Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Carminatives: a Doorway into the World of Plant Medicine

Hi everyone.  My name is Rebecca, and this is my first post for the Goldthread blog. I'm part of this year's Farm to Pharmacy program at Goldthread's farm. As part of a scholarship program called Pay It Forward, I have the opportunity to write Goldthread blog posts every month in exchange for a reduction in my tuition. I'm thrilled and honored for it.

Each week, we learn and do many things on the farm which are worthy of writing about, but this particular topic is the first that came to me - and it's an excellent one as long as I'm writing about introductions.

One part of the Farm to Pharmacy curriculum that has really inspired me is the emphasis on personally experience of the effects of various herbs in and around our own, personal bodies.  Bill has referred to it as the practice of noticing the effect an herb has on us when its prana, or life force, energetically joins with our own, the moment it hits our tongues or binds with our olfactory receptors. As we learn about herbs and their properties, we taste tinctures (maca, rosemary and cayenne being among the most memorable for me), smell dried herbs and essential oils, drink teas, and then describe the herbs' effects on us using the paradigm of the twenty gunas, or dualistic universal qualities according to Ayurvedic medicine. An herb may feel to us, for example, more hot or cold, heavy or light, stable or mobile, and so on. 
The ability to discern how these qualities interact with and affect our own bodies and energies is one of the main disciplines we work to cultivate through the practice of tasting.

The practice is particularly invigorating under the guidance of a teacher like Bill and within the supportive environment of the class's enthusiasm. Luckily, though, classrooms aren't the only places to become acquainted with the healing properties of herbs — a point that is relevant to another aspect of the Farm to Pharmacy mission; to promote grassroots knowledge of herbal medicine and facilitate the rebirth of a culture in which the folk are able to treat themselves and each other with herbal remedies. That purpose deeply matters to and stimulates me as well. So when, while going over some herbal actions, — descriptions of the effects of different classes of herbs, according to the physiomedicalist tradition — we discussed the role of carminatives, I thought it would be an excellent thing to share with you readers. For those of you who, like me, are just starting out on your journeys and explorations of herbal medicine, carminatives are a great doorway into the world of plant medicine and its daily use.

In a nut(meg)shell, carminatives are the types of herbs one might find on a home spice rack. Things like pepper, basil, turmeric and cumin. They tend to contain health-benefitting volatile oils and other elements which encourage circulation in the digestive system, relieve gas, reduce spasms and tension, and increase digestive secretions. Of course, each specific carminative possesses its own unique properties, which I'm not yet prepared to write about in any depth. But even without knowing their specific benefits, these spices are easily accessible, already relatively familiar to those of us who cook (or like to eat!), and are tastily incorporated into our daily lives without hassle. Bill pointed out in class that the use of these spices requires a shift in consciousness for some, towards an emphasis on cooking at home.  I don't think there's much that's bad about that. I think home-cooked meals are usually more delicious and enjoyable, not to mention cheaper, than food prepared elsewhere. Cooking at home also encourages our general investment in our homes and those with whom we may share them. The qualities of sharing and investment in our communities are, in themselves, also a vital part of grassroots action. And since many of us already use, or at least have, these spices in our homes, all it takes is our consciousness of them as potential allies to bring us more in touch with the herbal path or lifestyle.

Carminatives can easily become a daily part of the creation and maintenance of health and healing.  or all these reasons and more, they are a wonderful category of herbs for the amateur, aspiring herbalist to explore and enjoy, and their use can be a meaningful step towards the grassroots health care system our culture seems so desperately to need.  Cooking with spices, using them, smelling and tasting them with our loved ones, are a great opportunity to sense our bodies and their connection to the natural world.

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