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The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines for Life on Earth Paperback – March 1, 2002
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About the Author
Stephen Harrod Buhner is the award-winning author of twenty-one books on herbal medicine, depth understanding of Gaian functioning and plant ecology, and the nature of meaning in language. He is a fellow of Schumacher College. For over thirty years, Stephen taught throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. He lives in New Mexico.
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we came from them and we need to respect and honor them for all the gifts that they provide for us and ask for nothing in return. The information in this book on our environment and how and why we are soo sick will awaken your spirit to be more in tune with your body and your spirit and go to the plants and herbs for healing and get out of the alliopathic realm of poisons.
Stephen Buhner is a Earth Keeper and wise man who came to earth to teach us, just Listen.
The Lost Language of Plants is the way in which Stephen Buhner shares his respect for plant life on earth and reveals the amazing chemistry, the language, that all plants speak to each other and to Homo Sapiens. Unfortunately, this subtle communications system is under a serious threat by the pharmaceutical chemicals that have permeated our ecosystem. From the waste spewed by their manufacture to their entrance into city water systems, we are ingesting unwanted chemicals all around us. When the plants regulating our environment are sensitive to the part per trillion level, a small change can have catastrophic consequences.
Humanity has developed internal and external wounds because we've lost our emotional engagement with nature. For the entire history of man's development, we've lived in small groups eating hundreds of plant species, constantly exposed to the wild nature around us. Now that most of us are fundamentally isolated from this wild world, we are missing a part of ourselves, we can feel it but we can't always identify it. The internal wounds are characterized by depression, anxiety and fear: the common words that describe the psyche of the American citizen. The external wounds are the harm we inflict on the biology around us, exemplified by the gaping holes in the ground because of the economic benefit of mining.
During a visit to New York City, Buhner held a class where three women attested to strange experiences with plants. One woman had a recurring dream where her grandmother told her to, "get her fingers in the dirt" and when she did, she felt whole again. She wondered if she was crazy. The next woman was touring a facility and begun to hear the plants in the trays calling out to her. She wondered if she was crazy. The final woman had a plant which pointed in one way at night and the other way in the morning, telling her which way to go. She wondered if she was crazy. Buhner responded by saying that this was normal. Because we've withdrawn from nature we act shocked when we come into contact with the interior world around us. A world we've know as a species for our entire history. In the past, getting advice from ancestors in a dream, hearing plants or developing a relationship with them was considered a blessing. Now it can remind us that our species is another piece of the earth, no more, no less. That can be unsettling for many.
At the core of this problem is the epistemological conflict of organic existence vs. universe as machine. Despite recent discoveries in science chipping away at the deterministic world view of Newton and Descartes, our society is built on a reductionistic view. In the world of plants that means: find every chemical in a plant, take it out, place them in unhealthy foods and sell them back to people. If we took ourselves apart would be surprised that we lost the ability to play music? Amazingly we've discovered that the universe isn't dog eat dog, the survival of the fittest has long been disproved by people like Lynn Margulis who won a Nobel prize for fleshing out the processes behind bacterial cooperation to build new species. We've lost the love of nature, the biophilia and replace it with television to substitutions for dreaming, with public schooling to substitute for the knowledge of the elders and the world around us, with machines for the living world around us and with simplistic chemistries for the plant medicines ubiquitous around us. In Sonoran Desert native populations, the children of the Yaqui and O'odham tribes claimed that their school made them superior to their parents and grandparents but were unable to identify more than 4 local plant species, whereas grandparents could identify more than 15.
