In this rich conversation, Mason sits down with the brilliant herbalist Sajah Popham; Founder of School Of Evolutionary Herbalism and Organic Unity in southern Oregon, for a journey into the otherworldly space of plant alchemy, herbal remedies, spagyric medicine, and the inextricable relationship between man and our magically healing plant friends.
Geared with both the Science and esoteric understanding of herbal medicine and trained in real alchemy by the great Robert Bartlett, Sajah brings a holistic understanding of the universal truths and principles that govern plants and healing. Sajah's depth of knowledge and reverence for plants as healers is truly a gift to this world. A guardian of the plant kingdom, he walks his path devoted to healing and teaching people that plants are not something we use mindlessly and forget about once healed. He reminds us they are our allies, guides, and protectors, that we should seek to understand and develop a connection that deepens with time. Make sure you tune in for this one!
"If we can imagine back to the first human beings ever to exist on planet earth and think of who was the first teacher of herbal medicine? Well, it was the plants themselves. And that's something that I really want to come back to in my own work."
Mason and Sajah discuss:
- Spagyrics and the process of creating medicine.
- Medical astrology.
- Medical Alchemy.
- The three philosophical principles of alchemy (Tria Prima).
- How do we bring together science and spirituality?
- Universal themes among ancient medicine systems.
- Esoteric knowledge and how it relates to plants and healing.
- The importance of developing a relationship with the plants we utilise as medicines.
- Looking at people and plants through an energetic lens.
- The three Doshas of Ayurveda.
- Integrative medicine; Eastern and Western systems of medicine coming together.
- Returning to the heart space and sitting in earth energy for healing.
Who is Sajah Popham?
Sajah Popham (B.S. Herbal Sciences), founder and core instructor of Organic Unity and School of Evolutionary Herbalism, is a student of the universal truths found within both ancient and modern herbal traditions from around the world. The focus of his work is on integrating ancient teachings for a new paradigm of plant medicine, one that is truly holistic in its honoring of the spirit, energetics, and body of both people and plants. His unique synthesis bridges herbalism not only east and west, but north and south, above and below, into a universal philosophy that encompasses indigenous wisdom, Ayurveda, western Alchemy and Spagyrics, Astrology, clinical herbalism, and modern pharmacology.
Sajah’s vitalist approach utilizes plants not only for physiological healing and rejuvenation, but for the evolution of consciousness, for a truly holistic practice of plant medicine. Sajah’s teachings embody a heartfelt respect, honour, and reverence for the vast intelligence of plants in a way that empowers us to look deeper into the nature of our medicines and ourselves. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife where he teaches at his school, makes spagyric medicines, and practices his art.
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Check Out The Transcript Here:
Hey Sajah. Welcome, man.
Sajah Popham: (00:01)
All right. How are you doing down there in Oregon? Can you tell us a little bit about where you're at, where you've landed in the world and what you're up to there?
Sajah Popham: (00:11)
Yeah. I live in the Southern part of Oregon State here in the United States and I live out here on 120 acres with my wife, Whitney, where we host our school called the School of Evolutionary Herbalism, where we teach a lot of workshops to herbalists and people wanting to really reconnect with the wisdom of plants and different traditions from around the world that have used plants as medicines. And we also spend a lot of our time out here preparing spagyric herbal extracts for our business, Organic Unity, which is an aspect of the alchemical tradition from Europe and very specific methods of preparing herbs into medicines that concentrates their physical properties, as well as their spiritual and energetic properties as well.
What made you get into spagyrics?
Sajah Popham: (01:03)
Yeah. Awesome. And I forgot but I think I'd mentioned before we jumped on and coming up to Oregon to go to the American Herbal Guild Symposium in October. Don't know if you're going to be around there, but looking forward to going out to get out there, but I meant the spagyrics. I'm really interested to hear what got you into that aspect of herbalism, because I don't know what it's like in the US whether it's spreading a little bit. I'm sure thanks to yourself, it has, but it hasn't permeated just the everyday herbal community here in Australia.
Sajah Popham: (01:39)
Yeah. Well, I would definitely say that's true out here in the States as well. When we're talking about alchemy and spagyrics we're getting on a pretty fringy part of herbal medicine that I feel very committed to opening up more to the verbal world. For me alchemy and spagyrics was really the missing link. It was the missing piece of the puzzle for me in terms of my plant path, my journey into the world of herbal medicine. And I was studying at Bastyr University up there in Seattle and in the herbal sciences programme. And for me, as the programme implies, it's a very scientifically oriented programme. So we're studying the botany and the chemistry and the pharmacology and plant constituents and how to best extract them and anatomy and physiology and biochemistry, and a very scientific model of herbal medicine, which I love. I really loved science.
