A Chat with Susun Weed
On March 30th 2007, it was my privilege, on behalf
Spiritualist's Spectrum, to have a telephone conversation
with Wise Woman / Herbalist Susun Weed, at her home in New
York State. Enjoy! Sylvia Richards.
Sylvia: I really want to thank you for giving us this interview. I guess the burning question for most of our readers would be - What exactly is the Wise Woman Tradition?
Susun: What an excellent question! Like
most people I was brought up
in the Scientific Tradition. And the Scientific Tradition
has to do with measuring. So whenever I'd go to the
doctor they would measure things. They'd weigh me and they'd
see how tall I was, they'd take my blood pressure, and take
my blood and measure various things in my blood and in general
use tools to inspect me and to see if I fit within certain
parameters, and if not, to fix me. So the Scientific Tradition
is characterized by a linear thought approach in which health
is defined as "absence of disease." So we don't
even have a pro-active definition of health. In other words,
we can't say "Oh You're healthy!" we can only say
"You don't have disease."
Sylvia: So you can be "not unhealthy"
- but that doesn't necessarily mean you're "healthy."
Susun: Exactly! So I, like many other people,
went looking for something alternative, and what I found is
what I called "the Heroic Tradition" - or to be
really clear, "the Heroic Traditions". Let me characterize
a ten year span in my life in this way: I was very interested
in alternatives. I got a book and was reading it and this
book said that if I wanted to be healthy I should eat raw
food, and that the best raw food was juiced. So I went to
my local Health Food Store and I bought a juicer and a 25
pound bag of organic carrots. And I probably would have lived
happily ever after if I hadn't bought another book.
So you must imagine me at home. I'm sitting there drinking
my carrot juice and reading my book and it said "IF YOU
EAT RAW FOOD YOU WILL DIE!"
So of course I went back to the store and I bought my pressure cooker and my brown rice - because the book said that the food that was really fit for human beings was brown rice - and of course my aduki beans and my chopsticks and my seaweed. And I might well have lived happily ever after if I hadn't bought another book.
Now we must imagine me sitting there eating my pressure cooked
brown rice and my aduki beans and my seaweed with my chopsticks
and reading this third book which said "IF YOU EAT RICE
AND BEANS TOGETHER, YOU WILL DIE!"
So I went back to the health food store and bought every book they had on food combining. Shortly thereafter, I was sitting in my kitchen at midnight eating watermelon - because, of course, if you look at all the food combining charts, you can't eat watermelon within six hours of any other food - and actually if you look at all of them all at once, you'll discover that there's nothing you can eat but watermelon.
It was about that time that a friend of mine who knew I was
interested in herbs came over and said "Look at this
great new book that this woman has written!" It was written
by Juliette de Bairacli Levy and she wrote from what you might
call the heart of herbalism.. She wrote as a person who'd
been using the herbs, not from one who had studied them in
books and could say what they were supposed to do, but could
say in her personal life, exactly what they had done. This
opened me up to the plants in yet a new and different way
and although Juliette might deny being a Wise Woman, it was
truly she (and she's still alive, in her nineties) that really
turned me onto the way of the Wise Woman.
Now, to get back to the Heroic Tradition. One of the things
that really characterizes the Heroic Tradition is that there
is a right way and a wrong way to do things and if you do
it the wrong way, then anything bad that happens to you, you
deserve. So That's what ties together - don't eat raw food
/ Do eat raw food - Eat rice and beans together / don't eat
rice and beans together. All of these seemingly contradictory
things that we get from alternative medicine are because there's
so many branches of the Heroic Tradition. But what they all
had in common was a belief in you as a Filthy Sinner, loaded
with toxins - and You'd better detoxify if you know " good
Because anything That's wrong with you in the Heroic Tradition,
is usually a result of toxins. So we detoxify and cleanse
and this is what most people think alternative medicine is.
And when you use herbs, you use herbs that are very powerful;
that are as drug-like as possible - that have very strong,
very powerful drug-like effects. As a matter of fact, I went
to a week long class by a herbalist that I really respect
a lot and he started by explaining to us that, as herbalists,
the only plants we should be interested in were plants that
could kill people - and that any plant that didn't have enough
poison in it to kill people was not going to be of much use.
Now the Wise Woman Tradition takes a very different view.
The Wise Woman tradition says that health is defined as flexibility.
