Yep, it turns out we ARE what we eat!
The DOCTRINE OF SIGNATURES
We have all hear it so many times, right? Does this mean if we eat beef we turn into a cow? Of course not, but where did this saying come from and what does it mean?
The answer can be found in the creation of the Doctrine of Signatures. The Doctrine of Signatures is a philosophy about plants that can be traced back to Medieval European alchemists, who believed that God gave plants a signature that hinted at its uses. Meaning, plants that resembled human body parts could be read as indicators of how those plants could be used to treat the body.
In Herbalism we consider the doctrine of signatures was an important aspect of therapeutic healing. From the middle ages through the early modern period it was often associated with the work of herbalists and wise women, it drew upon the belief that natural objects that looked like a part of the body could cure diseases that would arise there. Folk healers in Christian and Muslim countries claimed that God, or Allah, deliberately made plants resemble the parts of the body they could cure. For example, eyebright, a plant whose flower looks like bright blue eyes, was used to treat eye diseases. The use of eyebright for this purpose was still common in the 1700s. Today the idea of ‘like cures like’ lies at the heart of modern homeopathy.
Popularized in the early 1600s by a German shoemaker who had mystical visions and wrote a philosophy book about the interconnectedness of nature and man, the Doctrine of Signatures was adapted by herbalists. They believed that because the leaves of a plant may have resembled a liver, say, they could be used to treat a bad one, or that an infusion of spotted leaves could help cure a diseased lung. The Greeks prescribed brain-like walnuts to treat mental illness.
This belief became known as the ‘doctrine of signatures’ after the appearance of a book by the German mystic Jakob Boehme called The Signature of All Things (1621). The Swiss physician Paracelsus, an important advocate of the doctrine of signatures, stated that ‘Nature marks each growth… according to its curative benefit.’ Similarly, the English botanist William Cole (1626-62) believed that ‘the mercy of God… maketh… Herbes for the use of men, and hath… given them particular Signatures, whereby a man may read… the use of them.’
A good majority of the remedies found within the doctrine of signatures had some sort of medicinal value. But it is also important to recognize that sometimes there was no purposeful medical findings in this regard. One such example would be henbane. Henbane’s seed container is shaped like a human jaw, so it was thought to be good for tooth-aches. But in all actuality, henbane is actually a poisonous hallucinogen that can potentially be fatal.
In more modern times, especially western medicine in the USA today, the doctrine of signatures is not taken quite so seriously as true medical science advances further.
Regardless of some failure of trial and error and not being taken seriously in the mainstream, there is enough evidence to prove the Doctrine of Signature has some solid standing in the practice of holistic medicine.
Nature has a way of perfectly orchestrating a divine connection and relation to all living things, which you have to admit, is divinely amazing!
There are several types of plant and food signatures: color, shape, taste, texture and growing location.
Here are some examples:
- Carrots: When sliced, carrots resemble a human eye. According to a National Institutes of Health (PubMed) abstract, carrots are a good source of carotenoids which support eye health.
- Tomatoes: A tomato has four distinct areas resembling the four chambers of the human heart. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a substance that research shows may help reduce the risk of heart disease, although more study is needed.
- Walnuts: The meat of a walnut closely resembles the human brain. Walnuts are a good source of vitamin E. A study cited by WorldHealth.net concludes that vitamin E may help protect against Alzheimer’s and other cognitive brain disorders.
- Beets: Beets deep red color resembles human blood. A PubMed abstract concludes beet juice may lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease.
- Figs: Figs resemble male testes. According to Dr. Spence Pentland, figs are a good source of folate, a nutrient necessary for sperm production.
- Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are shaped like the human pancreas, an organ that helps maintain proper blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association lists sweet potatoes as a diabetes super food as part of a diet to maintain adequate blood sugar levels in the body.
- Skullcap: Skullcap’s flowers resemble small skulls and are believed to treat brain and nervous system disorders such as seizures and anxiety.
- Goldenrod: According to “An Introduction to the Doctrine of Signatures” by Tamarra S. James, plants that have yellow flowers are believed to treat jaundice. Although the herb is not well studied in modern medicine, Native Americans used it as a jaundice remedy.
- Horsetail: While this herb looks very similar to a horse’s tail, it also resembles human limbs and nerve fibers. Horsetail is known for its bone and tissue strengthening benefits, likely due to its high silica content.
- Burdock: This herb’s reddish-purple flowers and stems resemble the color of blood. According to Reader’s Digest’s The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs, burdock is used in Western herbal medicine to detoxify and purify the blood.
- Yarrow: A popular battlefield herb due to its ability to stop bleeding and heal wounds, yarrow’s spreading wiry stems and leaves resemble the human vascular system.