The immune system has become an increasingly crucial issue in all branches
of medicine in recent years. This is not only due to the AIDS epidemic but
also the statistical explosion of the whole range of auto-immune diseases.
To comprehend the possibilities of holistic approaches it is important to
have a grasp of the biological basis of immunity, but at least as importantly
is a comprehension of the role it plays in human life. The new, though still
incomplete, understanding that immunology grants us illuminates the profound
complexity and ecological integration on the form level, but there is much
more involved. Herbal medicine is as limited as allopathic medicine if it
is only used in terms of T & B lymphocytes without the benefit of a
broader holistic context.
I would suggest that some important insights arise when immune system functioning
is placed in an ecological perspective and not simply a biochemical/medical
one. From such a perspective it becomes clear that human immunity is a vital
component of the interface between the individual and their world. Human
activity is not simply that of resisting the evil dangerous environment,
rather it is a complex and beautiful dance of flowing to & fro within
our world. All that follows is developed around the idea that the whole
complex of human immunity has the following characteristics :
immunity is about harmony and not resistance, a dynamic dance with
the environment and not simply a series of barriers to it.
This leads to some concepts and interpretations that raise exciting possibilities
for the practitioner of holistic medicine, whether they be Phytotherapist
- Human Immunity is Ecology in action. In other words there is
a relationship phenomena in play. Not only must both sides of the relationship
be identified and understood but also the nature of their relationship.
This can prove extremely challenging as it will be in dynamic flux at all
- It is an ecological interface between inner & outer environments.
Such interfaces appear to be critical in the health and well-being of Gaia
herself, the interface between desert and savannah, rain-forest and mountains,
woodland & grassland, agriculture and wilderness. These transition zones
facilitate the integration and fine tuning of biomes and biosphere health.
Thus in the human : non-human ecology, the immune system is a complex of
procedures and processes that allow both in and out. Resistance and embrace
at the same time. To focus on one side of this profound `yin/yang’ is to
miss the point and compromise the whole thing.
- Immunity is an expression of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the
umbrella concept that describes the human body’s wonderful physiological
processes that maintain a stable internal environment. This inner homeostasis
is a reflection of the planetary homeostasis that characterizes Gaia. It
was the recognition of these planet wide processes that led James Lovelock
to propose the Gaia Hypothesis in the first place.
- Immunity is an expression of relationship. This is in implicit
in everything said so far, but carries the implication that the very nature
relationship plays a role in immune system well being. Thus the practitioner
must explore the patients’ relationship with their world on all levels,
from the food they eat, the people they love (or hate), to the way they
relate to nature.
This all goes to emphasize that as with all aspects of holistic healing,
the approach to whole body immunity must address the following aspects of
human life :
- Bodily health & wholeness, ensuring that the physical body
has the correct nutrition and appropriate healing support for any ills it
may be experiencing.
- Emotional well being, ensuring a nurturing feeling life, through
both the joy and the pain of human life.
- Mental vision & perspective will help create the mind set
within which the individual can find there place, and make choices from
there center, not from the stance of the victim.
- Spiritual openness & vitality in what ever form that takes
for the person involved.
This chapter will explore herbal approaches to immune system issues,
touching on general support in health and illness, allergy, infection and
cancer. Before developing the implications of the ideas presented above
we should briefly review the biological aspects of human immunity. An excellent
introduction to immunology can found be found in:
E. Benjamini & S. Leskowitz (1988). Immunology, A short course.
Alan R. Liss, New York
The Herbal Possibilities
Immuno-stimulation, Immuno-modulation or what?
A Phyto-Therapeutic Approach to the Immune System
An Herbal Contribution to Preventive Medicine
The Immune System and its Specific Problems.
A General Approach to Infection
Infections in The Skin
Considering how the massive surface of skin is constantly exposed to injury, bacteria, and various other foreign substances, it is rather incredible that it is not more frequently afflicted with infections. A number of factors account for this, including the keratin layer on the surface, the chemicals in sebum and perspiration, and the internal defenses present in the bloodstream. Nonetheless, skin infections do occur, and vary from trivial to life-threatening.
A range of bacterial infections can occur, but here we shall review a treatment for boils. Please refer to the section on children for a discussion of impetigo. Fungal infections are discussed below.