My herbal awakening

I am one of those health stores junkies who loooves hanging out at health and wellness stores just to relax, take stock of what is on the shelves, browse their herbals blends and tinctures and just bask in the smell of palo Santo and lavender (Mom’s Organic Market in Hampden is where I will usually roam). I tend to leave with something too (this is why I joke that my cupboards are as vast as an apothecary’s).  

I wasn’t kidding! The top shelf contains loose leaf medicinal teas, the bottom and middle shelves are filled with tinctures, capsules, vitamins, herbal supplements, mushroom powders. I even have a little corner for beauty oils!


I feel at home around herbs —I have been interested in herbalism for almost ten years.

Treating an E-Coli illness with Ayurveda in India

When I was 18years old, I got seriously ill with a really intense strain of Ecoli while I was volunteering at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal, India. The clinic had both western medicine doctors and Ayurvedic doctors on call so as soon as I fell ill they were able to take care of me immediately. I blogged about this way back when it happened on my travel blog because this incident was my first introduction to the power of traditional medicine**. My boss told me that I had two choices: 1) wait for the results from the lab so that we could know what antibiotics to prescribe, which would take at least a few days or 2) be seen by an Ayurvedic doctor who could treat me immediately. I was so sick (I had fainted, was hooked to an IV for days with a fever that didn’t break and the constant runs) that I asked to be taken care of immediately. My poor mom was so worried about me that she was thinking of flying to India to be by my side! I was really that sick. Dr. Rupa— I still remember her distinctly—took my pulse, asked me a few questions and gave me some herbal medications –something involving fenugreek and pomegranate seeds and a very specific dietary regimen.

These posters were completed by the students at the school I volunteered at.My volunteer work involved researching the medicinal properties of the herbs/plants present in the school’s backyard and help put together educational posters for the students. I worked with the local schoolteacher and we were able to make plant education a really fun activity for the kids! 




I noticed improvement immediately but I took an entire month to fully recover. The treatment was holistic and powerful but also slow. Slow is only really a “bad” thing in a capitalist system where being healthy means to be productive. When you’re ill, you’re not productive, you don’t produce value. Our society confuses value with output. So our entire medical system promotes speedy recoveries, fast-acting medications so that you’re on your way back to work asap. We’re also not used to feeling pain or to sit with dis/ease. We pop the pills in as soon as a discomfort sets in. This is not a critique but an observation that links the speed of western medicine to the speed of capitalism. We live in a culture of speed, where effectiveness is equated with being fast. Writing this during quarantine is interesting because as a society under lockdown with so many’s “productive” lives on hold, we are prompted to work through separating the two. You are not your work, you are not how much/little money you make. Quarantine is teaching us that we are so much more than that what we “do” as a worker in this capitalist system. For instance, I am a graduate student who is working on her PhD but I’m also so much more than that this thing I’m doing. I am an astrology nerd, I love herbs and plants, I love interior design and architecture, I’m starting a blog, I enjoy baking bread…  These traits are not “productive” because they don’t generate money but they are a huge part of who I am and what moves me in this world.

Herbs work slowly— they take time but they remain hugely effective (here, effective doesn’t mean fast. For me, herbalism is effective because it arms your body with what it needs to be a badass in any situation). Unlike antibiotics, which work by wiping out all bacteria without distinguishing between good and bad ones, the Ayurvedic treatment I did in Bhopal mobilized my entire body to deal with this aggressive bacteria in a holistic way. I was very weak and could only stand for a little bit before I needed to lie down again but the herbs were doing their work killing a really difficult strain of bacteria that may not have been entirely wiped out by antibiotics. This was a pivotal moment for me and for my family. We all became a lot more interested in the power of herbs in supporting and healing whatever health conditions may arise.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us have a similar story of turning to herbs after a difficult medical experience —an illness, or even more likely, a chronic illness. I have found that western medicine tends to offer solutions to manage a chronic illness rather than eradicate it completely. Traditional systems of medicine based on herbs (Chinese, Ayuverdic, Indigenous) have a different holistic approach that can quite effectively root out the cause of the chronic illness. This has a transformational and very liberating effect! I have a personal story that follows this exact pattern that I will share with you later but suffice it to say that I was liberated when the TCM doctor cured me of chronic urticaria (also known as CIU) that a western doctor had told me I’d be stuck with forever! I think the pattern of turning to herbs when “nothing else works” is quite common. I would be curious to know if this is what happened to you…don’t hesitate to share your journey!

A note about Bhopal and why we should keep Bhopal in our collective memory

**You can read about my time in India on my very first blog Oxygène (https://stephanienajjar.wordpress.com/). I was 18-19, so don’t be too harsh! I would actually love if it you informed yourself about the Bhopal gas disaster. Bhopal continues to suffer from the aftermath of a really lethal chemical leak that took place in 1984 from a Union Carbide plant that was producing agricultural pesticides. DOW Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide, continues to utterly refuse to take responsibility for that leak even though it was due to neglected safety measures that weren’t up to code. Over 15 thousand Bhopalis were killed or injured from the chemical fumes. Today, Bhopalis who live around the plant are forced to consumed water that has been poisoned by the plant, which remains uncleaned. In addition, many of the children in the area are born with all sorts of genetic mutations because of the high levels of toxins in the water. I will forever be grateful for the incredible work that the Sambhavna Clinic does for the Bhopalis whose lives have been tragically disrupted by an American company that had outsourced its labor to a place where people’s lives seemed to be disposable and insignificant.

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