interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs

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interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs


Question: What was your first experience with herbal medicine?

Buhner: When I was thirty-four, I became quite ill with severe abdominal cramping.
The doctors didn’t know what it was.

I met a local herbalist, and she mentioned that a certain plant growing in the forest around my house was good for my condition.

The doctors wanted to do exploratory surgery, but instead I ate some of the plant.

The pain was about half as severe the next time it happened, and the next time about half again, until finally it just went away.

After that, I began to take control over my own health.

Question: What was the plant?

Buhner: It was a perennial herb called osha.
I just dug up the root and began eating it.
It’s got a spicy, celery-like taste.

 Not only did I feel my body getting better, but I could feel, inside, some living entity that cared about me.

It’s difficult to explain, because it’s not something we generally talk about in the West.

When you use a living medicine and get well, you feel that the world is alive and aware and wants to help you.

People often talk about saving the Earth, but how many times have you experienced the Earth saving you?

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Question: How do you go about treating patients as an herbalist?

Buhner: It’s a relationship, not a technique.

My clients often feel lost and alone in their suffering.

They need human companionship and also a sense of companionship with the living world.

If I can, I’ll take them into the woods and introduce them to the plant that will be helping them.

In my book The Lost Language of Plants I tell the story of a twenty-eight-year-old woman who was going through a messy divorce.

Her periods were extremely irregular, with heavy cramping and bleeding, and her hands were always cold.

 I could see that her whole body was closed off, curled in on itself.

 Her fingernails were chewed back deeply, as if she were eating herself alive.

I told her there was a plant I thought she should meet.

We went for a walk through a pine forest, and when she saw the plant at the edge of a stream, a kind of force drew the woman and the plant together.

The plant was Angelica, which has been used for thousands of years to help treat menstrual cramping.

She spent a long time with it, then said a prayer and asked for help, and then we went to look for just the right Angelica.

When we found it, she dug up the root, which has a beautiful smell.

On the walk back she held it close to her.

She was already carrying herself differently. The healing had started.

She took a tincture made from the root, and within a month her period had normalized.

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Question : How do you know which individual plant is the right one?

Buhner: From experience I can tell when a plant is healthy or not.

I can tell when a plant has more-potent medicine in it.

I can tell when a plant wants me to pick it and when it doesn’t.

It’s difficult to explain how I know this.
It’s like when you come home and ask your partner, “How are you?” and he or she says, “Fine.”

You know something’s wrong, right?

But if you just looked at the content of the statement — “Fine” — you couldn’t tell.

It’s what’s inside that matters.

That’s what herbalists are talking about when they refer to the “energy” of a plant.

The strongest plant will feel slightly different from the others.

In herbalism you’re engaging in a deeper sort of communication.

 The words, the phrasing, the posture, the kind of touch you have — they all matter.

Compassion needs to flow in all directions.

These are things that the medical model doesn’t take into account. It can’t.

That’s one reason why imposing the medical model on the herbal model will destroy it.

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Re: interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs

This part of the interview below, could be of some help for people suffering from ES symptoms:

Question : Many of the plants in Herbal Antibiotics aren’t native to North America.

Do you think people should look first to the plants around them for medicine?

Buhner: The book was written to offer alternatives to people who might die of a resistant infection, so I wanted to list anything they could reliably use in that circumstance.

Still, many natural antibiotics do grow in the United States.

 I live in the Southwestern desert, and Bidens grows all around our house. It’s invasive.

 Sida grows along the Gulf Coast, and some Sida species grow in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

They’re all considered invasive.

 In fact, the most potent medicines for emerging infections tend to be invasive botanicals that people are busy trying to eradicate.

These invasive plants don’t move into a region for no reason.

Take, for example, the berberine-containing plant Phellodendron.

Berberine-containing plants are used to treat parasites and infections from yeast, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

Goldenseal was probably the most potent berberine plant in the U.S. until it was harvested to near extinction in the late 1800s.

Phellodendron, which is a massive tree, is invasive in exactly the same range that goldenseal was removed from. And if you cut just one branch, you’ve got enough berberine plant to last a year.

I’ve found that if people are ill, the plants they need are almost always growing in their vicinity.

I’ve watched plant populations change around me in places I’ve lived for thirty-some years, and they seem to shift in response to changes in my own disease complexes.

This sounds airy-fairy to the Western reductive mind-set, but people have been commenting on it since Hippocrates.

Plant populations rise and fall according to the needs of the ecosystem in which they grow, and that includes the animal life there, which includes us.
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Re: interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs

Again, more clues to people looking for herbal medicinal help.

Probably the plants are already reacting to electrosmog too, even though Buhner is not a specialist of that (so he does not mention electrosmog as far as I know).


Question: Yet we act to remove invasive plants from ecosystems.

Buhner: Yes, these plants are seen as alien invaders.

I joke that the Republicans want to get rid of immigrant people, and the Democrats want to get rid of immigrant plants.

It’s not understood that dandelion and burdock and a host of other common plants are non-natives that moved in and established a balance with local ecosystems, or that many of the plants targeted for eradication happen to be effective against the exact diseases that local people are contracting.

