Third Place Winner: Medicine Keeps Moving

Doubtless the world has made progress, but…not all of the children born in the eighteenth century filled early graves because of medicines of those days.  Boneset and mullein, comfrey and calamus, sage and smartweed were not deadly at any rate, and if they were administered and swallowed with faith in their curative properties they may have been as effective as the most recent of coal-tar derivatives.

These herbs, roots and berries were leagues in advance of the “medicines” they displayed (sic)…few men now would survive the doses of jalap and opium that (are) prescribed for yellow fever, yet both of these drugs are cleanly compared with those (herbs)…The herbs marked a distinct advance over those remedies and they survive, even holding their own through the era of proprietary medicines, now declining to some extent.  A neighboring town ships sculletaria by the bale to New York and we assume there is still a demand for dandelion root, both facts indicating that the older types of medicines are not forgotten.  Considering the fact that no drug, so far as we know, boasts the antiquity of aloes, we fancy that the herbs will be in demand for a long time. -The New York Times, June 23, 1919

In twenty years, Western periodicals and other media will not have to hide their desire to publish the triumphs, not just the trials, of the great medicinal benefits of herbs. The rate at which Western, allopathic, cut and burn, inorganic medicine is in decline is a current social reflection of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. Tempered by the crucible of experience, overloaded with surreptitious chemical toxins, and no longer content to repollute our bodies with properly prescribed poisons, we are returning to our roots. 

The healing arts are still a woman’s rite; quietly, women gathered together throughout the 20th century, and now more openly in the 21st century, sharing this ancient lore. We speak to one another passionately of the mysterious grace of our atypical knowledge, protected by our guardian grandmother angels, smiling down, still holding their gathering baskets. We know that a good root soup will help wintertime colds and flus while an early spring tonic will sprout a burst of energy for refeathering our nest. As society progresses, so too will our healing circles; we have already begot botanical gardens, books a plenty, workshops, entire herbal magazines, master’s degrees in herbology, radio shows, online resources, conferences on complementary medicine, and so very promising-herbal teas and tinctures in our American supermarkets!

In twenty years, each of our communities will again, as in Medieval times, have a botanic garden of medicine plants, with evolved high school home economics classes learning how to combine the roots, leaves, twigs, bark, seeds, and berries into delicious brews for those holistic, herbal apothecary categories-anodynes, lymphatics, vulneraries, bitters, emmenagogues, nervines, rubefacients and demulcents. The role herbs will play then will flourish as we apply their apothecary qualities to the challenges we’ll see at that time. 

And like the poetic, spindly roots of our American ginseng, our knowledge of plant spirit medicine will grow too, delivering us into the sacred territory of indigenous people everywhere. The shaman’s earthspirit song, once sung only by the medicine men and women of our cultural ancestors, will find a new voice in the recent city landscape. Fancy that the “antiquity of aloes” and other herbs will boast for a long, long time to come.