Healing plants: mineral rich herbs for nourishment etc

My primary relationships right now are with the plants that are healing me. It’s an all encompassing love affair. What humans have never been able to give me, these plants are offering. Plant spirit medicine is for real. we are all one. nature is inherent to how we evolved. Whether we use the language of spirit or not, the fact is we’re in relationship with all that is alive on the planet. When we pay attention to those relationships we come into alignment with all of life.

It’s hard for me to understand when people don’t believe plants (herbs etc) can heal. Anyone who’s ever tried marijuana has got to understand that plants can indeed be very powerful. The fact is they’re endlessly diverse from a biological perspective and so they can help and support in endless ways.

For the record, I do not ingest plants that are traditionally considered hallucinogenic or highly psychoactive anymore and have not since I was a very young woman. I do, however, have a sensitivity such that I seem to have such relationships with all plants (foods etc) that aren’t generally thought of in that manner. I tend to feel the energies of the foods I eat and really everything I put in my body, so that is no surprise to me, but it’s not something most people talk about. It’s been a wonderful thing to connect with plants that are helping me heal. Many plants as ordinary as chamomile work for me in this way. Plants that are not considered herbal but food does too.

I generally do not recommend traditionally hallucinogenic plants for folks who have histories with naturally occurring altered or extreme states (to be clinical Рthat which gets diagnosed quite often as psychosis or mania). This is mostly because folks with access to those realms of the psyche generally don’t need additional help getting there with the use of these sorts of entheogenic plants and it can backfire pretty badly for that reason. Best to find those of us who know those realms and learn to heal together. See (video):  A message to those labeled by psychiatry

an example of a morning making medicine and nourishment:

IMG_20180607_092729_724Three infusions going right now: horsetail, red clover and a mix of oat straw and nettle. These are all mineral rich herbs. I’m taking bugleweed (tincture) for hyperthyroid¬†(as I did in 2014¬†— it’s much trickier this time around) Anyway bugleweed is a metal chelator. Removing some heavy metals¬† can be a good thing.¬† Unfortunately it can also strip needed metals important minerals too when taken regularly. (photo is the red clover and oat straw/nettle. The horsetail is actually decocting on the stove (simmering)…. All these herbs keep my body healthy with lots of needed minerals.

What I love about herbal medicine is that it’s really about nourishment. It’s about feeding and healing the body/mind and spirit. Plants can do so much more than most (modern) people realize.

Oh! Mineral rich herbs tend to be quite soothing to the nervous system too. I didn’t used to tolerate them some years ago when I was coming out of the first drug induced brain injury. But now oat straw and milky oat seed are wonderfully soothing and calming and healing to the injured nervous system. Those of us with hypersensitivities caused by the psych drug withdrawal need to be careful. I didn’t tolerate these herbs for some years. Go slow and trust yourself. If they’re not helpful, they’re not helpful. I always had an intuitive sense that they would someday be helpful but if you don’t then trust that too. It’s in learning about our own body and it’s particular needs that true healing happens.

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The human animal has a life of it’s own. Awareness cannot control or change the story in the ways we might like. It can watch and provide container. We watch and learn about this unique individual body. With acceptance, in this way, we learn about the organism that is the human species.

The truth is paradoxical and consciousness holds it all. Non-attachment means being able to utilize systems, frameworks and narratives when it makes sense while being able to let go as soon as it does not. Does it work for you? You’re the only one who can say. Does it work for me? I’m the only one that can say. Fluidity means these things can ultimately come and go like we’re swimming in ideas, concepts and frameworks.

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Contrary to what people often imagine surrender, acceptance and lack of resistance is not the same as inaction. In fact surrendering can instead lead to clear, decisive and inspired action that would otherwise not be possible.

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For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page or scroll down the homepage for more recent postings. 

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Medicine brewing

First one on the left is for flushing the lymph (contains self-heal, violet, red root, and calendula), the second is an antifungal/antimicrobial (contains St. John’s Wort, Pau D’arco, Lemon Grass, Lemon Balm, Olive Leaf and Tulsi), the third is for flushing bile (fenugreek) and the fourth is a highly mineralized nutrient dense mixture for bone health and the added bonus is it’s also profoundly healing¬†to the nervous system. (nettles, oatstraw and horsetail).

Most herbs have multiple uses so this is what I happen to be using them for at the moment…it’s not the only way to use any of the herbs listed.

More on herbs:

For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page. 

Support Beyond Meds. Enter Amazon via a link from this blog and do the shopping you’d be doing anyway. No need to purchase the book the link takes you to or make a donation with PayPal. Thank you!

Folk Counseling

By Jon Keyes

bamboo A little over a hundred years ago Sigmund Freud initiated the field of psychology, the practice of helping people work through emotional distress by talking and exploring hidden subconscious depths. Early psychoanalysts felt that this exploration could lead to insight that would bring cathartic emotional release and integrative transformation.

Along with psychiatric medications many in the West consider psychotherapy the gold standard for the treatment of mental health conditions. In the modern world, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of cognitive behavioral therapy as the best ‚Äúevidence based‚ÄĚ style of counseling to help people work through conditions such as anxiety, phobias and depression.

We tend to see things through the lens of our modern westernized experience, but these methods of helping people in distress are actually quite new and unique to this time period. Historically and cross culturally, a wide variety of techniques are used to help people heal while counseling may only play a small part in the process.

Hearthside Healing

Each culture has developed unique tools for helping people manage emotional suffering. In China, the practice of qi Gong with its flowing movements, static postures and vocal intonations, form the basis of healing emotional distress. In India, special mantras, rituals, dietary practices and the use of herbs form the basis of healing. In some parts of latin America and Africa, elaborate shamanic rituals, exorcisms, and plant entheogens are employed as a way to help people heal.

