August 12, 2021
[00:01:18] Podcast Sponsors
[00:04:06] About Part 1 and Quick Guest Intro
[00:07:11] How Specific Plant Parts Correspond To Different Elements
[00:13:51] How Each Of Us Have Different Elemental “Types”
[00:23:20] Podcast Sponsor
[00:25:40] How We Might Design Our Lives Based On Our Elemental Types
[00:34:47] How To “Type” A Plant And Know What Elements It Would Feed And Need
[00:40:52] Skepticism About Merging Technology and Plants On A Deep Level
[00:43:00] Should We Be Concerned About Eating Plants Due To Their Natural Defense Mechanisms?
[00:48:25] An Ideal Day Of Eating For Sajah Popham
[00:49:53] Some Of The Painful Cuts Sajah Had To Make To His Book
[00:53:53] Closing the Podcast
[00:55:48] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Sajah: There is an aspect of this process that is about our own connection to nature and our ability as humans to utilize our sensory mechanisms. Who is this person–the wholeness of this person? How are they embodying and expressing these fundamental, in this case, elemental forces of life? Where are they excessive? Where are they deficient?
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Alright, folks. He's back, Sajah Popham. Sajah Popham, he's got a fun name to say. This is the guy who wrote this absolutely fantastic book on the sacred intelligence of plants, on plant foraging, on using plants as medicine, and just a fantastic manual called, “Evolutionary Herbalism.” And, we're going to dive back in, part two, on today's show, because we had so much to talk about.
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Alright, let's go talk to Sajah.
Alright, folks. Well, this is part two of my podcast with the author of a really great book. It's called “Evolutionary Herbalism.” And, “Evolutionary Herbalism” is a book that's basically all about the fascinating, the sacred intelligence of plants and some of the more subtle nuances of things like plant foraging and just getting to be better connected to the copious amounts of intelligence and just wonder and magic that surrounds us in nature that we really, I think, have lost quite a bit of connection with, and that my guest on today's show and on part one of this special two-part podcast series that we did, has studied up on and knows quite a bit about.
Now, if you missed part one, you can actually access that if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/EvolutionaryHerbalism. I know it's a mouthful, but it's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/EvolutionaryHerbalism, which is also the title of the book. And, in part one, we covered a whole host of topics. But, they included things like how we can actually go out and forage for plants and do a better job doing it, the lost language of plants that we've lost connection to, and just in general, how an evolutionary herbalist actually lives and operates on a day-to-day basis. So, if you want to access the show notes for today's show, you can go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/EvolutionaryHerbalism2, EvolutionaryHerbalism, the number, “2.” And, you can learn more there.
In addition to that, just a quick introduction to my guest. If you've listened to part one, you're already very familiar with him. But, his name is Sajah Popham. Sajah has this really innovative approach to herbalism that incorporates medicine and healing, but also, harvesting of plants and isolation of a lot of the molecules in plants that can help people out. He has a degree in Herbal Sciences from Bastyr University, where he studied up on a lot of this stuff. And, he studies herbal traditions all around the world, the chemistry of the planet, the energetics of the plant, and the spirit of the plant to really work on a person's entire mind, body, and soul.
And so, in today's episode, we're going to start where we left off in the last episode, in which we were discussing the approach that one would take if they wanted to actually be treated by a doctor or by someone like Sajah who actually specializes in applying the plant to the human. Now, related to that Sajah –And, by the way, welcome back.
Sajah: Thanks for having me again. Good to be back.
Ben: [00:07:09] _____. And, you have a really, really fascinating part in the book, because we were talking about the Doctrine of Signatures earlier and how different parts of the plant give you clues as to what effects those plants might have on different aspects of our physiology. But, you also talk in the book about, I believe, what you call the different elements of the body, and you talk about how plant parts corresponds to specific elements. Can you get into what you mean by that?
Sajah: Yeah, well one thing when we look at different herbal cultures from around the world, it's pretty universal that they all have some form of integration of the elements into their system of healing and to their, I guess, metaphysics, their understanding of the natural world, looking at earth, water, air, and fire. So, the four elements are more commonly used in the Western systems. In the East, we see the inclusion of the fifth element, ether. In the Western alchemical tradition, they acknowledge a fifth element that they refer to as quintessence. But, these elements are really seen as the building blocks of all of life, looking at how these elements really are at the basis for life. And, if we look at a plant, we see that those elements are necessary, just for the basic fact of how a plant grows. It grows within the earth. It requires the water. It requires the carbon dioxide from the air. It requires the light or the fire from the sun. And, it needs some space to grow in. And so, the plants require these five elements in order for them to generate and to grow.
But then, when we look at a plant on a deeper level, we see that there are these core parts of a plant that also correlates to the elements. And, different cultures and traditions have corresponded these slightly differently. But, the way that I've come to understand it is that we have the roots of the plant, which are, obviously, growing within the earth, correlating to that earth element. And then, we have the stems of the plant, which is how a lot of the nutrients are being conducted from the soil up into the aerial parts of the plant through the fluids. So, there's that water element. And then, the leaves being where photosynthesis is happening, being where gaseous exchanges are happening, being the air element. And then, the flowers of the plant, it's the color. It's its expression. It's its radiance being the fire. And then, we see the seeds of the plant or the fruit being that fifth element or that quintessence.
And, I find that to be very interesting because, in the Western alchemical tradition as well as in Ayurveda, they say that fifth element, that quintessence or the ether, is the synergy of the other four elements. When earth, water, air, and fire come into a perfect harmony and balance, they fuse into that fifth element. And so, that fifth element contains the other four within it. And, isn't that what a seed is, of a plant? The seed of a plant contains the roots and the leaves and the stocks and the flowers of the next generation of plants.
