It may be argued that earth medicine is a hippie movement. Maybe so, but those interested in self-sufficiency and an organic lifestyle often find more reassurance in botanical medicine. For many, there is an innate comfort in what Mother Earth offers, or a security in the creation of God, that allopathic medicine (the third leading cause of death in the United States) does not provide.
Women in the sixties and seventies ultimately were those who rediscovered or reclaimed herbal medicine as an alternative to a male-dominated, intervention-oriented approach to health, pregnancy and birth, and pediatric care. They experimented within their communities and read whatever they could find on herbal medicine, but from their efforts, a small but powerful community of herbalists and midwives arose in the United States. Their trail blazing is what pushed midwifery and herbal medicine back into mainstream healthcare as we know it today. However, herbalists and midwives today have sort of sprouted into an altogether different practice than what we understand as traditional healing.
Herbal Medicines are classified by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) as "biologically based therapies," substances found in nature including herbs, foods, and vitamins, otherwise termed, "dietary supplements." The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), enacted in 1994, specifies the term "dietary supplement" as a product, other than tobacco, taken by mouth, and intended to supplement the diet, including vitamins, minerals, herbs, and a number of other nutritional supplemental products. Herbal medicines are amongst the most frequently used complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies (Romm, 2007, p 12).
As many as half of all Americans acknowledge using CAM therapies today and half of those do not share this practice with their clinicians. Billions of dollars are spent in consumers seeking CAM therapies and more than 600 million visits to CAM practitioners occur each year, exceeding those to primary care physicians and these are largely paid out-of-pocket. Women are far more likely to use CAM therapies than men, but they are also far more likely to seek the care of any healthcare provider than men. Women who seek botanical medicine are more often college-educated, employed, and of reproductive age. They value the holistic approach to health, environmentalism, feminism, and have a desire for spiritual growth. Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans are most likely to use herbal medicines, as are those with chronic disease. As the number of women over 50 increase with this next decade, the need for educated professionals who can evaluate the safety and efficacy of herbal products aimed at women, grows more important.
Earth Medicine Resonates with Our Personal Values
Growing concern about the risks associated with #medications and medical interventions has caused more consumers to desire a gentler, safer option with fewer side effects. Hormone replacement therapy for women, for example, demonstrated significant risks. Antibiotics are increasingly being recognized as risky, particularly for long-term health. Conventional medicine may be best when treating acute crisis, but it hasn't proven superior for chronic disease. This creates a population whose unmet healthcare needs motivate them, even desperately sometimes, to seek out systems of treatment that they perceive as addressing the causes of their underlying problems, not just their symptoms.
Cost is another factor. Pharmaceuticals are simply not available to everyone. As consumers become aware of newer literature on the effectiveness of herbs, such as St. John's Wort for depression, and recognizing its cost is one-fourth that of anti-depressants with one-tenth the side effects of conventional medicine, it seems a wise transition.
My own clientele speak more about their desire for a mutually respectful relationship with their provider. They seek someone they can trust. They don't want to be prescribed to as if they were a disease riding down an assembly line, but rather listened to and considered part of the healing relationship. This type of practice requires investment by the practitioner to understand the context of the client's life. When the average clinic visits allows for only 6 minutes and double that time, if not more, in documenting that exchange and ultimately billing for their time, there simply isn't room for holistic care within the current 'sickcare infrastructure.'
Little more than a decade ago, doctors didn't consult their clients, or rather, patients about their desires and priorities. They routinely withheld information and sometimes even crucial information, such as what drugs they were on, treatments they were given, and what their diagnosis was and they certainly weren't allowed to read their medical records. Patients have been regarded as children for decades, too fragile and simpleminded to handle the truth, let alone make decisions. This same mindset continues today in physicians arguing that consumers aren't capable of comprehending that a doctor may be either a nurse practitioner or a physician, just as they understand doctors are also dentists but not physicians or veterinarians but not physicians.
Interestingly, feminism has been cited as one of the three most common personal values contributing to use of CAM therapies. Holistic health is empowering. The need for personal connection and relationship with healthcare providers is very motivating for seeking care with an integrative or alternative practitioner (integrative in that they can combine allopathic medicine with other healing modalities, or alternative in that they offer a healing modalities completely outside modern medicine). Women thrive in environments that prioritize connection, and CAM therapies are focused on the unique nature and needs of each individual. Herbal medicine has long been the tradition of women healers, and the women's health movement has allowed more women to recognize their intuitive sense for earth-based medicine, their spiritual philosophy about healing. Might we be starting to hear and honor our cell memory, the innate teachings of our ancestors?