Sajah Popham: (02:45)
I love that whole aspect of it. But during that time as well I was really deepening just in my own direct connection with the plants. And I think a lot of people experienced this where our lives are changed when a plant heals us. It's like sometimes we're going through our life and we're having a hard time with something, maybe something in our body, maybe something in our heart or mind, and then a plant comes to us and we take that plant into our body and it fundamentally changes who we are and heals us. And so for me having this deep spiritual connection to the plants and this very scientific model of understanding plants, created this little rift inside of me, well, maybe a big rift. It was like, how do I bring these two together? How do I bring together the science and the spirit of herbal medicine?
Sajah Popham: (03:41)
And I think that's something that's going on on a cultural level as well, just how do we bring together science and spirituality? And that led me to study a lot of different medical traditions, spiritual traditions and eventually that led me to Tuscany, Italy, where I was doing a study abroad trip there. And there was a man that talked about medical alchemy, medical astrology, and he was talking about just all this very esoteric knowledge and how it relates to plants and healing. And I remember it just really clicking something into place for me because in alchemy they utilise chemical terminology to denote a spiritual principle. And that really made a lot of sense to me and how they had methods of preparing plants that would concentrate their chemistry that works in the body, but also methods of concentrating the spiritual properties of the plants and how those influence our minds, our emotions, and ultimately our spiritual growth and evolution.
Sajah Popham: (04:56)
And that became a very fundamental model for how I perceived plants and practised herbal medicine. I didn't really want to just approach herbal medicine to "fix what's broken in our bodies" because they did so much more for me in my own plant path. I wanted to assist people in that deeper connection to the true self, deeper connection to nature, deeper connection to the spirit that's in all of life. And I believe that the plants have an incredible capacity to do so. And it was through the spagyric preparations that I found it best to help people in that way.
And just for my sake, can you take me a little bit through that preparation model? I understand it from way back in a heavily alchemical process, it's probably not something that downloads easily down to a couple of sentences or paragraphs, but just to understand what that process is, if you mind.
Sajah Popham: (05:54)
Yeah, sure. Well, everything in alchemy, they say everything in nature, or everything in creation has three fundamental principles. What they call Tria Prima or the three philosophical principles, and in alchemy, they see that as they call sulphur, mercury and salt, and this correlates to the soul, the spirit and the body of any particular thing, whether that's a person or a plant or a stone or whatever it is, everything in nature has these three principles and we can see that threefold pattern reflected in a whole lot of different traditions around the world. Ayurveda has its three doshas. Chinese medicine has its three treasures. Astrology has its three modes. There's all manner of Holy trinities, so to speak in different medical, scientific and spiritual traditions. So in spagyrics, which is plant-based alchemy, they say that the sulphur, mercury and salt of a plant corresponds to the essential oils, the alcohol-soluble constituents and the mineral salts.
Sajah Popham: (07:07)
And so in the spagyric process, the sulphur, mercury and salt are the oil, the alcohol and the minerals are all separated from the plant through different techniques. The distillation, fermentation, rectification, calcination, disillusion these different spagyric processes whereby these three fundamental principles of a plant are separated purified, and then recombined back together into what is said to be an evolved expression of that plant and the soul, the spirit and the body of the plant is present in the medicine. It acts upon the human soul, spirit and body as well. And so in that way, spagyrics are said to have an evolutionary function or the way the old alchemists put it, it has an initiatic virtue, meaning that it's initiating us into a higher level of consciousness. And the thing that's really cool about the that really was what hooked me was, when I was in college and learning how to make herbal medicines, I always wanted the strongest medicine I could get.
Sajah Popham: (08:22)
And so I would tincture it and re-tincture it and cook it down and boil it in water and extract it and vinegar and put it all together and put a flower essence in there. It's just like I was crazy. I just wanted the whole plant there, but what always ended up happening is I had to throw the plant material away and it always really bothered me. I always felt like there was something there that I wasn't getting. And in the spagyric process, we never throw the body of plant have away. I would say that has the salt principle. And so in spagyric works, once a plant is extracted we'll actually burn the plant down to an ash and then take that ash and run it through some further processes that basically yields crystals.
Sajah Popham: (09:14)
We extract crystalline mineral salts from the plant that they say, that's the purified body of the plant. And when you have that body of the plant, you're anchoring the intelligence of that plant into its physical body so that then it can influence our physical body in a much deeper way. So we don't throw anything out in the spagyric process. You really get the whole plant. And when you get the whole plant, it's going to work on the whole person. And that to me is one of the foundational elements of what it means to practise holistic herbal medicine.
Thanks for explaining it like that as well. That's landed with me so hard, especially with the throwing out the herb after you're done with a tea or a tincture, or maybe doing a vinegar extraction or anything like that. The best we can do here is just get them back into circulation, composting them. But there's this saying, so [inaudible 00:10:09] especially about we've got like in the West, we can all probably agree that we've got that scientific way and reductionist way of approaching herbalism down-packed and gone for the chemistry. The aspect that you're talking about and connecting with the spirit and the personality of the herb, the patterns of the herb, that part of the herb where you can actually develop a relationship. Generally you can say that's a bit deficient.
