An Experiment With Herbalism
(Guest post from Green Wizard Andy Dwelly)
[This article was written during one of the UK’s lockdowns. You can actually go and get your hair cut now.]
This article is about a personal experiment I've undertaken since Christmas 2020 using a herbal protocol from Stephen Harrod Buhner for male sexual health. Inevitably there are two points that have to be made explicitly at the beginning of something like this. Given the subject, there's going to be a description of male sexuality later on - this may not be to your taste.
Secondly it's a history of what happened to me. I'm not offering medical advice of any kind, and if you were to try taking any of the natural remedies that I'm writing about here you may well find that your results vary from mine and may even cause you harm. It should go without saying that if you do have health problems in this area you should consult a properly qualified medical individual.
I first encountered the writings of Stephen Buhner in February 2020 - really a month or so before the COVID crisis really kicked off in the UK where I live. Somebody mentioned his "Herbal Antivirals" book in the comments at ecosophia.com. I ordered it quite casually with only half an eye on the disaster unfolding in Northern Italy. However, a few days later I was struck by a sudden almost panicked desire to obtain a selection of the tinctures he recommended for Corona viruses. That's an unusual reaction for me, and because some of the herbs are a bit rare it was quite expensive, something that should have put me off but didn't. Most of them turned up within a week, I stuck them on a shelf and thought no more about it.
About a month later my 15 year old son came home from school with a temperature and a dry continuous cough. I developed the same symptoms within a day although my wife seemed unaffected. We went into quarantine and over the next few days my cough got worse as my son's improved.
I tried a few of my usual tricks with honey and lemon but nothing seemed to be helping. Eventually I carefully reread the Coronavirus chapter, mixed up the tinctures as best I could and rather gingerly took a dose. It did me no harm that I could tell; over the next few days whilst I was still constantly coughing, I was at least not getting any worse. After that point a dose appeared to rapidly suppress the symptoms completely for shorter then longer periods. After about two weeks I simply got better. By the time quarantine was done I was pretty much over it.
At the time there were no tests available to prove that I had come down with COVID-19 and very little in the way of effective treatments. However I'm a 58 year old, with high cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. I came away from the experience convinced that we had all had COVID-19 and that the tinctures had prevented it from developing into a life threatening situation in my case. There's not the slightest shred of doubt in my mind that without the knowledge in the book I wouldn't be here now.
This story probably would have ended there if it were not for the rather odd reaction that I got from friends and colleagues when they asked me what happened. One told me that he simply wasn't interested in 'Woo' meaning the tinctures themselves - I hadn't mentioned how or why I had got them. A few months later, another old friend said he'd be more impressed with this story if Stephen Buhner had not also authored "Natural Remedies for Low Testosterone: How to Enhance Male Sexual Health and Energy", the authoring of which was news to me. The implication being that anyone who could put out such obvious film-flam was clearly not worth listening to on any subject.
I found both reactions quite extraordinary. Given that many of our standard medicines started out as herbal remedies (aspirin for example) and it is widely understood that a plant can contain any number of complex compounds we don't have to suppose any kind of Woo to imagine that a herb might have a medicinal effect. As for the Sexual Health book, one of two dozen Stephen Buhner has written, my first reaction was to assume that it was written in good faith, and my subsequent thought that I might actually learn something to my advantage. I'm a late middle aged overweight man, I've been married for over thirty years. At my age an occasional misfire in bed can be expected but it's always upsetting. And so I thought "Why not?".
I'm pretty conventional in my personal medical approach. The UK treats allopathic medicine as a public good via the NHS, we get charged a chunk of our salary every month but essentially you can get treatment for most health problems without much in the way of additional charges. I use a daily medication for the high blood pressure and like many of my age and weight in the UK I take a daily statin pill to combat the high cholesterol - in my case an issue I share with my elderly mother. I get a flu vaccine once a year and when I was offered the COVID-19 vaccine a few weeks past, I didn't hesitate to roll up my shirt sleeve.
So why the sudden interest in herbal medicine? Well the hard truth is that our current system is probably unsustainable. Something like the NHS requires a robust economy to operate at its current level of sophistication. Like some of the world the UK has taken a recent severe hit because of COVID but this pales into insignificance against the twin oncoming storms of fossil fuel depletion and climate change. Under those circumstances, taking an interest in an effective albeit unfashionable alternative might be quite sensible.
