My Accidental Discovery of Folk Medicine

In the first few months after I discovered what I am now calling the Simplywell Protocol, I would catch myself noticing that something felt decidedly weird: my head felt clear, my energy levels were normal, I could finally fall asleep at night, and the migraines that had been torturing me literally for years due to medications after c-section were now suddenly and completely gone.  What felt strange to me was feeling normal.  It had been that long since I had known what it was like to go through the day without being compromised with brain fog, indigestion, and some level of headache from mild to severe.

The euphoria I felt at being able to simply function was intense.  This euphoria escalated when I realized that in discovering the healing properties of a few humble roots that singlehandedly dissolved a huge constellation of otherwise intractable health problems, I had participated in and contributed to Folk Medicine.  Not only had I healed myself, but my determination to reclaim my life had resulted in a rather unusual discovery of safe, affordable, and effective food-based solutions that apparently no-one else had seemingly yet discovered because they were burdened with the luxury of having healthcare and therefore of outsourcing the solution to others supposedly more knowledgeable on the topic than they were.  After a few out-of-pocket investments in seeing various doctors, I had decided it was up to me to heal myself, and had transformed my lack of health care into an intense form of self-care that involved years of research and self-experimentation mixed in with some grace and luck.

I’ve spent the past nine months since the time of this discovery researching the how and why my protocol works as well as it does. In coming to understand the ways that these culinary folk medicines have helped me, I’ve also come to better understand the nature of migraine headaches, and how and why they developed in my life.  So this form of Folk Medicine I’ve accidentally become a practitioner of has involved an inverse sequence of logic in terms of my diagnosis and treatment of myself.  First I found a solution, then the solution clued me in to what the deeper problem was by way of understanding what the medicinal properties of these foods are.

The irony was not lost on me that the solutions to my years long struggle with migraine headaches were not only in my kitchen right under my nose the entire time I was suffering, but that the little old Ukranian lady who lives down the street who doesn’t speak any English could probably have given me a few important clues along the way.

Now, having helped a number of people regain their clear heads after years of debilitating migraines, I find myself incredibly enamored of Folk Medicine but also so excited to articulate what Folk Medicine means to me, why it is so important right now, and what can be done to resuscitate it.

What happened to Folk Medicine?

Folk Medicine is also known as “traditional medicine”,  “indigenous medicine”, “native medicine” and “ethnomedicine.”  It is still the dominant form of medicine practiced by indigenous, place-based, and rural people in third world countries.  This indigenous medicine is declining and under threat as indigenous people are displaced due to habitat or ecosystem destruction and along with it the loss of plant biodiversity that these people rely on for their source of medicine.

Ethnomedicine is the mother of all other systems of medicine . . . The traditional medicinal knowledge is thought to be within everyone’s reach and does not require any study or training to practice it. (Source)

In so-called “first world” countries, the history of folk medicine looks different.  In the United States, for example, a huge diversity of folk medicine traditions converged as immigrants from all over the world came here with their respective cultural indigenous folk medicine traditions and knowledge.  This knowledge has gradually been eroded due to political maneuvering (especially by the Rockefeller Foundation) that succeeded in stamping out alternative and plant-based medicines and molding the new practice of medicine to favor medical institutions, societies and doctors as the exclusive source for medical advice, expertise, patented, chemical-based medications and “evidence-based” medicine.

The Flexner report, written by Pritchett, concluded that only medical schools that committed to using synthetic based medicines and avoided plant based treatments (homeopathic and naturopathic protocols) should be offered large grants that were created by Rockefeller and Carnegie. Some 17 years after the Flexner report had been written and published, almost half of the previously existing medical schools had been forced to close due to an inability to attract students that would pay tuition. In a nutshell, these schools were unable to compete with the medical institutions that were regularly funded by the large foundations set up by Rockefeller and Carnegie. From that point forward, only medical schools philosophically aligned with petrochemical companies would become successful in graduating medical physicians. Presently, the same petrochemical companies have great influence and control over most components associated with modern medicine. (Source)

Along with this trend came a demonization of both alternative medical practitioners and anyone practicing medicine without a license, which would include local community folk healers.

Through expensive and extensive PR campaigns, folk-medicine began to be viewed as dangerous and ineffective quackery. The use of food and herbs for healing made way for the use of pills and synthetic compounds mimicking nature. Part of the reason for this push towards petrochemical drugs was patents. You cannot patent a plant, therefore you cannot make money from it. Since money is the bottom line for the industrialists it is obvious why they invested so much time and energy into creating an entirely different paradigm around health care. (Source)

This new way of practicing medicine shifted the role of the doctor from that of teacher (from the Latin verb docere, to teach) to that of “doer” or performer of specialized diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Our new sense of the word “doctor” when it is used as a verb, means roughly to “tinker” or “fool around with” . . . Dr. Moskovitz says in his article “Plain Medicine”,

Especially in a profession dominated by science and technology, it provides our best assurance that health and illness, improvement and worsening, and the success or failure of our work as physicians will be judged according to the patient’s own standards, rather than others imposed arbitrarily or coercively by and for the profession itself.  Our failure to keep these priorities straight is a lot of what I hear from patients about what they think is wrong with the medical system today, and it is difficult not to agree with them. (Source)

Welcoming the Wake Up Call

Currently, we’re reaching an apex in our culture where many people are waking up to the horrifying reality of systemic chemical pollution to our bodies that this form of corporate chemical “medicine” has created, which manifests as a huge variety of chronic inflammatory diseases.  In general, people are more and more interested in and open to exploring alternative healing modalities, and taking responsibility for the self-care and lifestyle choices that are the foundation of wellness.  We are arriving at this wake up call through the very uncomfortable realization of just how incredibly sick we’ve become.