It can include disease and disability - it can even include
death. Because health is not the opposite of sickness. Health
is wholeness. It is not "fixed" and It's not cleansed.
You nourish what is there, and don't make it a fight - It's
not a fight between the good and the bad, the dark and the
light. It's wholeness where we can say "Of course I am good;
of course I am bad. Of course I am light; of course I am dark.
I am wholeness."
A South American shaman said "The forces of the brightness will have destroyed the wholeness when there is no more night." So the idea then, in the Wise Woman tradition, is to see the problem as an ally of wholeness, and rather than to fight against the problem, to invite it in, rather than try to cleanse it away.
Sylvia: Incorporate it, welcome it and embrace it.
Susun: Exactly - and nourish it!
Sylvia: A very different view.
Susun: So I often say there's not just two ways to look at medicine. there's not just standard medicine and alternative medicine, there's a third view, and That's the Wise Woman way which is a more embracing and loving way. The Scientific Tradition as it is currently practised tends to run on fear. "Aren't you afraid of getting breast cancer? Well You'd better get a mammogram!"
Sylvia: I' ve actually had that said to me!
Susun: You need to take care of yourself by getting a mammogram because you could get breast cancer. So because we can't define health we are always frightened to know whether or not we are healthy. And the Heroic tradition was on blame and shame. "don't you feel guilty for eating that - (whatever it was)?" And the Wise Woman Tradition runs on loving kindness - self acceptance. We start from the belief that everyone is already perfect and whole - and this is " really meant by "whole - istic" or holographic health. Say we had a hologram That's as big as a sheet of paper and we took a pair of scissors and we cut it in half. Do we now have two half - holograms, or two whole holograms? We have two whole holograms, Right? And every time we keep cutting it we still have the whole hologram.
Sylvia: Yes. Just like DNA is complete in every cell in the body.
Susun: Exactly! So we recognize that in every person - even if they are sick - even if they have a terminal diagnosis - they are still already whole. If we want to get fixed, there is no better place to get fixed than modern medicine. They really, really know about fixing. They do it superbly. I got a hernia fifteen years ago. I pick up a lot of heavy things - goat feed, hay, and buckets and buckets of water and cases and cases of books - and I was told "Oh well, basically, you have two choices. You can get your hernia repaired when you want to or you can have it done on an emergency basis. Well, I waited for fifteen years. I'm a very vigorous person, so truly, it was no problem at all, but I did decide toward the end of last year to go and have it repaired. And you know, nobody does surgery better than modern medicine. I'm so thankful that I had access to that. On the other hand I will admit that I left the clinic less than 24 hours after the surgery was done because they simply knew nothing whatsoever about healing.
Sylvia: Right. They can fix the problem but not heal it.
Susun: Well they can do surgery - they can
do excellent surgery. They know about surgery and that's why
I was there - I wanted that expertise. But then I had to leave
so that I could work with an energy healer. I was operated
on and that part of my body was very outraged at me. It was
contracting and pulling away from me, and it was like a small
child having a tantrum and saying "I can't believe you let
them do this to me!" So it wasn't really something I could
say "There, there now" because I'm the one that did it! But
I had energy healers on hand and massage therapists who could
put their hands on my body and say, "It will be fine. You
don't have to contract; you don't have to shrink. You don't
have to scream in pain; you don't have to swell up." Whereas,
of course, the surgeons, excellent though they are, simply
assume that That's going to happen.
One of the terms that I have brought into usage is "complementary
medicine," because I don't see any need to fight. When
I first started studying alternative medicine, it was kind
of put out - well almost like a religion. You had to convert
to it and then you weren't supposed to ever go to the doctor.
Sylvia: That's certainly the way it was first presented to me.
Susun: Right, and if you do, well, you' re kind of failing us all. And I, in the years that I was experimenting with the Heroic Tradition, had some experiences that I would not wish on anyone, but that were incredibly instructive and important to me. The very first book that I wrote was called "The Health and Beauty Secrets of _____" - and I'm actually not allowed to say the model's name. She was a very famous model in New York City. The book was never published because she died while having a colonic. She's one of three people that I know who've died from a colonic. Nursing books say, after an enema it takes about 3-4 days for the bowels to resume normal functioning.. After a colonic it takes about 7 - 10 days to resume normal functioning. That's why people get addicted and feel they have to go for colonics at shorter intervals.