So, I just find that to be a very interesting correlation of how we can see these. And, that's a big premise of the alchemical tradition, is we're looking at the macrocosm. We're looking at the great forces of life and creation and nature and seeing how they relate to the microcosm. And so, for myself, as an herbalist, doing that with plants, but it also absolutely applies to people as well. And, that really is what ultimately forms the basis and foundation for the practice of medical alchemy.
Ben: Now, is this related to–Because, I interviewed Dr. Thomas Cowan. And, he talks a lot about Rudolf Steiner. And, he makes these vegetable powders that he powders up, like ashitaba and moringa and beet. But, he always either combines the roots and leaves and the stems and the seeds in different ways to target different body systems, or will isolate something. He has one called a root healing powder, which is like the root of a bunch of specific plants. I forget which ones, but ultimately, the root healing powder is supposedly something that grounds you or is good for stress-reducing properties or depression or things like that or, maybe, sacral or pelvic issues because those might be all considered root-based issues. Is that along the same lines of what you do? And, is that all based on this Rudolf Steiner guy?
Sajah: It's similar. I have studied Steiner's work a bit. I'm by no means an expert in his–His works are vast, and there's a lot to it. But, in general, yeah. And, that is, in a way, an application of what an alchemy is referred to as the doctrine of similars, which is also based on signatures, where you're correlating the plants to the person based on similarity of properties. And so, it is a little bit more of a, I suppose, an esoteric way of applying medicinal plants to people. Whereby, you're looking at, for example, within a person, say, they have a lot of these, maybe, air element or ether element within their constitution. Maybe, they're really spacey or ungrounded or really anxious or the nervous system is really amped up. So, from an elemental perspective, we would say, “They're lacking in this earth element quality.” And so, then we would turn to earth element plants in order to fill in that elemental deficiency and help them to regain balance. So, that is one application of, I suppose, more of an energetic understanding of people and plants in a way of applying herbal medicines in that way, where you're not necessarily looking at a person and saying, “We need to work on this biochemical pathway,” or, “Oh, they have this symptom, and this herb's good for that symptom.”
We're looking at it from a little bit more of a holistic lens in terms of who is this person, the wholeness of this person? How are they embodying and expressing these fundamental, in this case, elemental forces of life? Where are they excessive? Where are they deficient? And, we're going to bring plants in to help to fill in those deficiencies and weaknesses and to, maybe, tone down those excesses. So, that is definitely one way of applying plants in that way.
Ben: So, from what I understand in your book, different people are made up in different ways from an elemental standpoint. And so, each of us, I guess, we have our own type of elemental type, I suppose. Can you explain what exactly that means, how we each have different elements?
Sajah: So, this is a really important concept in traditional systems of medicine, which is essentially the understanding of the constitution and that is that we all have our uniqueness. We all have a heart. We all have a mind. We all have these organs in our body. So, to a certain extent, we're all the same. But, yet, we all have our unique dispositions. We all have our unique tendencies. Why is it that some people tend to get really inflamed and hot all the time and some people tend to be really cold and pale and depressed all the time? How come some people get really nervous and anxious and can't sleep at night and other people get full of fluids and get really damp and stagnant, and things like that? It's like we all have these different predispositions towards health issues that we face.
The concept of the constitution is that we are all born with this unique composition of these elemental forces, like I was saying, earth, water, air, fire, and ether. And, different traditions of medicine, really, have different understandings of constitutions. But, ultimately, when you really boil it down, they're all saying the same thing, just in slightly different words. Ayurveda, they have the kapha. Chinese medicine, they have their five elements.
Ben: Isn't Chinese medicine like metal and water and stuff like that?
Sajah: They have metal and wood are the two slightly different interpretations of the elements. But, really, when it gets broken down to it, the metal element is very synonymous to the air element. It rules the lungs and the large intestine, similarly to the air element, and vata dosha in Ayurveda. And then, wood, some correlate that to the ether element, as it's these seasonal transitions and it's the dynamic of growth and change. While, on the surface, sometimes, there can seem like there's differences. But, really, when you break it down, they're talking about the same things, that we all have tendencies.
And so, the premise of constitutional systems is for us to have an understanding of where we become excessive and where we become deficient. And, we can tailor the way that we live our lives in terms of when we go to sleep and when we wake up and what types of foods we eat and when we eat and what types of activities that we do, where we choose to live. There's all these different factors that affect us on a constitutional level. And, the goal of it is to try to live in a way that we are not producing these excesses and deficiencies and can ideally stay in balance. Of course, there's no end to that. You can find balance, and then a gust of wind comes. And then, you're out of balance again. So, it's a constant daily practice of just seeing where we are and understanding how things affect us, and being aware it's really, to me, constitutional systems are all about self-awareness and how the things that we do affect us and making sure that we're not pushing our system in any one way or another too far because that's where we can start to experience pathology.
This is where another important juxtapose concept comes in with herbal medicine, which is the concept of energetics of plants. So, modern biomedical herbalism really sees medicinal plants as acting based on their chemistry. But, traditional systems didn't have an understanding of biochemicals, but they knew that when you take cayenne pepper, you get hot. It pushes the blood to the surface. You get red face. Then, you break a sweat. It's a hot plant. When you take wild lettuce, it cools you down. When you take something like nettles, then you are increasing your urination, it tends to dry you out. When you drink marshmallow tea, it moistens your lungs. So, you have these plants have these warming and cooling and moistening and drying properties that alter our constitution.
