Back to Our Roots with Western Herbal Medicine: Ancient Plant-based Remedies for a Modern World
Too much stress, not enough exercise or sleep—now toss in a poor diet and environmental factors like air pollution or exposure to toxic chemicals. If this sounds like your life, you’re not alone. Physical and environmental stressors can take their toll on your health, leading to premature aging and a host of diseases.
When you’re ready to get back in balance, a little help from Mother Nature is a great place to start. Certified Western Herbalist Sirajama Bajo, lead practitioner at Berkeley’s Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, shares her encyclopedic knowledge of ancient herbal medicines for a modern world.
What is Western Herbal Medicine?
There are numerous herbal traditions, such as Ayurvedic, Chinese herbal medicine, as well as modalities from Egyptian, Roman, and Greco-Arabic tradition. Western herbal medicine draws from a pharmacopoeia of European and North American herbs using mostly native plants (including fruit, roots, flowers, leaves and bark) to treat or prevent a variety of illnesses and disease.
A Western herbalist is differentiated from other modalities by the plants we use. For example, in Western herbal modality, we might use slippery elm, as opposed to marshmallow–in the European modality–to treat things like dry skin, insect bits or burns. Both plants are “mucilaginous,” meaning they help soften the skin, reduce swelling, and fight bacteria by creating a moist barrier between the skin and the environment. Aloe vera is another example of a mucilaginous plant.
Describe your role as Pharmaca’s lead practitioner.
At Pharmaca, we apply an integrative approach to health and look at our patients holistically to address their overall needs, along with their medical needs. As lead practitioner at Pharmaca’s store in Berkeley, I’m the point person for all our herbalists, and of course, our clients. I’m part educator, part resource, and part practitioner. I’m also a nutritionist – which is a complementary study to herbalism.
My education also includes an understanding of allopathic, or Western Medicine. This allows me to look at a customer’s medications and prescribe the proper herbs – for maximum benefit without contraindications. As new medications come online, it’s my job to understand what these medications do, and advise my customers knowledgeably. Combining an herbal treatment plan with allopathic medicine can be very complementary, however, it’s important to understand how the two modalities will interact.
How does nutrition factor into Western Herbal Medicine?
My mantra is “eat nutrient dense foods everyday.” The root of all health begins in the gut. If you suffer from digestive ailments, the best approach is through nutrition and lifestyle changes. I try to educate my clients on how sugar, or fatty and processed foods, impacts health and well-being and assist them in lifestyle changes. Even people who eat a clean and healthy diet might still be missing essential nutrients.
Additionally, the impact of stress on the human body is enormous –digestive problems, heart health, and premature aging. For these clients we recommend supplements that contain antioxidant support – like bioflavonoids–found in almost anything you can think of with vitamin C (rosehips, orange peel, blueberries, and acerola, to name a few). If you can’t get enough of these nutrients in your diet, we also carry a line of food-based powered compounds to put in your smoothie for a nutritional boost.
For overall health, we recommend a “Pharmaca’s 5 to Thrive.” These supplements are meant to round out a person’s healthy diet:
1) Probiotic–helps battle problematic bacteria by introducing good bacteria into the gut to support digestive health.
2) Multivitamin–to fill in nutritional gaps. Even the best diet will be deficient in some hard to get essential vitamins and minerals–like magnesium.
3) Fish Oil–for the omega three balance and heart health.
4) Antioxidant–for stress, and oxidative damage as well as inflammation reduction. Tumeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory and can be added to recipes, or smoothies.
5) Fiber–nutrient dense foods usually contain high levels of fiber, which helps us eliminate toxins as they pass through the bowels.
What Types of Patients Seek Herbal Remedies
People come to us for a variety of reason. We try to honor what can be a very difficult-to-treat medical condition and balance our approach with a customer’s physician-prescribed treatments.
Many come to us after self-diagnosing on WebMD, or other online resources. They’ve usually stressed themselves out by not knowing, or assuming the worst–and are simply seeking confirmation, or negation of their symptoms. We advise them on the best course of treatment, which might also include Western medicine.
Others are people who don’t feel fully supported by their physicians. We try to assuage their fears–but also advise them to let their physicians know they are seeking alternative therapies.
Additionally, people who are looking for specific herbs, or as a complement to their prescription medications–like statins (used to lower cholesterol and in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases). In this instance, we take a holistic, integrative approach by providing our customers with nutritional and lifestyle change support, as well as herbal remedies to address their illness.
In general, our customers are well-informed, with many looking for alternatives to toxic household cleaning products, or body care and cosmetic products. Pregnant women, in particular, are looking to reduce the heavy chemical load, especially for their unborn child. We carry natural, plant-based and nontoxic products that are safe to use on your body and in the home.
Hopefully we’d like to see more physicians working with their patients, and us, to create a comprehensive treatment plan that incorporates multiple medical modalities–including herbalism and nutrition.
Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy—Berkeley, www.pharmacarx.com/pharmaca-integrative-pharmacy-berkeley