First Peoples

What is Medicine? What Isn’t?

In Western culture, artistically-prepared, purified products are medicine. They are designed to correct a deficiency or combat an invasion to the body’s temple. The natural state of this temple is one of purity. A deviation from it requires the actions of practitioners skilled at precise, technical tasks. To give you an example of this spiritual work, which has its roots in Hebraic, Egyptian and alchemic traditions, among many others, here is the hottest new list of medicines from

What a wondrous, arcane and powerful world of practical magic. It’s like lego for your cells.

On the land…

…things are a little different. There, everything is medicine, even the fire that will some day take this sage brush away. Even the lambs quarters below. Even the cracks that give them planting space. Even the water that made the conditions for the sun to make the cracks. Even the sun.

But, of course, all that is probably too broad to be particularly helpful, so let’s narrow it down a little. Below are a few examples from my grassland. Before you look at them, remember this: two are extremely deadly; another is deadly for some; others are food, which is a medicine; others are food and other treatments, such as anti-cancer agents or stomach, nerve or lung tonics (the difference is linked to the time of year and conditions under which it was harvested). Let’s play a little game. Let’s leave them all nameless, and enjoy the concept of medicine on its own, without application.

Do you see what I’m getting at? That a medicine is not its application but its potential? That it exists outside of us and represents a set of relationships, which can be read to give us their effect on our own bodies?

Our own bodies, which are a series of relationships with the world, on their own? The one below is not native to this grassland, but my ancestors have been packing its medicine around for 10,000 years, and before them bears and wild boars, for another 30,000 years or so. Oh yeah, and horses.

It is medicine, too. Today it is called “food.” That is a rather mechanistic, human-centric way of looking at a relationship with the Earth. It speaks of a classification of a gift, that has to be related back to the environment by being gathered, arranged and given, by humans, although the apple is giving the gift on its own — a gift that is a lot more than food. So, to continue …

Well, we could carry on, but I think you have it, right? That the modern category of products called medicine require us to think of bodies in ways very specific to European and Middle-Eastern cultural experience and history, including requiring us to separate ourselves from the world and use it as a resource of distinct materials, which can be separated from their environment and used in other isolated environments? That the pre-modern form of medicine is a way of attuning yourself to the world? That the rowan berries are ready when you need them to be?

Just listen to the word “ready.” We often use it with the term “ready at hand.” It means it is right there. That it has agency. That it has prepared itself for us. The joy is that gatherer cultures know this stuff intimately.

It is an agricultural society, that sows a crop in the Earth’s body, that sees only the modern form of medicine: sown in the human body.

A consequence is that the crumbling urban wall above is seen as a ruin, or decay, rather than medicine healing the wound in the Earth that the building and the street has made.


2 replies »

  1. Origin of the medicine is almost nature/herbs, etc. But I think human exaggerated this… I mean by the medicine industry! It is a kind of monopoly world pharmacy sector. By the way, I have a problem with medicine, it’s been an allergic reaction when I take… it doesn’t matter which one, my brain gives a reaction/an alert against to medicine… So I am very difficult one, always should be under control when I take any medicine…

    Thank you, I love your photographs, they are always amazing… Love, nia


    • That is amazing, about the medicine. It’s very important, then, for you to stay well! Perhaps the photographs are the best medicine. I will hope so. I was hoping to point out the magical and priestly origins of the practice that led to medicines being developed in the way they have been. Well, that leaves it open for another post, one with more detail!


      Liked by 1 person

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