This Idea Must Die: herbalism edition

IMG_2490I just devoured a book called This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That are Blocking Progress, an anthology of essays from It’s great. The concept of an idea that must die is very appealing to me, as I think that nearly every area of life harbors little nuggets of bullshit that cloud our ability to innovate and explore new ways.

I see the world of herbalism as one that balances-or attempts to–some of our most ancient, primal connections and some of our most cutting-edge explorations. But the reality is that a chunk of herbalism is stale 70s and 80s marketing, internet memes and some quasi-religious fear-based concepts of how the body works.

Life has a cycle and ideas have a cycle, and I’d like to invite herbalism to be a little more pro-active about  slaying the sacred cows, starting with one’s own. Noticing that we harbor an idea that must die does not make us a bad person, it makes us normal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being wrong. The problem is with a refusal to admit it, or a refusal to let it go and, my personal nemesis, a refusal to stop promoting or teaching or marketing an idea that needs to die.

And merely embracing every new and next is not the answer, as we’ve seen reductionist blurbs about herbs splashed all over Dr. Oz and crappy magazines, giant displays of “Superfoods” in big box stores and endless herbal energy drinks which promise to FINALLY solve our problems.


But let’s be sure to ask ourselves and each other, in ways that are helpful and not douche-y, where we can be better about letting go. Where has Science made useful advances, where has a concept or a product failed to deliver and what is standing in the way of our process and our unfolding?

Where can we be more curious? Where can we explore?

Where has an idea become a dogma, and where have we fought so hard to escape rejected hierarchies and cultural structures and narrow models that we somehow missed the dogmatic structures of alternative medicine that we ourselves are stuck in?

In that spirit, I present several of the ideas that I’d like to see float off into space. I’d love to hear yours, and if you disagree with me–keep it to yourself.

Just kidding. Write me an email. Discuss.


  1. Standardized (sometimes called allopathic, I think incorrectly) medicine and herbal medicine are opposites and are in opposition to each other. I absolutely see mutually respectful integration between these 2 models as the way forward.
  2. There’s a “type” of person who takes care of theirself. No. Self-care is for everyone. You don’t get out of it because you aren’t the “type”. It’s your right and it’s your responsibility.
  3. All disease is caused by ______. All disease is cured by ______. No. Just no.
  4. It’s “just” a placebo”…. It’s like saying “I’ll ‘just’ have water.”  Try not having water! One of the most exciting and useful tools in human wellness is the mind-body connection. When your mind helps you heal that is not JUST anything. It’s f-ing amazing.
  5. ______is not fixable, so don’t bother. Hmmm. Maybe so, maybe not. Perhaps we can’t go from wherever we are right now to perfectly well. No magical thinking. But shifts are possible, always always always. Harm reduction is possible. Even as we approach the end of our lives, release is possible. Comforting is possible.
  6. Detox. You are not toxic, and old food is not stuck to your colon. Gently supporting the body’s natural pathways of detoxification is great. Go for a walk. Have some bitters. But beware of the punishment paradigm. EDIT: There seems to be some confusion here. I am not saying that “toxins do not exist”. I am saying that the concept of DETOX is overused, used manipulatively, and used incorrectly to create fear. We may be “dealing with an environmental toxin” but I refuse to label a person “toxic”. Words matter.
  7. America-centric studies and information. The whole world uses healthcare. Our model is not the only one, and not necessarily the best-(though we do excel at certain technologies). Let’s expand the ol’ horizons, eh?
  8. We have to save everyone. Death is not always a failure. Sometimes it is the natural course.
  9. There is a “women’s herb” or a “men’s herb”. It’s just a lazy way to speak about plant medicine. And it is not correct.
  10. Herbs will fix you all by themselves. Herbs can’t fix you unless you totally change your lifestyle. Both are false. Goldenrod will thin your mucus whether you give up grains or not. Oregon Grape will clean your wound even if you don’t exercise. Acute care does not require massive life changes, and these changes, while helpful, are not needed for Valerian to make you sleepy. However, for long-term lasting wellness, for addressing underlying causes, herbs go a heck of a lot further in the context of a self-care model, where we chill on fast food and go to therapy, or whatever needs to happen. Herbs may be magical, but they don’t usually defy basic laws of nature or common sense.