And, this is a really important concept, because when we look at human health strictly through the lens of symptoms or disease names, it can be very easy to overlook the constitutional factors. And, people can have the same symptom with a different underlying constitutional factor. So, I always like to use constipation as an example. People can get constipated for a number of different reasons. Someone might be constipated because they have dryness in their bowel. Another person might be constipated because they have cold digestion. And, a third person might be constipated because they have a lot of tension and constriction in their intestines. The end symptom is still constipation, but the tissue state, the constitution of the tissue underneath it is different, and therefore, changes what types of remedies that you would give to those people.
So, it's a very important concept in holistic herbalism that I'm very adamant about sharing and teaching because, to me, in my experience, it really is the pathway to finding the right remedy. And, I think that's one of the reasons why, sometimes, people try an herb, and they're like, “It didn't really work,” or, “It didn't do anything,” or, worst-case scenario, “It made me feel worse.” And, oftentimes, it's because the energetic of the plant was not the correct match for the constitution of the person.
Ben: It seems like Western medicine, like allopathic medicine, is one of the few forms of medicine, and, correct me if I'm wrong, where we're not necessarily typing people. I know we have anthropometry in fitness, where sometimes, we'll say, “This person is an endomorph or an ectomorph or a mesomorph,” like a pear or an apple or a ruler shape or whatever. But, it seems to me that that's about the closest that we get. But, it is weird, isn't it, that Chinese medicine has their typing and Ayurveda has their typing? And, I don't know the root of the type of typing, I guess, that you do. I assume that's also rooted in more Eastern or Ayurvedic tradition or something like that. But, do you get what I'm saying? Does Western medicine have the equivalent of that?
Sajah: Well, not that I'm aware of. I think there's some people that do work with it based on endocrine types. And, this is something one of my herb teachers talks about, where he–And, those types that you're talking about, Sheldon's endomorph, ectomorph, mesomorph, those are pretty much picture-perfect matches of vata, pitta, kapha in Ayurveda, which also correlate to–in medical astrology, they have their seven planetary types of people. But, as far as modern Western allopathic medicine, I'm not too sure if people are using that. I know that there are endocrine/nervous system types. So, there's the sympathetic excess, the parasympathetic excess.
Ben: That's true. I've actually seen a lot more than osteopathy and naturopathy. But, there is one doctor. I think it's Nick Gonzalez who does a lot of that parasympathetic-sympathetic typing. I think it was actually Joe Mercola, who's like a lightning rod these days, who introduced me to some of that sympathetic-parasympathetic nervous typing type of work. And, since then, I've delved into a little bit more. I talked about it a little bit with Anthony Beck when I interviewed him on my show, too. This idea of looking at your sympathetic versus your parasympathetic balance and eating accordingly with meat being something that's a little bit better for, I guess, more parasympathetically driven people and plants being better for more sympathetically driven people. But, it seems like, as far as the advanced nature of the type of Ayurvedic constitution or what Chinese medicine has or something like you're talking about, it seems like there's not a lot of that in Western medicine.
Sajah: Well, yeah. And, I think a lot of it really boils down to, I guess, for lack of a better term, philosophical approach and just the whole way the system is constructed. From my understanding of it, it seems like most Western medicine is really built around diagnosing the symptom. And, here's the drug that you used to treat that symptom or that disease. And, it's not very customized to the uniqueness of the person. And, of course, that's a very general statement. I'm sure there's lots of doctors out there that practice in very different ways. And, I'm sure that they all have their different approaches. But, it seems like, in general, the consideration of the uniqueness of the individual is oftentimes overlooked. And, I think that's big premise of holistic medicine, is treat the person, not the disease.
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Now, just to get into some practical examples, what type are you, if you'd use your elemental typing?
Sajah: Well, if I was to describe myself from an elemental perspective, I would say I am predominantly a fire type individual with a secondary air element quality going on. From an Ayurvedic perspective, I would be considered a pitta-vata. And then, in an astrological perspective, I have a dominance of Mars, which all basically are different ways of saying the same thing.
Ben: And, for you, just so people understand, even though I know the book has hundreds of pages on what to do and what each of these different elements mean, but what are some examples of how you might live your life or eat based on the fact that you're constituted like that? What would be some adjustments you'd make?
Sajah: So, in general, when we're talking about, for example, in excess of the fire element, in general, it tends to produce much more heat patterns within the individual. And, I'm speaking in general here, not necessarily about myself only. But, right heat patterns. So, the fire element governs the small intestine. The fire element governs the heart and the circulation. It has a lot to do with the immune system and inflammatory processes within the body. So, when those elements tend to be in excess, you can end up with hot digestion. Sometimes, people, they almost digest too quickly, and there's not enough time to absorb nutrients. They can tend to be autoimmune, which is very common these days for people with a lot of fire excess or just hyper-inflammatory, in general. So, a lot of inflammation is present there.
And then, another big one there would be the adrenal glands and the excess of the sympathetic nervous system. A lot of fire element tends to–especially, when you have fire combined with air, it tends to–the wind fans the flames. And so, that type can very commonly become easily triggered, easily stressed. They can really push themselves really hard and get to a place of burnout.
As far as a lifestyle orientation, one of the things that I think is really good for people with these types of constitutions is eat cooling foods. And, the irony of it is that you're oftentimes drawn to the things that are similar. So, it's always the hot fiery pitta Mars people that dump hot sauce on all their food. I love hot spicy food.
Ben: Me, too.
Sajah: And, it's the worst thing I should eat. So, it's eating things like cucumbers and fresh salads and cooling… More raw foods are good. I'm not a proponent of strictly raw foods, but cooling fresh foods tend to be better for those types of people. In Ayurveda, oftentimes, they do a lot of dairy. So, they tend to recommend cooling dairy foods for pittas and things like that. But, yeah, cooling foods, calming activities. They generally recommend not to do overly rigorous exercise, but more calming settling type exercise. Sleep is usually pretty important for them. They oftentimes don't want to sleep, but they're the ones that need it a lot.
