Sensory herbalism

What the f*ck is that? I hear you ask. it's a term my mentor Karen Lawton and Fiona Heckles coined when wanting to talk about how you can use your senses to discover plants. In fact, we could use our senses to discover foods as well. We have been taught, often from being babies, that our senses are not to be trusted. Recently I have witnessed a friend approach the question of how to wean her baby.

It's not easy, when to do it and what to do it with is under much debate. But it seems to me that the more structured plans on how to do it come from the basic belief that babies don't know what's best for them. Of course, as adults, what we want often isn't what's best for us. We have been manipulated by food companies to lust for their nutritionally deprived trans-fats and purified sugars. But we weren't always like that.

If you take the sugar and flavourings out of many of the highly processed foods we eat as adults you wouldn't have much left behind. Our instinctual lust for sweet things comes back to how our ancestors would have used this taste to assess if something was a good source of energy, and often, of carbohydrates. Natural sweet tastes were rare and hard to come by. They were the sort of thing that was stock piled and consumed in tiny quantities. But not anymore. It's easy now for our diets to be mostly these sweet sources of energy. The cost of this is an ever increasing obesity epidemic, heart problems and diabetes. 

But you can see, underneath this manipulation of our senses, lies a truth. We are highly intellectual sensory systems which can tell from the smell, look, taste and feel of something, what it contains and therefore what it does. When animals are sick they don't ring the vet. They go outside and self medicate with herbs. This has been seen in farm animals and dogs especially. 

Often I am asked how our ancestors figured out what herbs did at the very beginning of our existence. The common belief is that we ate them and if we did not die the next generation would use them too. But this seems like an awful system to me. When you ask some tribes people today how they know they will sometimes answer "the plants told us". How literal this is I'm not sure. Whether they hear voices or are trusting their senses is not clear. 

Back to babies for a bit. They actually come with an in-built sensory mechanism to protect them against poison. Most naturally poisonous plants have a bitter taste and babies have a highly attuned bitter sense. Quite a lot of things taste horrible to them because of it. But this changes with time. Maybe babies just aren't supposed to have broccoli for some sort of biological reason??

I teach my patients and students how to trust their senses again. With my patients, I do this by helping them explore their symptoms in depth and keep a record of how they respond to different stimuli. With students, I use a mindfulness exercise. It comes as an audio exercise and guides you in making a deep connection with your body before tasting a tea. It then guides you through how to observe the changes its creating in your body. This is individual for each person but when done in a group of a large enough size you can start to see a pattern emerging. Not only does it show you what the herb does for you, but also helps you know what variety of actions it has on many individuals. It's something which could easily be repeated with your foods as well. 

This exercise is a crucial part of my course Listen to Herbs and you can download it just below.  

Would you like to learn more about the course? check out some free materials and a video guide to the members wesite here.