North Atlantic Books, 2019
Reviewed by Emma Farrell
There are benefits to living in a global era, where we have access to ancient teachings from any culture we can think of as well as to modern scientific studies. In Evolutionary Herbalism, Sajah Popham demonstrates his universal wisdom by seamlessly blending together a comprehensive methodology for healing with plants by drawing on folk medicine, Ayurveda, traditional herbalism, plant spirit healing and alchemy. The evolutionary aspect of his herbalism is his holistic approach to working with plants, from a physical, emotional and spiritual level for healing, rather than the usual herbalism route of applying herbs just as one would apply allopathic medicine, i.e. identify a symptom and apply an herb to get rid of it. This reductionist way of working with plants is no longer relevant in today’s world where can we can easily discover, as Popham did, that plants have metaphysical healing qualities also.
The fundamental principle to understanding how any plant lives and heals is to get to know its energetic pattern, or ‘energetic architecture’ as Popham calls it. This involves taking things back to basics, starting with the elements and how they are expressed in their many forms throughout the plants and how they will then in turn interact with the inner elements within the human body. As the building blocks of all life and everything we perceive, the elements are key to understanding all shamanic and traditional folk healing techniques from around the world. Working with the doctrine of correspondences, Popham provides charts to demonstrate how to read the energetic patterns in all things, i.e. how the Earth element is related to the cube platonic solid, to winter, to Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn, to the mineral kingdom, to yin energy, to the feeling sense in the body, to a melancholic constitution, to the liver, bones and connective tissues, to the root of a plant, to the herbal action of a tonic, astringent or bitter. By first understanding the element we can see how its pattern is reflected through the plants, the human body and the cosmos, it therefore guides us towards an understanding of the healing qualities of individual plants. For example, a typical Earth plant for earth associated ailments such as constipation, dirty blood or poor digestion would be Burdock with its long tap root, its broad leaves drooping down towards the earth and its affinity with the liver and the blood.
One of the developments in the Western plant world that Popham has also rightly embraced is plant communication. Blessed to learn his communication skills with one of my teachers, Pam Montgomery, Popham refers to this aspect of his work beautifully as the Light of Nature, …the intelligence and sentience shining throughout the natural world that we have the innate capacity to be in relationship with. (p.15). Working with plants without having a relationship with the spirits of the plants and trees only gives us half the picture. Just as our indigenous brothers and sisters have done since time immemorial, we can learn directly from the plants and trees, no middle man! There is a wealth of spiritual healing and development contained within plants that we can tap into; sadly Popham doesn’t go too much into this aspect of working with plants, his focus is more on his overarching methodology of which plant communication is one branch.
Popham does take medicine making a few steps further than your average tincture though and demonstrates how the alchemical and archetypal frameworks can help produce powerful spagyric remedies. These are remedies which work upon the body, spirit and soul by separating, purifying and recombining the Three Philosophical Principles of plants (Salt, Mercury & Sulphur) to produce their rarefied essence. It is a spiritual form of alchemy with a long process which requires specific equipment and which is perhaps not always necessary when you work directly with the spirit of the plant to do the healing, nonetheless, they are powerful medicines.
Overall I really enjoyed reading this book and discovering how another plant healer has developed his craft. This book is useful for anyone interested in working with plants holistically, it provides a grounding for further research and learning.