Back to Eden Again: The Value of Herbal Healing Today

| 6/17/2011 4:56:54 PM

M.DunneMarguerite Dunne is a city girl and traveler. Visit her website at or listen to her radio show, The Urban Herbalist, on Marguerite was also the third place winner in The Herb Companion's essay contest, "Looking Forward to Herbs."  

“Why are so many Americans plagued by a lack of calcium in the bones (osteoporosis) along with an excess of calcium in the arteries (arthrosclerosis)? ... cells only produce osteocalcin and the matrix Gla protein (MGP) in the presence of vitamin D … 3nb was discovered as the active component of celery in response to investigations by researchers seeking to explain some of the medicinal effects of celery ... Pycnogenol enhances generation of endothelial nitric oxide (NO), which is the key mediator facilitating arterial relaxation … Nutritional Product List: Astaxanthin, D-Calcium Panththenate, Croscarmellose Sodium, Ferrous Fumarate, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Microencapsulated Ingredients, PVP K-30, Shellac …”

6-22-2011-back to eden coverThese quotes are from the gaggle of health food industry publications sitting on my desk I’m using for the next taping of my radio show, The Urban Herbalist. Hmm, I take a deep breath and fondly remember reading my very first book on herbs, the original 1939 edition of Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss. 

Okay, it’s fashionable to poke at this classic, much as the current theorists, who live in a politically correct, multicultural 21st century world, smugly indulge in taking down Freud’s first forays into psychology. But the clarity, simplicity and empiric research, as well as the love, that went into Back to Eden is still closer to nature than so much of the jargon being heaved at us regular folks today.  As a child growing up in the rural mid-west of the late 1880s, Jethro learned,  “Red Root—This is one of the most wonderful remedies for any spleen trouble … White Willow—Excellent in intermittent fevers, all kinds of fevers, chills, ague, and acute rheumatism … Bistort Root—It is one of the strongest herb astringents, excellent for gargles … Gentian Root—A most effective and reliable tonic.  Purifies the blood. Good for liver complaints and dysentery. Most effective for jaundice …” 

When the numerous drug companies, universities and other research laboratories are choosing the next herb to study, they pull out the old materia medicas, scan the vast number of facts gathered by learned apothecaries over the ages, and then begin one more of those fabulous double-blind-placebo, paperwork-in-triplicate, sanitized studies. Well, that’s nice. Then, what they come up with is another collection of fractionated isolates that only seem to apply in a limited number of cases. They’re leaving out the whole plant, the whole herb, the way nature intended for us to live. 

When I’m out in health food stores today, I still hear stories about someone’s 102-year-old grandmother who lives in the hills of Guatemala or the mountains of Tibet or on one of a thousand islands off in the Pacific, who gets up everyday, gathers her herbs and vegetables, bakes her own bread, and has never been sick a day in her life. She’s living her life involved with the garden, the way nature intended for us to live. At the time Kloss wrote his classic, near the end of a lifetime of healing others, living out in the countryside just before the voluntary chaos of the urban landscape took over American culture, he was a man with a wonderful, intuitive horse sense, born of an inherited wisdom, handed down by the last generation just ahead of when electricity entered our communications, sped up our expiration, and the condition of stress of was added to everyone’s diagnosis. So … I still find myself reaching for this book when I’m questioned by a woman who’s been on birth control pills for too long and doesn’t know how to rebalance her hormones. Or when a young man painfully wants to turn away from the world because a vulgar case of junk-food-induced acne has caused him shame. Or when a pilot, who gets to fly from New York to Paris every week, is physically and emotionally exhausted and wants to turn in his wings. Somehow, Mother Nature still provides. 

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