Same old story

Yet another portrayal of a herbalist in a popular drama this week, employing ‘medieval’ practices and endangering lives by refusing to use modern medicine. It’s a lazy stereotype; partly forgiveable in the context, set in the forties at the dawn of the brave new National Health Service, but hardly an enlightened viewpoint nowadays. Then, it seemed that ‘science’ might find an answer to all our ills. Now, we are older and wiser, and while we know that there are wonderful things still to discover, we also know that we cannot lose touch with our roots, so to speak.
Around 80% of drugs are still derived from plants. Most of the world’s population relies on plant-based and other ‘traditional’ remedies, and many developing countries which turned their backs on the old ways are now pouring money and expertise into researching and promoting them. It makes economic sense – drugs are enormously expensive by comparison with home-grown medicines, and herbs can be a useful source of revenue, especially as the demand from richer countries is burgeoning.
But it also makes a deeper kind of sense. Traditional medicine is embedded in traditional culture, and this is also being valued more as ‘Western’ values are seen to bring all kinds of problems in their wake. For many people, no matter where they live in the world, modern medicine takes away their autonomy, making them passive recipients of treatment that does not acknowledge them as individuals. The drugs may ‘work’ on a physical level, but the emotional experience is far from satisfactory. Self-help is a healthy thing, and it isn’t going to go away. We need to respect it and work with it, and that means using remedies that are accessible to everyone.