BIOCHARACTERISTICS (ENERGETICS) IN THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
The holistic use of herbs requires a similarly holistic model for assessment. Before the 1600s, Western herbalists used the biocharacteristic theory of medicine (via Greek Medicine, based on assessing patients by the qualities or energetics (biocharacteristics) of their imbalances.
In medieval times, herbalists used biocharacteristics to assess the constitution of the client, and the constitution of the disease. They used the biocharacteristics theory of medicine to predict the medicinal and pharmacological effects of herbs as well. Then, they expertly paired the herb with the disease and the client's constitution. The method was highly individualized and experiential for both the practitioner and the client - making innovation with herbs easy.
Clinicians also described pathogenesis of disease using the biocharacteristics model - identifying common biocharacteristic pathways of disease back to their root causes. The biocharacteristic theory of medicine is much more natural to herbal medicine, that often have complex phytochemistry. The biocharacteristics model creates opportunity for highly customized medicine tailored to the individual. It helps pinpoint the correct formula to revitalize the whole individual in addition to addressing the disease.
Neglect of Biocharacteristics by Modern Herbal SchoolsIn modern herbal schools today, the biocharacteristic approach and tradition is neglected and under-emphasized. Some schools discuss 'energetics' briefly, but lack the historical years of study in biocharacteristics pathogenesis necessary to accurately pinpoint root causes and treatment. The term energetics is easily confused with energy healing modalities, and spirituality, which has hampered professional recognition and use of biocharacteristics in medical communities.
The neglect of biocharacteristics is also due to a misunderstanding of Greek Medicine. Medical doctors in the 1600s believed that the humors of Greek medicine (sanguine, phlegm, black bile, and choleric) were substances instead of qualities of being (heat, cold, wetness, and dryness). It logically makes sense that if the humors existed qualitatively they must have existed materially.
This logic, while true, misled the Greeks into thinking these humors could be isolated and identified as separate organic compounds. At the dawn of biochemistry in the 1600s, when these "substances" weren't found or able to be isolated, the paradigm of Greek medicine was abandoned.
It is more correct to view biocharacteristics and the humors functionally. Instead of viewing humors materially as a single molecule or compound, they should be viewed as a range or class of compounds and phenomena in the body (somewhat like inflammation is not a single biochemical). The success of Ayurveda & Unani Tibb practitioners today testifies to the continued relevance and value of the biocharacteristic theory of medicine.
Reintroducing Biocharacteristics in Modern Western HerbalismModern schools can greatly improve the efficacy of herbs, and the quality of their graduates by focusing on biocharacteristics theory and pathogenesis in herb schools. This will help the new herbalist have a clear vision of a more 'natural' pathogenesis. Biocharacteristics is the indigenous assessment method of herbal cultures because this is more natural to the use of herbs than modern lab equipment. Here are some of the downsides trying to fit herbs into a modern western medical paradigm:
Inability to deal with root causes - Take a condition such as diarrhea. Conventional modern herbalists tend to make statements like "such and such astringent herb is good for diarrhea." Or, such and such an herb is good for the liver or the colon. Astringency can help bind stool but does not address the root cause of diarrhea. Diarrhea may be caused by poor digestion (deficient type), inflammation (hot type), or parasites (sour type). Each of these subtypes require radically different herbs. No single herb treats every kind of diarrhea. The ability to identify the best herb for the root cause greatly improves the 'power' of the herb.
One-size-fits-all approach - Western herbalists who abandon biocharacteristics must rely on statistics instead of the individuality of the client. Herbalists who do not use biocharacteristisc tend to focus on the disease rather than the client. Where can overall function be improved? How is the client imbalanced more generally? Herb performance greatly increases when the herb matches both the disease and the individual. For example, a deficient person with candida needs to be nourished. An overweight person with candida typically needs to be cleansed. In both cases, an antimicrobial herb on its own is likely to fail because it doesn't address the constitution of the client.
Inability to innovate - Biocharacteristics theory makes it easy for the herbalist to apply herbs in novel ways. It makes it easy to naturally explore the pharmacological effects of herbs through personal experience. Exploring herbs from the biocharacteristic perspective broadens the range of use of each herb.
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