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There is No Such Thing As an Herbal Magic Bullet

I wrote this a few years ago; still valid, still important.

I've been doing a lot of research lately for some family health issues, and of course, as usual, Google is my friend.   But something that's come to my attention is the number of "HERBAL CURE!!" things on the market.


Which is frustrating.   Because in my opinion (and experience--and mind you, I am NOT a doctor nor do I play one on TV, Twitter, or any other media source) is that there is no such thing as an herbal CURE for anything.


In actuality, there seem to be damn few CURES out there for anything, assuming a cure is something you can take or do for a limited period and PING your issue is totally gone.   Against the number of chronic conditions, there are only a few things we can do-- for instance, if you have a diseased/broken/etc body part that can be removed via surgery--and those, frankly, are rare.   I used to be able to say that an antibiotic can CURE a bacterial infection; but as we all know, with antibiotic-resistant infections, that's no longer the case.


It would be utterly lovely if one could pop a pill and cure all one's ills.  But it doesn't exist.   So most of what we do either ameliorates our conditions, or makes it possible to do the things we need to do so our bodies can adjust.


So how does this apply to a practical, self-taught herbalist who makes salves?


Well.   I suppose part of this is intended to explain what my salves can actually do.   But it's also part of my philosophy; that we do as little harm as possible, provide as much relief as possible, and then we can do things that make our bodies function better.  And that pain can be a useful tool.


For instance, my arthritis salve is intended to provide enough pain relief that one can start moving, which is one of the main things that helps keep arthritis at bay--keep moving the painful joint(s).     My experience with really, really effective painkillers suggests that I (like a lot of folks), once I stop actually feeling the pain whatsoever, I proceed merrily on my way to do a whole series of stupid things that rack me up further in the long run.  On the other hand, a mild painkiller means that I still feel my arthritis pain, but moderate my activity to a point that I keep the joint flexing without overdoing and actually injuring.


This is also the philosophy behind my fibromyalgia goo.    I want my clients to be able to move without CRIPPLING pain--but pain is useful.  It's a warning signal.  So a salve that helps cut the pain, allows my clients to move (which helps with the fibro)  but also leaves enough pain intact that they know when to stop--which is a fine line, with many fibro clients.


My other salves, like most herbals, encourage the body to help itself; but are not complete numbing or healing agents--they work to assist your systems so that you can function but leave enough of your warning signals intact that you don't totally injure yourself because you're already dealing with an existing injury  or condition that you then overstress.


Herbals can be limited.  An herbal that would totally kill the pain, like, oh, say, opium--might kill the pain, but by rendering you unconscious or dead.    There's a line in there, y'all.


And, frankly, herbs are not magic, any more than any other medication you can take or apply.   They have interactions, you can become allergic to them, they can be processed in ways that invalidate what they can do (that's going to be a future article, I think, entitled "Petroleum is Straight From Satan"....)  they can cause actual damage, illness, or death, if you don't know what you're doing or your herbalist is actively trying to kill you.   One of the reasons I stick with salves is that there is only so much that can be absorbed through the skin, so they are in general more benign than an internally-taken substance, but that still will not help a client who is allergic to the active ingredients.


I get frustrated the way we all do with the patchwork of things I do to maintain my health.  I wish I could take a cure that would fix my dry itchy skin, get rid of zits, cure my multiple sclerosis and wipe out all the damn symptoms while it's at it, keep my knees from bothering me and clear up the mild osteoarthritis in my hands.  It could nail my carpal tunnel issues too.   In the meantime, though, handmade soap keeps my itchies mostly at bay, anti-zit soap keeps my face clearer than it would be otherwise, and liberal applications of goo keep me up and running on days that otherwise I'd be curled up and immobile--but not completely pain-free.   Governor Angus King of Maine said once  "In my experience, there is rarely a silver bullet--but there is often silver buckshot."  And a buckshot approach of multiple small things seems to be much less likely to rebound on you than one CURE.


I can pretty much guarantee that if someone tries to sell you a CURE--herbal or otherwise-- that they also have a nice bridge for sale somewhere.   And as frustrating and difficult as it can be to keep track of multiple small, less invasive therapies, I find that for me personally they usually work better in the long run.


I'm not a doctor.  But I do believe in "First, do no harm."   And cautiously trying to work on small pain areas and assist things with the most benign ingredients I can find is the way I try to live that philosophy.   I can't sell you a cure.  But via buckshot, maybe I can get you up and moving. 

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  • Ida on

    Thanks so much for this! On days when things hurts and you get tired, you do want a “miracle cure” so it is vital to remember that I have to contribute too by moving and staying interested in the world out there. Your wonderful smelling soaps and salves help with that every day.

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