Our modern forms of helping people in emotional distress (talk therapy and medications) have largely supplanted more traditional forms of healing. In some cases this is a continuation of oppression and colonization that has gone on for hundreds of years.

teaIndigenous healing practices are denigrated and seen as unscientific, based on superstitions, or as an adjunct to the proper, modern way of helping people in distress. In this way, we have ignored and suppressed folk methods of healing that are often highly effective.

Traditionally, helping people heal from distress has long been the domain of wise women and men acting as kitchen herbalists and hearthside healers. The simple practice of offering rest and comfort, a cup of tea and a listening ear is what I call folk counseling. It is the oldest and most basic form of helping someone when they are down, confused, distressed and overwhelmed. No heroic rituals or complex medicinal formulas are needed.

Principles of Folk Counseling

At the core, folk counseling is a way of helping people to heal based on a few principles. Folk counseling is…

Based primarily on nourishment.

At the core of the practice of folk counseling is the idea that we don‚Äôt need to be healed, or need repeated cleanses or elimination of ‚Äúbad‚ÄĚ parts of ourselves. Instead, folk counseling is about nourishing a person so that they can live life optimally. Traditional psychotherapeutic tools emphasize exploring and analyzing past trauma as a way of releasing old wounds and healing. Many folk traditions emphasize the importance of nourishing diet, herbs and spiritual techniques for moving through periods of distress.

Honors neurodiversity.

There is a wide variety of human experience and many different ways of processing life. In most traditional healing modalities, a person is seen as being born with an underlying temperament, or constitution. Some run hot, some cold. Some have a more heightened nervous system, others appear more slow and calm. These are differences to be celebrated and not pathologized. Folk counselors celebrate this diversity, just as they celebrate the diversity of plants and tress growing outside their home.

Honors traditional ways of helping people in distress.

In this era of ‚Äúevidence based medicine‚ÄĚ, there is a strong emphasis placed on offering assistance that has been tested by randomized control studies (RCTs). This has led us to primarily honor medications and specific therapies (CBT) as the main acceptable approaches to ‚Äútreating‚ÄĚ people in distress. But this ignores a wide variety of traditional and indigenous ‚Äúfolk‚ÄĚ healing traditions. Folk counseling allies itself with the widely divergent and unique ways of helping people integrate and heal from emotional distress.

Non-hierarchal.

Healing is based on creating an alliance where the counselor is not the expert and both people are working together towards integration and healing. Though a counselor may have gained quite a bit of knowledge from studies, the individual seeking assistance is the only one who is truly an expert of their life and current distress.

A nature based practice.

Traditionally, healing often comes from the simple weeds and herbs from the land nearby, from walking in the forests and meadows, from listening to the stories of the plants and the trees. From the Japanese tradition of ‚Äúforest bathing‚ÄĚ to the Amazonian tradition of apprenticing with local plants, the importance of nature in the healing process is a common time honored and cross cultural tradition.
Based in social justice.

tea2When talking about ‚Äúfolk‚ÄĚ, we mean the simple everyday people who live in this world. Many of them have been oppressed by outside forces that have harmed their way of life. Throughout the world, indigenous populations have been persecuted by governments and corporations who have stolen their land, used it to extract resources or forced people into servant and slave labor.Folk counseling is based on an underlying principle of resistance to these forces. Much of the distress and illness found today is due to the unrelenting pressures of capitalism and modernity. Part of the work of folk counseling is addressing the ecological, social and economic injustices that happen on a global as well as individual level.

Based in love. Yes, at the core, folk counseling is based on the principle of love. That means that when we are listening to someone who is in pain, we are listening with our full hearts, showing unconditional positive regard towards the people we work with. That does not mean that a folk counselor doesn’t have boundaries, or may choose not to work with certain people, but it means that the core energy in the process is one of offering heartfelt support and compassion.

Conclusion:

As we move deeper into the 21st century, we are experiencing ever greater levels of emotional distress. Mental health issues have exploded and increasingly we are medicating ourselves to manage this distress. The process of ever-increasing population, overcrowding, competition for remaining resources and unstable agriculture and water systems, have led to an epidemic of mental illness. More than ever we need to look to our ancestors and to indigenous cultures to see how to regain balance, how to find healing. Folk counseling is a way of returning to the simple and time-honored traditions of healing that have served us for thousands of years.

jonJon Keyes, LPC, is a therapist and herbalist who lives in Portland. Jon is deeply interested in exploring holistic and traditional ways of integrating and healing from emotional distress. He can be found at www.hearthsidehealing.com

More by Jon Keyes on Beyond Meds here

Healing is relationship, healing is radical community building

communityPlants both as food¬†and medicine continue to be an important part of my healing process. I like what Wendell Berry says about herbalism because it’s very much in keeping with the “everything matters” meme I often mention. Everything matters because everything is in relationship with everything else in our environments and our lives. Systems of healing that include herbalism understand this fact. Indigenous and shamanistic cultures understand this fact. We need to return to our roots while embracing and safely utilizing all we’ve learned while we forgot about them too.

Herbalism is based on relationship ~ relationship between plant and human, plant and planet, human and planet. Using herbs in the healing process means taking part in an ecological cycle. This offers us the opportunity consciously to be present in the living, vital world of which we are part; to invite wholeness and our world into our lives through awareness of the remedies being used. The herbs can link us into the broader context of planetary wholeness, so that whilst they are doing their physiological/medical job, we can do ours and build an awareness of the links of mutual relationships. ~ Wendell Berry

For now our society remains seriously disconnected. Trauma is a symptom of disconnection. ¬†Psychiatry too often ignores trauma because, it, too, is disconnected. We don’t know how to take care of one another and therefore we don’t know how to take care of ourselves. We get this from our parents and we pass it on to our children if we don’t become conscious. Healing requires learning how to do these things as a species not just as individuals. In the end healing is radical community building. I touch on that idea at the end of this post.

More posts that speak to this relational understanding:

Posts on herbalism:

Herbal medicine, Extreme States and Transformation

Editor’s note: if you are withdrawing from psychiatric drugs there are times when in some cases hypersensitivities may prevent you from tolerating most herbs. Please proceed with caution.

