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The Willow Journal

The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Herbs

The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Herbs

Having come to my love of herbs early in life, and almost 30 years as a practicing herbalist, I have seen the herbal movement go through many fads and fashions! Celebrity herbs come and go. They are ushered out onto the catwalk with a long and glamorous list of amazing curative properties and then *poof* they are gone. Not because they aren't a wonderful plant healer, but because fame is fickle. Exiting like a washed out starlet, there is always the next latest and greatest herb to step into the lime light. This is true in any industry...behold the amazing kale or quinoa, once bright and shiny, both now solidly average ingredients in your next brunch menu. Clearly good, but no longer aahhh-mazing and sure to make you a healthier, stronger, clear skinned, Gwyneth-like, effortlessly hip and dewey goddess. Celebrity Herbs are sort of the same. Let's take a look.


In my teens in the 70’s, with little to be found on herbal medicine, there was the one and only herbal bible, Back to Eden written by Jethro Klaus. In this book goldenseal and cayenne predominated. From eye wash to vaginal douche, these herbs were a sure cure for what ailed you. In the 80’s, I learned of Kava, then Kava Kava, or Piper methustican. This was to be the supreme anti anxiety herb, booting Valerian to the back seat next to Skullcap and Chamomile. I opened my first  incarnation of Dancing Willow in 1991 when the herbal movement was in its infancy. I studied under the wise herbalist Micheal Moore, who recognized that the most sustaining practice in herbal medicine was utilizing the herbs that grow outside your back door. 


I learned about Yerba Mansa, a marsh loving plant that thrived in the Rio Grande Valley. Yerba Mansa and Oregon grape were to be the predecessors of Goldenseal. Goldenseal was then on the list of herbs that were over harvested and now Yerba Mansa is.  In a fast growing herbal industry, there would be more herbs that became over harvested and needed to be relieved by herbs that can be grown and harvested with sustainability in mind. With the growth of herbal medicine and the importance of preserving plant species, it is frustrating to see the gross inflation of specific herbs in the market place. 


In the 90’s, with the rise of prozac, the herb Saint Johns Wort took center stage, giving the proverbial boot to a slew of herbal nervines that are tried and true. What's at the bottom of all this?  Is it a combination of marketing and profit to be made? Yes. Is it the never ending search for the holy grail of botanical medicines... a miracle drug, so to speak? Yes, that too.  There are plethora of herbal allies from coast to coast and world wide that have virtues that are unique to each species. In reverence for empirical knowledge and enduring traditional medicine, it saddens me that this ancient wisdom passed on from medical herbalists, midwives, and healers takes the back stage to big Pharma, multi level marketing, and gross consumerism.

In 2019 we find yet another grand celebrity, the cannabis celebrity CBD. I make the disclaimer that I'm not an expert on cannabis AND that there are some very profound studies on its efficacy. I do see CBD as possibly the missing jewel in decreasing inflammation, helping to sooth the nervous system and help with insomnia and there are lists of notable attributes. I ponder the far-reaching affects of cannabinoids because it's prudent to do so. Perhaps, the role of cannabinoids in the balance of many of our natural processes is a missing link that is now being more fully understood. I have no concern related to the broad usage of CBD.  


What concerns me is the bastardization of good medicine by being hyped, mis-marketed and profited from in a gross display of market saturation. My daughter recently came home with a CBD soda laden with high fructose corn syrup. Seeing her with that sugar laden sweet syrupy beverage annoyed me no end! Using whole food and whole plant medicine is the back bone of health. CBD is being spoon fed to a gullible market without integrity for the plant. It's here today, but there will certainly be the 'next big thing' to replace it. Stay aware and educate yourself.