July 27-28, 2024 in Andalusia, Alabama  –  “Energetics, Somatics and Sensory Experiencing” with Thomas, Mel and jim mcdonald now enrolling!

Listen to this blog post via Thomas’ AI voice clone! While it’s Thomas’ voice, the cadence and enunciation might differ slightly from how he normally speaks. We hope that you enjoy the convenience of listening!

Conclusion: The Necessity of the Five Realms Model

In our journey through the Five Realms model, we’ve delved deep into a nuanced conceptualization of health and illness, critically examining the model itself while illuminating both the challenges and opportunities it presents for practitioners and those seeking their support. By exploring the multifaceted ways in which herbs interact within these realms, we’ve unpacked the complexities inherent in understanding and navigating the landscape of health care and herbal medicine. The pivotal question that emerges from this exploration is “Why?” Why adopt such a complex model for understanding health and illness? The reasons are manifold and profoundly significant.

First and foremost, the Five Realms model reframes our interactions with individuals seeking our guidance, casting these interactions in a markedly different light from that of mainstream medicine. This model clarifies the role of the herbalist within the therapeutic relationship, emphasizing a collaborative approach that extends beyond the conventional focus on disease processes. While acknowledging that certain herbs can indeed address disease directly and efficaciously, our primary engagement lies in working alongside the person. Together, we strive to unravel not just the etiology of any diseases present but, crucially, the etiology of their experiences.

This distinction is vital. It underscores the fact that our practice as herbalists is not merely an alternative form of mainstream medicine but a distinct discipline with its own principles and practices. By emphasizing the experiential aspect of health and illness, the Five Realms model allows us to address the whole person, considering the myriad factors that contribute to their state of being. This holistic approach recognizes the individual as a complex interplay of physical, emotional, environmental, and social factors, each influencing and being influenced by the others.

Furthermore, the Five Realms model offers a comprehensive framework that accommodates the vast spectrum of human health and disease, providing a structured yet flexible approach that can be adapted to the unique needs and circumstances of each individual. This flexibility is essential in a field as diverse and personalized as herbal medicine, where no two individuals’ experiences or needs are exactly alike.

The model also serves as a tool for education and empowerment, both for herbalists and those we serve. By mapping out the realms of health and illness in this way, we can foster a deeper understanding of the factors that influence well-being, equipping individuals with the knowledge and insights needed to actively participate in their own health journey.

In essence, the Five Realms model is not just a way of conceptualizing health and illness; it’s a philosophy of care that places the individual at the center of the healing process. It champions a partnership between herbalist and individual, one where the goal is not simply to treat symptoms or diseases but to nurture a state of holistic well-being.

I hope that the Five Realms model challenges us to think broadly, act compassionately, and engage deeply with the art and science of healing, reminding us that at the heart of our practice is the profound and simple act of caring for another human being. The Five Realms model is more than just a theoretical framework; it is a call to action, a summons to engage with the art and science of medicine in a way that is both deeply personal and profoundly relational. It challenges us to cultivate a way of being with patients that is characterized by presence, empathy, and a deep respect for the inner wisdom of the body and the dignity of the human spirit.

Envisioning the Future: Transforming Herbal Education and Practice

As we conclude our exploration of the Five Realms model, I invite you to consider how this integrative framework might enrich and deepen your own practice as an herbalist. Many of us are already striving to work holistically, attending to the multiple dimensions of health and illness, and situating our practice within a broad, ecological understanding of well-being. The Five Realms model offers a language and structure to support and refine these efforts, helping us to more consciously navigate the complex terrain of healing.

Imagine how our herbal practices might evolve as we more intentionally engage with the insights of the Five Realms. We may find ourselves listening more deeply to our clients’ stories, attuning to the unique meanings and experiences that shape their health journeys. We may become more adept at crafting personalized interventions that honor the full complexity of each individual’s situation, drawing upon a diverse array of tools and strategies to support resilience and well-being.

As we embrace this model, we may also find ourselves more actively engaging with the social, cultural, and environmental contexts that influence health outcomes. We may be inspired to collaborate more closely with other healthcare providers, community organizations, and social justice movements, recognizing that true healing requires a collective effort to transform the conditions that give rise to illness and suffering.

The power of the Five Realms model lies not in the information alone, but in how we as human beings embody and apply its insights. It is through our curiosity, our compassion, and our commitment to growth and learning that we can truly leverage this framework to enhance our practice and better serve our communities.

In this spirit, I invite you to reflect on how the Five Realms model resonates with your own experiences and values as an herbalist. Where do you see opportunities to deepen your engagement with the realms of health, maladaptation, disease, experience, and sociocultural context? What new possibilities might emerge as you consciously integrate these perspectives into your work?

As we collectively explore and apply the Five Realms model, we have the opportunity to contribute to a larger shift in herbal education and practice. By sharing our experiences, insights, and challenges with each other, we can co-create a vibrant community of learning and support, one that empowers us to continually refine our skills and better meet the complex needs of those we serve.

This is the true promise of the Five Realms model – not as a fixed set of guidelines, but as a living, evolving framework that grows and changes as we do. By engaging with it authentically and creatively, we can each find our own way to more fully embody the art and science of herbal medicine, and to contribute to a more holistic, just, and sustainable vision of health and healing for all.

As you embark on your own journey with the Five Realms model, I invite you to carry this vision with you. Let it inspire and guide you as you deepen your understanding of the complexities of life. And know that by bringing this holistic, compassionate approach into your own practice, you are planting seeds for a brighter, more sustainable future for us all.

Our Foundational Herbalism Program


If you enjoyed this series on the Five Realms, we think you’ll love our Foundational Herbalism Program!  Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned practitioner, this program is designed to give you a comprehensive foundation in health and healing.

Our accessible curriculum is based on the Five Realms Model, providing a holistic framework that looks at health through five interconnected lenses: Health, Maladaptations, Disease, Experience, and Eco-Sociocultural-Political context. This framework will help you develop a deep understanding of the complex factors that shape well-being and learn how to apply herbal knowledge while honoring the diverse needs and experiences of those you serve, or plan to serve.

In this immersive program, you will:

1.      Engage with the rich history and philosophy of herbal medicine.

2.      Cultivate a grounded, person-centered approach to healing.

3.      Learn to assess and build health through the lens of the Five Realms, with a focus on nutrition, lifestyle, and herbal support.

4.      Gain hands-on experience in medicine making.

5.      Develop a practical understanding of herbal safety, quality, and sustainability.

6.      Explore the fundamentals of acute care herbalism and gain the skills to tackle common health challenges effectively.

7.      Develop critical thinking and research skills that will empower you to navigate the complex landscape of herbal information with discernment.

Through dynamic video and audio lessons, in-depth readings, quizzes, live classes, hands-on assignments, and a supportive private learning community, you’ll build a strong foundation in the art and science of herbal medicine. Whether you’re called to support your own health, care for your family and friends, or lay the groundwork for a career in community or clinical herbalism, this program will provide you with the knowledge, skills, and inspiration to follow your path with confidence and integrity.

We hope that you’ll consider joining us on an exploration to rethink health, disease, and the role of herbal medicine in healthcare!

Click here to visit the Foundational Herbalism Program class page.


The botanical illustrations used in this post were created by Annie SewDev.