Sylvia: the're just not allowing enough time.
Susun: Right. the're not actually ever allowing
their body to have its own natural process. Next a friend
of mine decided she would go on a watermelon fast. What she
didn't know and I didn't know was that she was diabetic. After
three days of eating watermelon she went into a coma. So I
was shown very quickly that alternative medicine is not safer
than orthodox medicine.
Sylvia: Right, and, as you say, it includes the use of some very powerful herbs.
Susun: There are some extremely powerful
herbs and science is most interested in the most powerful
herbs. Science tends to view herbs as being very dangerous
because, in fact, that's what the're looking for. I'm reminded
of a friend of mine, who was going to go down to Costa Rica,
and an actual drug company got in touch with him and said
"Oh you' re the noted herbalist, so & so, and we heard
you' re going to Costa Rica, and we'd like you to look for
some medicinal plants there." Well, if you know any herbalists,
you know we're just crazy that way and it doesn't matter where
we go or what we're doing we're looking at plants anyhow.
So he thought, this was great! Not only will he get to go,
but he'll get to make some money doing what he would just
do for fun anyhow. He said "How can I tell if the plants are
medicinal?" And they said "Oh! No problem." He thought they
were going to tell him to, you know, visit the indigenous
people, ask around and see " being sold. They said "We'll
give you our little kit. If it tests poisonous, bring it back."
In fact, I don't know about Canada, but in the United States - and Canada frequently follows the US on many of these issues - in order to be sold as a drug, a substance has to pass a test called LD50. That stands for Lethal Dose 50%.
Sylvia: There has to be a lethal dose?
Susun: There has to be a dose that will kill half of the test animals. If there's not, it cannot be sold as a drug.
Sylvia: It makes one wonder where we're going with this.
Susun: Well, again, what science is interested
in is a tightly focused ability to fix things, so they look
for drugs that will affect blood sugar, or affect blood pressure
or affect blood cholesterol.
Sylvia: Looking for the effect.
Susun: Looking for the effect - and for
many people That's an absolute life saver. Before we discovered
injectable insulin, people died of diabetes - and we're not
talking so very long ago either. My own grandfather was simply
taken apart piece by piece as his body suffered the effects
of diabetes and rotted out from under him. So I have nothing
against drugs. I do, like many other people question the drugging
of the entire populace. I question, for instance, the use
of high dose radiation on women's breasts - which is tissue
very sensitive to radiation - purportedly to prevent disease.
The head of the entire mammography screening program for all
of England, quit about seven years ago in protest of mammograms.
A recent medical study found that five women had unnecessary
surgery because of mammograms in order to find cancer in one
woman who needs it. People say to me "You don't have mammograms?"
Well, we can focus on the fact that there's something I "don't
do" or we can focus on what it is that I "do". In
fact most breast cancers are found by manual examination by
the doctor. The doctor spends approximately two minutes once
a year examining your breasts. If you could even spare ten
seconds a day; 70 seconds or one minute a week, or 62 minutes
a year, and we're not even talking about looking for cancer.
We're simply talking about touching your breasts, being present
with your breasts, being aware of your breasts. Giving yourself
that ten seconds to say - as one friend of mine does - "you'
re in good hands with me girls!"
Sylvia: I think there's a lot we can do
for ourselves. I certainly like to try. I have a little herb
garden where I grow a few of the better known herbs. One of
my favourites is agrimony. Are you familiar with that one?
Susun: I am familiar with agrimony. I think of it mostly as an astringent.
Sylvia: Yes, and it makes a good gargle.
Susun: A gargle for when the throat is sore.
Sylvia: Yes. I kind of swear by that one. Do you have a favourite herb?
Susun: Well, my favourite herb is the herb I'm drinking right now, and That's stinging nettle. Because, again, I'm really interested in herbs primarily through how they nourish us. Stinging nettle has about 10% protein. It's a very rapid re-builder of beautiful skin and beautiful hair. It's loaded with high quality minerals. A cup of stinging nettle infusion, (not tea, but infusion, and we'll talk about the difference in a moment), can contain up to 250 mg of calcium. That same cup can have over 1000 IU equivalents of vitamin A.
Sylvia: A very rich source then.
Extremely rich. It's one of the richest sources of chlorophyll.
