If a chemical exists in the body of Gaia it must be natural,...
if it was not it could not exist without causing major trauma to life on earth. This is, of course, the case with technological aberrations such as Plutonium, but in general, how can we differentiate what is and isn't natural simply on how it is presented to us? The real problem is how we use the chemistry of nature safely.
In addition to the range of criteria described above, it is possible to use environmental impact as one of the ways of identifying appropriate or inappropriate treatments. An example should clarify this. In the treatment of gastric ulceration a whole spectrum of options are available. A holistic approach will focus not only treating the stomach itself, but examining diet, life style, general health and so on. Treatment may combine possible food changes, relaxation, exercise, counseling etc. with any specific medicines indicated. How shall these medicines be chosen. Herbal remedies have much to offer in the treatment of digestive problems in general, and with ulceration especially, and are arguably more clinically effective than drug therapy. However it is the environmental impact rather than therapeutic factors we are concerned with here. In comparing the impact of the drug Tagamet with the herb Marshmallow root, we have two medications that produce equivalent symptomatic relief for the patient.
Chemical drugs would be used that reduce the production of stomach acid and so reduce irritation of the stomachs mucosal lining. Tagamet is a commonly used preparation of the drug cimetidine which inhibits gastric acid and pepsin production in the stomach through blocking histamine receptors. This makes the drug a widely used treatment for duodenal and gastric ulcers. It is now the most prescribed drug in North America, followed by Valium.
Herbal remedies may be selected that soothe the gastric mucosa, reducing the impact of stomach acid, and promoting the healing of ulceration. Plants that are demulcent, vulnerary and antacid are the most relevant, with the inclusion of nervines to reduce excessive vagal stimulation. Comfrey, Marshmallow root, Slippery Elm, Meadowsweet, Chamomile and Marigold may all have a part in treatment. Used in the context of treating the whole picture, herbal treatments of gastric ulceration are extremely effective.
Tagamet & Ecology
Regardless of their relative therapeutic merits, if their respective ecological impact is considered a clear picture emerges. Tagamet is manufactured by a process that is notoriously dirty, producing much waste. This waste has to be disposed of, and even with the best environmental will in the world, there is going to be an impact on the environment, but with less than perfect management there will be great and excessive impact, causing both water and air pollution. The impact on local rivers leads to destruction of insect and fish populations and then potentially, through food webs, birds. The water can also have an adverse effect on the soil through irrigation use. The pollutants put into the air will have an effect not only as a contributing factor to acid rain but a direct impact through specific chemicals present. leading to tree damage, soil effects and rain damage to property.
In the development of the drug and fulfilling government safety standards, many laboratory animals are slaughtered. The morality of this fundamental part of modern health care is dubious in the extreme and discussed in the section on research. However it is a necessary evil when dealing with chemical medicine, as the thalidomide tragedy demonstrated.
Industrial production and distribution of the drug is energy intensive in ways that the resources of the planet cannot support for much longer. The profligate use of non-renewable energy is, of course, an evil of the whole industrial system and not just the fault of Tagamet! There is also the potential for political manipulation with the need for energy to manufacture drugs being cited as a justification for the development of nuclear power. The contradictions in that juxtaposition would be funny if it wasnt so frightening.
When using proprietary drugs, the patient and prescriber are at the same time supporting and depending upon the multinational drug companies. The very existence of these vast international corporations raises political, economic and ethical questions that go beyond the confines of this brief review. The patient becomes an unwitting financial supporter of these questionable organizations.
Dis-enpowerment becomes a key concept, with the individuals health care needs being answered by the experts, the M.D. to prescribe and the pharmacist to dispense. This is no comment on the skill and dedication of these professions to their patients needs, but a recognition that these same patients have relinquished personal responsibility by handing it over to experts.
Added together this creates a picture of death, destruction and exploitation in the name of personal health. It is worth seeing the hidden costs of the little tablet, as the overall cost of treatment goes way beyond the price of the pills. The cost and impact of such a 'simple' treatment for ulcers includes environmental damage, death and the support of a system that may well be at the center of much planetary dis-ease..
Marshmallow & Ecology.
The dilemma about therapeutic choice raised by these ecological, economic and political considerations might seem daunting. Let GAIA come to the rescue! If herbal remedies are viewed in a similar framework, a very different picture is seen. .
Preferably the herb is organically grown, or at least there is the need to cultivate the land and so care for it. This will leave the land at least as well off and hopefully the soil will be nurtured through good organic techniques, which Welsh farmers describe as putting heart back into the soil. Soil structure and stability is becoming a major ecological problem in much of the world. A basic principle in ecology is that the more diverse a system is the more stable it is in the face of environmental perturbation, and organic techniques increase the diversity of soil populations..
Wildcrafted plants, or collecting wild plants in their natural environment, highlights the imperative to preserve the environment as a source of plant and seed, but more importantly for the sake of the environment itself. Herbalism as a therapy is part of a dawning awareness in humanity that life does not existence for our use. Life, our planet, GAIA, all these words and concepts express the wonder of being part of the whole. Herbalism is the therapy of BELONGING..
Within this experience of embracing and being embraced by Mother Earth, it is no wonder that herbal medicine, and in our example Marshmallow, involves no abuse of laboratory animals. The traditional use of Marshmallow is ancient with great knowledge of its use in healing. There is no need to prove this with the genocide of more laboratory animals..
There is little energy consumption in the growing of this herb, and so is ideal as medicine within a selfsufficent low impact economy. Even if our society does not yet function this way, we can contribute in the right way with an economically and energetically healing remedy for any ulcers the system generates..
Marshmallow, like other remedies, is produced by small scale growers, and distributed through channels that support a diversified economic system. It is a perfect example of small being beautiful. Not only are there the benefits of small scale economics and ecological viability, but this is all producing a medicine that carries all the advantages inherent in herb remedies.
The comparison between the two therapeutically equivalent medicines shows that environmental and political criteria can have a lot to contribute to making choices. Put starkly the choice is between being part of a cycle of death and destruction justified by personal health, or being part of a life affirming cycle using healing herbs for personal health.
The very process of considering these perspectives is part of the healing of humanity's alienation from our world. As we think so we become. What is it to be?
The herbalist by David Hoffman, (c )1993 David Hoffman, Hopkins Technology