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.


11 thoughts on “This Idea Must Die: herbalism edition

  1. You know, Traci, it is refreshing to read your posts.

    Peace, Barbara Meza

    be present in your life… (201) 978-7335

    follow Conscius Vita on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. How about; it is “always bad herbalism to use a herb for some specific condition”. I prefer to work with a whole history/intake form and constitutional typing, but sometimes my partner just has a headache and a few questions about how it feels is all I need. Agree that even with the quickies, some things you really do have to know (medications for one) but aside from that, it’s getting a bit precious if you can’t give someone some chamomile for a jittery day without 90 minutes of analysis first.

    I don’t think anyone with experience confuses these two things, but I’ve seen it get pretty extreme with some newer people.

    Conversely, the idea that all we do with other species is condition-based/allopathic herbalism, is completely ridiculous.

    Lastly – experience and “time in” are the same thing. No, they’re not. If you’ve been interested in herbs and dabbling with herbs for 30 years, doesn’t mean you have more knowledge/experience than someone doing it for 10 as a fulltime calling. “Eldership” is a state of mind, not a number.

  3. The idea that in some cases–acute cases–a little this for that herbalism works is the spirit of #10. Rebecca Altman summed it up well in her article “In defense of the Quick Fix”.

  4. Yes yes yes! I wish I had something profound to add, or even a cogent challenge to get you thinking even more…but you really nailed it! Thank you!

  5. I love your post BUT we really are pretty full of toxins, don’t you think? In some cases this can be a huge problem…however toxins can be bad food, food allergens, GMO’s, industrialized meat, etc. I kind of think, sadly, that a lot of us may need more than bitters and a short walk. I wish it weren’t true. I do agree however that heroic detox and colonics are just stupid and bad.

  6. It is my opinion that such a broad definition of “toxin” renders it meaningless. I personally do not believe we are pretty full of toxins. Of course, there are serious challenges to humanity in terms of air quality, access to clean water, some of our work-related exposure. But no, I don’t believe that the existence of GMOs and food allergens means that we are full of toxins.

  7. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing this.
    The toxin stuff is tiring and just won’t die! Lol.
    It makes a great buzzword even though it doesn’t make sense. It seems like the “go to” excuse or cause for everything in the natural health world sometimes.

  8. I would have to agree with Christine that the total load of toxins that a given individual may be coping with can be a major challenge. besides poor municipal water quality,contaminated soil and buildings, limited access to good quality food, and polluted air,there are possibly accumulated toxins from recreational drugs and pharmacuticals including vaccines….. am sure I am forgetting something…how bout toxic emotions, and EMFs… All of this and more impacts health and of course,lower income folks are hit hardest.

  9. I believe in hormesis, and an anti-fragile mindset. I have clearly stated that I do not think we are toxic. I understand that not everyone agrees, but I would not have said I don’t believe we are toxic if I didn’t believe it. Thanks for your comment.

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