There's also the point about agency. Modern medicine can accomplish feats that in other eras would be sensibly described as miracles, but accessing these requires the permission of a hierarchy of medical professionals. In some countries, access is already rationed by price or to insurance. In others a vast bureaucracy has taken hold. The NHS is actually the largest employer in Europe and the fifth overall in the world; although it has much improved from twenty years ago, some hospitals still have a faint air of the DMV about them (US readers will know what I mean). Simply prescribing myself a mixture of odd anti-virals on the basis of a sudden whim - essentially what happened - would simply be impossible in the NHS. It was possible because herbal preparations are a bit of as grey area in English law. Provided the manufacturer makes no actual claims and the product is in some sense 'safe' and properly labeled, they can be sold online and in health food stores. I got mine largely from Amazon.
At this point, if you ever want to try out any of the Buhner recommendations I'm going to urge you to get hold of the book yourself. It is not expensive and it seems to me that authors rely on on readers paying them properly for their efforts. I should also point out that this relatively short work contain far more detail than I can possibly go into here. It not only explicitly describes the plants and dosages, but also the circumstances under which you should not take them. If you are going to take the advice of an author you would do well to take all of the advice.
So amongst other things I've ended up taking Pine Pollen, and Nettle Root,
The pine pollen was one that I was particularly interested in because the pollen actually contains testosterone. It is possible to get testosterone gel on prescription from a doctor in the UK, and I read years ago an article by a journalist who described the effect as turning him into a priapic teenager. I'm sorry to report that the pine pollen tincture has not done that but it has had a very positive impact on intimacy. The first time I tried it, the earth moved. To the next galaxy over. I was surprised to discover the top of my head hadn't blown off and next day I found that I'd pulled muscles I had no idea existed (ladies - this is more fun than it sounds). This has not been repeated, but things really are well - better really. It's probably worth noting that although I take a small dose three times a day as described in the book it seems to have a half life of about an hour or so.
Nettle root contains an extraordinary number of compounds but after two weeks all it seemed to be doing for me was giving me indigestion. I was on the verge of giving up with it when I suddenly realized that I'd completely stopped waking up in the middle of the night for a pee. I switched from gel caps containing powdered root to a tincture that seems to have all the positive effects without the feeling that I need to raid the bathroom cabinet for some antacids.
Some of the other recommendations I'm trying seem to have improved the overall quality of orgasms and oddly, increased my rate of hair growth. This latter is actually rather inconvenient given that barbers are currently illegal in the UK but I'm persisting with it out of curiosity.
So, could this all simply be a placebo effect? Have I in fact fooled myself into more regular and intense orgasms, faster hair growth, and an apparent improved ability to learn simply by taking a diverse collection of products with no actual physical impact? The effect is notoriously difficult to eliminate even from statistically well constructed and funded drug tests - I could easily be seeing that. My answer to this is simply, who cares? The pragmatic case is that it doesn't matter to me whether it's happening it by the power of my mind or by the impact of complex molecules, provided that it's actually happening. That said, a placebo effect that produces hair growth would be a bit of a best seller amongst a number of balding men of my acquaintance. I'm inclined to go with the 'complex organic molecule' theory for the moment. I’m even willing to entertain the thought that there’s some additional ‘Factor X’ going on, although in deference to the memory of William of Ockham, who lived about an hour away from me, I’m not going to worry about it.
So putting that question aside for the moment, what overall conclusion can I draw about herbalism as a technique that can offer us benefits as we grapple with future challenges? In some ways it was an ideal area for experimentation because the personal consequences were in fact, inconsequential. Lots of men have to adjust to a less intense sex life as they get older, it's practically part of the human condition for both genders.
There is one however very stark difference between 21st century allopathic medicine and 21st century herbalism. That is the effect of the herbs I've been using take a relatively long time to make a difference. In a culture that concentrated on sustaining good health rather than providing a late response to medical emergencies this could still provide a great deal of protection. We may indeed end up with such a culture. However accidents happen and emergencies do arise. It might be true that you can do something about a heart attack with willow bark tea, but if an immediate quadruple bypass is actually required, the tea is probably not going to get you as far. This is one of the many difficult truths that we are going to have to adjust to in the future. 22nd Century medicine is probably not going to be as good as early 21st century medicine by some obvious measures.
However, a herbal based approach does have the distinct benefit of being widely available although not evenly distributed. For example, the best place to get pine pollen is probably Norway and Sweden where vast amounts are produced every spring, ginseng is common in Asia, and anyone searching for nettle roots is welcome to the contents of my back garden in the UK. If we act to preserve the knowledge we have and even extend it, we might find that one of the features of the future is a fully functioning spice trade via sailing ships! In the meanwhile, I'm carrying on with the pine pollen.