Ben: It's funny as you're going through all this, because I'm known to be, according to some of the Chinese typing I've done, even though I haven't really gone through the exact typing system in your book, I actually am one of those people who is recommended to do more relaxed exercise, have more, I think, cooling foods, etc. Yet, I love hot sauce. I love high-intensity exercise. And so, it's weird. And, the typing that I did to give me advice on that, I think, was all based on birthdate. It was more of a Chinese protocol. Actually, the podcast with Ahvie Herskowitz down in the Bay Area. And, we did a whole podcast on the Chinese typing. And, I messed around with it for a while.
Honestly, the only thing that stuck with me was I tend to–I guess the best way I can explain this is I tend to do better when blood is more shunted towards my upper extremities in my lower extremities. So, they advised that, any time I finish a run or a walk or a bike ride or something that has the propensity to pull a lot of blood in the lower extremities, that I finished that up with a set of push-ups or inversion therapy or something that moves the blood back up to my upper body, in my head. And, that was the only thing that really, really seemed to stick with me as far as something where I actually feel more energized when I finish a long walk and I do some push-ups or some upper body movements or I finish a bike ride and I do inversion.
A lot of the rest of it, maybe, I didn't do it for long enough or restrict enough, but I didn't notice it that much. However, it's also very complicated, man. Is there an app or a quiz or a questionnaire somewhere where you could just go, take a series of tests, figure out, based on the type of elemental typing that you do, what you are, and then it just spits out a bunch of recommendations for you? Does anything like that exists that you know of?
Sajah: I'm not sure about an app, but I do know that–a lot of the texts on Ayurveda generally have little questionnaires that you can fill out to help you determine what your dominant and then, often, secondary dosha would be. And then, oftentimes, those books will be full of, “For pitta people, here's the dietary recommendations. Kaphas, here's the dietary recommendations. Vata, here's the dietary recommendations,” stuff like that. So, I think that's the closest thing that I've found to things like that.
And, I think, for me, the thing about it is it's so easy for people to get a little neurotic about it and just get too controlling or it really stresses them out. And, it's like, no, that's not the point. It's like, to me, the most important thing is pay attention to your body. All of this is geared towards reaching a new degree of self-knowledge and self-understanding and determining and deciphering how things influence you and how things affect you. And so, I'd say, it's good to study these things and have an understanding. And, intellectual understanding of it is good, but it's not nearly as good as paying really close attention to your body and paying close attention to, “When I eat this food, I feel this way. When I'm in hot weather, I feel that way.” Just being aware of it, I think, is the key for all of these things, both in oneself and in another.
When I first learned about constitutional systems, I was practicing all the time. I'm standing in line at the grocery store and I'm just observing. “Look at their fingernails and the texture of their hair and how bushy their eyebrows are, and the tone of their voice, and how they dress. So interesting, everyone's in shorts and a T-shirt and they've got a coat on, and all these things. They must be cold.” It's a lens. I would say it's like a lens that you see the world through and being able to decipher how people are put together on that level.
Ben: You should do–I don't know if you could do this, but Skype consults or Zoom consults with people where you could just walk through a series of questions and look at him and talk to him, and then work up some recommendations based on that. It seems like it'd be super helpful. I get the value of it after reading your book, especially the value of it tied to the use of these plant extracts to actually really dial someone in based on deficiencies or excesses of certain elemental types. But, I don't know. Did you ever do something like that, online work with people or almost telemedicine for elemental typing?
Sajah: Yeah, absolutely. It's a big part of my consultation work that I do with folks. And, I live out in the mountains, so I don't see people in person very much these days. And, obviously, especially now with the whole COVID world. So, most of the work, the one-on-one work that I do with people is from a distance. And, it works to an extent. It's not that great for things like tongue assessment. And, obviously, you can't feel someone's pulse. But, at least, being able to see them and get a sense for their constitution that way is very helpful. And, I prefer it over just speaking over the telephone.
Ben: When it comes to something like that, I'll definitely put a link to your website in the show notes, if you will go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/EvolutionaryHerbalism for part one, or BenGreenfieldFitness.com/EvolutionaryHerbalism2, the number “2” for part two, I already linked to your website and your book, anyways, there. So, that would be super interesting. I may even have you do something like that with me in the future. Maybe, we can video it.
But, dude, to the plant piece, I have a lot of the plants that you talk about in the book, like nettle and yarrow, I touched on this in my last podcast with you, floating around in my backyard. And, you give some examples in the book about how you would actually look at a plant and type that plant based on elemental principles. Let's say, maybe, we could use nettle as an example. I have a bunch of stinging nettle. The white-tailed deer love to eat it. It's got tons of proteins that help these mammals grow big and strong. I like to harvest it for stuff like pesto and tea. And, I'm curious, if I was to take nettle and type it based on elemental principles, how would I actually tear apart that nettle mentally, so to speak, and know what elements that it would feed, I guess, if I'm using the right language there?
Sajah: So, if we were to speak of things within the boundaries of the elements, so there's the handful of things that I'm usually observing with a plant in order to decipher an elemental correspondence. So, the first thing is looking at the habitat of the plant, where it prefers to grow. You can actually get a lot of information about a plant based on where its preferences are in the ecosystem. And, one thing that we see with the nettles is that they, oftentimes, prefer very damp habitats. They like to grow in ditches or along creek beds or by the river, by just anywhere that's really damp, basically. That's why it's so abundant here in the Pacific Northwest. So, it tends to like that type of habitat.
