My primary teacher in the realm of herbalism is Sajah Popham. As such, I thought it would be great to review his book published last year, Evolutionary Herbalism: Science, Spirituality, and Medicine from the Heart of Nature.
Here is the chapter breakdown:
Part 1: The Light of Nature
- Natura Sophia
- Gnosis Cardiaca
- Synderesis Botanica
Part 2: Energetic Architecture
- The Cosmology of Nature
- The Five Elements
- The Three Principles
- The Seven Planets
Part 3: Universal Herbalism
- The Principles of Vitalism
- The Holistic Person
- The Elemental Human
- The Triune Human
- The Celestial Human
- The Holistic Plant
- The Elemental Plant
- The Triune Plant
- The Celestial Plant
- The Energetic Architecture of People and Plants
Part 4: Transformational Medicine
- Therapeutic Strategies: Tending the Inner Cosmos
- Spagyrics: The Art of Spiritual Pharmacy
- Initiatic Medicine and the Archetypal Landscape
Part 5: Know Thyself
- From Trauma to Transformation
- Walking the Plant Path through the Inner Forest
Forewarning. This is not the best beginner book on herbalism. Unless you are a big picture person and already have some ideas of these overarching patterns, it might be a bit over your head.
But for those that take herbs and want to go deeper, this book will absolutely give you a lot to think about.
I’ll be sharing several quotes and even pictures from inside the book to give you a feel for what is inside.
The Big Picture of What This Book is About
Understand that herbalism has been around for longer than humans. (An upcoming article on zoopharmacognosy discusses how animals use herbs too!)
It is the original medicine that was used, even though we can no longer call herbs medicine legally because that would involve practicing medicine without a license…such is the upside-down world we live in. But the human species survived for thousands of years before modern medicine was ever around. It wasn’t just dumb luck, instead, all peoples did have ways of treating issues that came up.
Over time across different cultures, different systems of practicing herbalism have evolved. Evolutionary Herbalism is about bringing together several of these systems for a holistic look at the overarching patterns involved even across those systems.
You see, allopathy, that is modern medicine, is based on a reductionist model. That is we reduce everything to its constituent parts and see how these interact with constituent parts inside the human body. But our ancestors didn’t have microscopes so herbalism could not be practiced this way.
Sajah writes, “Today herbalism is often perceived as the use of plants to treat symptoms or as a natural alternative to drugs. What few realize is that plants have traditionally been used to not just heal the body but also to assist in deeper levels of healing the mind, heart, and soul.”
With a holistic model, we see that we’re not just reduced to the physical but are much more. As such, healing does not just occur on a physical level either. When you understand this you can begin to see how plants can heal the mind, the heart, and the soul too.
With holism, the ability to see patterns is extremely important. And that is the main thrust of this book, such as described in this picture. Here we see ideas from alchemy, from Ayurveda, and the all-pervasive elemental model.
The key is that when you understand these patterns you can see them both in the herbs themselves as well as the people that need them.
The book starts off with a widely not understood subject. The ability to “talk” to nature.
“Learning to speak and understand the language of Nature—called the Language of the Birds in alchemical tradition, or the “green tongue” by esoteric writers—is the first step in the reintegration of the human being back into the natural order of life.”
I also wrote about this subject in my book Powered By Nature (but more towards the back of the book, not the start as Sajah does). It’s a deep subject but one that is instrumental in understanding how holism actually works.
One widely misunderstood piece of that is that the heart is actually a sense organ, not merely a pump. This quote gives a good glimpse of how this actually works:
“The heart is now considered to be the “primary brain,” as it is the first to form during embryological development in the womb. The heart even has its own memory, neurological cells, and neuroplasticity, and it directly modifies the functioning of the brain, as proven by the work of neurocardiologist Dr. J. Andrew Armour. The heart has four primary paths of connection with the brain: neurological, biochemical, biophysical, and electromagnetic. These connections function through nerve impulses, neurotransmitters, hormones, pressure waves, and electrical and magnetic signaling, forming a dynamic orchestra of communication that oversees and regulates our physiological wholeness, with the heart as the central conductor.”
Arrogant science originally looked at the heart and saw it beating, moving blood around. It concluded it was a mechanical pump…and nothing more. Since then, science has been uncovering more and more and yet this heart is the pump is still the prevailing view for the average person.
“Vitalism is founded upon the idea that the living body is intrinsically different from the cadaver, most notably in the presence of a life force that animates it.”
Vitalism was supposedly killed off by modern science. But it wasn’t so much explained, as explained away. We couldn’t find the soul in the human body in a physical form…therefore it must not exist. Yet this worldview then cannot define the difference between a living and a dead body!
It is through the principles of vitalism that we take a completely different look at how healing occurs. It really turns our medical model of disease-care into true healthcare.
“Vitalism sees symptoms as a language. They are not enemies to fight; instead, they are intelligent communications to listen to, translate, and follow to their roots in order to enact an appropriate cure.”
Symptoms as a language. The question is, how good are you, or the authorities you consult with, at interpreting that language. Do you actually listen? Or do you try to shut up the language?
“A universal principle among vitalist traditions is that medicines are used to support the body’s innate, self-regulating healing power.”
The Western viewpoint has come to see the body as a dumb machine. If something is wrong cut it out and replace it. But this Western viewpoint still cannot explain where healing comes from and certainly can’t “cause” healing to occur. Personally, I choose to align myself with that living principle. I am a vitalist, and maybe that’s why I tend to have more vitality than many other people because of this foundational viewpoint.