By Jon Keyes

mossy treesRecently a woman emailed me to interview me about my thoughts about working with herbs to help people who have been treated poorly in the mental health system or who have been experiencing psychosis. ¬†The term ‚Äúsurvivor‚ÄĚ is one that is sometimes used by people who have experienced trauma and ongoing emotional and physical suffering from hospitalization and psychiatric drugs. ¬†There is increasing discussion about how extreme states such as hearing voices, having odd perceptions and unusual thought patterns is extremely common and we jump far too quickly towards pathologizing these experiences.

Recently, the New York Times published a piece about a sea change that is going on in terms of perceiving psychosis, extreme states and ‚Äúschizophrenia‚ÄĚ. ¬† From the¬†article

TWO months ago, the British Psychological Society released a remarkable document entitled¬†‚ÄúUnderstanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia.‚Ä̬†Its authors say that hearing voices and feeling paranoid are common experiences, and are often a reaction to trauma, abuse or deprivation: ‚ÄúCalling them symptoms of mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia is only one way of thinking about them, with advantages and disadvantages.‚ÄĚ

The report says that there is no strict dividing line between psychosis and normal experience: ‚ÄúSome people find it useful to think of themselves as having an illness. Others prefer to think of their problems as, for example, an aspect of their personality which sometimes gets them into trouble but which they would not want to be without.‚ÄĚ

The report adds that antipsychotic medications are sometimes helpful, but that ‚Äúthere is no evidence that it corrects an underlying biological abnormality.‚ÄĚ It then warns about the risk of taking these drugs for years.‚ÄĚ

The idea that extreme states are something that requires medical intervention is a relatively new one.  Generally indigenous and folk cultures throughout the world have employed a wide variety of interventions that include spiritual, shamanic, herbal and dietary techniques for working with people in crisis and spiritual emergence.  Within that context, I explored some of the ways that the practice of herbalism intersects with helping people in extreme states.

Q: ¬†Feelings of dissociation or disconnection in people going through extreme states, or particularly people who have been on psychiatric drugs, can potentially make it difficult to feel an emotional or spiritual connection with a medicinal herb ‚Äď therefore hindering the healing process.¬† Do you have any strategies or examples of ways to help encourage this connection?

Yes-  so one of the key things to think about with herbs/plants is that they are not just something to ingest- as in a tea, tincture or capsule-  but they have the potential to reach all of our senses in a variety of ways.  For those in extreme states or for people who have been on psychiatric drugs and are deeply sensitive to whatever they ingest, I really emphasize the importance of working with the other senses (outside of taste/ingestion).  That means that healing can happen via smell, sight, touch and hearing.

Smell is one of the most powerful ways to elicit an emotional response and many traditional cultures work with smudging and its associated odor for grounding, purifying and creating a sacred space for ritual and healing.  The scent of white sage, cedar, tobacco and copal are all ways that indigenous cultures have helped people to heal and can be remarkably effective for helping create a tranquil space for people who are highly sensitive.

Other ways of accessing the sense of smell is via aromatherapy.  This can be as simple as walking outside in a garden filled with daphne, rosemary, jasmine, roses and lilacs, or taking these fragrant flowers into the house as pot pourri.  Diffusers and the use of essential oils are also a way of helping bring calm and relaxation.  Rose, ylang ylang, lavender and neroli come to mind.

In terms of sight, I have worked in a number of contexts with people in extreme states and the change that happens when someone in psychosis experiences a beautiful garden is amazing.  The connection to the colors, the play of light and shade, the energetics of the different plants elicit a sense of play, as if the person who may feel fearful and shut down comes to life.  The eyes start to sparkle, start to come awake.

Touch can also be key- not just touching plants but also working with infused herb oils for self massage or massage from a close loved one.  Rosemary, Saint John’s Wort and lavender oil can all be deeply helpful for grounding and centering someone who is experiencing an extreme state.  Often in an extreme state, it is hard to connect to the body, hard to stay present.  These are ways to honor a path back to the body via plants and nature.

Q: ¬†One of the most prevalent forms of trauma amongst psychiatric users and survivors seems to be the ‚Äúloss of self‚ÄĚ from involvement in the psychiatric system.¬† Do you have any experiences with herbs which may help a person to release this type of trauma?

The experience of hospitalization, polypharmacy, the prescription of high doses of neuroleptics that can be heavily sedating with multifold adverse side effects, as well as a system that seems to disregard personal narrative in exchange for a one-size-fits-all pharmaceutical approach to emotional distress can be ¬†traumatizing for many people. ¬† In many ways you are right that some can feel a ‚Äúloss of self‚ÄĚ and a sense of violation with a lack of understanding of how to find true healing.

This is compounded by many factors.¬† Socio-economically, many of those who experience severe emotional distress are in poverty and with poor insurance with high deductibles and co-pays that essentially makes it impossible to access forms of care outside psychiatric based therapy.¬† In terms of culture and heritage, we also neglect the wide diversity of healing tools and modalities found through the world such as diet, herbs, ritual, prayer, shamanic techniques and sacred movement or perceive them to be ‚Äúun-scientific‚ÄĚ, not ‚Äúevidence based practice‚ÄĚ and then repeat the age old trauma of colonizing peoples who have lost access to their cultural heritage.¬† Native Americans, hispanics and african american cultures are often forced into a system of care that may not be culturally relevant.

Herbal medicine can be seen as part of a much wider story of multicultural connection to the natural world and plants as the prime source of healing.  They have been used in ritual context, as entheogens, in teas, soup and diet as a way of accessing not just medicinal chemical constituents but the spiritual matrix that underlies their cosmology.