From there, we tend to look at the morphology of the plant, so the overall structure and appearance of the plant. And, nettles is a pretty–it's an intense plant. It's got the really sharp edges of the leaves, what in botany we'd refer to as a serrated leaf margin. It's studded with these tiny formic acid crystals. And, it just has a pretty intense appearance to it. And so, if we were to just visually look at nettles, we would say that it has a predominance of the fire element, based on its intensity and the sharpness of it. These are all qualities of fire.
This is further confirmed when you touch it and you get that sharp, burning, hot, inflamed sting on the skin. It gets really red. And, it gets really itchy. And, it's intense, that nettle sting. So, that is good further confirmation of that fire element.
From there, if we turn to actually ingesting the plant, one of the key things that we look at is the taste of the herb. Taste has a lot of indication of medicinal virtues within a plant. And, one of the key tastes that we see with nettles is that it is actually considered a salty plant. And, I know that sounds surprising to a lot of folks. But, in herbalism, the salty flavor isn't necessarily the taste of sea salt, but it's more of a–I always describe it as a crispy minerally green taste. I always correlate it to celery, actually, has a salty taste, or like raw kale.
Ben: Sorry to try to jump in. Although, I almost classify it… To me, it seems almost more like umami, an MSG type of taste, not pure salty, but umami. And, I even, when I make my pesto, I actually include this in the cookbook that I just wrote. I like to ferment it, actually, for a couple of weeks. And, that really draws out the saltiness and the minerals and the umami type of flavor.
Sajah: Wow, nice, fermented nettles. That sounds awesome. So, that's that taste of minerals. And, that's the flavor of that. All the proteins in there, too, for sure, I think that's what we're tasting there with the nettles. And, it's slightly astringent.
And then, from there, we look at organ systems. So, what parts of the body is nettles influencing? And, one of the main areas that it influences is the blood. It influences the kidneys and the urinary tract. And, the root influences the prostate gland. And, the seeds influence the kidneys and the adrenals. And so, one of the things that we see there is another correspondence to the water element. And the kidneys and the urinary tract is the body's main mechanism for relieving fluid waste products. And then, the blood being also the fire element. And, the way that nettles builds the blood through its rich mineral content, especially iron, and then, also, in the way nettles cleanses and clears the blood of metabolic waste product and sedates heat and inflammation.
So, now, we're getting more into the action of the herbs. So, there's the affinity where in the body does the plant go. And then, there's the action. What is it doing in that part of the body? So, it's very diuretic. It's very inflammation-modulating. And, it has all of these properties that are associated with cleansing, what we refer to as an alternative detoxification mechanisms.
So, a lot of it really, for nettles, boils down to a prevalence of the fire and the water elements, from the way that I have understood this plant. It's a little bit of a tricky plant, though, because it has a lot of earth element, too, because it's a food. It's nutrient-dense. We've got a lot of amino acids. We've got a lot of minerals. We've got a lot of nutrition in this plant as well that just nourishes and builds the body, which is a very earth element quality as well. But, from a medicinal standpoint, I'd say, most predominant there is fire and water.
Ben: This is so cool. In the last podcast, I talked to you about these apps that I use, like FlowerChecker and PlantSnap, to analyze a plant. There's something called I think Picture This. That also uses artificial intelligence. It would be so cool if there was some kind of an app that would also delve into the typing of a plant to, obviously, go with a field guide with your book and figure it out. But, man, wouldn't it be cool if some of this could be tied to technology so you could just learn this stuff about the plant without necessarily–What? You went to school for years and years to learn this stuff. But, it seems like, actually, you could do some of this just with an app to analyze it.
Sajah: I don't know. Personally, I'm not super into that idea, just because there is an aspect of this process that is about our own connection to nature and our ability as humans to utilize our sensory mechanisms, to see with our eyes, to engage with our senses, this whole process that I'm referring to. A lot of the work that I do is really based on the tradition of the European system of alchemy. And, so much of that system is really focused on human beings evolving and for us to come to a deeper understanding of the natural world outside of us and the natural world inside of us. And, I think this process of engaging with plants in this way, it triggers those things. It awakens a new way of seeing the world around us, of having a connection to the natural world around us, and to be able to learn directly from the plants.
And so, for me, I think that's such a critically important part of this work. And, I think an app would just get in the way of it.
Ben: Maybe, that's the lazy part of me or the work-smarter-not-harder part of me. Or, perhaps, I just need to develop a more sacred relationship with plants using your book as a guide. There's a lot of people, though, that seem to either fear or vilify plants. They'll take a lot of the components. You talk about the seed, how that could be the fifth element or the ether component. Yet, the seed seems to also wrap into it a lot of the natural built-in plant defense mechanisms dictating the guys like Dr. Steven Gundry might say in his book, “The Plant Paradox,” about how all those lectins should be avoided or stripped from the plant prior to consumption. Or, you might have a guy like Paul Saladino. Both these guys are former podcast guests, really smart dudes, in my opinion, possibly slightly myopic in their approach to the plant kingdom and the dangers that those plants might pose to a human gut. I think they, perhaps, have a little bit of accuracy to their statements when applied to someone who has, say, a compromised gut or an autoimmune condition that might dictate they can't really do nightshades or they can't do a high amount of, say, gluten or lectin.
I'm curious what your take is on this whole idea of don't eat plants because of their built-in plant defense mechanisms. And, I should say that, from what I understand, both of these guys are okay with the use of plants as medicine, but not as food staples. Does that make sense?
