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Nature as MedicineNature as Medicine
by Vicki Wolf, July 2007

“Conventional science, medicine and industry have separated us from nature, made us fearful of it and encouraged us to try to control it in ways that have failed disastrously,” says Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Ecological Medicine: Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves. But the natural world is filled with an intelligence and all the things we need to heal the planet and heal ourselves. You can find immune system boosters in your own back yard. Mushrooms can clean up oil spills. And there are plants that actually like to clean the waste out of waste water.

Ginger Webb, an herbalist in Austin, Texas and owner of Texas Medicinals, makes medicinal teas and tinctures from nettles, dandelion leaf, oat straw and many other plants that most people consider weeds. Nettles have immune system boosting properties and dandelion is a liver tonic.”Everything we need we get from the natural world,” Webb says. “I do experience that dif-ferent plants will do specific things -- passionflower can be used for it’s sedative properties.” The best prevention of serious illness is to nourish ourselves, according to Webb. “Any kind of greens you can eat are full of minerals -- lambs quarters (grows wild and can be eaten like a salad green), chard, kale -- and minerals are nutrition,” she says. Purslane has omega-3 fatty ac-ids and berries are rich in antioxidants. “When you see a spiny plant, it is protecting itself from being eaten because it is delectable to eat and nourishing,” Webb says. The cactus plant is a good example. Studies show that eating cacti can help prevent diabetes.

In cities with high levels of air pollution, nourishment from the natural world is even more im-portant. “If we nourish ourselves well, the body knows how to take care of environmental tox-ins,” Webb says. She recommends eating lots of greens and finding out what herbs grow in your area that are liver tonics and immune system boosters. She adds that eliminating simple carbo-hydrates and refined foods, such as flour, sugar and processed oils -- substances that are “rela-tively new to human existence” -- can help you have a stronger, healthier body.

Webb says with all the rain Texas has been getting this summer, she is seeing more mushrooms than ever and has become curious about the healing properties of mushrooms. For centuries the medicinal properties of mushrooms have been useful, especially in the Far East. The Japanese claimed that the shiitake mushroom can be used as a cure for cancer, impotency, senility and many other health problems and dysfunctions. Studies over the past 30 to 40 years have found that shiitake mushrooms have anti-cancer and interferon stimulating properties. Similar proper-ties have been found in the Reishi mushroom and several other types of mushrooms.

Paul Stamet is renowned for his research in using mushrooms as medicine for healing the earth as well as people. His company, Fungi Perfecti, provides equipment and mycotechnologies to mushroom cultivators throughout the world. He has written six books including Mycelium Run-ning: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. Stamet has discovered that mushrooms can be used to clean up oil spills and for bioremediation of soils contaminate by toxins such as dioxin. “There are 100 mushroom species to use against 100 toxins,” he told an audience at the Bioneers Conference last Octobler. Stamet believes mushrooms are on the planet to help heal it. He calls mushrooms “the earth’s natural internet.”

Stamet’s work with mushrooms extends into pest control and treating life-threatening diseases. He has received a patent for using fungi to control carpenter ants. He expects this natural pesti-cide will “revamp the pesticide industry.” He also is working with a California hospital on a study using Oyster mushrooms as a treatment for AIDS. Another essential element for life and good health on the planet is clean water. Water pollution is a serious problem for human health and the health of the oceans, rivers and lakes that sustain fish and other creatures that live in the water. Ecologist John Todd is using plants to clean water. He has used lettuce and tomato plants to clean water for his fish farm. He says waste is a resource out of place. Overabundance of nutrient-rich waste water can be damaging to aquatic life. When sewage is released untreated into water systems, it disrupts an ecological imbalance and creates algae blooms resulting in a decrease in dissolved oxygen, which leads to death of the fish and other creatures that need oxygen to survive in water.

Todd uses a special series of filtering systems contained in a passive solar green house or out-door area. After spending 10 days in this filtering series of ecosystems, the water flows clear into an artificial outdoor marsh or wetland and then back into the local water cycle. After passing the water through an ozone generator or an ultra-violet light system, the water is drinkable. ( Todd calls this system a “living machine.” Ben and Jerry’s and Providence, Rhode Island and other municipalities are using this system to clean waste water. These living systems cleanse the water without harmful chemicals and provide a growing system for ornamental plants, trees and other beneficial living things.

Ginger Webb, Paul Stamet and John Todd have taken the time to observe nature and let her be-come their teacher. From a back yard medicine kit, to using mushrooms to remediate land poi-soned by toxins, to using plants to clean waste water, they have found that nature is there provid-ing everything we need. They have also found that instead of trying to control the natural world, living in harmony with nature and observing how nature works can help us heal ourselves and the planet.