Thirty years ago, traditional medicine, with its strong reliance on the healing power of plants, was considered pretty much obsolete by most Canadians.

How things change! Traditional medicine systems from around the world now flourish here. The gap between traditional and mainstream medicine is narrowing, with MDs running clinical trials of traditional remedies and reputable traditional practitioners modifying their practices in the light of new scientific evidence.

A current issue of great concern to practitioners, consumers, and government is the need to set and enforce standards of quality for both practitioners and the products marketed as traditional medicines.

Thirty years ago, traditional medicine, with its strong reliance on the healing power of plants, was considered pretty much obsolete by most Canadians.

How things change! Traditional medicine systems from around the world now flourish here. The gap between traditional and mainstream medicine is narrowing, with MDs running clinical trials of traditional remedies and reputable traditional practitioners modifying their practices in the light of new scientific evidence.

A current issue of great concern to practitioners, consumers, and government is the need to set and enforce standards of quality for both practitioners and the products marketed as traditional medicines.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Valérie Lanctôt-Bédard

Teacher & Co-Founder/Owner, Flora Medicina, école d'herboristerie

Montreal and Stukely-Sud Quebec

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


What I do is help people heal themselves using mainly herbs. My main therapeutic approach is herbs. Also I work in a holistic manner, meaning that I will look at all the different aspects of health promotion in one's life - it will be nutritional, stress management, those are very wide-ranging, but a lot of lifestyle issues are also taken into account to promote the body's capacity to heal. The premise that I work with is that, in and of itself, the body is capable of healing. What we need to do is provide circumstances in which it can do that and sometimes provide extra help for it to be able to find its balance better, or to initiate a certain movement toward something or other, depending on where the issues are.
What I do is help people heal themselves using mainly herbs. My main therapeutic approach is herbs. Also I work in a holistic manner, meaning that I will look at all the different aspects of health promotion in one's life - it will be nutritional, stress management, those are very wide-ranging, but a lot of lifestyle issues are also taken into account to promote the body's capacity to heal. The premise that I work with is that, in and of itself, the body is capable of healing. What we need to do is provide circumstances in which it can do that and sometimes provide extra help for it to be able to find its balance better, or to initiate a certain movement toward something or other, depending on where the issues are.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

They play a role at very many different levels. Generally, the most important part of what we do really lies in strengthening the body and helping it work optimally. So strengthening in the way of toning, in the way of optimizing the body's capacity to respond to what is being asked of it. That might work in different body systems - for instance, we can tone the digestive system, the liver, the lungs, or the nervous system in order for the body or one of its organs to be better able to give when asked, to perform more dynamically to the requirements of life.
They play a role at very many different levels. Generally, the most important part of what we do really lies in strengthening the body and helping it work optimally. So strengthening in the way of toning, in the way of optimizing the body's capacity to respond to what is being asked of it. That might work in different body systems - for instance, we can tone the digestive system, the liver, the lungs, or the nervous system in order for the body or one of its organs to be better able to give when asked, to perform more dynamically to the requirements of life.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

We just work with both types of knowledge coherently. For instance, if you read old herbals, you might hypothetically find something like, "This yellow flower is good for when you have pain here on the side…." Today we now know that "the side" is actually the liver. So now more and more we are making links with what scientists are finding and we are explaining things better, and we can extrapolate in a certain way. However, we're still using a lot of remedies that are not explained and that science has not yet turned its eye to. We just work with them anyway because they have worked for a long time. St. John's wort for depression is not new. It wasn't called depression before, it might have been called melancholy, or people being possessed by demons. That's what it was called, but it's the same thing. So modern herbalists make bridges, we learn new things, we explain new things.

The part that is the most difficult, for me and for us generally as herbalists, is trying to defend treatment approaches that have not been proven under the microscope (in the reductionist model) but that have plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence suggesting that Read More
We just work with both types of knowledge coherently. For instance, if you read old herbals, you might hypothetically find something like, "This yellow flower is good for when you have pain here on the side…." Today we now know that "the side" is actually the liver. So now more and more we are making links with what scientists are finding and we are explaining things better, and we can extrapolate in a certain way. However, we're still using a lot of remedies that are not explained and that science has not yet turned its eye to. We just work with them anyway because they have worked for a long time. St. John's wort for depression is not new. It wasn't called depression before, it might have been called melancholy, or people being possessed by demons. That's what it was called, but it's the same thing. So modern herbalists make bridges, we learn new things, we explain new things.

