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Alchemy and Herbalism Part I – The Science and Spirituality of Herbalism


Welcome to the first part of a four-part series discussing alchemy and herbalism. The tradition of alchemy is a tradition dear to my heart. I’m excited to share some of these teachings with you because the alchemical tradition was the missing piece of the puzzle on my quest for a holistic system of herbal medicine. One of the main ways that it sparked something deep within me is the way that alchemy brings together science and spirituality. That’s what this post covers.

Alchemy Unites Science and Spirituality

In the modern paradigm of herbal medicine, the integration of and synergy between science and spirituality is critically important. Science and spirituality are often seen as diametrically opposed ways of viewing the world. One is materialistic, mechanistic, and reductionistic, and the other is circular and based in faith and belief and things that to most people haven’t been scientifically proven—though biology of belief and quantum physics are now providing scientific explanations for the invisible aspects of life.

Alchemy is an ancient system that unites these two worlds. The root of our word chemistry comes from alchemy. Historically, alchemy was not only the original science but was also seen as a sacred science. Not only was there observation and exploration of the natural world and looking at chemical virtues, but there was also seeing a deep meaning, that there’s purpose, that there’s sentience, that there’s intelligence, that anywhere there is life there is a spirit, but there is also a body, a material side.

Throughout history, alchemy gradually became desacralized and turned into chemistry. That gradual removal of the spirit happens in a lot of different areas of life and knowledge and history and traditions, and they became more mechanistic and reductionistic. Alchemy turned into chemistry, astrology turned into astronomy, and herbal medicine turned into modern pharmaceutical medicine.

Alchemy can offer herbalism a critically important balance of being able to look at a plant and understand it on a pharmacological biochemical level but also to understand the spiritual side side of that plant, to see it as a living, sentient, conscious being that has the capacity to heal us on the spiritual level as well as the physiological level. That is the kind of healing people are looking for these days and the level of healing needed. Many of my students and fellow herbalists say that more and more people are coming to them asking for help on levels beyond the body, looking for help in their psychology, looking for emotional support, and looking for spiritual support. Alchemy is an incredibly sophisticated and refined system for helping people on that level. I’m excited to be opening up this doorway for you and sharing what I see as some of the core fundamental philosophical aspects and practical applications of alchemy that you can put to use in your work with herbal medicine.

What does it mean to bring together science and spirituality? What does an integrated model of herbal medicine look like? One that can honor the physical and the spiritual side of both people and of plants, as well as life and nature as a whole. Herbal medicine has been practiced in that way for a very long time, but as science has become a dominant force in the world, herbalism has suffered. Some people don’t think that plants have sentience or intelligence or consciousness or that they can heal us on a psychological and emotional or even spiritual level. And that’s okay. But at the same time, it also denies what thousands of years of culture, tradition, and ways of practicing medicine have recognized.


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