Someone forwarded me a post on the Economist about how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is being used in China to treat COVID-19. I was excited to see this in such a large media publication, because although it is well known in my professional community that certain herbal preparations are being used widespread in Chinese hospitals, that information hasn’t been transmitted to the Western world. You can imagine my dismay as I started to read through the comments: “This is what caused the pandemic!” “TCM has caused widespread species extinction.” My excitement switched in an instance to absolute horror. Is this how my profession is viewed? Here I am, a staunch wildlife conservationist having a personal existential crisis (amidst a global crisis) over my livelihood and love for healing herbs. One of my passions in life is advocating for the conservation of wildlife and their habitats, and have been sanctimoniously vocal about my disdain for the wet markets that for decades have been epicenters for disease. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a rich history of many modalities: acupuncture, qi gong, cupping, guasha, and plant medicine. Unfortunately, there is a dark aspect to this medicine: the use of animal products. Tigers, rhinos, and pangolins are some of the animals that are facing extinction because of poaching. Bears are kept in tiny cages and have their gallbladders pumped for their bile. These practices are abhorrent, archaic, and absolutely need to stop. Humans cannot continue to claim dominion over the natural world. Sometimes we don’t see things the way others do, and it can be a rude awakening when we do. My education did not encompass the use of these animal products, thus the mental disconnect. There is absolutely no place for the use of endangered animals in modern practice. My pharmacopeia only includes plant medicine, and I make sure that the herbs I buy are sustainably harvested, and free from pesticides and heavy metals. When applicable, I will include animal protein in dietary recommendations. But always encourage the use of sustainably raised and humanely harvested meat, Seafood Watch recommendations, and pastured eggs. If you are taking an herbal preparation, please ask your practitioner about the use of animal products in their formula. The sustainable, ethical use of Chinese herbal medicine is an absolute gift to the world (including common herbs like ginger, mint, dandelion, and turmeric!). Herbal medicine is the oldest known form of medicine, and every culture throughout the world has their own tradition. The use of herbs has been paramount to my own healing journey, and it doesn’t cease to amaze me the profound effect it has on my clients’ healing as well.
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