Japanese knotweed is invasive all up and down the East Coast, and its root is the most specific medicine there is for the treatment of Lyme disease.

There’s a Lonicera species — a honeysuckle — that reduces mosquito egg-laying wherever it grows.

The mosquitoes that it discourages happen to carry dengue fever and a number of other viruses that cause encephalitis — inflammation of the brain.

 And it turns out that the plant is also a treatment for INFLAMMATION in the CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM.

When plants move into an ecosystem, they do so because the ecosystem has been disrupted.

The problem is that people don’t ask, Why is this plant here?
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Re: interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs

This post was updated on .
Question: Isn’t it human activity that normally introduces invasive plants?

How do we differentiate between our own actions and the will of an ecosystem?

The real question is: Who is the dominant species — us or the plants?

Perhaps we are just an organism that functions to spread plant species around the world.

Remember: plants and bacteria are integral to the functioning of the planet.

We are not.

If we disappeared tomorrow, things would continue on relatively smoothly.

If the plants and bacteria disappeared, we would not last long.


"We shouldn’t be creating substances (drugs, antibiotics) that indiscriminately kill all bacteria they encounter.

Very few bacteria cause human diseases.

The vast majority of them are maintaining the functioning of the planet.

They are, in reality, a global superorganism.

We are bacterial organisms ourselves.

We are the innovations of bacteria that, through symbiogenesis, created more-complex expressions to fulfill specific ecological functions.
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Re: interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs

The best part of the interview!

Question: What made you start looking for alternatives to conventional medicine?

Buhner: For whatever reason, there was always a part of me that refused to accede to the reductionist, mechanistic model.

 I left home at sixteen and ended up in San Francisco, where I got my GED and started college.

In one of my philosophy classes we learned about René Descartes and his famous dictum cogito ergo sum — “I think, therefore I am.”

I thought about that for over a year and finally decided that Descartes was wrong.

He should have said, Sentio ergo sum — “I feel, therefore I am.”

I decided then and there to make feeling the foundation of my life and work and to place thought second.

All of us have experiences in which we encounter something that feels extraordinary:

- a great tree we come upon in a forest;

- a person we encounter by chance;

- a book we find lying on a park bench.

Most of us discount such experiences and go on with our lives.

I, instead, followed those feelings, and as a consequence my life has been one adventure after another.

You might say that this decision enabled me to experience the metaphysical background of the world.

I encountered what is really out there, not the static picture we are taught is out there.

The fact that other life-forms possess languages as complex as our own, that they have self-awareness, that they engage in the search for meaning — all of this is hidden from us because of the mental programming we use to process our experiences of the world.

But sometimes, despite our habituated not-knowing, we feel the touch of other intelligences in unexpected places, such as a tree or rock formation.

The reality police are quick to denigrate such experiences and accuse us of anthropomorphizing.

I say they are “mechanomorphizing.”

We have much more in common with a tree than we do with a machine like a car.
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Re: interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs

How is that plants, as chemical factories, may help any kind of disruption around them - and in my opinion, also the disruption created by electrosmog, if we give them time and opportunity to work...

Not that I find that a solution, but I'm sure plants don't care about what we think, they just work non-stop to find balance.


Question: What would happen if plant antibiotics became widely used?

Buhner: It is important to understand that plant antibiotics are widely used now — by plants.

Plant chemistry is not static, the way pharmaceutical antibiotics are.

The way plants and bacteria interact has been going on for hundreds of millions of years: Bacteria get into the plant and start to eat it.

Since the plant can’t go to the hospital, it analyzes what the bacteria are doing and makes its own antibiotic.

The bacteria respond, and then the plant responds to the bacteria’s response, and so on.

The plants are continually evolving right along with the bacteria.

The plants we harvest for antibiotic use this year will possess a different chemistry than the ones we harvested last year.

This is living medicine arising out of a dialogue — another reason why standardization of plant medicines is a fool’s errand.
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Re: interview with herbalist Stephen Buhner about herbs

Plants do react to pollution.

How to find plants that are healthy enough to be consumed by us as medicine?

Question: How does pollution affect herbs and their healing properties?
I was making jelly out of Japanese knotweed the other day and had a moment of anxiety because I’d harvested it next to a potentially polluted drainage ditch.

Buhner: We live in a sea of pollution. It is not really escapable.

Many plants do act as soil remediators: they pick up, store, and process toxic compounds.

The easiest solution is to pay attention to how a site feels to you.

You can actually tell the health of a plant or site this way.

With experience you can develop what the writer Bradford Keeney calls a “library of feelings,” a concept he roughly translated from the teachings of the Kalahari Bushmen.

As your feeling sense grows more acute with use, you increase the size of your library, and it becomes a more reliable source.

The library of feelings is stored in the conscious mind.

Everything we encounter has an aesthetic dimension to it that we can feel.

You build a library by continually encountering physical objects or places and asking yourself, “How does it feel?”

If you do this, you learn to interact not with surface impressions but with the deeper dimensions of a thing, to move consciously through a world of meanings.
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