Sajah: So, from medicinal plants standpoint, it is the plants' innate defense mechanisms that, oftentimes, are the medicinal components of the plants for us, too. And so, I think that's the critical piece there with a lot of medicinal herbs, is that, yes, they do have their own innate defense mechanisms. This is why in my opinion wild plants are infinitely stronger than cultivated plants because they are in a competitive environment, they weren't getting a rationed amount of water every day, or they weren't getting a bunch of nutrients and fertilizers, and they're just growing in nature and it's a rough life out there, and there's pests and there's other plants that they're competing for with soil space and they're trying to grow up to the soil. All those stressors make those plants tough and that makes them better medicines than something grown in a nice fluffy raised bed in a garden. And, I'm not saying–Cultivated herbs, obviously, still are beneficial and effective. It's not like they're inert. But, in my experience, wildcrafted plants just can't be beat from a medicinal standpoint.
As far as all plants having defense mechanisms and we shouldn't eat them, I don't know what to say to that.
Ben: Do you, at least, believe in deactivating a lot of those mechanisms? I know you talked a little bit about raw foods, but this concept of soaking and sprouting and fermenting and slow food prep and approaching plants in the same way that you would, say, approach animals in that you're not going to just jump out of a tree with a knife on your back and start to skin and eat a deer right there because you're either, A, going to get stabbed by antlers or hooved, or B, you're going to get sick from not cooking it? What's your approach when it comes to consumption of plants from a preparatory standpoint?
Sajah: I definitely feel like there is certain plants, really, aren't that great to eat straight out of the ground. And, you don't want to eat a fistful of quinoa right off the plant.
Ben: Or, nettle.
Sajah: Yeah. So, I do think there is over however many thousands of years we've been around, we figured out some things on how to consume certain foods and how to not consume certain foods. And, I think there is a relationship to how things are prepared that is good in the way that, yeah, some foods are really best eaten fermented. Some foods are best soaked and sprouted. Some foods are best just cooked and not raw.
And, this is coming from myself. I've adhered to a lot of different dietary things over the years. I was a strict vegan for a long time. I was a strict raw vegan for a long time. I've come full circle, and I'm carnivorous now. And, I've seen the different effects that different foods have on people, and even very strict diets and things like that and how some of them are good and some of them are not good. The food question is such a big one. And, I think it's so individual and so unique. But, I do believe that a plant-based diet–Well, I think the conclusion that I've come to is that I do feel very strongly that a plant-based diet is the most ideal human diet. And, that doesn't mean to not eat meat. I currently eat meat and probably will for the rest of my life because it makes me feel a lot better than I did when I wasn't eating meat.
Ben: So, what you mean by plant-based diet, then, would be like a Michael Pollan approach where he says, eat food not too much mostly plants. You're not saying that you swear off all meat, but that plants form a very large base of the foundation of your diet?
Sajah: Yeah, absolutely. You're getting the diversification of nutrition that you get from eating a variety of plants, is I just don't think you can get it anywhere else.
Ben: Now, what would a day in your diet, as an evolutionary herbalist? Maybe, an ideal day of eating, what would actually look like for you? I'm just curious how you weave a lot of this stuff practically into your own life, like breakfast, lunches, and dinners and snacks. I'm super curious, how do you actually eat.
Sajah: Well, generally speaking, for us in our household, we are believers in a stout breakfast. So, we usually have a pretty solid breakfast every day that consists of, oftentimes, usually, yams and a lot of greens. We have a lot of our own chickens and things like that. So, we always have fresh eggs out of the coop. And, a lot of it, too, really depends on the seasons. A lot of it, we eat pretty seasonally. So, like right now, we got a ton of zucchini in the garden. So, we're eating a lot of zucchini right now. Tomatoes are starting to go off. We don't really eat those things in the winter because they're not in seasons. So, we really do our best to eat seasonally and we do our best to eat locally. We do our best to grow a lot of our own food, raise our own meat. So, our meats are predominantly chicken and lamb. Fish, too. I've lived in the Pacific Northwest, and we've got friends that are fishermen, so we oftentimes do trades and have lots of salmon and halibut in the freezer.
Ben: It sounds like a very omnivorous diet with a large foundation of plants.
Now, you said in the book that you–I actually did this for “Boundless,” when I turned my last book, “Boundless,” into the publisher. There's 1,500 pages. And, I did kiss a lot of my babies goodbye and cut it down to 650 pages or so. It's a big book, but I left a lot of the information that I cut from the book on the book website, so it's still accessible to people who buy the book. They'll upload their order receipt and get access to all the hidden pages and that type of thing. And, that's how I mentally tackled the prospect of saying goodbye to a lot of the stuff that I wrote.
But, you said in the book that you actually cut a lot of chapters from your book, which is also quite a hefty book. So, I can imagine you had to–What did you cut from the book? And, does it live on elsewhere?
Sajah: I actually have a very similar thing that sounds like that you do, that when folks purchase the book, they can go onto the website and put the receipt number in there. And then, they get access to, I call it the “lost chapters.” I think it's three or four chapters that I had to cut out. And then, along with a five-week course and stuff like that you get for free along with the book, kind of a book companion course.
But, geez, it's been so long. What did I cut out? I think I had to cut out a whole chapter on alchemical theory of health and disease, which really gets into, from the perspective of alchemy, why do we get sick and why and how do we get healthy? There's three or four that I had to get cut. And, honestly, a lot of it was me just taking an axe to every chapter and just like, “How much can I cut out of here?”
Ben: The editorial process of a book. I can tell you that the easiest editorial process for me was probably my cookbook because that involved me just curating and collecting all the recipes that I've created and putting them all together and deciding which category they would go. I had to choose what's going to be herbs and rubs and spices and what's going to be in the cocktails category and what's going to be in the smoothie category and the meat category or in the dessert category. But, aside from that, I just basically had to run all the recipes through a test kitchen, which actually costs a lot of money to do all the testing and perfect the recipe and find out how much baking powder I said versus how much baking powder the expert chefs who actually know what they're doing said, and then getting all the photos and everything together.
