A Chat with Susun Weed
The following is a written transcript from John Gallagher’s interview with Susun Weed on November 30, 2006. The interview was part of The Herbal Teleconference Series, which was an event celebrating the release of Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game
John: Wow! So then what's tonifiying and this nourishing experience then, is the rhythm of the ritual of the infusion.
Susun: I call them nourishing herbal infusions.
John: OK. You just keep the word "tonifying" out of there.
Susun: Exactly and I have heard herbal speakers say something like, "This is a wonderful tonifying herb which nourishes and stimulates." And I think, "Are we trying to make any sense here? Or are we just throwing words around?"
John: Well, someone may feel a sense of stimulation if they start drinking nettle after eating a really bad diet, they may feel like, "woah!" [laughs]
Susun: No, they will not. Stimulation means to be pushed beyond the place you can sustain.
John: Right, right.
Susun: Nourishment increases the form, the organ, the organism. Tonification increases the functioning of the form, the organ, or the organism. But stimulus pushes the organ or the organism to function at a faster level than it can sustain. So stimulus always erodes health.
Susun: So, that does not mean I will never stimulate. If my choice is stimulate and erode somebody's health or they die, I will stimulate.
John: Mmm‑hmm. Mmm‑hmm.
Susun: Or sedate, all right? I am not against relieving pain. But what we have to understand is that when we are stimulating, when we are sedating, we cannot be building health.
John: That's right, that's right, and I'd like everyone to know too that when you see, like on my web site, about, like treating a cold naturally, I'm talking about nourishment there in a different way once you have a cold and maybe you need a little extra relief and maybe need to use herbs in different ways. But the object here is to stay healthy so you don't really need those phases.
Susun: Exactly! We are talking about the steps of healing here, right?
Susun: So nourish and tonify is a step, and then the next step after that is stimulate‑sedate.
Susun: And the next step after that is use drugs.
Susun: And the next step after that is break and enter.
John: Break and enter, which can be surgery or a number of other things.
Susun: Any number of other things. Now, I also talk about these not just as the six steps of healing but also as the seven medicines.
Susun: So it's: serenity medicine, story medicine, energy medicine, lifestyle medicine, herbal medicine or alternative medicine, pharmaceutical medicine, and high‑tech medicine.
John: I like this. Is this going to be, or in a book?
Susun: Yes, yes it is. I'm working on it right now. And so, people seem to resonate a little more with the medicines than they do with the steps. There's something much more graspable about serenity medicine than about do nothing.
And one of the important points for me is that we see that whether it's six steps or seven medicines, that it's basically broken up into two groups. And that is that the first four, serenity medicine, story medicine, energy medicine, and lifestyle medicine, always promote health.
Susun: So the more we do those things, the healthier we are going to be.
John: Oh, I think that book is going to make a big impact.
Susun: The last three steps, which is herbal medicine or alternative medicine, pharmaceutical medicine, and high‑tech medicine, although they are excellent for saving lives, don't build health.
John: No, they don't.
Susun: And this, again, is where I see many people kind of using herbs as replacement drugs, and therefore not really getting as much as they can from herb, from understanding that herbs can provide this high‑level nourishment for us with virtually no calories.
John: Somebody actually asked what your thought was on herbal capsules, and when I'm teaching about nettle I like to teach all day on one plant when I'm teaching with the wilderness awareness residential program...
Susun: Oh, that's beautiful.
John: and we just focus on connecting with plants. I make this beautiful infusion and we pass it around and then I make this...
Susun: So you make an infusion with dried nettle?
John: With dried nettle because I want to get a lot of those cell walls broken up and...
John: and then we make a soup and we collect it...
John: and at the end I say, "Now you know about nettle. What if somebody tells you, 'Nettle is healthy for you, ' " and then I hold up the little bottle of capsules, and then I take the little capsule and break it open and I go poof.
Susun: [laughs] Right, then blow it away, literally.
John: "Now let's compare what you did today with this capsule."
Susun: Right. Oh, that's beautiful, John. I love the way you teach. It's really, really magnificent. (Laughs) OK, what I can observe is that if you want to risk the worst adverse reaction possible to the herb, then you will take it by powdering it and putting it in a capsule.
If you want to totally make yourself dependent on someone else's expertise, then you will grind up an herb and put it in a capsule. Let me give you just a few case‑in‑points so you really see where I'm coming from here. There's an herb that I know that you know about, it's been used in China for at least 3,000 years, and it's called Ma Huang. Now, do the Chinese fear that Ma Huang will kill people?
John: Not at all.
Susun: Not at all. As a matter of fact, I personally have not come upon ANY warnings about Ma Huang and the possibility of any deaths. The very similar plant, a different species, grows in Utah, and there it's called Mormon Tea. And if we think by that name that the Mormons drank it as tea, we are right, aren't we?
Susun: They did. How many Mormons died from drinking Mormon Tea?
John: [laughs] I don't know?
Susun: None. None that we can find. So, people are going, "So, all right, Ephedra. Ephedra? What do you mean Ephedra? Yes, this plant is Ephedra.
Susun: And we have had DOZENS of people die from taking Ephedra in capsules.
John: Right, right. And also it's often mixed with all kinds of stuff.
Susun: But how do you know, if it's powdered and in a capsule? You don't. It's very hard to know. And even if it's printed on the bottle, it can be printed in a way that's very hard to read or to understand that you're getting something else. Kava Kava is a plant from the South Pacific. It's used there as a social lubricant. You know, on small islands you better get along or else, so every day this Kava Kava ceremony. Everybody feels really good, everybody drinks Kava Kava: pregnant women, lactating women, little kids, old grandmothers, old grandfathers. Everybody drinks the Kava Kava.
John: I've been to Fiji, I've seen it. Yeah.
Susun: Right? Are they worried that somebody's going to die?
John: Not at all.
Susun: Are they worried they're going to go into liver failure?
John: (Laughs) No.
John: They're not taking capsules.
Susun: In Germany where people say "Oh, Germany, they have laws and they're so strict," in Germany some herbal manufacturer put Kava leaf, a known liver destroyer, in capsules and gave it to people thinking it was the same as Kava root. Thirty people went into liver failure.
John: (Sighs) So that's the answer to your question, out there.
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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