We live in a world that is disconnected from this way of looking at plants/herbs and see them as either fairly useless or often as a capsule to ingest to gain a desired effect.  When I work with people who are recovering from trauma, I often do the simplest thing possible, I have a cup of tea with them.  Just the act of siting down and sipping a gentle tea brings connection, warmth, a movement towards increased stillness and trust and away from the noise and the overstimulation of the modern world.  I may  also go for walks with them.  I connect to their experience of the environment.  I may point them to the beauty or fragrance of a particular plant.  Later I may introduce them to one or two plants, say linden, holy basil, lavender or oatstraw,  as a way of creating a direct relationship with single plants.Getting to know specific herbs as friends becomes a way of recreating trust, opening the door slightly to making a larger connection.  Releasing trauma often involves embracing a new vision, a new way of life, creating beauty out of the ashes.  Sometimes gardening can help create this new vision- simply digging hands in the earth, creating connection, reaching out to something whole, alive, real, instead of the shut doors, synthetics and florescent lights  they have received.  The advantage to these ways of healing is that they are simple, cheap and accessible to many.

Q: Herbs for various forms of ‚Äúdepression‚ÄĚ (or sadness, melancholy, unhappiness, grief, stagnation, depletion) (I am thinking of borage, betony, or ashwagandha, but whichever you have used in your own practice) obviously play a very different role than pharmaceutical ‚Äúantidepressants‚ÄĚ, nor are they the ‚Äúinstant happiness‚ÄĚ that pharmaceuticals want to be.¬† Could you describe, or give an example of, the healing process with these herbs?

In my practice when I am working with plants for healing, I do indeed think of them in very different ways from antidepressants and psychiatric drugs in general.  An antidepressant contains one chemical constituent that exerts a remarkable effect on the nervous system, globally changing neurochemcial pathways and leads to marked changes in the functioning of the nervous system where it become dependent on chemical intervention to produce mood augmentation.

In my practice I emphasize the role of nourishment with food and herbs in a way that strengthens the body’s own healing process.  In this way I emphasize a nourishment model of healing from all states of emotional distress.  Like plants, if people are given enough time, light, love, care and nourishment, they will begin to thrive and grow.

So when I work with herbs I like to offer gentle and nutritive herbs, often in a way that is most nourishing.¬† That tends to mean encouraging herbs in the form of teas, syrups made with honey, elixirs that involve both water and alcohol based extracts, etc.¬† I¬†like to work with ¬†tonics such as the asian herbs reishi, ashwaghanda, astragalus, rhodiola, ginseng, american ginseng, mushrooms such as shitaki and chaga, western nutritive herbs such as nettles, raspberry and oat straw in a variety of forms.¬† In general I offer these herbs depending on the ‚Äúenergetics of the person‚ÄĚ. ¬†¬†I may offer ‚Äúblood nourishing tonics‚ÄĚ to people who appear pale, deficient and worn out.¬† I may offer soothing and cooling alterative and¬†nervine¬†teas such as lemon balm, skullcap and catnip to people who appear stressed out, hot and overexcited.¬† I may offer a massage oil infused with an aromatic plant and recommend self massage as a way of reconnecting in a healthy way to the body.¬† How I mix and match depends on the person‚Äôs appearance and the distress process.

Q: ¬†I really liked your article on ‚Äúholistic approaches to psychosis‚ÄĚ ‚Äď a topic which herbalists all too often seem to avoid.¬† Do you have a favorite herb to recommend in this context, or one that particularly comes to mind?

Psychosis can be really challenging to mediate and means a whole lot of different things so in some ways its a fairly poor shorthand for someone’s personal and very distinct narrative of an extreme state.  I have worked with people who are operating on a very unusual level with deep and heightened perceptions of reality that can be piercing and powerful.  I have worked with people who are so disorganized in their thinking patterns that they cannot communicate or express their thoughts coherently.  Some people become agitated and violent.  Most are trying to integrate complex thought patterns and somatic experiences into a language that expresses their process.  Herbs are best suited to the individual, their particular temperament and their interest.

I would also take into account the personal experience of those going though ‚Äúpsychosis.‚Ä̬† If they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and homelessness, taking a regular course of herbs is not the best answer.¬† Leading them to a place where they can receive shelter and wholesome food is the best.¬† Most are looking for a direct connection, a relationship of some sort that is non-judgmental and authentic, a genuine expression of care and willingness to try and help.

We in the West work with psychosis in really poor ways.  We either try to hospitalize or medicate the person which almost always means offering strong neuroleptics.  We rarely take the time to listen to the process of psychosis, which is often rooted in trauma, broken connections at some point, abuse, neglect, a deep division where the intact filtered ego cannot hold and the flood gates of a wider unfiltered reality comes rushing in.   Instead of processing this suffering, we try to close up the doors as quickly as possible, create a synthetic filter and sedate a person so heavily that they are no longer hearing the voices, or imagining bizarre realities.  But the sedation comes at a price, physically and spiritually.  The person is not allowed to naturally go through the process and then find a way home.  The journey is stopped cold.  In many indigenous traditions, psychosis is shorthand for a spiritual experience in which a trusted spiritual advisor or shaman acts as a midwife in helping the person transform and release deep suffering and come through as a wise man or woman, a healer.

So you ask which plant I would use.  I start with the connection.   Building rapport.  Trust.  A cup of tea-  perhaps linden, mint, oat straw, rose, chrysanthemum…something gentle and calming.    Then I try to listen and connect to hearing the person’s experience without judgment or agenda.  I try to listen to the person’s song and rhythm.  Are they hurting, confused, empty, wounded, hot and inflamed, angry, disconnected, confused?  The person’s story and words are part of a larger narrative that is written in the person’s face, their eyes, their posture and their breath.  But is what is most important is to truly listen and to try and understand the whole picture of what is happening.  The plant can act as a bridge, via tea, through- scent, aroma and taste- a doorway to connecting more simply and directly with a person.  The plant also becomes an extension of offering, a gift to reconnect the person to place, to ground and root the person in the here and now.