With 1900 Americans killed by pharmaceuticals each week, its time to ask if chemical remedies are a practical solution to our health problems. Chemicals from pharmaceutical waste facilities generate 100 million tons of solid waste a year and 250 million liters of liquid waste per year. The average US citizen produces 1300 pounds of excrement. What's in all this stuff that we release into the world around us? The drugs we take and the drugs we will take: antidepressants, tranquilizers, chemotherapy drugs, fugicides, sythetic hormones, etc... the list gets worse and worse. Our waste streams get processed but no amount of cleaning can remove the vast quantities of chemicals we release each year. German researchers found that the North Sea contains 150,000 pounds of clofibric acid, a drug for lower cholesterol levels. Studies confirmed that this amount accumulated from excrement. What does this mean? For example, Chris Metcalf, a researcher in Canada detected esterone, a type of estrogen in waste-water at levels of 400 parts per trillion (ppt). He then exposed Japanese medaka fish to typical waste water streams for 100 days and at concentrations of 10 ppt of esterone the fish exhibited inter-sexual changes and eventually changed sexes from male to female as exposure increased.
I would summarize the discussion of antibiotics in The Lost Language of Plants here but its simply too chilling to break down. Basically, bacteria adapt to antibiotics quickly and communicate that adaptation to other bacteria rapidly, sometimes in hours and the amount of antibiotics increases in the environment every year. Our failure to understand that all life is important has led us to target the microorganisms instead of targeting the conditions that allow them to grow to unsustainable levels inside us.
Plants are chemists, the most complex and well adapted kind. Each plant contains a minimum of several hundred chemicals, some even containing thousands. Even a small change in the ratios of these chemicals can change everything. Seeds emit combinations of abscisic and gibberellic acids, cytokinins and ethylene which regulate germination at levels of less than 10ppt. Without these ratios, the plants don't germinate. And these ratios change based on soil environmental conditions.
When lima beans are infested by spider mites, they will release a blend of volatile oils that attracts a predatory mite which will feed on the spider mite. The plans detect exactly which type of spider mite is present by analyzing the chemistry of the saliva and then produces a different blend of volatiles depending on what kind of spider mite is feeding on it. The mix will only call the predator that feeds on the specific type of mite. Then the plants tell uninfested lima beans what is happening. And all this is cited with actual studies, it isn't just made up. Essentially this entire section was full of jaw-dropping moments which relate how plants interact with each other. With each example backed up by solid science.
We don't need chemical medicines when we have plants. Plants contain everything we need and more. The more I've thought about it, the more Buhner's crowning statement makes sense, that pharmaceuticals are an issue because of their divergence in meaning. This meaning seemed unimportant to me at first. But the reality is that these drugs are made to profit the few and to alleviate the symptoms of human bodily conditions defined arbitrarily as disease. Plant chemistries are created out of an intricately interwoven biofeedback communication loop between elements of our ecosystem that aim to maintain homeostasis. Plant chemistries are chemical messages, man-made drugs are noise.
Yes, western medicine is highly effective at quick cures, as Doctor House was asked why people take drugs he responded, "...because they work." That is no understatement. Our medicines work, but primarily to maintain the lifestyle we lead in defiance of our true nature. Western medicine saves lives, specifically in surgeries. But we can't extrapolate surgical successes to justify the continued reliance on prescription and over-the-counter chemicals. Challenge yourself to explore a remedy to your ailment that is outside the doctors recommendation. Herbs can be finicky. They only speak to certain people, stinging nettles work wonders for my sinuses, they do nothing for others.
As long as we live in our current world, we will have need for modern medicine. As KMO of the C-Realm podcast recently relayed in a story about a woman stricken with an infection, her problem was only remedied by hospital medicine after trying out indigenous approaches. We need both to survive our current lifestyle. But they can live in harmony.
Now when I hear the stories of co-workers on 10+ prescription medicines I'll cringe and hope for a better understanding of the miraculous nature of plant medicines. Perhaps my intense interest in herbs as a child was just a preparation for my future education. Read Buhner's Lost Language of Plants and your world will change dramatically. If you browse the first 20 pages you'll either throw it out, claiming it is nonsense or you'll be hooked, realizing that he describes the world we've covered up with pavement and strip malls.