Soil scientists know that a garden is more than just soil and plants: it is a thriving ecosystem. When talking about human health, herbalists take a similar approach that looks at the human being as a living ecological system. There is so much evidence that this reasoning is sound: from the wide-ranging effects that our microbial denizens have on mood and inflammation, to the multi-organ system interactions described in psycho-neuro-immunology, we are more than just a brain and its life-support machinery. But this systems-based complexity extends outward into our environment as much as it extends inward into our microbiome: influences from the surrounding ecology shape and direct our lives in hidden, but powerful, ways.
Some of these influences can be troubling: plasticizers such as BPA, pesticides used in conventional agriculture, food additives, and more, can impact everything from mood to fertility to immunity. But on a more hopeful note, plants and mushrooms, in a riot of wild diversity, have been influencing our lives since before we were human – largely in beneficial ways. The science and art of discovering and riding these influences is called herbalism, and it extends well beyond basic nutrition – just like holistic soil science extends well beyond N,P,K.
During this day-long intensive, we will explore and refine this central proposition: that the diversity of the natural world knits itself together into ecological systems using signal molecules, and in a well-connected ecology, all components (humans included) are more resilient, sustainable, and healthy. We will explore the latest research evidence on questions such as:
• How did biodiversity come to be? Why is it essential?
• How has the evolutionary process on this planet encoded the relationships between all its inhabitants?
• How does DNA – an information-storage molecule – also function as an “antenna” tuned into the chemical signals from the ecologies both inside and outside us?
• How does DNA pick up on these cross-kingdom signals and alter its expression as a result?
• What types of chemical signals are most relevant to human health today? What types of plants, mushrooms, and bacteria carry these signals?
• What are simple ways to incorporate these elements into our lives, farms, and gardens?
• What are the consequences for humans, soil, our ecology, and the planet?
By zeroing in on gene expression and its modulation via molecules such as polyphenols, triterpenes, polysaccharides, saponins, and more, we will explore the ways in which herbalism brings the voice of the ecology to the dinner table. We will leave inspired and enlivened – and hopefully, more aware of the inescapable interconnectedness of humans and the ecology. And equipped with the knowledge herbalism provides, we will also walk away with practical strategies that help heal people, nurture the soil – and maybe even save the world.