To me, there is no separation between the medicinal benefits of a plant-based diet, culinary herbs or medicinal herbs. Be it cabbage juice for an ulcer, shiitake mushroom broth for cancer prevention, Lion’s mane added to an elixir for brain power, culinary herbs such as basil or cinnamon as antimicrobials, and the blood tonic effects of Plantain leaf. As far as I’m concerned, it is all plant medicine.
I have been blessed with a few intense long-standing illnesses, yes you heard me right, I said blessed. Though they were extremely difficult, and at times, even life-threatening, these illnesses have transformed my life in beautiful ways and shown me firsthand the power of plant medicine. They are powerful, life-saving, life-enhancing, modulating beauties. I cannot imagine a world without them.
How does Plant Medicine work?
Through a process called photosynthesis, plants take up sunlight, the only natural source of energy for this planet and produce glucose which, in our bodies, converts into energy. Plants produce oxygen, a byproduct which enriches our air while reducing the carbon dioxide. They’re so giving.
Plants contain proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, chlorophyll and enzymes, all to sustain the life of the plant. Each plant also contains specific constituents unique to its species that protect it from predators and allow it to sustain life in harsh climates. Those same compounds lend this capacity to us when we ingest these plants.
Any living being, be it creature or plants has an innate desire to grow, thrive and reproduce. Unlike humans and animals, plants are rooted into the ground and cannot outrun a predator. Plants use chemistry as their self-defence.
Essential oils or volatile oils, for example are produced by plants to attract pollinators as well as protect themselves from bugs. Bugs that may harm the health or life of the plant. Such plants that produce these chemicals include Chamomile, Lemon balm, and Basil, to name a few. When we ingest these plants, we consume the essential oils which act as antimicrobials in our bodies and protect us from bugs - in the form of bacteria, virus, or fungus.
In Botanical Medicine, the whole plant is used rather than separating or singling out constituents as is done in pharmaceuticals. This provides the body with an array of phytochemicals to heal and nourish; and it keeps side effects to a minimum or none at all.
Antimicrobials are just some of the many phytonutrients that plants provide us for health. Others include the nourishing properties of nutritives found in Nettle leaf; nervine properties that relax and calm found in Vervain; blood cleansing properties found in alteratives such as Burdock root; and alkaloids such as caffeine to stimulate as in your morning cup of coffee… just to list a few.
It’s difficult to pick my favourites but I am most excited about nootropics and adaptogens.
What are nootropics? They are plants that have a healing effect on the brain. They enhance our mental function, increase our ability to learn, remember and retain information. Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), for example is a beautiful nootropic that increases BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor which supports your brain health while increasing your brain plasticity, in other words creating new neural pathways for you to learn new things and form myelin (the protection of your brain) to support the brain cells to perform better. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? With both short-term and long-term benefits, Lion’s mane can help you focus, prep for exams, face a deadline, while elevating your mood. And we’re not done yet, Lion’s mane benefits the prebiotics in your gut that feed the good gut bacteria, bringing you balance and a healthier gut microbiome.
Adaptogens, as I mentioned are another favourite of mine. This group of plants support the entire body, are non-toxic, can be taken for a long period of time to balance our bodies and our HPA axis, which manages our hormones and leaves us feeling steady.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), for example is a lovely adaptogen that grows in Siberia at a high altitude, in extremely cold weather, low oxygen and intense sun. This is the medicine. This conditioning affects the plant’s chemistry which makes it a valuable medicine that helps us adapt to stressors including harsh climate and adapt to change of climate from one season to the next.
To learn more about Nootropics, Adaptogens and other botanical medicines, stay tuned...