The Spirit of Simples, Part One
by Susun Weed
What is a Simple?
A "simple" is one herb used at a time. A "simpler" is an herbalist who generally uses herbs one at a time, rather than in combinations.
Why Use Simples?
Most herbalists I have met -- whether from China or Japan, Eastern or Western Europe, Australia or North America -- use herbs in combinations. Simplers, like myself, don't. Why?
Because I believe that herbal medicine is people's medicine, I seek to make herbal medicine simple: as simple as one herb at a time. Because people worry about interactions between the drugs they take and herbs, I keep it simple: with simples, interactions are simple to observe, and simpler to avoid. Because empowerment in health care is difficult, I want to offer others easy, safe herbal remedies: and what could be easier, or safer, than a simple?
When I was just getting started with herbs, one thing that confounded me was the many choices I had when I began to match symptoms to the herbs that relieved them. If someone had a cough should I use garden sage or wild cherry bark or pine sap or mullein or coltsfoot (to name only a few of the many choices)? One way out of this dilemma was to use them all. I made many cough syrups that contained every anti-cough herb that I could collect. And they all worked.
As I got more sophisticated in my herbal usage, and especially after I completed a course on homeopathy, I began to see that each herb had a specific personality, a specific way of acting. I realized I couldn't notice the individual actions of the herbs when they were combined.
It felt daring at first to use just one herb. Would wild cherry bark tincture all by itself be enough to quell that child's cough? Yes! Would mullein infusion alone really reduce a person's asthmatic and allergic reactions? Yes! Would sage soaked in honey for six weeks ease a sore throat? Yes! Each herb that I tried as a simple was successful. They all worked, not just together, but by themselves.
The more I used individual herbs the more I came to know them as individuals. The more I used simples, the simpler and more successful my remedies became. The more I used one herb at a time, the more I learned about how that herb worked, and didn't work.
Simples are Intimate
When we use one herb at a time, we come to know that herb, we become intimate with that herb. Just as we become intimate with each other by spending time one-on-one, tete-a-tete, simply together, we become closer to the herbs when we use them as simples.
Becoming intimate with an herb or a person helps us build trust. How reliable is the effect of this herb? When? How? Where does it fail? Using simples helps us build a web of green allies that we trust deeply. Simples help us feel more powerful. They help abate our fears, simply, safely.
Simples are fun. Give them a try.
Green blessings. Susun