It’s Spring and the glorious plants and herbs that surround us are here to help in so many ways. Living Wisdom herbalist and Ayurvedic practitioner extraordinaire, Anne McIntyre, has recently returned from the annual NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association) conference in Rhode Island, USA. There she presented a talk on an increasingly important topic: the use of local herbs in the Ayurvedic practice.
Catching up on some highlights from Anne’s talk:
The practice of Ayurvedic medicine is well established now in the West. As more Ayurvedic practitioners are incorporating the use of herbal medicines into their work, we could question the wisdom and sustainability of using herbs grown out of sight thousands of miles away in India or Sri Lanka. There is a growing need to ensure that our plant medicines are of the best quality, free from pollution and contamination, that their identity is correct and we also need to give some thought to reducing their carbon footprint. Even though we are trained in the Eastern tradition, we can benefit from the healing qualities of the herbs around us in the West and use them to prepare medicines for ourselves and others. We are literally surrounded by amazing medicines….Rosemary, sage, lavender, marigolds, thyme, mint and roses perfume and adorn our gardens, while nettles, daisies, hawthorn, dandelions, meadowsweet, elderflowers, cleavers and burdock abound in fields and hedgerows; they are easily accessible, under the radar and free!!
As a Western herbalist as well as an Ayurvedic practitioner for the last 35 years, I have always grown my own herbs and harvested many from the hedgerows and countryside around me…which actually has been an absolute delight and one of the highlights of my work. I have prepared many medicines from these herbs, preferring to do that rather than rely on imported or ready-made products, whose origins and contents as well as quality it can be hard to ascertain.
When I first began studying Ayurveda in the early 1980s, I was not inclined to use herbs from India, committed as I was to using those I knew and loved. But over years of study and incorporating Ayurvedic wisdom into my practice, the exotic names and extraordinary benefits of herbs from the East began to entice me and one by one I started to try them out on myself and my patients…first Ashwagandha of course, then Shatavari and Gotu kola and then Guduchi, Bhringaraj and Manjishta…. This led me to search them out so that I could get to know them in their natural habitat; I was able to find many of them in the plantations of the tropical rain forests in the Western Ghats in Karnataka, as did my good friend Sebastian Pole whose excellent herb company Pukka Herbs has enabled me to have access to high quality Ayurvedic herbs since we both studied Ayurveda together. I also started to grow those I could in my garden in England. Slowly but surely my practice as well as my dispensary and my writing began to represent an equal blend of East and West. Now however, for a variety of different reasons, I would like to invite you to acquaint yourselves with the herbs growing locally around you….
Anne went into great detail about the reasons for embracing local herbs in the Ayurvedic practice most notably, sustainability; and discussed some of her favorite western herbs from the energetic framework of Ayurveda. These included favorites such as chamomile, rose, self heal, hawthorn and more!
At the risk of raising an eyebrow or two, I would like to propose that practitioners working in the West consider making use of the rich tradition of Western herbal medicine to provide them with effective and easily accessible plant medicines. I would also like to encourage the commercial organic cultivation of Western and Ayurvedic herbs in our localities where possible. Hopefully this presentation might stimulate some timely discussion of these possibilities amongst fellow practitioners.
Herbal medicine has always been the “medicine of the people”. Legislation or no legislation, dandelions and daisies, rosemary and lavender will always grow in lanes, meadows and back yards offering us their extraordinary gifts! So let’s grow herbs and forage! (Sustainably!)
Thank you, Anne, for this inspiring presentation. So many possibilities! Let’s keep the discussion going!