The part that is the most difficult, for me and for us generally as herbalists, is trying to defend treatment approaches that have not been proven under the microscope (in the reductionist model) but that have plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence suggesting that they can indeed be effective. How many anecdotes does it take before scientists will accept that something works? So that's the line that we've been dancing a lot. And because of the new regulations in our field, all the intuition that comes into play when we match people with plants is going to be harder and harder to do, because the conventional medical model of treatment that is supported by both the financial and the governmental aspects of our society is largely at odds with the way we work.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Valérie in her herb garden.

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


The lesson that endures for me is the idea that "simple is effective". By simple, I mean things that I grow in my backyard or in the forest beyond, and I also mean things that I can transform in my kitchen. That's a really hot one for a lot of people.
The lesson that endures for me is the idea that "simple is effective". By simple, I mean things that I grow in my backyard or in the forest beyond, and I also mean things that I can transform in my kitchen. That's a really hot one for a lot of people.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

St. John's wort tincture. St. John's wort is a weed, it's all over my garden and in my grass. You should see when I mow my lawn, it's a really long process - I mow around the alfalfa, I mow around the burdock, … but St. John's wort grows everywhere, and you can easily harvest the flower bud and flowers and sometimes some leaves too depending on what mood I'm in, and put them up into a glass jar and pour vodka on top of it, and shake it every day, and later strain it. You can use that tincture (the liquid part) as medicine, it's a very good way to treat the nervous system in many ways. I'm also starting to use it as a liver remedy.
St. John's wort tincture. St. John's wort is a weed, it's all over my garden and in my grass. You should see when I mow my lawn, it's a really long process - I mow around the alfalfa, I mow around the burdock, … but St. John's wort grows everywhere, and you can easily harvest the flower bud and flowers and sometimes some leaves too depending on what mood I'm in, and put them up into a glass jar and pour vodka on top of it, and shake it every day, and later strain it. You can use that tincture (the liquid part) as medicine, it's a very good way to treat the nervous system in many ways. I'm also starting to use it as a liver remedy.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Millepertuis

Royal Botanical Gardens

© Royal Botanical Gardens


I deal with it internally. I know that this is the plant I want, I ask from the plant what I want, and the plant gives me what it has to give. And I trust that the plant and the person who will use it will be able to find a way to meet and the person to get what they need out of that plant.

This approach has very pragmatic things about it. The plant that I harvest in my backyard is much more full of vitality and life than any plant that was mixed up with things and pressed into a pill, with heat, from plant powders that have been shipped around the globe then into Canada.

Also, the fact that I'm an herbalist and that I know the plants and I have communication with plants, carries over into the relationship that that person is going to have with the plant. This I believe is a way grander approach than focusing on the molecules that came from that plant. What I harvest, when I harvest it, and how I transform it is the very pragmatic way of getting what I want out of that plant.

And the other pragmatic aspect is that my dosage range can vary enormously from one person to another. I always start with very small dosages, and some people stay with that beca Read More

I deal with it internally. I know that this is the plant I want, I ask from the plant what I want, and the plant gives me what it has to give. And I trust that the plant and the person who will use it will be able to find a way to meet and the person to get what they need out of that plant.

This approach has very pragmatic things about it. The plant that I harvest in my backyard is much more full of vitality and life than any plant that was mixed up with things and pressed into a pill, with heat, from plant powders that have been shipped around the globe then into Canada.

Also, the fact that I'm an herbalist and that I know the plants and I have communication with plants, carries over into the relationship that that person is going to have with the plant. This I believe is a way grander approach than focusing on the molecules that came from that plant. What I harvest, when I harvest it, and how I transform it is the very pragmatic way of getting what I want out of that plant.

And the other pragmatic aspect is that my dosage range can vary enormously from one person to another. I always start with very small dosages, and some people stay with that because it's enough for them, they can feel it. And some people will take up to five droppers six times a day, and that's fine, because that's what they need. And the relationship between the person and the plant is beyond me, you know, I'm a matchmaker.