Q:  Much of my research has dealt with herbs to heal the neurological or endocrine effects of psychiatric medication use (dementia, diabetes, etc.), but there is a very limited amount of information on this topic either in herbal or medical literature.  Do you have any specific experiences with herbs for this purpose?

I’m not sure if I understand the question correctly but if you are talking about the positive or negative effects of herbs on endocrine or neurological systems, there are a number of avenues to explore.  There are plenty of herbs that have nootropic effects such as bacopa, gingko and rosemary.   They actually stimulate neurological functioning for greater alertness, memory and cognitive enhancement.  In terms of endocrine systems, the adaptogens are best suited for strengthening the endocrine/immunological/nervous system over time.  Herbs like eleuthero, schizandra, chaga, reishi, ashwaghanda and devil’s club all have marked effects on nourishing these systems and modulating them in a way that is salutary and strengthening.

In terms of specific experiences, I see people get better when they take tonics.  Their mood improves. The light in their eyes improves.  Things become less hard, less burdensome, less challenging.  This doesn’t happen without modulating the diet as well and we haven’t talked too much about that but it is essential that ingesting healing herbs is paired with a diet that is based in whole foods.  I am not too particular about what kind of whole foods diet someone chooses to take on (vegan, vegetarian, paleo, omnivore, etc) as long as it is based in avoiding processed foods and is high in plants.  Because plants, at core, are what we are talking about.  Essentially when we connect to plants in a respectful manner- allying with them, growing, gathering and consuming them mindfully, we create a way for our entire culture to repair the deepest trauma that exists, our disconnection from the Earth itself.  Repairing that underlying fragmentation is ultimately the deep work that is going on here and the excessive intervention of psychiatry is really just a symptom of that underlying malady.

Editors note: Please do not attempt to discontinue psych drugs without first very carefully educating yourself on the risks involved so that you might minimize the chances of developing grave iatrogenic illness if you decide to withdraw. Doctors are not always trained to recognize such issues. Sometimes they do not realize their own ignorance. If you know what to look for you can help both yourself and your doctor learn the new terrain: Psychiatric drug withdrawal and protracted withdrawal syndrome round-up

jonJon Keyes is a licensed professional counselor working in private practice at Hearthside Healing in Portland Oregon. Jon also has worked part-time in an inpatient psychiatric setting.  Jon is interested in exploring alternative and holistic ways of helping people in emotional distress and crisis.

More by Jon Keyes on Beyond Meds here

 

Restoring Balance with the Plant World

By Jon Keyes

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As an herbalist, I think of how humans interact and relate to plants everyday.  Mainly we interact with plants through our diet.  Our morning cereal, a sandwich, tea, beans, rice and salad all come from plants.  Even meat comes from animals that ate plants.  In essence, our very survival comes from plant life.  Though plants represent the source of our sustenance, we have become deeply out of balance in our relationship with them.  We have shifted from a diverse and varied plant diet to one that includes just a few highly processed plants.  This is leading not only to a  breakdown in our physical and mental health, it is leading us to ecological catastrophe as well.

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In the U.S., 25 billion dollars a year is spent to subsidize the production of just a few commodity crops with an overwhelming emphasis on wheat, corn and soy.  Essentially farmers are paid to produce an enormous amount of just a few crops.  These crops are then processed and turned into dense high calorie foods that are the staple of most modern diets throughout the world.  Look through most grocery shelves and you will find food containing these main three crops.  Chips, crackers, sodas, candy, salad dressing, snack bars, energy drinks are all mainly derivatives of these three crops.  Industrial meat is also primarily being produced by feeding animals enormous amounts of these three crops; so when we are eating meat we are essentially again eating these three foods.

5439518073_f679a9acff_oWheat, corn and soy are often processed in a way that they are calorie filled and energy dense.  A soda with corn syrup along with a wheat and soy filled Big Mac contains over a thousand calories.  Eating a diet saturated with these foods has led to an epidemic of obesity and has helped to increase physical and mental health maladies.  Because these crops are subsidized, we have made them cheap to consume and so the poorest amongst us are pushed towards eating the least nutritious and most unhealthy foods.   We have essentially engineered a society built on eating the processed form of just a few plants; and we are making ourselves fatter, sicker and more emotionally unhappy.

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As an herbalist, I sometimes see this from a different perspective.  Modernity in many ways is a tale of a shifting relationship between humans and the plant kingdom.  Prior to the 19th century, most people ate the plants that were harvested locally.  Often there was a rich diversity of local crops and wild harvested foods.  People ate a diverse array of roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits and meat.  Wild animals and fish ate food from the streams, meadows and forest and offered a complex array of nutrients to help us thrive.   People from earlier times faced periodic depravation through poor weather and flooding, and this insured that population didn’t increase excessively and place too heavy of a burden on the environment.

In the 20th century, we superseded this ancient method of eating primarily local food and shifted to a global system that embraced the production of immense monocrops to feed increasing numbers.¬† Population levels exploded, dependent on just a few species of plants- wheat (Triticum aestivum), soy (Glycine max) and corn (Zea mays).¬† Through our intense dependency on these few species, we have not only made ourselves sicker, and ‚Äúmadder‚ÄĚ,¬† we have exponentially grown in numbers to create an immense burden on the natural 1473026601_36c5e40166_bresources of the planet.¬† We require increasing amounts of land, timber, soil, fresh water, coal, oil and gas to survive.¬† Our utter dependence on these few plants have created an immense imbalance that is showing up not only as obesity, inflammatory diseases, depression and anxiety but also is showing up as clear cuts, mountain top removal, extinctions, polluted oceans, air, streams and climate change.¬† A simple shift to embracing just a few plant species has engendered a radical change in our planet- one that is literally leading towards apocalyptic possibilities.

