Torpor, congestion and what to do about it

I’ve just been to an inspiring professional conference of the URHP.  It was an encouraging get-together of practising herbalists not least because my presentation on lessons learned from patients over 20+ years in practice was well received!  The highlight of the weekend was Matthew Wood talking about the Six Tissue States of Nineteenth Century Western Herbal Medicine and how this is continuous with/grew out of the concepts of Greek medicine 2000 years ago.   In particular, the sixth tissue state, torpor or congestion, added to the theory in 1900 by Joseph Thurston, Matthew admitted was the most difficult to understand – I would concur there!

What we are talking about here is a state of health whereby your tissues are clogged, or congested, with normal metabolic waste products and unused nutrients because there is stagnation of activity and/or a failure to eliminate waste.  This may make you feel sluggish, lacking in expression and ill – dull and with a hangover; bringing you out in skin eruptions for example and affecting your joints. Under the Six Tissue State herbal model, the solution to this stagnation is to drain the swamp, to alter the situation with alterative herbs like Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale Radix – right)

and Burdock (Arctium lappa Radix – below).

by Benjamin Zwittnig via Creative Commons

It is no accident that proper, botanical Dandelion and Burdock beverages were regarded as a Spring tonic.  After a winter of stodgy food and not enough fresh stuff full of vitamins, the normally intelligent vibrant ground substance surrounding and connecting all the tissues of your body becomes dull, torpid and congested, full of junk easy to make carbohydrates as filler but unable to respond effectively to environmental changes and encouraging infection.  All this can be transformed with a canny mix of alterative herbs designed to cleanse and drain the swamp, allowing a fresh flow of material and information into all the tissues.

As Scudder (1) says of Oregon Grape, alteratives can “right the wrongs and clear the Augean stables”.  So there you have it, more than a cleanse, more than a detox, an alterative herb can transform the tissues and bring about a resolution.

(1) Quoted in Fyfe (1909) and, in turn, Wood (2004) The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism Berkeley North Atlantic Books


About donaldpurves

Traditional Herbalist since 1989, qualified originally with National Institute of Medical Herbalists (Tutorial Course, School of Herbal Medicine/Phytotherapy), joined Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners in 2011. University lecturer in Herbal Medicine since 2005. Born and brought up in the Scottish Borders. Higher Education at University of York (Biology 1980) and Scottish School of Herbal Medicine (MSc Herbal Medicine 2003). Married to Rukshana Afia, an artist working with drawing, textiles and ceramics. Passionate about environmental, economic and social justice.
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