Because we work with living material, with plants and people, all of this can take place. That can never happen with something totally inert.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Honestly, they really come from everywhere. For instance, the traditions that have fed the knowledge base I work with mainly come from France, England, and the USA. The USA part of it is many-fold: it encompasses a lot of knowledge that came out of Europe, which was originally elaborated from ongoing exchanges with Middle East practitioners over many centuries, then went back and forth in influences between the USA and England, to then take on many other influences on this continent. Luckily, the Eclectic physicians (before the compulsory standardization of medical practice) got a fair amount of information about native plants from First Nations people - and they left a lot of written materials. More recently, this work has been elaborated upon by a whole bunch of fantastic herbalists who also draw from Asian traditions and incorporate it all into a wide variety of approaches and understandings about health and plants. It's really important for me to speak of the diversity, because I find that the diversity is the richness of it, and different people will prefer different approaches. For instance, I co-own a school where we train herbal practitioners. My colleague is much more ver Read More
Honestly, they really come from everywhere. For instance, the traditions that have fed the knowledge base I work with mainly come from France, England, and the USA. The USA part of it is many-fold: it encompasses a lot of knowledge that came out of Europe, which was originally elaborated from ongoing exchanges with Middle East practitioners over many centuries, then went back and forth in influences between the USA and England, to then take on many other influences on this continent. Luckily, the Eclectic physicians (before the compulsory standardization of medical practice) got a fair amount of information about native plants from First Nations people - and they left a lot of written materials. More recently, this work has been elaborated upon by a whole bunch of fantastic herbalists who also draw from Asian traditions and incorporate it all into a wide variety of approaches and understandings about health and plants. It's really important for me to speak of the diversity, because I find that the diversity is the richness of it, and different people will prefer different approaches. For instance, I co-own a school where we train herbal practitioners. My colleague is much more versed in TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] than I am. That works for her really well, and that's fine. Right now we're both learning some "shamanic" techniques of direct communication with plants, which is another influence that I started with in an embryonic way 12 years ago and have been expanding to this point. And we both took extensive training in anatomy and physiology, to be able to speak the language and to be able to make sense of this at different levels. One does not preclude the other.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Yes, and I think the increase varies widely across Canada, from province to province. It's interesting, because the increase seems to follow a historic pattern that a writer named Barbara Griggs described in a book called Green Pharmacy. In her book, she says there's long been a back-and-forth pull between traditional/natural and conventional forms of medicine. Every time there's been a decline in people's faith in conventional medicine - because of adverse side effects of mercury treatments in the 19th century, or whatever - then people turn back to herbs and simple home remedies. And then conventional medicine comes up with something like penicillin, and boom! All confidence turns back to conventional medicine. So it's just a cycle, and I think now we're in the part of the cycle where people are turning away from conventional medicine, away from chemical drugs and that sort of thing, and reviving their interest in traditional remedies.
Yes, and I think the increase varies widely across Canada, from province to province. It's interesting, because the increase seems to follow a historic pattern that a writer named Barbara Griggs described in a book called Green Pharmacy. In her book, she says there's long been a back-and-forth pull between traditional/natural and conventional forms of medicine. Every time there's been a decline in people's faith in conventional medicine - because of adverse side effects of mercury treatments in the 19th century, or whatever - then people turn back to herbs and simple home remedies. And then conventional medicine comes up with something like penicillin, and boom! All confidence turns back to conventional medicine. So it's just a cycle, and I think now we're in the part of the cycle where people are turning away from conventional medicine, away from chemical drugs and that sort of thing, and reviving their interest in traditional remedies.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

The big problem with the reductionist model, where practitioners look at one part of the body (plant or animal) instead of studying the whole, is it doesn't work. As soon as you're looking at one part of the body, you're looking at a dead part. It cannot be alive if it's separated from the whole. It's not interacting with its environment anymore. It's really hard to appreciate what's going on in someone's life pattern when you're looking at the body that way. There must be aliveness in all the connections, and that's where traditional herbal medicine is very strong. We're working with really simple plants and simple preparations. Ideally, you want the herbalist to have personally harvested and transformed the plants, because they're someone who knows and loves those plants. Do you know how hard it is to talk about these things to MDs? I wish we could create opportunities to let all our prejudices down (yes, I mean both theirs and ours) and talk. I trust there's a meeting place somewhere out there for us all, because I know we care about at least one thing in common: the well-being of our fellow human beings!
The big problem with the reductionist model, where practitioners look at one part of the body (plant or animal) instead of studying the whole, is it doesn't work. As soon as you're looking at one part of the body, you're looking at a dead part. It cannot be alive if it's separated from the whole. It's not interacting with its environment anymore. It's really hard to appreciate what's going on in someone's life pattern when you're looking at the body that way. There must be aliveness in all the connections, and that's where traditional herbal medicine is very strong. We're working with really simple plants and simple preparations. Ideally, you want the herbalist to have personally harvested and transformed the plants, because they're someone who knows and loves those plants. Do you know how hard it is to talk about these things to MDs? I wish we could create opportunities to let all our prejudices down (yes, I mean both theirs and ours) and talk. I trust there's a meeting place somewhere out there for us all, because I know we care about at least one thing in common: the well-being of our fellow human beings!

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • familiarize himself with the vocabulary used in traditional medicine;
  • describe the distinguished feature of Ayurvedic;
  • compare the way each Canadians portrayed in this learning object collection uses plants to heal and/or maintain health.

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