Everyone has in mind the image of Getafix, the druid from the village of Asterix, going to the forest to pick mistletoe with his golden sickle. Although cliché, this character is a first gateway to discover Celtic medicine. The Gauls are among the many Celtic peoples who ruled over part of Europe and Asia Minor two millennia ago. The particularity of this civilization? “Everything was sacred to them, the mineral world as well as the vegetable or animal world. They worshiped trees more specifically, especially the yew, the apple tree and the oak.notes Marilyn Brentegani*, ethnoherbalist and gatherer (herbaluna.org).
And if the Celts transmitted their knowledge orally, “their customs have been documented by the Romans and certain Christian monks in Ireland and Wales”, supports our expert. So many traces that have perpetuated the practice of Celtic medicine through the centuries.
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Harvesting and rituals
To understand this ancestral knowledge, which is making a strong comeback in France, we must first admit that it is difficult to dissociate from a certain spirituality. This stems from the central figure of the druid who, after twenty years of oral studies, was both a caregiver… and a priest. His approach to care therefore included scholarly practices – he knew the sky and the stars – but also religious, even divinatory ones. “That’s why there is a lot of ceremonial surrounding the picking and then the use of plants”, says Marilyn Brentegani. The druid was responsible for connecting the visible world and the invisible world. He could also bring back the voice of the ancestors or invoke the wisdom of a plant to apprehend an illness.
Beyond this spiritual dimension, the constant connection with nature is what best defines the practice. “Being aware of your environment is essential: duration of sunshine, lunar cycles, heat, wind, rain…”tells Clémentine Tarquini-Pradelles, who has just launched a plant discovery activity in the Cévennes (more info on lesherbesauxcistes.fr). For this, Celtic medicine practitioners also constantly refer to a specific annual calendar. The most important appointments are first of all the ancient lunar festivals (February 1-2, August 1, November 1) then the solstices and the equinoxes, during which it is a question of carrying out pickings.
Plants used in all their forms
Celtic medicine differs from gatherings of Druids which are generally limited to Celtic spirituality. Infusions, decoctions, alcoholatures, poultices… today, she relies above all on herbal remedies to overcome hormonal discomfort (yarrow in case of heavy periods), digestive problems (milk thistle), stress, even depression (fig tree buds). It is also used in prevention. Thus, to strengthen its immune defences, practitioners advise adding nettle to its diet, by integrating fresh leaves into a pesto.
“The approach is to reconnect with practices used daily by our ancestors”remarks Clémentine Tarquini-Pradelles. “It’s the return to simple medicine, where everyone can pick up and prepare their remedies”, continues Marilyn Brentegani. A specific example of care? The plant diet, which consists of drinking three cups of a decoction of a plant such as dandelion for ten days to “cleanse” and “energize” the body. Another technique: fumigation, or the use of smoke to cleanse or heal. “We will pick bay leaves, burn them on charcoal and disperse the smoke around a person”reports Marilyn Brentegani.
A medicine that is not one
Mathilde, 30, says she tested Celtic medicine last summer in the face of a global emotional imbalance and digestive problems. “I didn’t have a specific health problem but rather a general malaise, she says. To get out of it, I turned to Celtic medicine, closer to me than other alternative medicines from Asia, for example. The session of about three hours began with a questionnaire as well as an extensive interview with the practitioner before continuing with a treatment combining the sound of the drum and the fumigation of laurel. This clearly requires a certain open-mindedness. »
Suffice to say that this type of practice, close to shamanism, is not validated by science. To improve digestion, Mathilde was advised to take a three-month cure of angelica-archangelic alcohol. She draws positive conclusions from her consultation. It remains to be seen whether the result is really due to the ritual and the remedies or to a certain placebo effect… It should also be remembered that the use of plants in medicine is the responsibility of a phytotherapist doctor or a herbalist, whose diploma is reserved in France, since 1941, for pharmacists. A situation that persists despite the existence of herbalism training schools. Practitioners of Celtic medicine (see box) are therefore not intended to cure a disease. But their advice can improve the symptoms of a functional problem (without organic cause) and, more generally, help to feel better.
Where to find a serious practitioner?
Like many disciplines not recognized by the Order of Physicians, there is no official school of Celtic medicine guaranteeing a complete and serious training. The courses, few in number, are now provided by private organizations. Practitioners, with very varied profiles, do not necessarily come from the health sector. Where to go then to make an appointment with someone who has a good foundation? The Syndicate of Simples, grouping plant producers, is a good first track to obtain contacts from trained practitioners, as is the list of herbalism schools. The latter are currently the main carriers of ancestral herbal practices. Let’s mention the Lyon School of Medicinal Plants & Natural Knowledge, Imderplam, near Montpellier, ARH-IFH in Brittany, the Breton association Cap Santé… Of course, word of mouth also counts! In any case, flee if the practitioner denigrates conventional medicine, asks you to interrupt your usual treatment or promises to cure an infectious or chronic disease.
*Author of Plants of the CeltsThe Duke.