Plants and herbs have an incredibly long standing traditional use. All throughout history, in pretty much any culture, the use of plant and herbal remedies to alleviate a wide variety of maladies and illnesses have been predominant. It would not be inaccurate to say that shamans or healers were the first doctors in history. They cured people using ancient wisdom about the Earth and its healing properties, passed on through generations.
The ancient Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Native Americans were all herbalists. The oldest known list of medicinal herbs is Shen Nung’s Shennong Ben Cao Jing (c. 3000 B.C.E.). His Chinese herbal guide is likely a compilation of even older oral traditions passed down through history. Ayurveda is a medical system mainly practiced in India that has been used for nearly 5000 years. This system includes diet and herbal remedies that emphasize the unity of body, mind and spirit in the prevention and treatment of different diseases. Native Americans have also always believed in the interconnection of body, mind and spirit, and the importance of healing all of these aspects to become whole and healthy. They practice healing arts in ways that include the natural world and the person as a whole, observing and learning from nature. Native American societies were practicing herbalism for centuries before European colonization began to take place.
The Greeks and Romans also used herbal remedies. The Roman army traveled with specialists who spread their herbal knowledge throughout the Roman empire. Their teachings reached other European countries, such as Spain, Germany, France, and England. Greek surgeons from the Roman army, compiled writings about herbal treatments that remained the definitive texts on plant medicine for 1500 years. In the Middle Ages, herbalism was preserved in the monasteries, which served as medical schools in Britain and other parts in Europe. Monks studied, transcribed and translated many of the works of Hippocrates and other Greek and Roman philosophers on plant medicine, which served as basic training grounds for the next generation of physician monks. With the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, herbal traditions, practices and remedies were able to be mass-produced and made accessible to people outside palaces, monasteries, and universities. The use and medicinal practices of herbs didn’t required specialized skills. The common people in European countries were finally able to have access to this type of valuable information, normal people could simply gather the necessary plants and use them in the indicated terms.
Plants help people release their personal and cultural inhibitions, but also to be truly open to the lessons the universe teaches. There are different types of plants in nature, and they all have lessons to teach. Some plants teach about aesthetics, these are decorative plants that bring joy and beauty into people’s lives and homes. There are the nutritional plants that can be eaten and are used to nourish the body. Medicinal plants have healing properties that keep people healthy and in tune to the right order of the universe. And then, there are spiritual plants like that teach about the deep connection to everything else in the world. Native tribes, deep in the Amazonian rainforest believe these spiritual plants are essential to a complete educational process, which centers lessons about life, time, reality and the soul. These indigenous groups have an intimate relationship with nature, they take the food and resources they need to live, then they give back and pay tribute to mother Earth’s infinite wisdom. Sacred plants are teachers, their message is there for anyone with an open mind and heart to receive, learn from and apply in their lives and within their communities.
Every culture develops social rules concerning food and plant life. Indigenous people in Latin America save the use of sacred plant medicine for their most powerful healing rituals. Sacred plants are healing plants. True healing is achieved when mind, body and spirit are aligned with their past, present and future. This alignment can be reached through various channels, one of which is sacred plant medicine. Indigenous cultures have been using these plants for healing disorders in the human body for centuries. The use of sacred plants, like Ayahuasca, is believed to give people direct access to a divine experience, a radical difference from traditional medicine practices. These plant methods mainly used in developing countries, have been gaining following in Western countries in the last few decades, thanks to a continuously growing awareness of the dangers of traditional medicine can bring to people’s health, as well as a collective search to reconnect with the Earth and its healing properties.
A sacred plant ritual may sound like magic, but it actually has everything to do with science, and the way the brain reacts to the healing plants. Researchers believe that these plants cause a change in the perceptions of people who use them, because they act on the neural circuits in the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain in charge of perception, mood, and cognition. This means that sacred plants are able to actually change the structure of neurons, which is very important because the brain’s structure controls functions. The administration of sacred plant as medicine, like Ibogaine, affects the neurotransmitter serotonin, and helps repair brain networks in the prefrontal cortex that were damaged from issues like anxiety, depression, addiction or other mental disorders.