A few bonus ideas to counter mainstream ideas that must die: You don’t need to take Echinacea/Goldenseal all the time to prevent colds, Oatstraw is NOT Milky Oats, homeopathic Arnica is not Arnica and a few drops won’t kill you, Cannabis doesn’t cure everything and Mullein is not a good toilet paper.

So go forth, explore, seek and destroy, rebuild and do it all over again. Someday my kids and grandkids will be tearing this blog apart and I can’t wait. Prove me wrong, people. Tell me why my ideas must die. Bring it.


Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: a Review, plus thoughts.


I’ve been a fan of Roz Chast ever since my sister bought us “Now I Will Never Leave the Dinner Table”–a book about a bossy big sister (like me, apparently) who FORCES her sibling to eat dreaded spinach. Her drawings capture the kinds of details that I revel in, the things I often think others don’t notice. I’d say one of the strongest compliments I can say about someone is

“She really has an eye for things.”

And Roz Chast does, an eye and an ear, she writes down or photographs  the minutiae of life and I do too, it’s a practice, a way of making sense of it all, a way of recording this moment, what it is and how it feels through quotes and sketches and odd little scraps of things.

Because that is what life is to me, it’s not weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and holiday hams. Life is cleaning out the medicine cabinet and finding that WEIRD THING, life is reaching into the pocket of a thrift store coat and reading the receipt of someone long gone, life is pulling a book off the shelf and seeing a train ticket tucked inside from 1995.

Life is my grandmother saying “Every time you have a party, something stinks” (about deviled eggs) or my kid , at age 4, asking “Are you potato-ing the cheese sharpener” (about making him latkes), and these are the memories that live in my life’s shoebox, next to a pile of laminated Catholic saints and a Cross pen from my great-aunt Bertha.


So anyway.

This book.

It’s about the process of Roz’ parents aging and their death. It’s about the family dynamics, and a very particular time and place. And it is intense. I laughed so hard I cried. And then later,  I actually cried.

It is beautiful, intimate and slightly disturbing.

And what does this have to with herbalism?!?! You may ask.

Why am I even writing about this?

Well–anyone who is dealing with the care of others in any way, or is alive,  knows, even if it is subconscious, that death lurks beneath all life. I mean, news flash. Death exists. And the decline, the illness, the  unraveling, are all pieces of our lives that we often choose to ignore. Complicated family relationships, uncomfortable silences, life-or-death decisions, financial and emotional burdens of end-of-life care, it’s all very real and all very repressed.

And for good reason–because its really hard to talk about.

Because it all comes out in the end.

But humor helps to lube up the difficult conversations, those we need to have with ourselves and with others, and makes it easier to imagine and accept these moments,  and this book is a   humorous gift.

This book says “It’s not just me.”

Culturally, our constant search for comfort, emotionally, has in some cases cut out the highs and lows of human reality in order to serve up a placid, positive-thinking delusion but in fact this dark undercurrent is still there.

When we listen to media outlets, it seems like prolonging life at all costs is, and should always be, a primary goal.

But as caregivers or helpers, our goal is not always to “cure” but sometimes to ease passages, to comfort and to listen and  to hold space. We are not all recovering. And that is OK.

And if you don’t identify as a caregiver in terms of your work, perhaps you have a family, or friends, or a body that this applies to.

Anything that can help us to understand that, to feel less alone in this work with others OR ourselves and can help us to release the tension that accumulates around the dark parts is valuable to me, and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is a valuable addition to that cause.


since I gmy sister bought us Now I Will never leave the Dinner table, a kids’ book about a bossy big sister