Holistic Herbalism for Health Justice

I am sharing the dissertation by Dr. Marja Eloheimo entitled, "Community-Based Herbalism and Relational Approaches to Harm Reduction in Healthcare." Her work emphasizes that relating in community around botanical medicines can reduce harm caused by health care today.

She documents personal experience of working with part of a Pacific Northwest Tribe and the U.S. Forest Service in an effort to establish engaged relationship through community-based herbalism.

I first became aware of medical harm during my medical school training, where I helped organize a student-run free clinic for adults without health insurance regardless of their citizenship status or pre-existing conditions. It was an undeniable and shameful reality that the healthcare system has let soaring expenses determine life and death for the poorest and sickest of us.  I grew up in a largely white, middle-class, suburban community on Long Island, so training at Downstate was a welcomed experience of checking my own privilege, power, and biases. It was there then I learned to see that wealth and health are not random, and neither are poverty or sickness. Race and gender matter, as does the imperialist and capitalist history of medicine in the US. 

Since leaving my residency program in Obstetrics and Gynecology, I have been reflecting on the failures of the dominant health care system in the United States and how to fix those problems. What I've learned is that there is already a community of healers and educators led by BIPOC (Black, Indiginous, People of Color) who are working to create a better, parallel system that can support healing by unrooting colonial sickness. 

I found the following passage by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha to be especially illuminating.

I have been part of what is called the healing justice movement for six years, though I have been engaged in acts of healing for a lot longer than that. Six years is a special birthday in the lifespan of a movement. Six years feels like the time in movements at which some of the people, moments, articles, wishes that birthed us are at risk of being forgotten—especially in low-money, low-time-to-document, brilliant-burnout-femme-of-colour-led movements. This the moment where disability gets forgotten, where class gets forgotten, where white, cis, able-bodied healers can try to slap “healing justice” on their spaces and try to forget that this movement was birthed by Black and brown disabled femme brilliance, in response to all that both mainstream western/biomedical and “alternative” white/cis/abled spaces lack in terms of understanding how colonialism, ableism, cultural theft, and whorephobia affect healing systems. - A Not-So-Brief Personal History of the Healing Justice Movement, 2010–2016

Currently, Congressional and Senate attention is on controlling healthcare costs and less on increasing physical access to providers. There are independent intellectuals crunching numbers and savvy individuals who care deeply about communicating these matters. However, there is very little being implemented in communities to make daily choices easier and healthier for all people. In order to address health disparities, which result from strutural inequalities as well as individual biases, we need to be thinking upstream of access and affordability. Why do certain groups of people suffer death, disease, and illness more than others? And what can we do to prevent that?

I join the voices who have been demanding a paradigm shift in how we humans view our role in the global ecological landscape. Only when we feel our interconnectedness by de-centering the needs of powerful and privileged can we learn to reframe our relationship to nature, health priorities, prevent disease, and die in peace.