This Journal writing hearkens back to the theme presented in 2 recent Journals about the growing global problem of antibiotic resistance. This is now a serious pandemic problem. You can review those postings here and here whenever you want to. These 2 writings deal with the growing number of issues associated with widespread antibiotic usage which became prevalent in the post WWII period.
I’ll also present some esoteric knowledge and symbolism which relates to natural healing.
It is not common knowledge that many pharmaceuticals are derived from native plant sources. In fact, the word “drug” is derived from the Dutch word drogge, which means herb. Past and present cultures derive most medicinal compounds from plant sources. The study of ethnobotany attempts to describe the age old relationship between people and plants. Our human biochemistry has evolved out of this relationship over the eons.
About 20 years ago I went to a sign making company in Boulder, Colorado, where I lived, and asked them to make me several poster placards with lettering and pictures that I could use for teaching purposes in various lectures I was conducting in those days. At that time I was still practicing as a general, vascular, and trauma surgeon. In 2001, I retired from that work and began to offer holistic lifestyle counseling in the areas of body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
One of the placards which was made is entitled The Use of Herbal and Phytochemical Preparations.
The word “phytochemical” refers to any chemical which is derived from plants. The connotation is applied to any plant chemical with biochemical and physiological effects in any species of life.
On the 3 foot by 2.5 foot poster which now sits on a high bookshelf above my office desk is written the following words which I hope clients will notice and read as they are sitting with me.
“Plants freely offer us more healthy associations than what all the chemists of the world could ever synthesize in a thousand years of effort. Not only are associations made from plants more varied than synthesized chemicals, but they are better tolerated by the body because they are the natural result of life chemistry.”
An interesting and informative article appeared in The New York Times Magazine recently which told the story of a researcher who tirelessly searches the globe for hidden botanicals which hold cures for humanity’s ills. Written by Ferris Jabr, “Could Ancient Remedies Hold the Answer to the Looming Antibiotics Crisis?” explores the life work and passion of ethnobotanist Cassandra Quave and her quest to find medicinal phytochemicals in the abundant and intelligent world of plants.
Here is an excerpt from Jabr’s fine writing which restates the theme of my office phytochemical poster…
“Combinatorial chemistry, which emerged in the 1980s and was adopted by the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s, enabled chemists to rapidly generate immense libraries of potentially novel drugs by mixing and matching their molecular building blocks. Ultimately, however, human chemists have been unable to emulate the ingenuity and complexity of organic molecules produced by eons of evolution. ‘The kind of evolution that happens in living things gives rise to unusual chemistry that is not straightforward to synthesize,’ says Simon Gibbons, a medicinal phytochemist at University College London. ‘Nature is a super chemist. It’s been doing this for a lot longer than we or even mammals have been around. Plants have been doing this for about 400 million years.’ That puts people — even very smart people — at a competitive disadvantage. Cedric Pearce, chief executive of the fungi-based drug development company Mycosynthetix, puts it this way: ‘Nature creates extremely effective but extraordinarily complex molecular structures that a chemist would look at and say, ‘Now, why would I ever think to design that?’ ”
Here is a link to the article. I hope you can take some time to enjoy the writing and benefit from its information.
My interest in plant medicine predates my formal medical training, and involves a study back into more distant times when plants were the principal medicines used by all people. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century, all medicines were plant derived. Our ancestors who lived just a generation or 2 before us began to experience the beginning of pharmaceutical medicines which opened the practice of medicine to new and large vistas of health management.
In the late summer of 1974, before my sophomore year in medical school, I purchased 2 books on herbs and herbal medicine. Knowing that I would be studying the basic science of pharmacology from a text of several hundred pages that year, and knowing that many pharmaceuticals were derived from plants, I thought that I should introduce myself to a primer on the subject of pharmaceuticals by way of a study of plant medicine.
The books I bought in late August, 1974, were Indian Herbology in North America (1973) by Alma Hutchens, and A Field Guide to the Medicinal Plants of the United States (1973) by Arnold and Connie Krochmal.
Hundreds of books and journals have been written on the subject of herbal therapies for the common diseases and conditions of our modern world. One of the many examples of an accessible and straightforward writing on the subject is a best selling book entitled The Green Pharmacy (1997) by James Duke, Ph.D., a leading authority on healing herbs. This text approaches the herbal pharmacopoeia from the standpoint of listing common disease conditions in alphabetical order, and then the author explains the various herbs which can be used to treat that condition.
My copy of Dr. Duke’s book was given to me by my friend Nadine Johnson who was the office nurse for my physician parents in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Nadine is a well known herbalist in Alabama, where she lives, and has written much over the years on the subject of plant medicines. Her writings have appeared in many newspapers in Alabama. She still practices as an herbalist healer, and she currently writes an informative one page monthly article for the Alabama Cooperative Farming News, where her writings appear under the page title of The Herb Lady. I have enjoyed collaborating with Nadine on a variety of patients’ health issues over the years. She has been one of my most valued friends.
