Constitutional Herbal Medicine

Smilax rotundifolia (Greenbrier)
Smilax rotundifolia (Greenbrier)

In essence, the label constitutional herbal medicine simply points to a type of herbal treatment that addresses an underlining tendency rather than an outward dysfunction/symptom.

The progression of tendency to dysfunction occurs thusly:

(But first: a healthy organ or unified group of tissues working in concert under normal/non-stressed conditions has an output of much less than total capacity. Let’s call this ‘steady-state’ operation. If we are fortunate enough to be born healthy and have a reasonably health-normal childhood, we start here.)

Glycyrrhiza lepidota (Wild licorice)
Glycyrrhiza lepidota (Wild licorice)

Due to a combination of every-day influences (the aging process, genetics, and long-term environmental and/or lifestyle insults) working organ/tissue effort increases in order to maintain equilibrium. That particular organ or area must work harder to complete its physiological tasks; instead of steady-state operation being achieved with only 10%-20% of total capacity, it now, for whatever reason, is called on to engage a greater percentage. Workload increases.

At moderate organ/tissue challenge (middle age or even in the healthy or young with a genetic predisposition) it’s common to approach the half to three-quarter capacity mark. But even here the body is mostly symptom free: the less efficient organ/tissue group still maintains steady-state (and routine blood work and examinations all come back normal). Enter constitutional herbal medicine: it is best used here to either stimulate or sedate an organ system or tissue group, ideally before an illness manifests.

Berberis haematocarpa (Red barberry)
Berberis haematocarpa (Red barberry)

Further along on the continuum, in response to the continued push-pull of life, dysfunction breakthrough begins to occur. This period, when symptoms of dysfunction begin to manifest and peek through an otherwise healthy, but labored internal situation, is the beginning of the transition from successful constitutional herbal application to symptomatic application. As the underlying tendency changes to definable illness, constitution herbal medicine has less sway. At this point, symptom-oriented applications will likely comprise the mainstay of an herbal treatment plan.

So basically, constitutional herbal medicine has as much to do with the what (herb) as the timing (pre-disease). By subtly targeting a particular tissue group or organ system, the premise is to head-off disease prior to its occurrence with a well-selected herb or combination thereof.