On Being a Clinician
This book may be especially useful for anyone that wants to practice herbalism. One of the most useful things here is the OPQRST clinician model. This stands for:
- Severity (Symptom Score)
With these as the questions, you can get to the root issues that plague you or other people better. From there understand this:
“The goal is to look beyond administering herbs for symptoms alone and to address primary root causes that reside on an archetypal level.”
Questions along these lines can help you get to the root causes.
The best way to understand plants is NOT by looking at their constituents. Sure, that is useful, but it is only one lens, a reductionist one, that often loses the forest for the trees. In Evolutionary Herbalism, Sajah describes a wide variety of other ways to look at plants to find out what they can do for us medicinally.
“Medicinal plants often grow in a habitat similar to the one they treat therapeutically in the body’s ecosystem. Conversely, they can generate that type of ecosystem within the body.”
And tastes! We’ve often talked about the importance of tastes with our herbs. In this chart, you can see how the six tastes map over to the different systems covered in the book.
An Example of How Herbs are Looked At
What follows is a look at Blue Vervain through the lens of the planets, the elements and the three philosophical principles of alchemy. It was through Sajah’s teachings that I first became familiar with Blue Vervain which has become one of my most powerful herbal allies.
“Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) has the underlying architecture of Venus-Air-Salt. This is exhibited in the tall, thin, dainty appearance of the plant, the blue-purple flowers, affinity for the female reproductive and nervous systems, and overall property of being a nervine relaxant. Some of the main indications for this remedy are indeed antipathetic to Venus, being for willful people with incredible drive who tend to push themselves to hard, work themselves into the ground, and have a difficult time relaxing—all signs of excess Mars. We can think of this plant as a strong Venusian remedy for excess Mars patterns. Its Salt/fixed correspondences are shown in its strong bitterness, which anchors the vital force down and in, as well as its preference to grow in shady, damp environments…the classic Blue Vervain person has very weak limits and boundaries, working themselves into the ground out of a fear of not being enough, failing, or being defeated. It represents the transformation of our inner fears and shows the Blue Vervain personality when it has moved into extreme excess.”
That’s in text. In picture form, once you understand the symbols and the patterns you could look at this picture to understand Nettle. (For those that aren’t familiar with the symbols, the pattern is Mars-Water-Salt.)
Similar to the heart as a pump, the average person thinks of alchemy as a pseudo-science of turning lead into gold.
While certain alchemists did strive for that (they were called “puffers”), that wasn’t what this holistic science was all about. Essentially, alchemists sought to consciously evolve natural medicines, by doing things in alignment with nature.
The terms mercury, sulfur and salt did not refer to the chemicals by the same name but the philosophical principles. Like in this picture, a hydro-distillation was the method of extracting the sulfur of plant material. The philosophical sulfur corresponds to the essential oils in a plant.
All this to say that alchemy is a laboratory science that can yield useful and tangible results in producing more potent herbs. These methods also tend to make the herbs work more than just on the physical body but the mental, emotional and spiritual levels too.
It was these teachings that led to our spagyric tinctures such as Ashwagandha, Mushroom Alchemy, and others. We look forward to bringing you more of these in the future, beyond those available and the limited-run Logan’s Private Reserve only available to VIP members.
Evolutionary Herbalism is probably not going to give you enough info to start making spagyrics yourself (I’ve found it is complicated and hands-on instruction necessary!), but it will help you understand the essentials of the theory and practice to how it works.
“To the evolutionary herbalist, every plant is a visionary plant, not just those with psychoactive constituents like DMT, mescaline, or other compounds that alter perception by adjusting sensory gating channels. Every plant has a spirit; every plant generates visions. We only need to sensitize ourselves to them by internally generating a nonordinary state of consciousness.”
In other words, all plants are psychoactive. That is they are active in your psychology. The thing is that most people just aren’t AWARE enough to notice anything.
I liken the traditional psychedelics to getting hit on the head with a sledgehammer! You’ll notice that for sure. And oftentimes, that can help you to open up to the more subtle effects that other plants and fungi can bring.
As I share in Powered By Nature, one of my most intense visionary experiences was working with Wild Rose. And I wasn’t on any “drugs” at that time.
Soul vs. Spirit
I thought this distinction was quite useful when I originally heard it years back, and so I share it here.
“In Western culture, the words “soul” and “spirit” are often used interchangeably, seen as representing the same components of the self, but the alchemical tradition understands them as distinct. Whereas the soul is defined as the unique individual essence, the spirit is the universal essence that infuses all of life with intelligence. A simple way to differentiate these essences is to say that soul is individual, whereas spirit is universal.”
Then just recently in my conversation with Ron Baker on the Health Sovereign podcast, he mentioned the universal soul’s purpose as opposed to an individual’s purpose. In this frame, we could term that the spiritual purpose (universal) to the soul purpose (individual).
This review has been a bit all over the place, but I wanted to give you a glimpse inside the book, sharing many of the different subjects it touches on. The book is much better structured in delivering that information then this article has been!
Studying with Sajah really opened my world up to a lot more in herbalism that I knew nothing about. This book can be a great starting point for the same to happen to you.
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Ken Gray says
Great post, and I’m thinking Evolutionary Herbalism is a must-add for my library…thanks Logan!
Logan Christopher says