Scientists have studied the therapeutic potential in sacred plant medicine in regards to brain disorders like PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse problems, depression, eating disorders and grief. These studies have had promising results, through brain research, the use of psychological instruments, and collaborating with experts who have worked with sacred plants with therapeutic intents. Other studies have revealed that under the influence of sacred plants, neuron changing effects in rats, and increased numbers of synapses, branches and dendrites in their neurons. They also found that even though the effects didn’t last long and residues were eliminated from the rats’ systems within hours, their brains continued rewiring for up to 24 hours. The human brain works under the same principals. The effects of sacred plants in the human brain are similar to those in the brains of rats. Increased synapses, brain activity, neuronal change and continued rewiring are all effects people benefit from when participating in sacred plant rituals.
The immediate effects of sacred plant medicines are usually short-lived, meaning they last at the mostly a few hours. The experiences are mentally stimulating, provide a heightened sense of understanding and can change the way people perceive the world. However, the long term effects can be even more significant. It has been found that they increase blood flow to frontal cortical structures, including the medial temporal lobe, amygdala, hippocampus, and parahippocampal gyrus, that are involved in regulation of emotion and memory. Changes have been detected in the body’s default mode network, which is the part of the brain linked to people’s default reactions when interacting with the world, like traumatic memories, and the emotions that come with those memories: fear, shame, resentment. These traumas can serve as fuel for problematic relationship patterns as well as chronic mental health conditions. The activity that sacred plants produces in the default mode network can be beneficial in treating psychiatric illnesses, which is one of the mechanisms of action found in Ayahuasca. These changes may define the benefits of mindfulness capacity, which Ayahuasca has already been demonstrated to increase. Working with sacred plant medicine is being proved to enhance not only self-awareness, but also abilities necessary to release from oppressive thoughts and emotions. These abilities can potentially provide people with more tools to respond to stressful situations or difficult life events in a healthy way.
Additionally, there is recent scientific evidence that proves the importance of transpersonal experiences for psychological health and well-being that can lead to behavioral and psychological changes. Belief and the experience itself can can have deep personal meanings for a person, and bring out confidence in their abilities to deal with different challenges in life. These effects were reported in a study meant to explore the therapeutic use of Ayahuasca in a context of substance dependence. Ayahuasca induced spiritual experiences were reported to be highly therapeutic for participants and healers alike.
At a somatic level, sacred plant medicines are believed to cause violent vomiting as an almost unavoidable side effect. This is partly true, due to the toxins and unhealthy diet habits most people have in today’s modern life. Sacred plants are meant to cleanse the body, mind and soul, an unhealthy body will purge out “badness”, while a healthy, balanced one will have less matter to eliminate. A healthy, plant based, organic diet is the best way to prepare the body for a sacred plant ritual. Ridding the body of harmful elements and toxins will greatly increase the odds of the ritual being effective and lasting.
More scientific research would help the public understand HOW sacred plants work in the human body, and its effects on mental health. Nevertheless, there are currently many legal blockades in continuing with these studies, mainly due to the legality status of the different medicinal plants required for treatment, as well as lack of funding. The legal status of these plants also encourage a cult like use of them for recreational purposes, which is not encouraged. At The Holistic Sanctuary, professional and experience guidance is provided before, during and after the experience with any sacred plant treatment. Additionally, the Holistic Sanctuary is committed to provide with full mind, body and soul preparation and detoxification to ensure the experience is as complete and healing as it can be. Plant medicine alone will not transform a person. Healing occurs with time and willingness to find the truth. Natural plant medicines can result in lasting changes over time when sustained with a sense of responsibility of healthy lifestyle and habits. When submitting to a sacred plant treatment, honesty and commitment to the process is the most effective way to achieve real and positive change.