If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (Corinthians 13.1.)
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (Corinthians 13.2.)
I’m driving my car and watch. Verbascum sp., Melilotus officinalis, Sedum sp… I wonder how many plants I can recognize while driving a vehicle. On the road near the Kupa river, I suddenly stop and exit the car. There, in the clear, I saw something interesting – a rare opportunity to meet wild marshmallows. While hiking on Velebit, I am thrilled to see Rhodiola rosea, our European ginseng. Wild lavender in France? Once I saw it in the Caussols plateau, words did not come out of my mouth for half an hour, even if I wanted to. I’ve had my share of wild parties when I was young. I’ve had my share of corporate careers. I’ve enjoyed expensive hotel rooms as big as an apartment and the most expensive restaurants. That was so thrilling but now it’s dwarfed by the pleasure that gives a mountain meadow in summer. Plants have a magical strength. Once you step into their world, you are embraced by their static existence and their perseverance. I admire them from a botanical perspective; their rich history intertwined with the human race; their pharmacological potential. Those that we love we judge so subjectively. Once I was afraid that I would fall into a trap and write only panegyrics about plants. But just as we are truly honest with our friends, even though the truth is sometimes unpleasant, I judge them critically. No, the plants did not provide us with cures for every disease. You can oppose this statement, but it remains the truth. You can be even mad at me. We had to make synthetic chemistry, biologicals. They were our biological necessity. Loving something and blindly believing are two opposite concepts.
When I started my practice, I was afraid I’d become very critical of modern medicine. While working in pharmaceutical research, my job was to pinpoint the weak sides of current drugs and find new ones with better safety and efficacy profiles. But this has never made me a hater of existing drugs. I am only objectively aware of their good and bad sides. I just asked myself: what can we use to meet the unmet clinical need? Can we find the potential in herbal biochemistry, or not? My job in molecular pharmacology trained me to always ask the question “why”, just like a child. Why do plants and essential oils work? What is the exact mechanism? I’m aware that some people oppose the strict notion of the chemical structure – pharmacological activity relationship. They bring up the idea of some form of energy or frequency. I could agree once we could measure this. Until we can measure this, these ideas remain in the ancient realm of beliefs, not the rational thinking of René Descartes.
Once we understand the mechanism, we can define the indications and contraindications. Clinical studies give rise to the precise dosing regimen. After my research career, I started to work in pharmaceutical quality control. I was challenged by one of the most complex parts of pharmaceutical production: vaccines and blood plasma products. This experience has inspired and enabled me to assess the quality of herbal products critically. There is complete chaos with the quality issues of herbal products. I do hope you are aware of it.
I was still working in the pharmaceutical industry when I announced my interest in medicinal plants. I wondered how the people in our institute would perceive this. They were unreservedly supportive. If it weren’t for the first lecture in PLIVA on medicinal plants, when people were sitting on the floor so they could listen to it, I wouldn’t be doing this right now. These were my colleagues, experts in the fields of various drug sciences. The fact that they were so interested in it was rewarding. Just as I am, they do not despise modern drugs. They actively searched how to improve them. They were curious to explore what natural compounds can do. One of my former mentors said – the knowledge you bring from the pharmaceutical industry can improve the use of medicinal plants.
I don’t have to elaborate in details that I’ve met a lot. I’ve met overconfident herbalists and charlatans who are about to heal the whole world. I’ve had the privilege to meet older people who knew so much about the medicinal plants of their region. That knowledge is as valuable as preserving musical heritage, but somehow we missed the opportunity to record it properly. It’s called ethnobotany. I meet physicians who take a negative stance by definition and those who accept herbal drugs as any other medication. Patients who blindly believe in plants and grumble overwhelmingly against modern medicine are not my favourites. Reasonable, even somewhat sceptical patients are my prefered ones. Some people perceive their illness as another managerial project.
Some patients are angry and want to find and accuse the culprit even when there is none to be found. All healthcare professionals, including me, meet people who arrive to find out what we do not know from their dr. Google (re)search. I’ve met those who think medicinal plants can be learnt in six months or a year and get so angry if that’s not the case. Some people assume that the apex of phytotherapy is tea brewing. If we want to be serious, it will take time. Still, I find many rewards. Most people recognize me with a smile: “you are the one dealing with plants”. That little smile pays for all the time and money I invested in this field.
When you live with someone for a long time, you take the characteristics of that person. I’ve learned patience from plants. Everything eventually comes around, even if the tree needs to grow out of stone.