The Four Elements

Have you ever talked with someone who thought that herbs didn’t work because they did little for them despite all their commercial hype? Or have you ever taken (or given) an herb and you (or the person) not only didn’t improve but got worse? The reason for these experiences may actually be simple – the energy of the herb was not matched to that of the person or the condition experienced and so it wasn’t effective. The energy of herbs is extremely important to consider when choosing herbs. Some herbs are cooling, others warming; some are drying, others moistening. Some drain while others build. As well, people have energetic constitutions, too. Some folks have coldness, or heat; others dryness or dampness. Some have an excess state (too much of something – think about how you feel after eating too big of a meal for example). Other people are weak, deficient, or depleted. Thus, which herb you choose depends not only on its own energies but also that of the person taking the herb. If the person has a condition of coldness, for instance, they need herbs with a heating energy. If they are dry, they need moistening herbs. And if they’re weak, they need herbs that build strength, immunity, or blood. If herbs are not energetically matched to the person in this way, either they’ll have no results or else problems can arise. For example, when I mention the herb, turmeric, what first comes to mind? That it’s great for pain? Perhaps, but it actually might make you dizzy instead. How about black cohosh? Think it’s mainly great for menopause? Think again. It may help some women but others might experience no benefit at all. And how about feverfew? Use it for headaches? It might work, but it only treats one type of headache. Since there are as many as five or more causes for headaches, each requires a different herbal energy and feverfew may not match that. To be even more specific, if you give a building herb, such as ginseng, to someone who has stagnation with symptoms of burping, belching, mood swings, nausea, pent-up emotions, headache in the temples, or is easily angered or irritated, it would just make them feel worse. That would be like adding more cars to rush hour traffic. On the other hand, if someone is weak, tired, or perhaps even anemic, you wouldn’t want to give them elimination therapies as those would only weaken them further. I learned the importance of the energy of herbs very early when I first started using herbs. Like many beginner herbalists, I began with the typical allopathic approach, that is, “this herb is good for that condition.” Then one day I got a very bad flu. A friend told me garlic is good for flu, so I took garlic. I got much worse. I was curious why and soon learned that my flu was a condition of heat (high fever, sweating, feeling hot) and garlic itself is a heating herb. Taking garlic meant I only got hotter and my symptoms intensified Let’s take turmeric again as another example since it’s such a popular herb today. Because it’s the best anti-inflammatory available to forestall heart and brain problems and to treat pain, many people consume it regularly. While that helps some folks, others actually have reactions they don’t even realize occurred because of the turmeric. I have seen many such cases over the years. This is because turmeric is warming and drying in energy. That means it’s perfect for folks who have pain and swelling from heat and dampness such as heavy, swollen joints, yellowish and smelly diarrhea, urinary tract infections with pain and even bleeding, herpes, or yellow leukorrhea for example. But those who have dryness, anemia, or Blood Deficiency with such symptoms as dry cough, stools, skin, mouth or nails, dizziness, blurry vision, night sweats or heat flushes, can get worse since the cooling, drying turmeric only depletes these substances more. If taken for extended periods or overdosed, it can lead to insomnia, burning in the hands and feet, hypertension, or heart palpitations, for starters. [Note: Turmeric tuber (yu jin) is cooling while turmeric rhizome (jiang huang) is heating. Both promote the flow of Qi and Blood, but  the rhizome treats painful obstruction (arthritic conditions) while the tuber does not. Both herbs relieve gall bladder jaundice, but the tuber is stronger than the rhizome. Turmeric found in the grocery store is probably the rhizome.] Each herb has specific energies that determine its true use. Start observing the energy of herbs and the conditions they treat rather than using one herb for a specific condition. Giving herbs allopathically regardless of the energy of the herb or the person taking it is what causes others to believe that herbs don’t work. Even worse, it gives herbs a bad rap. Learn to use herbs energetically and you’ll more efficiently and effectively experience the wonder of herbs and their healing powers.

1 Comment

  1. That’s why I am learning Astrology for my herbal practice. Yes, in TCM, Aryuvedic, and western herbalism this art/science has figured prominently for centuries in determining which herb will work best for someone. Sajah Popham is leading this tradition from Oregon. It truly works, you do the research. That being said you, it takes a lot of practice and a good teacher to develop the skills to use it effectively. Most “Pop” astrology (that’s an old term I know) just won’t get the job done. I have found learning astrology first, then the application to be as challenging as learning herbalism. It does provide an excellent framework for understanding the energetics, our teachers have only been perfecting astrology since the Mayans, Stonehenge, and Egypt for 4000 years. My astrology teacher Arthyr Chadbourne has retailored his class having taught and been a resource to many doctors over the years. My personal naturopath/MD sits next to me every class. Hippocrates states astrology in his original oath, not the sanitized version we have today. Paracelsus, indeed, went farther, he declared, a Physician should be predestinated to the cure of his patient and the horoscope should be inspected, the plants gathered at the critical moment. Nicholas Culpeper, author of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal remains the most well known of these Herbalist/Astrologers today. Good luck on your journey.

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