Because the damage to our basic bodily systems by pharmaceutical medicine has been so severe, it has become imperative that Folk Medicine traditions be not only rediscovered and resuscitated, but also upgraded to address this relatively recent damage that our ancestor’s particular form of folk medicine traditions had never encountered.  This is just fine, because even if they had known or did know how to address it, we have basically lost their knowledge at this point anyway.

One way that we know that real medicine (which results in healing) is different from medications (which can create even worse problems through masking of symptoms), is that the body doesn’t know how to selectively heal. So, real medicine will usually have a number of unexpected but desirable “side-effects” that include the dissolution of various other seemingly unrelated (but apparently related) niggling health issues falling away simultaneously.  For me, this meant that in addition to my migraines clearing up, my skin also did, the ringing and ache in my ears subsided, brain fog, PMS, and bloating also disappeared.  Now these are the kinds of “side-effects”, (ie, systemic holistic effects) I can get behind.  Real, plant-based folk medicine heals by way of supporting the body as a whole system.  Migraine medications – which are not medicine in the sense that they suppress rather than cure – do the opposite: they target specific symptoms at the expense of the whole.  Our bodies did not evolve to process pharmaceuticals.

The Courage to Care

There is no clearly defined professional scope of practice for folk medicine (or, therefore, malpractice), because folk medicine is by definition an untrained, unstandardized and unstandardizable, mutable, and informal tradition of healing practices.  Not only are both the practitioners and practices of folk medicine highly diverse depending on the culture and person practicing them, folk medicine itself, as a practice, can’t be controlled or regulated because folk medicine is simply the inevitable process of people taking care of themselves and their communities with the most common solutions available to them.  And we’re starting to do it – we’re starting to learn to care about our quality of life again and realize we are our own most powerful agents in our state of wellbeing.

Caring is not only an emotion, but an activity.  Physical pain and suffering requires physical acts of care to alleviate.  The use of plant foods, spiritual practice, human touch, and sharing of helpful information are all native, indigenous forms of folk care that naturally arise out of the process of being a human being who cares about herself or himself and those he or she lives around.  The results of this care, especially when food (which is generally regarded as safe) is used to care, usually don’t have very disasterous consequences.

(This brings up the converse but important point that one reason that allopathic medical practitioners need the specialized education, standards, and scope of practice that they do, is because the medicines they use can be extremely dangerous if used improperly – and even when used properly.  Serious systemic damage to the body is not impossible, but less likely to happen with the use of time-tested herbs, but even less likely to happen when common foods are used in the practice of culinary folk medicine as compared to herbal folk medicine or other alternative healing modalities.)

The scope of practice of actually caring is infinite.  Caring cannot be embodied by standardized treatments or pills, but it is called forth in the healing process. As Dr. Moskovitz clarifies here, treatment and healing are decidedly different.

1. Healing implies wholeness.
Etymologically, the English verb “to heal” comes from the same root as “whole,” meaning essentially to make whole [again], and refers to a basic attribute of all living systems, which is evident both in wound healing and in spontaneous recovery from illness . . .  Like the metastatic cancer patient who pulls off a regression against every probability or expectation, healing represents a concerted response of the entire organism, cannot be achieved or ascribed to any part in isolation, and implies a deeper level of integration than could be defined or approximated by any mere assemblage.

2. All healing is self-healing.
As a fundamental property of all living systems, healing proceeds continuously throughout life, and tends to complete itself spontaneously, with or without external assistance.   This means that all healing is ultimately self-healing, and the role of physicians and other professional or designated healers must be essentially to assist and enhance the natural healing process that is already under way.  However useful and necessary it may be, merely correcting abnormalities will also have to be judged in relation to that fundamental standard.  Finally, a self-healing orientation transforms the doctor-patient relationship itself, from a hierarchy of knowledge and command into a partnership of consensus and trust.

3. Healing pertains solely to individuals.
Always possible but also inherently problematic and even risky, healing applies only to individuals, to flesh-and-blood creatures in unique, here-and-now situations, rather than to abstract “diseases,” abnormalities, principles, or categories.  In other words, whatever else it may be, it is inescapably an art, and should never and can never be reduced to a mere technique or procedure, however scientific its foundation. (Source)

With Folk Medicine the scope of practice is contained within caring and supportive rather than manipulative and corrective activities. Folk Medicine is passed on by word of mouth as a form of gossip, such as “this worked for me” and “I heard that this works well for that,” or “I heard that this worked well for so-and-so.”  The gossipy or second-hand nature of Folk Medicine, rather than being dangerous and ambiguous, forces any person wanting to implement it to use common sense, discernment, and their own faculties of intelligence, cautious experimentation, and research to integrate the information, probably customizing it along the way according to their own specific knowledge of their body’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities.

Folk Medicine is generally the most empowering, gentle, affordable, accessable, time-tested, common-sense form of health care that exists.  It is born from attention, relationship, and a belief in the resilience of the body if given the right support.  It involves self-responsibility and ownership, and the ability to communicate with one’s body intelligence.  Let’s breathe some life back into Folk Medicine, and be conscious that whenever we take good care of ourselves or someone else, we’re practicing it.

The art of healing comes from Nature, not the physician . . .
Every illness has its own remedy within itself . . .
A man could not be born alive and healthy were there not already a Physician hidden in him . . .
~ Paracelsus

Marya Gendron is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, health coach, and wellness researcher. She specializes in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions.

The SimplyWell Protocol is available here, or you can book a consultation with Marya. Learn more about Marya’s healing journey here.