This is a reflection post from the MUIH course Herbal Therapeutics II. It reflects my perspective on herbalism and my career goals in herbalism at the time. I have chosen to include it in an unedited format primarily to provide a juxtaposition between my goals at that point in the program and my current goals as articulated elsewhere on this site. I feel that it is insightful to see which of my positions have evolved and which are largely the same.
Put simply: I’m going to focus on practicing clinical herbalism at the lowest possible sustainable rate in underserved populations.
I am also going to process/manufacture and distribute herbal extracts at the lowest possible sustainable rate, ideally at scale in partnership with others who share my priorities.
Our increasingly damaged and violent planet is reaching a tipping point. There is much to be done, and being unwilling to compromise on certain concepts is a necessary step to fostering true and lasting change. Collaboration is a necessary tool for working in a pluralistic society, but there are gradients to collaboration and, for me at least, there are lines I refuse to cross.
One of the main theses of Marx’s “Capital” is that capitalism is predicated on the presupposition that consumers will act as if they have an encyclopedic and constantly updated knowledge of the real cost of things. The fact is they never do. This is the central method by which people are exploited. The unseen hand is only able to regulate markets in a population of equals, and if there is one thing that characterizes this epoch, it is the ossification and entrenchment of inverse power relationships.
So despite the inevitable derision of some of my peers and industry leaders, I’m not profiting off the backs of people who have been tricked by repetition and fundamental cognitive bias into thinking that 30ml of herb X is “worth” 15-20 dollars when really it’s “worth” 10 or 6 or even less when it’s produced at scale. Primates are susceptible to “anchor bias” in many scenarios but none is more exploitative than in pricing for services.
The challenge should be on me as a clinician and a producer to figure out a way to practice and produce sustainably at the lowest price. It shouldn’t be on the people who need services and medicine to coming up with an extra money to pay which is in most cases an arbitrarily defined price for the betterment of shareholders or buffer the cost of my startup.
Basically, my job is to help eliminate suffering and return the planet to balance in any way I can. So I’m not asking the suffering to pay for my swimming pool, just for my dinner, so I have the energy to practice tomorrow.
I guess its the distinction between business and service. We have a lot of business “serving” the community, but I think that sometimes service is twisted to mean little better than forcing a kid to say “my pleasure” after they take your order.
Furthermore, this system also functions on the presupposition that capital is spent freely and all choices are equal because all exchanges are equitable in the great equalizing abstraction of exchange value and the “market.” That’s just plainly not the case in health.
Health choices, especially in vulnerable or exploited populations, are almost always made under some type of duress.
I’m here on earth to eliminate suffering, the herbal degree and the herbal path are literally a means to an end for me and not the end itself. I also think as healers we need to go where we are most needed, and the people who really need us, in my experience, are almost always the ones who can afford it the least.
There are many organizations and initiatives which are fairly easily accessible around these topics. It’s about forming partnerships of like minded people who share similar goals. The infrastructure for these types of lowest possible cost initiatives has already begun to be established in my local community.
On the Eastern Shore of Maryland there are also opportunities to enhance regional biodiversity. This is where the ability to work with differing stakeholders that don’t necessarily share the same agendas becomes important.
One method of enhancing biodiversity that is by convincing local large to medium scale farmers to transition a portion of their arable land to medicinal perennial polyculture.
Farmers in this region face increasingly stringent restrictions associated with stormwater and nutrient runoff management. The ability to leverage automation at scale is beginning to face pressures such as is increasing incidence of glyphosphate resistance in “weeds” such as the Palmer Amaranth.
Additionally, the markets for monocropped grain are now global markets, so the local prices are highly sensitive to non local disruptions and surpluses, subsidies prop up a significant portion of our grain industry.
Many of these same challenges face the medicinal herb farmer but are buffered by the very nature of polyculture. Furthermore, perennial polyculture farming is better capable of absorbing the rising cost of carbon based fuels.
Farmers who have spent their entire lives working with the earth and operating in the market understand these pressures better than most and all that remains is to make the case to them to dip their toes in the water.
The best way to do this is through providing successful local examples and recruiting other stakeholders through workshops and a mutual support association.
A stellar example of this kind of work occurring in other regions is the Appalachian Herb Growers Association (https://appalachianherbgrowers.com/). This organization is constrained by their funding model of working in the traditional tobacco production counties in VA.
I want to facilitate the spread of this type of farming on the Eastern Shore by ideally either partnering and working with existing organizations or creating a similar organization for the Shore if the existing organizations are unable for whatever reason to spread to this region