Now, for some reason, I've just started thinking about an array of people out there who are in that frame of mind, where it's like a pill for the ill, "I've got a symptom and I need to knock it on the head." Now that's like in health food stores in major cities, et cetera, there seems to be a glass ceiling on actually being able to go and connect with the spirit of the herb or get out of that mentality of just trying to fix yourself, trying to cure these symptoms. Stay with me because I don't have a question. I'm just going through something here. I'm really interested in talking to ways and it seems like we're already talking to it, to continue to bridge that gap, especially for people who are in the trenches of cities.
I know I go off on tangents and some pretty elaborate tangents and recommendations. And I had a lot of moms. Moms come to me and be like, "Mason, cool, your jets now. I got four kids and I need something solid that I can get into now." Let's talk to that a little bit. Let's talk to that in practises that can transfer across whether someone's like in the 9:00 to 5:00 grind in the city or in the country, what are the best ways you find to bridge that gap from the mentality of "fix me" to "let's grow and explore and evolve", especially with getting to know herbal personalities.
Sajah Popham: (12:17)
Yeah. Great question. I think there's some layers to that. On the one hand you have people that maybe are experiencing health issues, health concerns, and they'd like to take a more alternative route which it's funny that we call it alternative, but it really should be this normal-
Yeah. And you're right.
Sajah Popham: (12:38)
... to work with nature. And I don't necessarily... It's not everyone's path to have these deep spiritual connections to the plants and to the vegetable realm and I don't think that that would negate the efficacy of someone working with plants in that way. And then on the other end of that spectrum, we have people that are maybe naturopaths or clinical herbalists or the plant people. And those tend to be the people that I'm more communicating with. And so one of the things that I always like to encourage people that are working with the herbs in a deeper way, that we want to have a relationship with those medicines, we want to have a relationship to the plants that we're utilising as medicines.
Sajah Popham: (13:33)
And it reminds me of something one of my teachers, Matthew Wood says. He says, "Don't be just an armchair herbalist." And I always really liked that because he says, "There's some herbalists out there that just sit in their arm chair and read the books and do the bookwork and the studies, which is great. But that relationship with the medicines we use takes on this whole other level, when we go out into the forest and we find the herb and we pick it and we eat it and we make medicine out of it. And maybe we sit with it and pray with it and make offerings and go through this deeper process of having a relationship with that plant that we're working with. And then when we get that remedy to someone there's an added something special to it, there's an added power to it because we know that plant and that plant knows us. And so we have a deeper connection and relationship to it."
Sajah Popham: (14:35)
And so one of the things that I think also the different element of your question that I was hearing there is, to me, I'm just thinking of folks living in the city and maybe not having very deep relationship to the natural world. To me, this is one the core sicknesses or imbalances that I think is permeating the world right now is this disconnect from the natural ecosystem that is Gaia and it's ironic because the human being is as much a part of nature as everything else.
Sajah Popham: (15:19)
It's just that we have created this world. I always say we use the terms world and earth very similarly. But to me they're very different. To me, the world is what is the human mind made manifest. So we think of a city. You're in a city on the concrete and there's the lights and the advertising comes in, the signs and you're literally surrounded by the human mind made into manifest form into something physical, like someone had the idea to make that sign or create this light or this shop and all these things in there. And it's like, mind, mind, mind. It's like, we're surrounded by the human mind and that's the world. But the earth to me is something... The human mind didn't create the earth, something greater than the human mind created the earth.
Sajah Popham: (16:15)
And I always say it's like the earth is created by the mind of the creator, but it's not really a mind, it's a heart. And so to me, it's like the earth and the natural world of which we're a part of, is an expression of the divine of the love of creation and that when we surround ourselves by a natural habitat, that it strengthens this connection to the human heart. And it's the split between the world and the earth, and the mind and the heart, and the science and the spirit. It's that division that I think is making people sick on a lot of different levels. And so to me, just by having a deeper connection and relationship to the natural world that is giving us life every day, it's like we're all breathing the same air. We're all drinking the same water. We're all being nourished by this food that's grown from the earth. It's like we're all a part of that.
Sajah Popham: (17:22)
And so when we bring that into a greater level of awareness, I think there's a reassembling of the human spirit that happens. And I think there's something, a deep healing that happens in our hearts where we feel connected to something greater than ourselves. And I think it's interesting that in our modern culture, that we see so much depression and so much anxiety and so much heart disease. I think these are physiological expressions of a split in the location of our consciousness, of being up in the mind and being in the world as opposed to being in the heart and being in the earth. So that's what comes to mind just based on what you were mentioning there.
