Why Herbs?

By Howard Woodwind Morningstar, MD

We are inhabiting human bodies made of the stuff of Gaia, our mother earth. We call her mother, for her love of life gives birth to us and sustains us with all we need in every moment. She has done so unconditionally since the beginning of time, and will continue to do so for as long as she is able.

Gaia expresses love in the endless variety of living beings with whom we share this planet. Her love has shone through a multitude of divine voices, the Great Spirits, Gods and Goddesses of human history. Her energy pours intricately through a vast web of life in which all things participate and are valued. The uni-verse is one song, and each note is heard.

This song of life flows with the universal laws of give and take, expansion and contraction, birth and death. Gaia loves to play and experiment with diverse possibilities of life. She keeps whatever finds balance with the whole,. Whatever falls out of harmony is transformed or discarded. These same principles hold true at all levels of existence, from cells to organisms to ecosystems, from atoms to planets to galaxies. It’s no accident that both DNA and the Milky Way are double spirals.

As human beings, we’ve become conscious of our selves as individuals. It’s easy to fall into the illusion that we are somehow separate from these universal principles. As our civilization experiments with re-engineering Gaia’s life support systems this illusion of separation has become a great crisis and challenge of our time. We act as if unaware that the consequences of our actions may surface distantly and unexpectedly. In the words of the immortal Buckaroo Banzai: “Don’t tug on that; you never know what it might be attached to.”

When we are healthy, our energy flows unhindered and in balance with Gaia. In this harmony, she delights to play through us. When an individual loses this balance, disease results. At a cultural level, loss of balance is expressed as social catastrophes such as epidemics and the various forms of war. At the global level, it can present as habitat destruction and the mass extinction of species. When we get stuck in this constricted state, resisting her flow, Gaia suffers through us.

Healing is a universal principle that is innate to all beings, both animate and so-called inanimate. This is true at all levels on which we exist: physical, emotional and spiritual, as well as individual, community and planetary. Even scars in blasted rocks will soften and heal with time, as long as the source of injury is removed.

Why is the beauty of nature healing to us? Why is the form and aroma of a rose delightful to our senses? What do chamomile flowers intend when they become a relaxing tea? Why should the opium poppy relieve even the most intense pain?

These and all medicines are expressions of Gaia’s love for her children. She presents us with so many opportunities to be healed. It’s as obvious and profound as gravity, and you don’t need to have an apple fall on your head to figure it out.

The most potent healing gifts are often the simplest of all: rest, beauty, fresh air, pure water, nourishing foods, a sense of purpose, love. For whatever levels of imbalance are causing illness, there are corresponding levels at which healing unfolds. In spiritual or emotional problems, healing may be released simply by surrounding one’s self with natural beauty. When we are weary or struggling with stress we need only to rest a few moments, breathe deeply and let the sound of the wind through the trees calm our nerves.

Sometimes sitting or meditating with an herb provides needed healing. Prayer, the healing expression of that which is hidden, may provide the energy to initiate the process. In a receptive state, one can absorb the essence of flowers without picking them. Often herbs work through plants’ vibrational energies, as in homeopathy and Bach flower remedies.

The mainstream herbal medicine with which we are most familiar involves the ingestion or application of botanical substances that affect us at the physical or biochemical level. We have co-evolved with thousands of these scientifically proven medicines over many millennia.

Healing can happen any time. It may be gradual and subtle, becoming apparent only in retrospect. Or, it can be experienced as a dramatic, even miraculous revelation. We may find healing before we feel any symptoms of disease. However, the experience of illness is often a teacher that provides an opportunity for needed transformation. When the lesson is learned a new balance is reached and there is a full recovery.

On occasion, healing occurs only after we suffer irrevocable consequences. For example, we may choose to stop destroying an environmental habitat too late to prevent the extinction of a beloved species. Or, one might change a harmful diet or habit only after a crippling stroke. Even so, healing often continues right up to the moment of death, when one hears Gaia in one of her many voices, calling the body back to the earth, to be enfolded in her loving embrace.

We humans have developed an amazing ability to modify this planet’s physical plane for better and for worse. It’s true that all our maneuvers are manifestations of Gaia at play, experimenting with our consciousness and ability to manipulate things. But as we expand into every habitat across the planet, altering whatever doesn’t suit us, what results can we expect? Are we a design to be discarded, or will we be healed and discover our place as conscious beings within Gaia’s whole? What does Gaia require from us?

The mystery of why we are here unfolds at its own pace. It may be simply for the sake of beauty and delight, or perhaps a greater destiny awaits us. It doesn’t really matter. It is clear that as Gaia’s children, our well-being utterly depends on us taking care of and healing her, as she takes care of and heals us.

Yet so much has been damaged, and as you read this article the destruction continues, and in many cases accelerates. Look at the polluted air that hangs over our sprawling cities like a shroud. What about the poisoned rivers and streams from which we can no longer drink? And where are the wolves, while even herbs like Goldenseal are disappearing from the forest. And the ancient trees, gone for a moment’s use as paper!

So many of Gaia’s children are sick because she is sick. How can we recover?

As we each are unique beings in the universal song, we each have our personal best talents for taking care of and healing the earth. For most of us, it’s best for this task to flow through our daily habits of personal, community and professional life. For others, simply living an intentionally beautiful life is of itself healing. And for some, taking direct action to change the way things are is the most effective path.

When we accept her loving gifts of healing herbs we have a chance to experience Gaia’s healing presence directly. When we still our selves and hear her song, we renew our connection to the source, to our mother. We grow aware of the consequences of our actions on this planet. Our roles as planetary healers are revealed. We thus find our own purposes and meaning. May it be so!