This is a picture of the erythema migrans (bull’s eye) rash produced by the bite of a black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), commonly referred to as deer tick in the northeast. This picture comes from my abdomen this morning. I found the black-legged tick on my body two days ago. The problem with all of this, of course, is that this species of tick carries a spirochete (a kind of bacterium) called Borrelia burgdorferi that is responsible for Lyme Disease. The rash is not proof of infection, though it occurs in 70 to 80 percent of people who contract Lyme Disease. This ailment manifests differently in different people, but can involve flu-like symptoms, headaches, severe arthritis, cardiac arrhythmias, and (in chronic cases) neurological issues. Lyme Disease is serious enough that even the potential for infection (as my rash indicates) should not be ignored. So what am I going to do? Get worried? Become frantic? Race to the doctor’s office? No, none of the above.
There are a great many people who love the concept of herbal healing and holistic medicine. Healing yourself using plants and fungi gathered from the fields and forests near your home is a romantic image that many interested in self-reliance day dream about. Gaining a deep enough understanding of the landscape to have the knowledge to gather and prepare remedies is a goal people endeavor for. But for most people who are willing to try herbal remedies, there is only so far they will go with this. When things get serious (serious defined by each individual), the decision is generally made to utilize pharmaceutical drugs, even by those who teach herbal healing. That might sound like a very judgmental statement. It isn’t. I’m not calling anyone out. It’s an observation of our society—we have been raised in a culture of western medicine, and despite some people’s wish to shrug this indoctrination, there is still resistance to using and fear of other kinds of remedies. Will they work? Will I have to suffer more discomfort? What if it doesn’t work? Is it more inconvenient than pharmaceuticals? Will it take longer to notice an effect? Can I make things worse? These are all valid questions and I’m not attempting to belittle anyone who decided not to “stick it out” with herbal healing but I consider myself fortunate not to be plagued by those fears. It may be the result of my method of choosing which remedy to use.
To provide me with confidence, I seek out the intersection of traditional use and modern research. In other words, most plants and fungi I use have a long history of use by indigenous and/or traditional cultures AND have modern study that verifies (to some degree) their mode of action, their efficacy, and their safety. The traditional use speaks to the herbs safety and effectiveness (a plant likely would not be used for a long period of time if it were ineffective and caused harm). Modern research helps verify efficacy and can further refine our understanding of an herb’s safety. Together, these two lines of evidence make a strong case for usefulness and harmlessness, two important criteria that every medicine should possess.
So what I am going to do about the erythema migrans rash from a black-legged tick? This isn’t a traumatic injury—if so, you would see me visit the hospital (trauma is one of those fields I consider western medicine to be a better alternative for treatment). I will continue to practice a diet and lifestyle that bolsters the functioning of my immune system. I’ve had this rash before, and am still not symptomatic (and to be sure, the Lyme spirochete may not have been transferred to my body). I will use immune system tonics, such as chaga (Inonotus obliquus), hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa), and other medicinal fungi. I will be sure to incorporate deeply nutritious food (such as organ meats, fish roe, wild and fermented plants), focusing on foods that supply the active forms of vitamins A and D and plants that present phytochemicals that help my body cope with and overcome both the infection and the accompanying side effects. Incorporating plants that assist with liver and lymph function is also important, as there may be a need to clear toxins produced by the Lyme spirochete. I will also seek out a natural medicine that (1) is antispirochetal (to actively kill the Lyme-causing bacterium), (2) is an immune system modulator (to ramp up the internal defenses), (3) is an anti-inflammatory (to help treat any arthritis symptoms), and (4) can be protective of other serious complications of Lyme Disease (such as Lyme carditis, a serious heart problem that can develop with this disease). Fortunately, such a medicine exists (actually, there are several that possess these qualities). There is one that can be collected (free of charge) right here in the northeast—Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). I will take this remedy for a period of time because it is harmless and does very beneficial things for my body (such as providing antioxidants and preventing cancer, in addition to the four items I noted above). I will practice what I preach, walk the talk, and rely on those remedies you see me write about. And through my successes, perhaps, you too will gain confidence as well, and realize that healing (and prevention) is something that everyone can accomplish, even if you haven’t yet enrolled for affordable health care.