On a psychological level, this intense overreliance on three plants have made many of us feel increasingly depressed and anxious.  Our use of the processed form of these plants for the bulk of our calories- in the form of cold cereal, donuts, candy bars, soft drinks, biscuits, chips, sauces and industrial meat has led to physiological changes that stimulate mental health problems.  Food sweetened with corn syrup spikes our6375782633_22f856528f_bblood sugar levels.  Spikes in blood sugar levels stimulates a response from our hypothalmus, pituitary and adrenal glands to secret more stress hormones and adrenaline that make us feel wired and anxious.  If there is a susceptibility to extreme states, it is more likely that these foods will increase our anxiety and lead to a greater possibility for complex nervous system disorganization in the form of hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.

We have increasingly taken to ‚Äúmedicating‚ÄĚ processed food disorders¬† with the concentrated form of other plants.¬† We use tobacco (Nicotiana), coffee (Coffea), cocaine (Erythroxylum coca), cane sugar (Saccharum) and heroin and other opioids (Papaver somniferum) to help stimulate and calm our body due in part to suffering from the effects of the processed form of wheat, corn and soy.¬† So we use one set of plants to manage the symptoms of overuse of another set of plants.

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We also increasingly turn to completely synthetic ways to manage our emotional states that are in part engendered by this lopsided diet.  Methampehtamine and MDMA are industrially created street drugs but we also increasingly turn to psychiatric drugs such as xanax, prozac, effexor, ritalin, adderall, zyprexa and seroquel to stimulate and sedate ourselves.  20 percent of Americans now are prescribed a psychiatric drug to manage mental health issues.

I want to stress that mental health issues such as severe anxiety, depression and extreme states are not solely caused by a poor diet.  But I do want to honor that this modern diet, coupled with balancing these moods with concentrated addictive plants and synthetics go a long way towards destabilizing and damaging good mental health.    The massive population boom caused in part by the Green Revolution and global monocrops of wheat, corn and soy, has led to a more competitive, frantic and traumatic world that helps create tremendous stress and exacerbates emotional distress.  Because the poor have few choices, they face the brunt of this blow, forced to purchase low priced and low quality food that increases misery and suffering.

There are few easy answers to these problems.  At a core level, I see many of the problems of modernity as based on how we relate to the plant kingdom.  We have chosen to damage the soil and repeatedly plant monocrops of a few plants throughout the world.  Because the soil is so depleted, we add enormous amounts of fertilizer and pesticides to prop up these crops.  We are in a precarious state with our relationship with the Earth and the plant world, and a lot of that imbalance is showing up in our declining mental health.

Trying to find ways through this deep imbalance is extremely challenging.¬† But one of the ways is to try and 2890854806_8028c69747_oreturn to eating a more varied, more local and more wild diet, filled with nutrient dense food with a wide variety of plant life.¬† By shifting towards a diversified plant based diet, and away from one dependent on the concentrated industrialized form of ‚ÄúThe Big Three‚ÄĚ, our mental health will improve and our load on the planet will decrease. ¬† Moving towards eating less¬†industrialized and more organic food, where crops are grown in smaller more diversified lots with greater attention and care will also help shift the equation.¬† Growing food in our backyards and working with local farmers is part of this revolution.

On a deeper level, taking time to acknowledge our relationship to the plant world by slowing down and connecting to the plants is a key part of the healing process as well.  Connecting to the plant world in gardens, forests and meadows can also be part of the  work.  As an herbalist, I recommend taking herbs in tea form to really get to know the look, scent and taste of an herb.   Essentially, it is key to remember that our relationship with plants is a spiritual one.   They are our sustenance, our healers and our homes.   We can repair our relationship by showing greater care, attention and love when we connect to plants.  Making prayers or just giving thanks before a meal can help us remember our relationship and all that plants offer us.

Seeing our mental health as part of a more global ecological picture where how we eat and the food we grow and buy has a direct effect not only on our mental health, but on how we can heal some of the wounds we have inflicted on our relationship with the planet.  The global ecological and environmental trauma that is occurring is mirrored in the trauma that we experience in our own lives- the disconnection, the isolation, the lack of the sacred.  We can help to heal ourselves in part by re-envisioning how we work with the plant kingdom, feed ourselves and live with the land.

 

jonJon Keyes is a licensed professional counselor working in private practice at Hearthside Healing in Portland Oregon. Jon also has worked part-time in an inpatient psychiatric setting.  Jon is interested in exploring alternative and holistic ways of helping people in emotional distress and crisis.

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Folk Healing, Industrial Agriculture and the Rise of Psychiatry

Selection of wild herbs in small basket.By Jon Keyes

Throughout the world you will find people walking out their back door and picking weeds and plants that grow nearby. They will throw them into cook pots, make tea from them, turn them into healing medicines for their friends and family. This is the herbalism that is practiced everyday by billions of people, mostly poor and mostly from developing countries. A new mother drinks a nourishing broth filled with garden herbs. A grandmother throws sprigs of basil into the family’s chicken soup. A father helps his young son with a bad cough to breathe in steam of cedar leaves.

This is folk healing. It is simple, inexpensive, and mainly reliant on using weeds and cultivated plants to make tea and to add to the diet. If you have ever sat down to a bowl of Vietnamese pho, brimming with onions, anise, cloves, scallions, cilantro, chilies and basil, you will know the power of folk healing first hand. The chicken broth will nourish you. The herbs will make you heat up and sweat and you will feel strengthened and cleaned out at the end of your meal. In India, if you sit down to eat chicken curry, you will likely be taking in garlic, ginger, bay leaf, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and cloves. Again, the simple process of eating a meal also becomes medicinal: strengthening, warming and clearing.

Folk healing is based in kitchen and backyard herbalism; the idea that most of our healing comes through what we eat locally, and a few herbs that grow nearby in the gardens and in nature. Picking huckleberries and blueberries in the summer time. Collecting roots from the forest. Harvesting mushrooms for soup in the Fall. There is no complex cosmology around this. It is based on common sense and time-honored traditions. Go back just a hundred years in America and most of the grandmothers knew what herbs were helpful for this or that condition, what type of food can help heal you and strengthen you. Meals were full of whole and unprocessed foods with nutrient rich vegetables organically grown and usually coming from the neighbor’s farm.