And did you get interested in herbalism especially, and immersing yourself in nature? Were you having the experience of the separation yourself?
Sajah Popham: (18:22)
Oh, absolutely. I was not raised by hippie parents or in the woods or anything. I grew up in a little suburb between Tacoma and Seattle, Washington. I grew up in about as a conventional lifestyle, as one could imagine eating fast food and going to public schools, nothing too special about me.
I'm sure there's lots of special values. I feel something similar then in terms of growing up on the fast food. Growing up I can one-up you and say I went to Catholic school. And so what I'm interested in is talking more about... I don't know about you, but in my early days, I felt even my mind, I sensed I wanted to be unified once again within myself and with the world. I could still feel an excess of that mind energy, being attached to arriving at a place where I can now I'm unified. Almost in a melancholic way that was like, not that I'd actually consciously think this and that makes me better and more in the know than other people. And it was a really fun and interesting process to feel as the mind and body unity began to occur that I've started really falling in love more and more with that process rather than the destination of unifying. And actually there is no destination there at all. Are you feeling me on that one?
Sajah Popham: (20:00)
Absolutely. Yeah. The way that I think of it especially in the health world, and in the spiritual world as well, I feel like it's so easy for our minds to create some sort of, like you said, a destination, an idealised image of the self, of perfect balance, and we want that so bad. We want that vitality. We want that rejuvenation. We want that perfect health and balance and harmony, and maybe we'll get there for a moment. And then the wind will blow and then create... It's like everything's in constant flux. I love that saying that the only thing that doesn't change is that everything changes. And it makes me think about the Ayurvedic concept of doshas.
Sajah Popham: (21:00)
These three doshas Ayurveda is really the basis of their anatomy and their constitutional theory and the way they classify herbs of these three doshas of Kapha, Vata, and Pitta, which are composed of our five elements of nature, ether, air, fire, water, and earth. And I love that definition of dosha is basically that which goes out of balance. And so it's the foundation of the way they understand the human organism is that balance itself is a changing phenomenon and that we can only get to a certain place for so long and then that's going to change. And so I think that's always an interesting thing to consider in regards to our health, that there is no end goal, there is no peak of the mountain. It's like we'll get to the peak of the mountain, but then we're going to see four or five more after that, if that makes any sense.
Yeah, it does. And I'm only in here talking about gaining relationships with herbs, especially before you were talking about that moment, where if you have a relationship with the herb and the fact that you go through a healing journey with it, or if it heals you or if it helps you gain access to something within your body, then all of a sudden that relationship, it's solid, it's spiritual, you're mates with that herb. I've definitely experienced that. And especially in talking about the Western mindset of coming to herbs is just "fix me". And especially with when for me you're approaching herbalism heavily from the tonics, you're getting into Daoist tonic herbalism in the beginning and really enjoying that and still enjoying that where that sits within a holistic lifestyle, but starting to get schooled a little bit on the fact that there is no balance point. The herb's aren't going to get you balanced. Sometimes they might actually take you off balance so that you can further understand how to come back into balance within yourself.
When I began to open up with understanding the varying ways that I can have a relationship with a plant or with a herb and what we were talking about before we jumped on, which I'd like to weave into this is moving away from the textbook. This herb reishi, whatever, is good for the heart, tones the liver, does this to the immune system, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. "Okay, cool. I'm going to use that herb to fix me in this or to get me a balance in this," but then all of a sudden you start actually, with any herb, you start actually introducing it in a way that gives you the opportunity to actually feel what it's doing, and then what your body's doing with that herb. The herb all of a sudden opens up and you go, "Okay, there's no black and white uses when it comes to this herb." And you realise you've opened up a can of worms way bigger than just taking a herb.
Sajah Popham: (24:14)
Oh yeah. Really good question. It brings multiple points to mind, the first of which is that no one herb is right for everyone. I think one of the things with... Well, let me backtrack a little. I think one of the things that's important to understand about, I would say all traditional systems and models of herbal medicine, is that there's always a context within which a plant is taken into the human body. And most traditions that utilise plants as herbs are just using herbs. They're also implementing diet and nutrition as a major part of their medical practise. And I think this is a critical facet that I think is overlooked often. And no one likes it when I say that, because everyone just wants the magic bullet. If we want them to take the three drops of the tincture and all of your ails and problems are just going to magically disappear and you don't have to change. And I think that's the big piece here is that we all want a quick fix and we want to have a healthy life, but maybe we don't want to change the way we live our life that has led us to the particular state of health or lack of health that we currently have.
