What is Vitalist Herbalism? 

What is Vitalist Herbalism? 

The vitalist herbalist uses a combination of schools of medicine from Eclecticism (nature-based medicine), the Unani Tibb (Grecko-Arabic medicine), and clinical herbalism.

Vitalist herbalism holds a principle that there is an innate life-force present in all living beings. It is this inherent life-force that gives the body it’s natural ability to heal itself. Life-force is sustained and amplified through sleep, nutrition, emotional health, creativity, elemental, and emotional balance.

Once these key pillars of vitality are addressed, the vitalist herbalist prescribes herbs that further support the life-force. Vitalist herbalists have a saying: “Do not prescribe herbs before you prescribe food and sleep.” This supports a balance between palliation and non-suppression. Vitalists believe that symptoms are the results of the vital life force trying to heal the body. Unlike common practices in western medicine, we support the symptom rather than suppress it.

Vitalist herbalists utilize the intelligence of the elements in their practice. Much like the Ayurvedic concept of ‘Dosas’ and the Chinese concept of ‘Constitutions,’ the Vitalist’s Humors are an expression and combination of the elements fire, ether, wind, and water (hot, dry, moist, and cold), which work alchemically and synergistically to bring vitality to the body.  Every person, organ system, disease, and herb have a unique combination of humors.

Vitalists herbalists use Humors as key in medicine formulation. For example, we do not prescribe a dry herb like lavender for anxiety to a patient who presents with dry symptoms such as dry hair, flaky skin, brittle nails, and thin stature. This is because a dry herb will dry out mucosa membranes and exacerbate symptoms of anxiety for an anxiety disorder induced by excessive dryness. Instead, we prescribe a moisturizing/cooling herb like Althea Officinalis (Marshmallow Root), to support the mucosa membranes and induce elements of water and earth within the body- giving a grounded calming sensation in the body.

This is a fundamental piece of herbalism in which complex and advanced formulations follow. Advanced herbal formulation uses ‘Materia Medica,’ a compilation of herbal texts which list herbal actions, constituents, indications, contraindications, organ systems affected, tissues of the body affected, physiology, pharmacology, and so-forth.

Without proper knowledge of the vitalism principle, medicine prescribed may cause suppression of a symptom and decrease the life-force’s s natural ability to heal the body-creating a lasting, unhealthy, dependance on medicine.

Vitalist herbalists believe in nature. We believe that the natural ability to heal ourselves lies within.  All that is needed is deep listening to our body. From there, we can work with food as medicine, cycles of the moon and sun, natural rhythms and cycles, and work with the plants as allies. Allowing sustained, true  healing.

Written by Jenna Crowley, Medical Herbalist

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