The Rise of Psychiatry

The idea of food and local herbs as medicine mostly dried up after world war II. Processed foods, microwave dinners, industrialized agriculture and shopping markets filled with food from far away started to dominate the Western landscape. Food became veryimages bland and tasteless. The notion that food was the essential medicine was overwhelmed by the idea that medicine was found in a drug.

The psychiatric revolution really began in earnest in the 50’s at the same time that industrial farming took off. The first antipsychotic known as thorazine was synthesized in 1950 and was given to people who were deemed psychotic or labeled with schizophrenia. Interestingly, this first widely prescribed psychiatric drug was first developed as a pesticide to kill parasites in pigs.

Thorazine was followed by other major tranquilzers such as melaril, stellazine and haldol; drugs known for overwhelmingly tranquilizing people and leading to neurological degradation and conditions such as tardive dyskinesia (irreversible psychomotor tics). In the 60‚Äės and 70‚Äės tricyclic antidepressants and benzodiazapenes such as valium were marketed and often targeted at anxious housewives. In 1987 prozac made banner headlines as part of a a new class of serotonergic antidepressants. It was explosively popular and was soon followed by other antidepressants such as paxil, celexa, wellbutrin, effexor and zoloft. Today one out of ten people take an antidepressant.

I don’t think that its coincidental that the rise of psychiatric medicine coincided with the rise of industrial mass monocrop agriculture. By the 50’s we started to rely on processed forms of just a few crops (wheat, soy, rice and corn) that lacked nutritional value due to being heavily refined into packaged foods. These new processed foods also lacked nutrients because the soil these crops were growing in had been quickly used up only to be replaced by chemical fertilizers. We mostly stopped eating wild game, local farm grown food and herbs from our backyard and the forests. We relied on prepackaged meals and then drank, smoke and downed pots of coffee toimages-1make us feel better since the industrial food wasn’t doing the job. We got sicker, crazier, more depressed and anxious.

Psychiatry has risen in large part as a response to industrial agriculture and the end of folk and kitchen based healing. It offers drugs that are strong, overwhelming, and often effective, at least in the short-term. 1 out of 5 Americans now takes a psychiatric drug for some form of emotional distress. On many levels, using psychiatric drugs for mental health mirrors the use of industrial agriculture for our food. Both involve the idea of blanketing an entire ecosystem (the land or the body’s complex terrain) with a single item as a way of providing sustenance or healing.

The refined form of corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup is similar to a psychiatric drug in that both are stripped down chemical compounds, devoid of nutritional value, providing an initial improvement in mood, but then leading to numerous side effects and complex health problems if consumed over a period of time. Just as industrial monocropping has led to a degradation of the land, long term use of psychiatric drugs lead to a degradation of human health. Though motor tics and tardive dyskinesia has long been associated with antipsychotics, the newer antipsychotics such as zyprexa and risperdal also lead to complex metabolic disorders, loss of libido, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Even the modern antidepressants, thought of as more benign, are leading to challenging health problems. The newer antidepressants are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Serotonin is an ancient chemical found through the plant, fungal and animal world. In the human body it is primarily found in the gut (95 % of serotonin is found there.) SSRIs work by inhibiting the reabsorption of serotonin in the synaptic cleft in neurotransmission. This has shown to lead to an elevated mood but also to a number of side effects. In essence these SSRIs in a similar way to an agricultural monocrop, blanketing complex terrains with a single chemical that can cause a host of unwanted problems.  In humans these problems are often experienced as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, libido loss, mania, confusion and insomnia. In many ways SSRIs act in similar ways to individual moncrops, damaging the internal and intestinal ecosystem through a one size fits all approach to health.

Returning to Roots

That is a far cry from folk healing and diet, which involves the idea that healing often involves ingesting plants with many different complex constituents acting in concert, as well as a varied and diverse diet with multiple types of vegetables, fruits, grains and meat. Healing takes place because the body is well nourished and strengthened by the food and herbs from the nearby environment. Humans have lived in symbiotic relationship to these varied plants and animals for tens of thousands of years and we have suddenly changed to seeing ‚Äúmedicine‚ÄĚ as a chemical and food as a the refined product of one or two plants. That narrow and reductionist way of approaching health and wellbeing has led to an epidemic of depression, anxiety and madness.

As I look at the twin interlinked crises of worsening mental health and the degradation of the land from industrial farming, I am reminded of how my ancestors lived, ate and took their medicine. They ate simple whole foods grown nearby. They hunted wild game and incorporated herbs from their gardens and from the forests and the fields. Medicine came in the form of a healing bowl of soup filled with fresh herbs. Healing happened in the kitchen, in the nearby fields and forest, in the love a grandmother shared through a warm meal. The process of healing our collective depression and anxiety involves rewilding, reclaiming our roots, our ancestral ties to the land and to the food and herbs we collect from the Earth. The process of healing from our collective emotional distress means reweaving these strands of our past that have been cast off as unscientific, primitive and backwards and returning to the roots of healing that are as old as time.

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jonJon Keyes is a licensed professional counselor working in private practice at Hearthside Healing in Portland Oregon. Jon also has worked part-time in an inpatient psychiatric setting.  Jon is interested in exploring alternative and holistic ways of helping people in emotional distress and crisis.

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What is Mental Health Herbalism?

teaBy Jon Keyes

Mental health herbalism is the practice of working with herbs and other plants to improve well being, develop keener insight into patterns of imbalance and to reduce emotional distress.  As a licensed professional counselor and herbalist, I often incorporate the use of herbs for helping people to get stronger and feel better.  I have seen herbs improve mental health and I have also seen herbs bring profound insights that help a person work through emotional knots.  Plants not only work on a physical level, they are able to transform people emotionally and spiritually as well.