Sajah Popham: (25:42)
And so that's one thing that I always encourage my students and people that I talk to about herbs is if the root cause of, say someone has a chronic digestive symptom, for me, I'm not going to give them some peppermint or fennel or some bitters. I'm going to do a really in-depth assessment of like, "What are you eating every day that might be contributing to this problem? Because it doesn't matter how many herbs I give you. If you eat something that's upsetting your digestive system, am I really helping you by giving you herbs? Actually I could be enabling you to continue living an unhealthy lifestyle that could lead to a deeper, more serious issue in the long term." So for me, it's always taking a step back and looking at someone's overall lifestyle and doing that detective work of like, "Okay, what is it that they're doing that might be contributing to this?" Of course we use herbs to help, but the herbs, aren't just the sole focus of it.
Sajah Popham: (26:51)
The sole focus is giving people strategies ultimately for how they can optimise living in a very healthy way. So that's the first point that comes to mind. Second point that comes to mind for sure, this is one thing that comes up for me. It's one of my little pet peeves in the herb world and it's the question that I always get, "Oh, what's that herb good for?" To me, I think of plants like people, and that's just the way that I tend to think of them. And I always jokingly say, whenever I talk about this, I say, "You'd never go up to someone when you first meet someone and be like, "Oh, hey. My name's Sajah. What's your name? Oh, Hey Bill. Oh. So what are you good for?" You know, with like, we would never say that to someone but we say it about the plants all the time. And so to me, I'm less concerned about what a plant is good for. I'm more concerned about who that plant is.
Can I just point, Sajah, when you bring that up, I don't know whether this is a bit glum, but I think there was a time when humans would talk about other humans that way. And there are probably times when we want to be moving, like humans want to be learning from or moving on from, and I feel like this really brings into that whole, it's that the herbs are working for us. That slave mentality rather than an actual unity, right?
Sajah Popham: (28:19)
Totally. And to me it's like... And I think that's the thing that it's easy to get stuck in the world of herbal medicine, especially in the realm of, you had mentioned the Chinese tonic herbs and there's this whole world of products, basically a product industry, a multi-billion dollar product industry that says, "Hey, take these herbs and you'll have more energy and you'll sleep better and you'll have a better mood and you'll be smarter and run faster. And everything is going to be okay and you don't have to change. And this herb is good for everyone or this herb is good for this or good for that." And what ends up happening is we lack specificity in our practise of herbal medicine.
Sajah Popham: (29:18)
So this brings me to talking about traditionally, when a traditional herbalist looks at someone and here I'm really referring to traditional Western herbalism, to Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, things like that. They always understand the uniqueness of the person in front of them. So they're not saying, "Oh, this person has a urinary tract infection. Okay, let's give them all of these herbs that are good for a urinary tract infection." They're going to say, "Oh, here's a unique person with a unique type of urinary tract infection. And we want to select those herbs that are going to be specifically suitable for this unique person with this unique condition." And this is one of my problems with the use this herb for that symptom mindset, is that it often times lacks this level of specificity. And one of the simple ways that we can get more specific is looking at people and plants through an energetic lens, meaning what is the temperature and the moisture quality of the symptom and of that plant?
Sajah Popham: (30:40)
So take a respiratory tract infection. This is usually one of the easiest organ systems for people to really understand the importance of energetics. Say you've got two different people and from a Western perspective, they both have, say, bronchitis or some respiratory tract infection. And one person, when you hear them cough, it sounds really dry and really wheezy and really harsh and intense, and they've got a bright red face and their tongues really red, and they feel really overheated. The other person say when they cough, it sounds really gurgly and wet and cold, and they feel a bit pale and they feel cold and their tongue is white and has a thick coating and pale. And when they do expectorate something, it's got a thick white pasty look to it.
Sajah Popham: (31:39)
This is the difference between what we would call basically a hot-dry cough versus a cold damp cough. Now, if we think of the way a lot of herbalists are trained, they say, "Oh, this person has bronchitis. They have a cough. So we want to give them an expectorant." And the expectorant category herbs are just, those that support the cough reflex and are typically used to treat respiratory tract type infections. And in that whole category. So you go to your herb book and you look up expectorants and in that category, and I might list herbs that maybe you all don't use there in Australia, but here in North America, you might see herbs like Lobelia, and Osha, and Lomatia, wild cherry and Coltsfoot and licorice, and marshmallow and pleurisy root and Elecampane. These are all herbs under the expectorant category. And someone might just say, "Okay, we'll just pick some expectorants because these are all herbs that are good for a cough, right?"
Sajah Popham: (32:43)
But if you look at that list, you see marshmallow root right next to Lobelia right next to something like Elecampane. These are three very different types of expectorants. If you give the marshmallow root to the person with a cold damp cough, it's going to make it worse because marshmallow is a very moistening demulcent type remedy. If you give it to the person with the hot, dry cough, they're going to love you forever because it's going to soothe and cool, everything down and moisten the dried mucus membrane, and really feel very supportive for them. Conversely, if you give the Elecampane to someone with the hot, dry cough, it's going to be very aggravating because Elecampane has these pungent hot oils and resins that are very stimulating and can be very irritating to someone with too much heat and too much dryness in the respiratory tract. But to give it to them with the cold damp cough, and it's going to help loosen up all that phlegm, it's going to make the cough more productive, it's going to stimulate the bronchial tree and the mucosal membranes to clear all of that damp stagnation out of the tissues.