But, ultimately, it was a super easy book to write, really because I was just collecting recipes. And then, it was more like making a work of art and then double-checking it for errors. Then, it was like sitting down and laboriously writing chapter after chapter after chapter, like a real book goes. So, if I ever have to do a book again, a cookbook would be, I guess, pun intended in this case, pretty palatable. So, maybe, you should do that for your next book. You should just do “Cooking With Herbs and Plants.”
Sajah: Unfortunately, I feel like there are, probably, more people out there that would probably do a much better job at that than I would. I probably don't have the organizational capacity to put something like that together.
Ben: I'll tell you what, though. You'd put a dang good book together, and this thing was super informative for me and I just can't walk through nature without thinking about the sacred intelligence of plants in a whole new way. I, obviously, already have talked about and love the book, “The Hidden Language of Plants,” and there's another one. Is it Stephen Buhner? Do you know who I'm talking about, who has another book about plants? What's that one called?
Sajah: Yeah, well, he's got a handful. He's got “The Lost Language of Plants.” And then, he has “The Secret Teachings of Plants.” And then, he has “Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.” And, those are a part one, part two, part three, fascinating books. Love Buhner. His work is amazing, changed my life. Super nice guy, too. I got a chance to sit in a lot of workshops with him and hang out with him a little bit. And, he was just really, really great.
Ben: Well, your book is right up there too, man. So, kudos on writing it. And, I think that if anybody is listening and you didn't get a chance to listen to part one, go listen to part one of this podcast because we really get in vitalism and the missing link between the human and plant kingdom, that gap that seems to be growing increasingly wider. And, we compared and contrasted molecular herbalism with modern pharmaceuticals and how plants have their own electromagnetic field, the fascinating communication between plants. And, I just wanted in this episode to talk a little bit more of the practical nitty-gritties of all this. And so, anyways, read the book, listen to part one. And, I will link to everything if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/EvolutionaryHerbalism, the number “2.” And then, part one of this podcast is at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/EvolutionaryHerbalism.
I know you had a lot of construction going on at your house today and during our last podcast, Sajah. So, thanks for bearing with me. I'm glad we were able to get all this out for folks because anytime I discover a fascinating book, it brings joy to my heart to be able to share it with people. So, thanks for writing this. And, keep up the good work, man.
Sajah: Well, thank you, Ben. I really appreciate all your good words. And, thanks for having me on your show. I really appreciate it, and all the good work that you're doing out there, too. It's just always really great to meet other folks that are doing the good work to improve people's lives, improve people's health. And, I think that's just so much of what's needed in these crazy times on this earth. So, thank you so much for doing everything you're doing, and the really great collaboration here. Thank you.
Ben: If you ever get over to the east side of Washington state, over here towards Spokane, drop me a line. We'll go, I don't know, pick some nettle or eat a steak or something, or both, pick some nettle and put it on a steak and eat it.
Sajah: That sounds great.
Ben: Alright, I'll talk to you later, bro.
Sajah: Take care.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the show notes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful, “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormones, sleep, digestion, fat-loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes that I mentioned during this and every episode helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. So, when you listen in, be sure to use the links in the show notes, to use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
I'm fascinated with spiritual, medicinal, and little-known aspects of the plant kingdom…
…which is what I discussed in-depth on my recent podcast with Sajah Popham.
Sajah is the author of the book Evolutionary Herbalism: Science, Spirituality, and Medicine from the Heart of Nature, which weaves together herbal and medical traditions from around the world into a singular cohesive model, guided from an herbal practitioner's point of view to a comprehensive understanding of the practice and philosophy of healing with herbs.
Sajah presents an innovative approach to herbalism that considers the holistic relationship among plants, humans, and the underlying archetypal patterns in nature. Organized into five parts moving from the microcosmic to the universal, Sajah's work explores a unique integration of clinical herbalism, Ayurveda, medical astrology, spagyric alchemy, and medical and esoteric traditions from across the world in a truly holistic system of plant medicine. A balance of the heart and the mind, the science and spirit of people and plants, Evolutionary Herbalism provides a holistic context for how plants can be used for transformational levels of healing for the body, spirit, and soul. For both the student herbalist and experienced practitioner, Popham's original perspectives guide you to a more intimate, synergistic, and intuitive relationship with the plant kingdom, people, and nature as a whole.
Sajah Popham's mission is to share knowledge, tools, and medicine that promote the healing power of plants —to not just heal our bodies of disease, but to assist in the evolution of human consciousness back into its natural state. His holistic focus is on finding the universal principles and practices across herbal traditions and using plants in a way that not only brings about physical healing and rejuvenation but psychological and emotional health along with spiritual transformation. Sajah holds a degree in Herbal Sciences from Bastyr University and has studied herbal traditions across the world and with some of North America's top clinical practitioners. He lives in the Pacific Northwest forest with his wife Whitney.
Today, during Part 2 of my podcast with Sajah Popham, we will talk more about his approach, which unites traditional models in a way that utilize the whole plant (chemistry, energetics, and spirit) to heal the whole person (body, spirit, and soul) by getting to the root causes of disease.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-How specific plant parts correspond to different elements…07:10
- All plants have some form of integration of the elements (earth, water, air, fire, ether)
- Elements are necessary for a plant's existence and survival
- Roots of the plant are in the earth
- Stems are how nutrients are conducted from the soil into the plant (water)
- Leaves are the air element
- Colors, expression (fire)
- Seeds, fruit, the ether, or quintessence
- Quintessence is the synergy of the primary four elements
- How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables, Why A Plant Is Like An Upside-Down Human, Little-Known Superfood Plants & More with Dr. Thomas Cowan.