You know I don't take any kind of supplement or pills, any
kind of vitamins or minerals. I depend on drinking nourishing
herbal infusions, and I promised I'd tell you a bit more about
them. Remember in the story when I talked about how my friend
came in with Juliette de Bairacli Levy's book? Well one of
the primary things that I learned from that book was that
I'd been using not nearly enough herb when I had been brewing
my herbal teas. She suggested using what seems like an enormous
amount of herb and that is 1 full ounce or 30 grams by weight,
and to steep that in 1 quart or 1 litre of boiling water for
four hours - not to boil it for four hours. What I usually
do is to weigh the herb - the dried herb always, never the
fresh herb - and I put it in my container, fill it to the
top with boiling water and let it steep for four hours, tightly
covered, or overnight, whichever works.
That large amount of herb, will yield a large amount of nutrition.
If we just make a cup of nettle tea with a teaspoon of herb
brewed for 5 minutes, we get about 5 mg of calcium. If we
used fresh nettle to make our tea we'd get 1 mg of calcium.
So by using our herbs dried, by using a lavish quantity of
herb - 30 grams or 1 full ounce by weight is usually between
a cup and a cup and a half. That's a lot of nettle, but That's
how we get that much nutrition from it. If someone said to
you "I'm going to eat more carrots" and then you discovered
they were eating ½ a teaspoon of carrots, You'd laugh.
You'd say "No, no, no. You have to eat a cup of carrot to
get the benefit of it."
Sylvia: I suppose we should take a lesson from the herbivores - the grazers. They eat tremendous amounts of greenery.
Susun: They do, and they cook it as well!
Nothing in nature tries to get by on raw food, because there's
no nutrition available from raw food. So the herbivores, who
are extremely successful are also called ruminants, and they
have a "fore-stomach" called the rumen. When they take in
those greens, it goes into the rumen, and then, in the rumen,
It's cooked and fermented for about four hours, and then they
cough up their "cud", and chew it. They don't even bother
to chew the raw food.
Sylvia: They just put it in the processor!
Susun: Exactly. They process it until It's
good and cooked and fermented and then chew it - and then
get nutrition from it. So often I say to people, honor your
grandparents and cook your greens as long as they cooked theirs.
People look at me and say "My mother cooked her greens for
4 hours," and I say "That's a good amount of time." If you
do it for an hour you'll get a lot, lot more People say "Oh
but they would be a mush!" But interestingly enough the greens
don't get mushy. That lengthy cooking acts like the goat's
rumen and helps to kick the minerals out. Many people somehow
believe that cooking can destroy minerals but those minerals
are like little rocks and the longer we cook something, and
the higher temperatures you use, actually the more minerals
you will wind up getting.
Sylvia: So you' re better off with a cooked salad?
Susun: Much better off with cooked greens, and the way that many people on the planet actually cook their salad is by putting oil on it. If you think about a blouse or something that you've gotten an oil stain on and how only very quick action will keep it from staining. If you jump right up and get some flour and put it on the oil stain you might be able to keep it from actually staining before it "cooks" the blouse. There was a study on breast cancer and salad consumption. And what they found was that women who ate salad without salad dressing or with no fat or low fat dressing had exactly as much breast cancer as women who never ate any salad at all. Only the women who lavishly put oil on their salad - in other words, cooked it, had any benefit from eating salad.
A food chemist told me that one of the important things about being able to digest milk is that it needs all of its fats and that if we try to consume no fat or low fat milk, many people don't have the gut flora that they need to do that and that when they switch to full fat milk, suddenly they find that they can easily tolerate it.
Sylvia: I've learned so much and I have
enough material here to fill the whole magazine I should think!
Susun: I' ve been delighted to share this with you, I have really enjoyed this conversation.
Sylvia: I've enjoyed it too - it's been
such a pleasure. Thank you very, very much.
Susun Weed has received the Twentieth Century Award for Achievement, is included in Who's Who of Intellectuals, was recognized as an Outstanding Person of the 20th Century, and was nominated as International Woman of the Year. Her books and appearances have helped millions of women attain better health and become more powerful in themselves.
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Other articles by Robin Rose Bennett
An Herbalists Notebook part 1
An Herbalists Notebook part 2
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I just started reading your book, Healing Wise. Your
humor and approach to life seem so "down-to-earth",
just like your favorite powerful weeds. Thank you for sharing
and nourishing! ~ Diane