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Reimagining Plant Medicine

What do you think of when you hear the words "plant medicine"? For me, plant medicine was associated with people smoking marijuana in the 1970's and connecting to the vibration of certain plants. It doesn't pertain to me, this is for a certain type of person. This is a common response - it's not necessarily easy for doctors to attach to this concept as a valid form of mental or physical healing for patients because of these associations. But as our evidence base for plant medicines as legitimate treatment continues to grow, the medical profession can no longer ignore or categorize plant medicine as radical and alternative.


So what is plant medicine? It's a vague term - which means a google search doesn't provide much clarification. Plant medicine is deeply interdisciplinary by its nature, combining the fields of ecology, spirituality, environmental stewardship, the healing professions, anthropology, and history. It involves the deep knowledge and healing support humans can receive from plants. Plant medicine is steeped in ancient tradition and often is highly spiritual and ceremonial in nature such as cacao or tea ceremonies. Traditional culture-specific uses of plants such as smudging sage, altering consciousness (such as psychedelics), and gathering plants for medicinal uses including teas, tinctures, or oils are all part of plant medicine.


One of the beautiful aspects about plant medicine is that one does not need to seek a professional to find healing from plants. People can learn more about plants and practice healing with plants on their own accord - something as simple as mindfully drinking an herbal tea can be ceremonial and healing. Alternatively, one can choose to work with professionals or guides such as herbalists, doctors, ceremonial tea masters, shamans, or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.


The emerging field of "Forest Bathing" (or Shinrin-yoku in Japanese) can also be considered plant medicine. The activity harnesses the healing combination of mindfulness and being outside in nature which, not surprisingly, has been shown to benefit both mental and physical health. It can also be practiced as a solo adventure with the help of forest bathing guide books or if you are wanting a bit of guidance, you can seek out the expertise of a credentialed forest bathing guide.


There are significant changes brewing in the scientific communities in regards to "plant medicine". As more research quantifies the benefits of plants for human mental health, there has been more acceptance by the traditional medical community and particularly, psychiatry. Medical journals are publishing new articles each week about recent studies - particularly in the psychedelic medicine realm - many of which have demonstrated the healing potential of plants (though this has been widely known and practiced by traditional indigenous cultures for thousands of years). There is even a Psychedelic Medicine Association for healthcare professionals. Psychiatry is cautiously but consciously joining the rising movement to restore ancient plant-healing practices - and I am here for it.


Disclaimer: This information is for educational use only. Please discuss with your health care professional for individualized advice. It is recommended that you let your health care provider know about any plant medicines that you use.


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