Brigitte Mars, Author, Natural Herbalist, Professor and Natural Chef, shares some of her insights on the power of herbal remedies in a world rife with disease, addiction and unhealthy eating habits.
”If you have water to throw away, throw it on a plant.”
When did the power of plants first speak to you?
I remember very clearly when I was three or four years old walking in the woods with my grandmother. We came across an injured bird which my grandmother wrapped up in her shawl, took home and fed some herbs to. Within a few days, the bird had made a full recovery and was ready to rejoin his family. I remember yearning to learn how to do this.
When I visited my grandmother, she would always make myself and my cousins wear a little medicine bag around our necks with a clove of garlic. My parents would always say that it was simply old wives tales, but something always spoke to me on a deeper level and made me feel that it was medicine for the people and affordable. I loved this philosophy way more than being on antibiotics or getting shots and so from very early on decided that the natural approach was best and early believed in the incredible power of garlic.
Do you believe herbal concoctions and plants should be used preventatively or only as a means of healing?
Using herbs on a daily basis is a great thing to do as preventing illness is always better than having to cure it. There are so many diseases and illnesses that humanity is confronted with, therefore using herbs on a regular basis seems the intelligent thing to do.
Even our basic culinary herbs such as ginger, oregano, cinnamon and cayenne pepper amongst others are wonderful.
Make them part of your regular practice and do what you can to fortify your health at any given time – daily. Eating healthy food is also part and parcel of the preventative process and one should definitely strive to avoid artificial foods, refined carbohydrates and junk food in general. Food actually comes before herbs in this respect, as it ultimately provides the foundations of well being which leads the way to optimum health.
At what point do you believe traditional medicine should take over, or vice versa?
I always say that one should try natural medicine first. One of the virtues of natural medicine is that people have been using it for hundreds of thousands of years. What is important to realize is that most of the testing that has been performed by the pharmaceutical companies has been done with a profit motive, and has not even used the entire plant to do so.
I actually work part-time in a pharmacy and I see that a lot of drugs that are released to the public are actually recalled some time later for containing carcinogenic compounds. These drugs are supposedly scientifically tested, but more often than not are tested on animals or on a small group of healthy people. The long term effects are often unknown.
This is why I feel it is important to try natural medicine first. However, people need to do what they are comfortable with. Natural medicine is for those who are motivated. I am very motivated and I have great love for creation and the preservation of this planet. I love the idea that when I use a herb such as elderberry, there are fields of plants growing in the world that offer a habitat for insects, butterflies and bees to thrive.
Did you raise your children solely on herbal remedies and is this what you recommend all parents do?
I have another story that involves my grandmother and garlic. She had eleven children and they all had whooping cough at one time. She would rub olive oil onto the souls of their feet and put chopped garlic on their feet. Within a few moments they had garlic breath and could breathe more easily. We know that 60% of what we put on our skin ends up going into our body transdermally.
I used herbal remedies to cure my two daughters of any ailments they had while they were growing up. One absolutely needs to educate oneself on the subject so going this route is definitely more time consuming and much dedication is needed, but I felt very strongly about it, and the results were always positive. If however, what I was doing wasn’t working and my herbal remedies that I was giving my children were having no effect, of course I would have reverted to allopathic medicine.
Sometimes taking the time to rest and eating simply allows a profound healing to happen, beyond the illness itself. Today, we tend to bypass this process of rest, and want the prescription pills so as to get back to school or work the very next day.
How would you define ‘addiction’ and when would you advise the introduction of herbal remedies to overcome this?
I actually wrote a book called Addiction Free Naturally. I believe that when someone has an addiction, it is important to understand what the cause of the addiction is; psychological issues, ways of dealing with post traumatic stress, allergies causing a person to crave something, etc…People often don’t want to let go of addictions which is why I was so happy to write this book.
A lot of people want to alter their consciousness so they imbibe something that makes them feel a little different, more relaxed or energized. The good news is that there is plant medicine out there that can do just this. Instead of relying on cocaine, sleeping pills or barbiturates, find out what the herbal substitutes are, and combine it with therapy. Aromatherapy also helps create different states, whether it be for relaxation, or to energize or help with memory.
Psychedelic therapy is also something I mention in my book. This opens up the spiritual awakening and allows us to let go of addictions. The use of Iboga for example, which is a shrub that is used for ritual and ceremonial purposes in some African cultures, although illegal in the US, is used elsewhere for this purpose.
When it comes to addiction, there are so many other ways to reward oneself. Why do we have to resort to alcohol, tobacco or sugar, all of which are highly addictive, yet readily available everywhere?
Let’s replace these ‘rewards’ with an aromatherapy bath, working in the garden, doing handcrafts as our ancestors would have done or playing an instrument. These are just a few examples of alternative ‘rewards’ at the end of a long day. Keeping our hands busy and activating our brain does wonders for the body and soul and the old saying Idle fingers are the devil’s playground certainly applies, I believe. I also think dementia and alzheimers’s would be much less prevalent in our society if we were to coordinate our hands and brain more.
Why do you think addiction is so prevalent in our society?
I think we are being marketed addictive substances all over the media. On American TV, prescription drugs are often advertised over going to yoga, or going to therapy. Diet is also partially responsible – too many sugars and refined carbohydrates. This actually starts at childhood where often we reward our children with sweets or chocolate.
How does one differentiate between the responsible use of natural psychedelics and the (moderate) consumption of red wine for example?
In my book, I provide a lot of questions that people can ask themselves as to why they do what they do. For example, am I drinking this wine for the taste, am I concerned about quality, am I buying organic wines, am I drinking socially or on special occasions etc…?
Psychedelics are a much bigger deal. I do not consider them suitable for partying but to be used for a much deeper introspection and spiritual awakening. They need to be used in a safe set and setting, either with a trusted guide or friend. My partner coined the acronym EPIC; psychedelics should be used with/for Education, Preparation, Intention and Coalesce (integration).
I take psychedelics as serious medicine and not necessarily to be done socially (unless a small intimate group). It is by no means something that I would think of doing at a cocktail party!
Psychedelics are very powerful medicines and are NOT a substitute for working on your health, relationships and psyche. For many years, we have said Just say NO!….and now I am all about the Just say HOW! I strongly advocate educating people in the correct and responsible use of psychedelics.
What percentage of our diet should be raw, and why?
I ate 100% raw for about ten years and wrote a book called Rawsome! which contains over 200 raw recipes.
I still really enjoy raw food, and will eat raw food every single day, even if nowadays it would equate to perhaps 50% of my total diet, especially in the warmer months. In winter, and this is perhaps personal, I do enjoy eating hearty, healthy and warm foods such as soup.
My book actually gives many options on how to cook food without heat (pureeing,fermenting..) to preserve the enzymes found in raw food. These enzymes help reduce the inflammation that is prevalent in most diseases.
How do you see the future of herbal medicine in the Western world?
The movement is evolving continuously. When I was at school, there were maybe two Herbal schools in the country and now there are probably a couple of hundred.
Many of my friends are doctors and they often ask my advice if a specific plant can be used before moving on to harsher drugs. I don’t see a world where it is us and them, I see a world of integrative medicine that takes the best from all worlds. Again, the natural world still works best for me, although I do at times appreciate the advantages of modern technology.
One of my favorite quotes with a little personal addition:
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the next best time is NOW” – a fruit tree, all the better!