originally published in The Canadian Journal of Herbalism Iss. # 2007

Interview by Karen Parsons

CJH: What made you decide to become a herbalist?

RD: Back in 1974, when I was in college, I was asked to drive a fellow student up to Guelph, Ontario. After dropping him off, I visited the local health food store to buy some juice before heading back. While paying, and for no apparent reason, I asked the owner if he knew who could teach me about herbs.

He thought about it briefly, and then said I should go and see Dr Albert Thut, a herbalist and traditional naturopath. A week or so later, I called Dr Thut and spoke to him about my interest. After asking a few questions, he told me to come and visit him.

When I did so and stepped through the door, you could smell the wonderful aroma of herbal tonics simmering on the stove. His office looked straight out of the 1930’s, filled with old antique oak desk and furniture, and behind his chair was a wall containing jars of herbs and liquid tonics. On the adjoining wall were old herb books and texts… I was smitten and totally taken with the idea that herbs could heal!

After that, I would visit him occasionally and, a few years later, began what turned out to be an apprenticeship lasting about ten years.

CJH: You’ve been a herbalist for many years now; what changes have you seen since you began?

RD: Too many, I think…

CJH: Really? How so?

RD: Well, there’s a lot more acceptance of herbalism as a valid healing modality and many people now go to a herbal practitioner, so that’s all well and good…the problem is, however, that in order for it to gain stature in the field of medicine, education, or society in general, there has been a ‘dumbing down’ of its core principles to fit within accepted paradigms.

CJH: The scientific model?

RD: Yes and the current medical model as well.

CJH: People need to understand it in an objective way, don’t they?

RD: Absolutely. I am not saying that these models are irrelevant; rather, that they are limiting and prevent us from appreciating concepts or constructs from outside the box.

The early herbalists, eclectics, and physio-medicalists used herbs more as sanative, nutritive, and restorative agents in addition to their capacity to deal with pathogens and diseases. Today, we are seeing what I believe is far too much emphasis on the latter and not enough on the former.

CJH: So, it’s fair to say that you’re a traditional herbalist… do you see any parallels between your approach and that of TCM or Ayurvedic medicine?

RD: Yes, although perhaps not as robust as Peter Holmes in his great work The Energetics of Western Herbs, Vol. 1 & 2. The constitutional deficits that he refers to in TCM terms and the use of specific herbs to address them is a superb description of the melding of Eastern and Western thought on the matter. My approach is more along the lines of herbs as very specialized foods for the cells of the body.

Insofar as both TCM and Ayurvedic theories promote more harmonious balance (ch’i or humoral), that same effect is noted through periodic use of herbal tonics to balance the organs and glands behind the flow of ch’i or, in western terms, the vital force.

CJH: Can you elaborate on this?

RD: Let me offer an example: in treating something such as arthritis, there is an imbalance in the pH of the blood and tissues. Ideally, the blood should be slightly alkaline, and the tissues slightly acidic. In arthritic conditions, excess acids abound from poor diet, lowered kidney and bowel activity, and negative emotions; this will irritate and inflame synovial membranes, articulated joints, and the like.

Thus, part of any regimen – dietary or herbal, must include a re-balancing of this errant body chemistry. The gnarled, swollen joints indicate a deposition of calcium which can be put back into solution by the introduction of organic sodium, an alkalizing mineral needed to shift the pH in blood chemistry. Equally, herbal formulae are needed to tone the function of the kidneys and liver, both key filters of the blood. The blood in turn can be assisted with blood purifiers, which, along with diet, re-establish the correct array of various minerals and nutrients indicative of optimal pH. This is just a rudimentary analysis but it captures the gist of what I’m saying.

CJH: Is this issue of pH well known in the healthcare field?

This whole issue of pH has largely been side-stepped by both modern medicine and even some proponents of natural medicine. One needs to start with an understanding of the biological terrain theory of Gunter Enderlein. In addition, good nutritional chemistry and a solid understanding of biological transmutation are needed to complete the foundation.

With this knowledge base and a solid grasp of herbal therapeutics, one can deal with a variety of conditions. It helps to realize that most of the conditions we see today are the result of over-acidification of the blood. In this scenario, the blood is low in Oxygen, and high in Hydrogen from the H.+ ion of any acid. As they are inversely proportional, the resulting lowered Oxygen levels favor the development of fermentations and mycoplasma-based conditions. Candida is an example of an ailment that can develop in this acidic environment. Further, Candida and its analogues are a component of IBS, Crohn’s disease, MS, CFS, and other conditions. I believe Candida is an unrecognized pandemic.

CJH: Before we go, can we talk a bit about the political situation; you’ve been involved in these issues as well. What are your thoughts here?

RD: It’s a double-edged sword. On the federal level, the regulation of the NHP industry comes with a shake-out in the industry, with small companies collapsing and big companies taking the lead. Product availability and CODEX and international harmonization issues will come back to haunt us.

On the provincial level – where the practice of complementary professions is slowly growing, adherence to certain paradigms, as mentioned earlier, is a tacit pre-requisite for regulation. We are already seeing the “drug-ification” of NHP’s (natural health products). I believe that we are also witnessing the “medical-ization” of natural healing. Is this a good thing? It may work out quite well, but to be honest, something will get lost in the ‘translation’. I feel that our true connection to the art of healing will be forfeited; we will have the science down pat but we may throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Rick DeSylva runs the Herb Works in Rockwood, ON