- Thomas Cowan's vegetable powders(use code BEN to save 15%)
- The doctrine of similars
-How each of us have different elemental “types”…14:08
- We all have unique dispositions, qualities, responses to our environment, etc.
- We're all born with a unique composition of the elemental forces
- Chinese medicine has slight semantical variations of the four elemental forces (metal and wood)
- Live in a way that we don't produce excesses and deficiencies; constant daily practice to maintain balance
- Energetics of plants: acting based on their chemistry (peppers, lettuce, have different effects on the body)
- Example: constipation can be caused by different problems; calls for different solutions based on the problem
- Biotransformation, Why Your Body Is A Giant “Excretion Machine,” The Danger Of Wearables, Air, Water, Light, Sound & EMF Optimization & Much More With Dr. Anthony G. Beck.
- Uniqueness of the individual is often overlooked in Western medicine
-How we might design our lives based on our elemental types…25:40
- Sajah is predominantly fire; secondary air
- Fire element governs the small intestine, heart, immune system, sympathetic nervous system
- Eat cooling foods (raw foods, cucumbers, lettuce) and calming activities
- Eastern Wisdom Meets Western Medicine: 10-Pass Ozone, Peptides, Blood Irradiation, Constitutional Assessments & Much More! With Ahvie Herskowitz.
- Pay attention to your body more than relying on an app or tech to track things
-How to “type” a plant and know what elements it would feed and need…34:50
- Look at the habitat of the plant, where it prefers to grow
- Ingesting, taste of the herb
- Organ systems; what parts of the body does the plant influence
- Boundless Cookbookby Ben Greenfield
-Why Sajah is skeptical about merging technology with understanding plants on a deep level…40:55
- Our own connection to nature, ability to utilize sensory mechanisms (eyes, ears, taste)
- Awakens a new way of seeing the world around us; natural connection
-Should we be concerned about eating plants due to their natural defense mechanisms?…43:55
- The Plant Paradoxby Stephen Gundry
- The Toxicity Of Plants, Carnivore For Athletes, Does Meat Cause Acidity, The “Game Changers” Debate & Much More With Dr. Paul Saladino.
- The Truth About Lectins And The Plant Paradox By Dr. Steven Gundry.
- Wild plants are infinitely stronger than cultivated plants due to their environment
- We've developed ways to prepare plants; fermented, sprouted, etc.
- A plant-based diet is the most ideal human diet
- Michael Pollan style diet
-An ideal day of eating for Sajah Popham…48:25
- Solid breakfast: yams, greens, eggs, lamb sausage
- Eat seasonally and locally
- Grow own food, raise own meat (chicken and lamb)
-Some of the painful cuts Sajah had to make to his book…49:50
- Alchemical theory of health and disease
- Stephen Buhner books:
-And much more!…
Resources from this episode:
– Sajah Popham:
- Evolutionary Herbalism
- Evolutionary Herbalism: Part 1 – The Fascinating Science, Spirituality & Medicines Of The Plant Kingdom With Sajah Popham.
- Are Christians Destroying The Environment? A Biblical Approach to Environmentalism and the “Dominion Mandate.” With Gordon Wilson
- How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables, Why A Plant Is Like An Upside-Down Human, Little-Known Superfood Plants & More With Dr. Thomas Cowan.
- Biotransformation, Why Your Body Is A Giant “Excretion Machine,” The Danger Of Wearables, Air, Water, Light, Sound & EMF Optimization & Much More With Dr. Anthony G. Beck.
- Eastern Wisdom Meets Western Medicine: 10-Pass Ozone, Peptides, Blood Irradiation, Constitutional Assessments & Much More! With Ahvie Herskowitz
- The Toxicity Of Plants, Carnivore For Athletes, Does Meat Cause Acidity, The “Game Changers” Debate & Much More With Dr. Paul Saladino.
- The Truth About Lectins And The Plant Paradox By Dr. Steven Gundry
- Environment, Development, and SustainabilityBy Gordon Wilson
- Boundless CookbookBy ben Greenfield
- The Plant ParadoxBy Stephen Gundry
- The Lost Language Of PlantsBy Stephen Buhner
- The Secret Teaching Of PlantsBy Stephen Buhner
- Plant Intelligence in the Imaginal RealmBy Stephen Buhner
– Other Resources:
- Cowan's Garden(use code BEN to save 15%)
- Michael Pollan Style Diet
- Flower Checker App
- Picture This App
- Materia Medica
- Doctrine Of Signatures
- The Doctrine Of Similars
- Bastyr University
- Las Vegas Keto Expo (October 15-16, 2021). Ben will be speaking at the Las Vegas Keto Expo along with 13 other keto experts. The first 300 guests to register herewill get a free drink chip for the poolside party and a free t-shirt.
- Keep up on Ben's LIVE appearances by following com/calendar
–Organifi Green Juice: Now you can get all your healthy superfoods in one glass…with No Shopping, No Blending, No Juicing, and No Cleanup. Get a 20% discount on your entire order when you use discount code BENG20.
–Water and Wellness: The best solution for clean and safe drinking water. Water and Wellness also offers an amazing line of essential water additives such as Quinton Marine plasma which contains over 78 trace minerals and elements from the ocean to help restore your biological terrain. Get 15% off your order when you use discount code GREENFIELD.
–Vuori: Activewear and athletic clothing for ultimate performance. Vuori is built to move and sweat in, yet designed with a West Coast aesthetic that transitions effortlessly into everyday life. Receive 25% off your first order when you use discount code BEN2020.
–Kion Oregano: One of the best oregano oils I've ever been able to hunt down. When you use my link, you’ll also get 10% off your first purchase.