Sajah Popham: (33:58)
I like to mention that because there's deeper layers of specificity with herbal medicines. And I think it's very important to match the herbs to the person. And this is where we start to run into some problems where they say, "Oh, this herb is good for this condition." That's what can lead to herbs, maybe being used haphazardly, herbs, as you said, that might actually lead to further imbalance if it's not suitable for that person's constitution. And that's where, to me, this integration of herbal energetics is super critical if we're going to practise holistic herbal medicine. And really it's like... The energetics was practised in Western herbal medicine all the way up to the early 1900s.
Sajah Popham: (34:56)
It's really over the last 100 years or so that we see as this biomedical model has come into place. As we focus more on constituents, as we focus more on the chemistry and such, I think we've lost touch with some of these traditional models of looking at herbs. And I'm all about both. I'm not trying to bash the science in any ways. I think that's all great, super useful, and we know more about some herbal medicines than we have ever before and how they work. It's great stuff, but I don't think we have to throw away thousands of years of accumulated knowledge.
I hear you on that one. And I already am looking at the name of your company, Organic Unity, I mean, having a unity spec there in the middle, I love it because you find an integrated model. I mean, there's a lot of people talking about integration which is amazing. And I like looking at that more and more because it gives me... For me, it gives me something to attune to, and I can really... When I get into my envisioning of my dreaming of where I'm moving towards an integrated model, I just see. As you were saying, because growing up, I know how much looking at constituents and looking at the chemistry of say in this example of a herb, how useful it is.
And in fact rather than... Because what I did for a while there is I kicked back completely against like a modern medical or modern scientific model just because I'm just like, "It's the devil. I don't want to be identified with it in any way." And so I tried to kick back and identify being someone who doesn't identify with the modern science and medical system, which was just a mess, rather than being a nice, calm, centred person who was just like, "I'm just going to contemplate where this has led me in for me." As you were saying, we can understand so much of what herbs are doing within the body chemically. That can be a catalyst for me in considering deeper and more subtle energetic actions that the herb has within different layers of the body. Have you experienced that dance between those two polars?
Sajah Popham: (37:23)
In terms of the chemistry and the more subtle properties?
Sajah Popham: (37:30)
Yeah, absolutely. For me, because I was predominantly initially trained in the scientific model, the last number of years for me has been becoming more aware of that connection between really learning the herb from the herb itself, even just through tasting it. One thing I like to talk about is we can understand an herb really almost all the way through simply by tasting it and by understanding what happens through the different properties of those tastes. So for example, you taste something that's very pungent and spicy and hot that typically will stimulate digestive secretions, have a carminative action, typically stimulate circulation of the blood. Oftentimes they're very warming, energetically, oftentimes drying energetically versus you taste something very bitter that typically indicates that it's gonna act upon the liver and gallbladder, it's going to have a cooling drying, energetic action, typically draws the vital force down and in oftentimes have antiseptic properties.
Sajah Popham: (38:46)
So we can really just through tasting the herbs, understanding the complexity of their tastes through being sensitive to our bodies, being able to be aware of our organ systems and how they're changing, being aware of even our mind and our emotions. For me, it's like when I take a herb, I really do my best to just be very aware of what's going on inside of the wholeness of my being. I really want to feel and understand how that plant is influencing the totality of who I am. And there was another thing that you mentioned there that I really appreciate. I feel like it can be so easy to really go against the modern medical paradigm and be like, "Well, screw those guys. They're poisoning everyone. I don't have any need for it." And I totally resonate with that. That's where I was too in my early 20s. I was just like, "Screw the system. I don't need any doctors or anything like that. I just need my herbs and I'm all good."
Sajah Popham: (39:58)
And boy that really came back to me and bit me, because I got very sick in my early 20s with Lyme's disease and got faced with the decision of, "Okay, well, we caught it early. You can take some antibiotics and probably take care of this and clear it and not have Lymes disease." Or I could be very rigid in my paradigm and say, "Well, the hell with that. I'm just going to use my herbs, but potentially have Lyme's disease for the rest of my life."And then that was the moment where I realised that Western medicine does have its place because I took the antibiotics and you know what? They healed me. And that was a really big eye-opening experience for me and realising that do not be too extreme... Just for myself personally, I know this isn't for everyone, but for myself, I realised, I need to be able to see where things have their place and not to be too extreme, which I do have a tendency to be sometimes.