Another good herbal text is Healing Spices, by Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D. This book covers 50 common and exotic spices which can be used to boost health and heal diseases.
In addition to all of the many books, peer reviewed journals, and publications on the subject of plant medicines there are many scholarly articles which can be reviewed upon conducting an internet search simply by using the title words of my office poster placard… The Use of Herbal and Phytochemical Preparations.
The Seal of Surgeons
The American College of Surgeons is an international organization of surgeons who practice all over the globe and are bound in membership under an interesting seal whose symbolism and message may well be lost on the majority of the membership. I have never encountered a surgeon of the College who was versed on the meaning of this seal.
To attain membership in the ACS requires the attainment of many arduous milestones of passage and accomplishment in the craft. In October of 1985, I convened in Chicago with other initiates for induction into the College. It was a cap and gown affair, complete with group intonements, lofty speeches, and the President wielded a weighty golden staff, the Great Mace, over the new flock of inductees.
Upon the taking of vows and completing the ceremony, the new Fellow of the College may append the letters F.A.C.S. after the M.D. suffix of their name and become a person of even more letters. One also receives a nice certificate which is truly suitable for framing, as well as the attendant privilege of paying the annual dues of membership. I still have my certificate on display in my office. I also have my father’s certificate from earlier times. His certificate is nicer…it came to him already framed in a gilded wooden frame which was specially crafted with the letters FACS carved in relief into the wood on the top of the frame.
On each of our certificates is the same very interesting artistic seal…one of the aspects of this educational and ethical group which I have always admired. Before the days of the internet, I became curious about the artistry and symbolism depicted in the Great Seal and so I wrote to the ACS and inquired as to its meaning. I received a reply from Dr. George W. Stephenson, F.A.C.S., who was the ACS Archivist, with a copy of a short article he had written in October, 1983, which explained the seal.
According to Dr. Stephenson’s article, a competition was conducted among Chicago artists in 1915 for the design of the seal to replace the simple rod and serpent design which was previously used since the College’s founding in 1913. The prized result has been in use by the College ever since.
The official description of the Seal reads thus, “Aesculapius, the symbol of European learning, and an American Indian Medicine Man are seated beneath a Tree of Knowledge, making an offering of their symbols of healing in common service to mankind.”
Sheltered beneath the Tree of Knowledge, Aesculapius holds a rod and serpent which is a common symbol of healing and service to mankind, and the native American Indian medicine man holds a gourd rattle in one hand and has a medicine pouch decorated with feathers and paint at his side.
Beneath this image appear the Latin words “Omnibus Per Artem Fidemque Prodesse.”
The translation of these ancient words impart the charge of Fellows of the College…To serve all with skill and fidelity.
Dr. Stephenson goes on to expound more deeply on some phytochemical subtleties of the Great Seal…”Leaves on the tree resemble those of the ash, which was called YGGDRASILL in Norse mythology. With roots gnawed by serpents in the nether world and branches eaten by a stag in the heavens, that mythological tree represents conflict between life and death, and thus a tree of life, of knowledge, of fate, of time, and of space.”
The author also elaborates on the storied mythology of the life of Aesculapius, who fathered the Homeric battle surgeons Machaon and Podaleirius, as well as Hygeia and Panacea. Aesculapian temples of healing existed throughout ancient Greece, and this is where healers trained. Here are a few images depicting these ancient temples. Hippocrates was the most famous of Aesculapius’ disciples, and he acknowledged his debt to Aesculapius in the first sentence of his famous oath which is still taken by western medical students upon graduating from medical school.
For native peoples throughout the world, the medicine healers were important figures in the culture of the society. They sometimes organized into secret societies among their tribes and specialized in things like weather, injuries, illnesses, and all sorts of more mystical and spiritual, or shamanistic considerations. Enjoying high social position which was attained by apprenticeships, rituals, and training, these individuals wielded considerable influence in their cultural circles.
Below is a picture of the Great Seal of the American College of Surgeons, whose current global membership now stands at about 80,000 surgeons. These surgeons are spread out among the 14 surgical specialties recognized by the College: cardiothoracic surgery, colon and rectal surgery, general surgery, gynecology and obstetrics, gynecologic oncology, neurological surgery, ophthalmic surgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthopedic surgery, otorhinolaryngology, pediatric surgery, plastic and maxillofacial surgery, urology, and vascular surgery.
If you should ever have the opportunity to speak with any Fellow of the College about the meaning of their Seal, then you are now somewhat versed yourself, and you may be able to insert some applicable ancient heritage and wisdom into their consciousness.
I believe that the plant kingdom of our world holds the highest wisdom and intelligence and we should learn to steward and commune with this world with greater care…to serve all with skill and fidelity.
Our truest medicine is the Power which resides all around us and inside of us. This Power is what I call the Divine Healing Intelligence.
It is always acting in our lives, healing us in body, mind, emotions, and spirit. We only have to learn to align with it. All plant and pharmaceutical medicines, and all other kinds of medicines, are powerless without being embraced by the grace of this Power.
Thank you for reading.
Signing off from Crestone and Beyond