Many of us are aware that certain herbs can help with certain mental health symptoms.  People talk about St. John’s Wort for depression or valerian for insomnia.  In my approach to mental health, I think about working with herbs a little differently.   Instead of just taking an herb or a formula for a condition, my hope is to encourage a shift in how we think about herbs in general.  When I think of herbs, I am not thinking strictly of the herbs you would find in a health food store, but all plants in general.

The food we eat everyday is generally made up of plants, or come from animals that eat plants.  The framing of our houses are made of wood from trees.  We care for plants in our home and in our gardens.  We walk in parks and forests and encounter plants everywhere we go- even if we just see weeds coming up through the sidewalk.  Plants not only offer medicine; they offer the oxygen we need to breathe, the homes we live in and the food we eat everyday.  On a deep level, the plant kingdom provides the basis for our survival and for our growth and wellbeing.

When working with herbs for mental health, it is important to keep that in mind and see all plants as potentially healing.  We tend to think of herbalism as the process of ingesting an herb to receive healing.  In essence we often think of herbs much like we think of drugs- as a medicine to take to get a result.  We often take herbs with little thought for what they look, smell and feel like.

Instead, my hope is to help people to shift their conception of what it means to ‚Äútake herbs‚ÄĚ. ¬†Instead of simply seeing them as another substance to take to feel better, I like to think of herbs as potential healing allies.¬† That means the process of getting to know an herb takes on a much deeper level of importance.¬† Growing herbs that you take, gathering them in the wild, sifting your hands through dried herbs, smelling their aroma in a garden or in a tea, seeing the beauty of plants and trees in nature, honoring what they have to give by giving thanks are all ways of developing a friendship with a plant. ¬†Through that process of developing a ‚Äúfriendship‚ÄĚ, there is a greater potential for transformation and loosening the blockages that contribute to dis-ease.

Whether you are experiencing depression, insomnia, anxiety, confusion or extreme mental states, that alliance with specific plants becomes the foundation for the healing journey.  Those friendships will help bring you home.  In essence, the process of   connecting with herbs and incorporating them in your daily life becomes more important than the specific result an herb will produce chemically in the body.  The process is more important than the result.

In modern society, we are very results oriented.  We want pain to go away.  We want fatigue to disappear.   We want illness and suffering to be alleviated.  Now.  We are willing to take enormous amounts of analgesic, stimulant and allopathic drugs to stop symptoms and get a result- today.  And though drugs are often very powerful and deliver almost instant results, we are left with increasing repercussions of walking that path.  All drugs inevitably have side effects.  That is especially the case with psychiatric drugs.

A tranquilizing benzodiazapene such as ativan or xanax will do a hell of a job in immediately calming a person.  Man, pop one of those and it feels like you just drank a few beers.  All the panic and anxiety melt away.  But the drug wears off and soon all those edgy uncomfortable feelings come back.  Well, just take another one.  Soon the body becomes habituated to the drug.  Worse-needs it.  And after a while if you don’t take it your body rebels, starts to feel extremely uncomfortable and then nightmarishly distressed.

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The drug has rearranged the body’s neurochemistry to depend on a drug to target GABA receptors and induce a calmative effect.  Without the drug, the nervous system goes into shock.  It can no longer naturally produce the calmative agents that will help relax the body naturally.  In essence, the body is stuck dependent on those drugs for coping, and without them, life becomes truly unbearable.

Our desire for results, now please, has led to a society dependent on pills for managing emotional distress.  Right now, 20 percent of Americans take psychiatric drugs for their mental health.  Prior to the 60’s the idea of taking a daily drug for mental health was almost unheard of.  But we have become a culture obsessed with speed, efficiency and results.  Psychiatric drugs fit well into a culture that doesn’t have time to slow down and see what’s wrong, to take the time to make changes, to dig in deep and listen to our troubled hearts.

Herbs offer a very different way of approaching distress.  They are made of numerous constituents that have a much more complex effect on the body.  Except for a few specific cases, they tend to act much more gently than drugs and don’t often produce strong overpowering effects. And again, except for a few herbs, they tend to have few side effects and can be easily stopped if they don’t feel good.  And at the core, they are generally nutritive.  They are filled with vitamins, minerals and specific constituents that strengthen and improve health and well being.  This is a very different approach from a drug based approach to mental health.  While psychiatric drugs tend to cause a quick shift in consciousness by altering neurological pathways, herbs tend to nourish the body to help it to naturally strengthen the body’s inherent ability to manage stress and trauma.

Deep nourishment with herbal therapy is a slow process.  When someone is feeling deeply depressed and anxious, there are usually a number of reasons.  We live in a world that is increasingly stressful.  That stress impacts our ability to cope and can lead to increased emotional distress.  Poor family and work relationships, unhealthy diet, poor sleep habits, overwork, poverty and poor living conditions all impact emotional health.  Underlying trauma from childhood or from abuse in one’s life can deeply impact a person’s ability to be happy and thrive.  Working through these issues and making lifestyle changes take time and conscious effort.  There is no shortcut to emotional wellbeing.

Herbs are a powerful adjunct to this path to greater wellness.  They not only nourish core strength, they also offer a way of looking at life that is deeper, slower and essentially more healthy.  Sit under the tall branches of a cedar.  Grow rosemary in a window sill planter.  Take in the scent and beauty of a lavender plant.  Sip a warm cup of linden tea.  Take a bath with drops of rose oil.  Light a small stick of sage.  These are all ways of remembering how to move more slowly, more beautifully, more in relationship and harmony.  By slowing down, we can also take time to reflect on where we may be out of balance, what may need to change.  We are no longer suppressing.  We are engaging, forging relationships with plants and with our own hearts.  Listening more closely.  Finding out what has gone wrong and how we can repair and walk a good road again.

jonJon Keyes is a licensed professional counselor working in private practice at Hearthside Healing in Portland Oregon. Jon also has worked part-time in an inpatient psychiatric setting.  Jon is interested in exploring alternative and holistic ways of helping people in emotional distress and crisis.

 

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