Every individual expresses unique tendencies, traits, and qualities. You can see this in the various different body builds, hair textures, eye colors, and skin types. And I'm sure you've noticed how some people are always hot/cold, regardless of ambient temperature. Even voices can range from loud and booming to soft and melodious. All of these intricacies (and more) tie into your personal constitution, and choosing herbs and foods that support your constitution is the key to vitality.
Your personal constitution is made of a unique blend of 4 qualities called energetics: hot, cold, damp and dry. We all have varying degrees of all 4 of these energetics in unique combinations. And it's in maintaining the homoestasis of that unique blend where good health lies.
However, lifestyle choices, influences, and diet can throw off your constitution's balance, and this is when disease manifests. Unfortunately, these influences are everywhere and sometimes unavoidable: weather, stress, work/living environment, activity level, sleep routine, and medication/supplements to name a few.
The recognition that every individual has unique needs for maintaining good health is a defining characteristic of constitutional medicine. Allopathic medicine takes a one-size-fits-all approach to health by recommending the same types of foods, exercises, and medications for everyone with similar symptoms.
Herbal medicine ties into constitutional medicine because plants also have their own energetic structure, which can be used to nudge the body back into alignment when your constitution is thrown off. But in order for herbs to be truly effective at doing this, you gotta understand energetics and how they operate in the body.
Now you can take the allopathic approach when using herbal medicine, which is basically what you're doing when you pick up an herb book and simply choose an herb from a list of 10-20 herbs said to be good for a specific condition. And sometimes that might work. But too often, it doesn't work or can even make a condition worse. And that's when herbal medicine gets a bad rap for not working or being dangerous.
For example, ginger is well known for helping with nausea, which it absolutely does. With its spicy flavor and decongesting action, it's energetics are obviously hot and dry. So if you drink ginger tea to help ease a stomach flu accompanied by sweats, hot flashes, high fever, and dehydration, you're more likely to make yourself feel much worse. Instead, a cooling, calming herb like lemon balm or peppermint may be better choices.
It's in understanding this energetic relationship between plants and people that make herbal medicine an art and a science; a skilled herbalist considers the client's native constitution, current (imbalanced) constitution, and the plants' constitution in order to weave together a formula that brings the client back into his/her unique homeostasis. This is how you get to the root of underlying causes of dis-ease and achieve sustainable results for vital, holistic health.
Herbs aren't only used to nudge the body back into balance. In fact, using herbs to maintain health and prevent dis-ease is one of the best ways you can take responsibility for your own health. But you'll find the best results if you choose herbs with energetics that work in harmony with your personal and current constitution. To understand more about your personal and current constitution, use the quizzes below, which were created by herbalist Rosalee DeLa Foret (she also offers a free minicourse on herbal energetics).
Please note that these results give a very general overview of your constitution, and your clinical herbalist will conduct a more in-depth evaluation of your native and current constitutional state, which will likely include other diagnostic methods such as tongue and pulse evaluations. But for purposes of learning to choose and use herbs more effectively in your personal care practice, this quiz serves well. While taking each quiz (A and B), focus on overall tendencies toward something. Take each quiz twice: once for your native constitution and once for your current constitution. For native constitution, think about what's been normal for you since birth. To determine your current constitution, think in terms of what your experiencing now. Discrepancies in your native and current energetic state may indicate a health imbalance.