© Kat Morgenstern
First of all - my apologies to all of you who have been patiently waiting for this newsletter. I have been a little computer challenged during the last month, which is the reason for the delay of this issue. Apologies also about the lack of images in this issue, this is another side effect of being computer challenged for much of the past month. With any luck the next issue will appear when it is supposed to and will look a little more interesting too. But seriously, computer challenge apart, how can anybody stand to be indoors, slugging away at the computer during these glorious summer months? They are to be enjoyed as much as possible, out and about in the fields and woods! There is so much to explore and discover, to enjoy and delight in.... Thankfully, I have had a chance to do some of that as well, letting computer frustrations steam off and simply soaking up the vibrancy of midsummer (- hoping that I will be forgiven....) Secondly - on a more serious note, my thoughts go out to all the people, plants and animals affected by the horrendous fires that are currently raging throughout the southwestern states of the US. I hope you will all join me in drawing in the rain clouds to try and stop further devastation.
Kat Morgenstern, June 2002
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Summer is finally here - in fact, midsummer has come and gone. The season of bountiful blessings, of flowers and berries, of buzzing bees and butterflies invites us to join in the dance of life, manifest in the cosmic rhythms of nature. Each foraging foray is a journey of discovery, and a sharing in all the great and small miracles of life that happen all around us, if we only open our eyes and ears, our hearts and souls to contemplate this miraculous power called life. I love pondering these mysteries while communing with plant spirits as I munch my way through fields and forest, that's when I feel closest to the Gods.
For me, heaven is a Wild Strawberry patch (Fragaria vesca). Time and space just seems to melt into insignificance when I let myself be seduced by the allure of these sumptious little 'scrummy yums'. It is an art to catch them at just the right moment, when all white patches have turned a glowing red yet before they are gobbled up by other, equally keen competitors or, heaven forbid, they have started their rapid process of decay. Wild strawberries are a food for instant gratification, to be enjoyed in the here and now. Gathering them for later is not impossible, but barely worth it. By the time one has picked enough and taken them home they will have started to go mushy. Though they might still taste good (never as good as straight from the bushel), they no longer look appealing. Plus, given the temptation to put all those little 'bonnes bouches' straight down the gob instead of into the pail, it could take a very long time to gather enough for later. Strawberries are not just delicious, in former times they were highly regarded as aphrodisiacs an association which is not hard to understand. Artists throughout the centuries have used the Strawberries as a symbol of sexual allure. Strawberries are also healthy. The fruits contain the highest amount of Vitamin C of any berry. They are a good cleansing food, acting mildly diuretic and diaphoretic. The dried leaves are used as a popular breakfast tea, often mixed with Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) leaves. However, some unfortunate people are sensitive to Strawberries and get allergic reactions, so individual tolerance levels should be carefully monitored unless you are absolutely sure that you are not allergic.
Similar to Strawberries in terms of their instant gratification value and heavenly taste are Raspberries. They too are a very watery and soft fruit, which makes them vulnerable to any kind of pressure or strains of storage. They too are best enjoyed immediately, though if the way home is not too far it might be worth gathering some for later use as jam. Raspberry leaves are one of the best supportive herbs to use during pregnancy, especially after the first 3 months. The first 3 months are the most delicate in terms of maintaining a body balance so it is generally not recommended to experiment with any herbs during this time.
Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are soft and watery but their skin is relatively tough and thus they are much easier to transport for later processing. Bilberries are extremely staining and it is difficult to avoid the purple blue stains, not only on the hands and lips but also all over one's clothes. Bilberries are very healthy and recent studies have indicated that they are useful in cases of eye troubles related to diabetes. Bilberries apparently have the ability to increase blood flow to the extremely small blood vessels like those that supply the eyes. It should be noted that fresh Bilberries tend to have a laxative action, while dried one's have the opposite effect.
Other delightful fruits that are bountiful right now, though usually not encountered in the wild, are Gooseberries (Ribes grossularia), Cherries (Prunus ssp.) and Currents (Ribes rubrum). A delightful berry dish, perfect for a sweet summer lunch is known as Rote Grütze' in Germany. It is a cold soup prepared with fruits, generally red fruits, such as Cherries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Bilberries, Red Currents etc. though in recent years 'Grüne Grütze' and 'Gelbe Grütze' have also become available. For those who wish to make their own, here is a basic recipe:
Simmer about 500g mixed red fruit (Raspberries, Strawberries, Bilberries, Currents, Cherries etc., destone Cherries) with a little cherry, current, cranberry juice or wine. Add cornstarch or sago to thicken, but not too much. The mixture should have the consistency of runny jam. Sweeten with sugar to taste. Serve cold with vanilla cream.