Sajah Popham: (41:03)
So that was a really good learning experience for me to actually be healed by those pills that I was so against for so long. And of course for me, I'm predominantly working with the herbs for health maintenance and things like that. But I do feel that in those extreme situations, that Western medicine can be miraculous.
That's so interesting. That's exactly the same thing that happened to me late last year. I had the dregs of my "fuck the system" really hanging on tight. And we were a month away roughly from due date of having our baby. And I went down with this tick, same thing and I went, "That's okay. Get on my herbs. I'll get on everything hard and I'll be fine." And after 10 days I'd had one up period where I was like, "Yeah, I think I'm getting this, I'm getting through this" and then smashed on my back and then had to... I sat there for a whole day meditating on it going, "Do you really want to mess with..." And everyone just saying as well, everyone would just stop the back of a couple of Lyme disease podcasts.
So everyone is right up on that now, which is nice to everyone can be in on that conversation of hearing what these of symptoms are and what you're looking down the barrel of. If you too proud to realise that, "Hey, maybe something like doxycycline or whatever it is does have a place to come in." And it could be really... It's interesting because going into an extreme isn't in any sense, whether it's an extreme naturalist or extremist in terms of herbalism, where for me, I'm losing sight of usefulness of other areas of expertise or other people's passions. It really took me far off balance. So man, I'm with you 100% exact same experience in two days, all symptoms were gone. And then I didn't take my finger off the pulse as I'm sure you've probably gone about quite a solid cleanup mission after that, I'm sure.
Sajah Popham: (43:10)
Yeah. So I would say about two years, it took me to get my digestive system back in balance. Because I was on doxycycline for about six weeks straight. And a boy that really rocked me for sure, but, I'm very grateful to it because I haven't been sick with Lyme disease since then.
I found it really interesting because even I was on doxy for three and a bit weeks. Came off that little bit early because I felt that was just for me, I really felt that that was appropriate and it was the time to do that. However, even I was looking into doxy before I took it and saying that it's one of these antibiotics that if there's any there are degrees of severity in which they wipe out the bacteria. But that even it's like a quick uptake in the small intestine. And even then they're like compared to others which get down deep and annihilate the bacterial colonies. Even then I've definitely experienced a setback, but in saying, you've had to spend two years really repollinating. It's amazing appreciation for the use of poison as medicine and that comes up in herbalism as well, right?
Sajah Popham: (44:33)
Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's actually a pretty big premise of alchemy. The AHS said that the most powerful poisons in the world are also the most powerful medicines and the difference is in dosage and in preparation. So that's the one thing you see in more of the mineral and metallic works in alchemy that they will work with some of the most powerful poisons: mercury, antimony. And there are certain ways of preparing those poisons to make them into a medicine. And they say, like my teacher in alchemy, a man named Robert Bartlett. He makes a medicine from antimony called the Oil of Antimony. And he's seen that cure everything from cancer to all sorts of very serious sicknesses. And in alchemy they say, "The higher you climb the rungs of the ladder in alchemical works, the less medicines you need." And they say that you get to that point of creating what they call the universal medicines, that one medicine that will cure all things. And that's the way that they talk about the Oil of Antimony, but boy you prepare it wrong it's real toxic.
Just one thing I don't want to leave the interview without talking to you about is this concept... East West medicine is beautifully ensconced, wouldn't you say in the herbal and the herbal scene with a lot of integrated doctors and a lot of allopathic doctors even taking on Eastern principles into their clinic. I don't know if you'd say that same thing, but do you agree that it's like getting some are getting more and more momentum?
Sajah Popham: (46:20)
Yeah, absolutely. I think the concept of integrative medicine, bringing in... I think it really started with Chinese medicine really coming to the West and acupuncture becoming much more accepted. I think it's our generation now seeing Ayurvedic medicine becoming much more popularised, much more accepted, much more integrated. I absolutely see the Eastern and Western systems of medicine coming together. And that for me is a really beautiful thing because to me, it's like for me in my plant path, I've always been most interested in the universal principles. So whenever I'm studying I want to see what are the things that pop up all across the world that have withstood the test of time, so to speak? It's like if we see a principle in Ayurvedic medicine, that's also in Chinese medicine system, that's also in Greek medicine, that's also an Arabic medicine, that is also mentioned by Samuel Thompson in North America, that is also mentioned by an herbalist in the Amazon rainforest. It's like, okay, all these people are saying pretty much the same thing, there's got to be something to it. And so for me, that's always been my approach and why I really appreciate integrating these models is because it gives us new perspectives and it gives us a well-rounded understanding and really gives us those universal truths and principles of healing and rejuvenation about plants as well.
And then for you, where did the North South aspect of herbalism and lifestyle come into play?
