The instructor-student relationship needs to be based on honesty and verifiable facts. If someone asks me a question as to whether I’ve eaten a certain plant, I can tell them yes or no, as well as what I thought about it. If someone asks me about the medicinal properties of a plant, the waters are much more muddied. There are a variety of plants we use for first aid that I have a long history using and can say definitively that it has effect X, Y or Z. With herbal medicine, though, things are usually not so cut and dry.
Herbal medicine operates under a different philosophy of medicine and healing than our modern, allopathic system. In our modern system, if a part of the body is determined to be bad or diseased, we cut it out of the body, or take some a drug to kill it or minimize it’s effect. It is very cause and effect oriented.
Herbal medicine comes from an older and different understanding of healing. Called vitalism, it is believed that if we make the whole organism healthier, the malady will take care of itself. Sort of along the lines of a rising tide lifts all boats; a healthy body will heal all illnesses. There is a modern type of herbal medicine that operates more like our allopathic system, but I’m not familiar with it.
So, imagine we’re out on a plant walk and someone asks me a question about a tea made from dried yarrow and raspberry leaf. The lore is that it will tone a woman’s reproductive system and is good for women’s reproductive health. I can relate to you that I’ve read this. I can say that I was told by a female friend who is an herbalist that it works really well. But as I don’t have first-hand knowledge of this, I won’t pass it off as true because I haven’t experienced it. I feel strongly about approaching herbal medicine like this as it minimizes falsehoods being passed down.
I’ve studied plants and herbs all of my adult life. However, I don’t have an ego-based need to be the expert. I’m entirely comfortable saying I don’t know. I can tell you what I’ve read. I can tell you what I’ve heard other people say, but if I haven’t experienced it personally, I won’t pass it off as if I had. Again, I feel very strongly about the teacher-student relationship being based on honesty. This is how that manifests itself during the learning process.