price tag attached to it and it is in someone’s best interest to try and sell us on the product.
Besides disregarding the natural potential of plants in medicine, the other side of the coin is an all-too-common backlash against plants by focusing on their dangers. Fear and doubt creeps into the minds of consumers and thus steer too many away from nature’s perfection and into the arms of corporations, who are all too eager to sell us something. It is nothing short of sadly ironic that most of us have no problem trusting and ingesting synthetic, chemical formulas of all sorts—from the common cold and flu medicines to prescription-dependent pharmaceuticals, yet discount nature’s gift to us—plants. In our separation and disconnection we neglect to understand that nature was created with supreme intelligence; there are no mistakes. Every compound and every plant has a role to play. Our job is not to fear them or dismiss them, but to learn about them and how they work, in order to access their greatest potential. There is no doubt that plants can be dangerous, when used incorrectly, but it only takes a little bit of interest and effort to learn some basics about those plants that would be of specific medical benefit to you. When people don’t have a connection to or reverence for nature or when they lack basic knowledge, it is then that they often make very poor judgments and choices related to nature’s potential. This is a good place to remind us that just because it is natural does not mean that it is safe, and just because it is chemical does not mean it is unsafe.
What does all this mean for you? If you are already open to and applying the power and potential of plants in your life, whether for food or medicine, keep going. Keep learning and strengthening your personal foundation knowing that you are on the right path. If you are just starting your journey in trying to understand the potential of plants, first and foremost, be patient. Upon your journey you will come across all sorts of sources, providing all sorts of information that at times will make the journey both confusing and frustrating. Have faith and keep seeking out quality sources and support. More than anything, we can all benefit by spending more time in nature. By observing the natural world, we come to know the natural world best. We become acquainted with its abundant species, its rhythms, and its ways. We become integrated with it and we begin to shed our fears as we come to realize that we are home.
The next few decades will see major changes in how we feed and heal ourselves. We will continue to come back more and more to the natural healing abilities of plants, whether from a preventative perspective or in times of illness. The journey ahead will offer new potential beyond anything we’ve known thus far. May you enjoy it!