Sajah Popham: (48:33)
Yeah, well, for me yeah. I was first introduced to the concept of what Michael Tierra calls Planetary Herbology, which is integrating Chinese and Ayurvedic principles into basically classifying Western herbal medicines in a similar way to the way they would in Ayurvedic medicine or in Chinese medicine, which is great. That's been a major foundation for how I work with plants. But as I was saying earlier, for me, there was always this spiritual connection to the plants. There was always a relationship to the plant itself that was very important to me. And one of the things that I've noticed in travelling both through North America and South America and have been very blessed with the opportunity to work with first nations people in both North and South America, is that I saw that the foundation of their whole model of herbal medicine for the healers themselves was based on their relationship with the plants.
Sajah Popham: (49:48)
And they said, "Anytime you want to use an herbal medicine, you need to have a relationship with that plant. You need to know that plant and that plant needs to know you." And so for me, the integration of East and West is incredible. And I think it gives us an amazing model for clinical practise. I think it gives us an incredible means for understanding people in more depth and how to effectively formulate and administer herbal medicines to people. But the North and South piece for me is really the foundation of all of it because it's that direct relationship, it's that direct knowing with the plants themselves that really is the foundation of herbal medicine. I always say it's like we can think back to the first human beings ever to exist on planet earth and think of who was the first teacher of herbal medicine?
Sajah Popham: (50:54)
Well, it was the plants themselves. And that's something that I really want to come back to in my own work. And I really see that in a big way in the herbal medicine world is people don't want to just learn them from a book. People want to touch it and taste it and see it and sit with it. And they want to have a vision with it. They want to have a dream with it. They want to have this deeper connection, this deeper relationship to the plants. And to me, that's what the plant path is all about. It's like as an herbalist, it's like we're moving through our road of life. And as we go through our own challenges, our own sickness, our own difficulties on this road of life, different plants will make themselves known to us. And as we learn those plants, we make a good relation with that plant.
Sajah Popham: (51:48)
It's almost like that plant becomes a part of who we are and we carry that plant inside of us. And it is so much more than just a plant. It's like our friend. It's our ally, it's our guide. It's our protector. It's something that we turn to in our time of need. And when someone else comes to us and ask for that help, it's like the plants have authorised us in a way to use them to help these people. So to me, the North and South model is a little bit more of a spiritual... I would say a little bit more of a spiritual perspective on herbal medicine that is really rooted in learning about the plants from the plants themselves and having a very good spiritual connection to them and having good relations with them.
Sajah Popham: (52:39)
I remember when I was in the Amazon the last time I was on a plant walk with an herbalist and there's all these plants, we're in the Amazon, right? So it's all these plants and I'm so shocked to finally be seeing them. And I would be asking them a lot of questions like, "Oh, this plant how do you work with it? And what it tastes like? And what's it spirit like?" And I was asking them all these questions and he would always say, "Oh." Basically they would never answer my questions. They would just say, "Oh, you just need to die at that plant." And what they mean when they say you need to die at that plant is basically, you need to take a period of time in isolation and really restrict certain foods from your diet, basically eat a very bland diet and just ingest that plant for a prolonged period of time so that you are building that relationship and that connection and really getting to know that plant from the inside out. And they say that's how you learn in herbal medicine.
Sajah Popham: (53:53)
They say, "If I tell you, it's not going to have as much power as compared to the plant telling you itself." And they'd say that the way you work with plants built up that way, there's something different about it. There's more power behind it. And that's where we really see these miraculous healings happen through the plants, so where people use a plant in a way that no one else uses it and it works for them. But if someone else was trying to do it, it may not work for them because they don't have that level of connection. So it's the North and South piece of it is... To me, it's a little bit of a more spiritual take on herbal medicine. That certainly is not for everyone, but I think for anyone that is serious about practising herbalism, I think just getting down to the simple piece of it. It's just important to have that good connection and relationship to the plants that you use. I'd rather know 20 plants really well, and have a very deep, good connection with them than know 200 plants superficially.
Oh, beautiful man. I really heard you on that one, 100%. If people want to tune with you, you've got evolutionary herbalism there in Southern Oregon. Is that website the best way for people to find out about that?
Sajah Popham: (55:26)
Yeah. You can go to evolutionaryherbalism.com. I've got my blog on there with lots of free videos and we do some more in-depth, free mini courses that are available there. All of our programmes are available online, so it's all distance learning format. And then we do have live workshops that go alongside with some of those programmes as well. And just started our own podcast this year called The Plant Path.
Sajah Popham: (55:54)
So be sure to check that out to you and then our spagyric herbal extracts you can check that out at organic-unity.com.
Man. I love it. Thanks so much for coming on today. I really enjoyed it and I've really got a lot out of it.
Sajah Popham: (56:12)
Thank you very much. I really appreciate you inviting me on and then maybe we can do it again sometime.
Beautiful. Peace man.
Sajah Popham: (56:18)
All right. You take care.