For other foraged goodies the early summer months are not the best: Leaves are beginning to get tough and old and nuts or roots are not ready for harvest yet. Still, it is quite possible to carry on collecting the young leaves of any of the edible herbs, such as Goosefoot (Chenopodium album), Purslane (Portulacca oleracea), Mallow (Malva sylvestries), Bistort (Polygonum bistorta)or Sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis. These can be added to soups, salads, or fillings for quiches or piroggies.
However, playful and adventurous foragers will delight in the season's blessing of flowers many of which are edible and not only add a wonderful subtle taste to numerous sweet or savory dishes but also add a bold and cheerful splash of colour that is sure to get attention. Borage flowers (Borago officinalis), Nasturtiums, Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and Rose petals (Rosea canina) are favourites. One wonderful speciality of the season are filled Squash (Cucurbita pepo) flowers. Being big, bright, fairly tough and edible they lend themselves perfectly for this unusual dish. The filling is only limited by your imagination, but a stuffing type filling, neither too runny nor too heavy work especially well. Mix grains such as bulghar wheat or rice with onions, garlic and mushrooms and sprinkle with a fairly soft, quickly melting cheese and some parmesan cheese and grill until the cheese is melted. Or mix breadcrumbs and cornflakes with butter to make a crust and grill until golden brown.
Some delicious flower recipes can be found here:Edible Flower List.
Also, many herbs are in season now. They tend to be best just before or during flowering, before they set seed. Herbs can be dried for later use or frozen to preserve the fresh flavour (especially recommended for Parsley, Basil and Coriander).
The best way to get started is to get to know the plants that grow around you, familiarize yourself with the weeds, bushes and trees. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate their uses. It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, so as to be sure you will avoid picking them when you gather your meal. Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch, especially when harvesting roots. However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subjected to pollution from roads, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc.).Be aware that not all flowers are edible. Only include those in your diet that you are absolutely sure about. Don't eat the flowers of plants purchased at the garden center or nursery as they are often treated with pesticides unsafe for consumption. Never be wasteful with what you pick - remember there are many mouths to feed out there and overpicking endangers wild stands. Give thanks to the plants and to Mother Earth who has provided them.
Are you are planning to take a vacation this summer? You might want to spend a few moments reflecting on your health and what what to pack into your emergency travel first aid kit, especially if you are going somewhere where access to things you would normally take for granted is restricted or difficult. If you are going on a long trip or on one that will be physically straining or expose your system to unfamiliar organisms it might be wise to discuss your specific needs with a health care professional. For example, some countries require or advise visitors to get certain immunization jabs, and it is always recommended to check whether your Tetanus jab is still up to date. In any case it would be a good idea to get a general check up and make an effort to boost the body's immune system several weeks before departure. Also, make sure to take with you ample supplies of any medications you might need regularly.
But what about emergencies, those pesky incidents that can ruin a holiday unless one is well prepared? How can we guard against these? The trick in assembling a useful first aid kit lies in choosing remedies that serve multiple purposes: Items that will be truly useful and not just cautionary dead weight. Contrary to popular fears, the greatest health dangers while abroad or away from home are not unknown threats, but familiar ailments. Sunburn, mosquito bites, exhaustion, dehydration, blisters, strains, sprains, muscle aches and pains, and if you are unlucky, perhaps a spell of stomach troubles.
When traveling to undeveloped countries, where water hygiene is a problem one should take extra care regarding one's diet and hygienic habits. Use only bottled water, or if this is not available make sure to boil for at least 20 minutes any water you intend to use internally or even just to wash vegetables, or brush your teeth with. Never eat any vegetables that cannot be peeled. (Avoid things like raw tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, strawberries, etc.) If you have the opportunity, prepare your own food. If possible only use your own plate, cup and cuttlery and never share these or your water bottle with anybody, even if this seems mean. Being careful and aware of the dangers of water transmitted diseases such as hepatitis or cholera will be your best protection. If you eat at restaurants or street vendors only eat things that are freshly cooked and have just come off the flame. Street vendors are safer in many instances because you can observe the level of hygiene and you can be sure your snack is as freshly cooked as can be. It is worth packing something for the eventuality of 'