September 11, 2000
Sarah Holmes, Clinical Herbalist
Western herbalism has its roots in Native American usage of medicinal plants. This knowledge and history of plant medicine is thousands of years old. Plant knowledge from other countries has also been woven into the body of knowledge used in western herbalism from the many nations represented in this country. Western herbalism primarily utilizes plants native to North America. Plants are ingested as teas or tinctures, alcohol extracts. They can also be used topically in the form of a salve, oil or liniment.
Herbalism uses plants to help a person achieve and maintain balance. Mind, body and spirit are inseparable. For instance, if the physical body is faced with a challenge such as cancer, the emotional and spiritual bodies are also impacted. Each person needs to be viewed as a whole being. This is necessary for true healing to happen. Healing does not always mean cure either. What is healing, or achieving balance, for one person may look very different for the next person. Herbs can serve you in many ways when you have cancer. They aid in healing from surgery. Before, during and after chemotherapy and radiation herbs help support the body. Some herbs help the body to rebuild the blood and immunity. Other herbs help with the nerve damage that sometimes happens through the course of these allopathic treatments. Herbs also help to clear the toxins out of the body post treatment. Herbs aid in alleviating nausea and getting the entire digestive system back in working order.
Herbs are useful for other issues not cancer related that might be going on. As you know, having cancer does not preclude other ailments such as asthma, depression or fibroids to name only a few. Addressing other concerns as well can help in your overall sense of well being, especially if it is something like insomnia that interferes with your body's ability to heal itself.
Herbs are also healing on an emotional and spiritual level. Facing a serious illness often brings up many issues and emotions. A shift on an emotional or spiritual level can sometimes help bring a shift on the physical level. Herbs can help to bring some ease or help you to move through whatever is going on. This can be invaluable for your loved ones as well as they go through their own process around your cancer.
Most herbalists will talk to you about nutrition. When it comes to cancer it is important to eat as cleanly as possible. As much as you have access to and can afford, eat organic produce, dairy and meats. Avoid foods with artificial colorings, additives and preservatives. Look at the list of ingredients, if you come to several words you have never heard of, much less could never begin to pronounce, reconsider eating it. Also avoid genetically engineered foods and using microwave ovens. All of these things add to the toxic load in your body which stresses your immune system.
Focus on whole foods; whole grains, fresh produce and as much variety as your appetite allows. Try for five servings of vegetables per day, and three of fruit. Miso soup is beneficial. It helps the body clean up the blood, alkalizes the body making it better able to fight disease, and pulls radiation from the body. Do not store in plastic, transfer it to a glass container once you have purchased it Eat a low salt diet and avoid sugar, especially refined sugar. Sugar promotes abnormal cell growth. Reduce fats in the diet and try to only eat good quality fats (for example: butter not margarine, olive and sesame oils not hydrogenated oils or regular vegetable or corn oil). Do not reuse any fat or oil that has been used for frying, this includes eating fried foods in restaurants.
When you have a consultation with an herbalist you can expect to be treated as a whole person, to be listened to and to have your questions addressed. Herbalists often offer suggestions about nutrition and lifestyle as well as herbs to take. An herbalist may or may not take your pulses, look at your tongue, study your face or take your blood pressure. Usually that will be the extent of any physical exam. Most of the consultation will consist of answering questions and expressing what is going on for you. Health insurance, if you have it, does not cover herbalists although herbalists usually have reasonable rates. Larger urban areas are also likely to have low cost or free clinics. If there is an herb school in your area, they may have a student clinic. Many herb schools have clinics where supervised, advanced students provide herbal care free or at low cost.
I haven't talked about specific herbs and their usages because I feel it is important to work with a professional when working with cancer. Certain herbs are contraindicated with certain cancers. My hope is that this article has given you enough understanding about western herbalism for you to decide if it might be useful for you. To find an herbalist in your area start asking around. Health food and vitamin stores are good places to start. A word of mouth recommendation is best so you have a sense of the person's reputation. Herbalism is not a licensed profession so ask a lot of questions and trust your intuition when selecting a practitioner. This method is good for selecting any practitioner, including your doctor.
Making choices about your healthcare can be a very personal decision. There is no one right way to work with cancer or any other illness. Allow yourself to gather as much information as you need to make your decisions and listen to your body and heart. Enjoy the love in your life, laugh whenever you can and be very gentle with yourself.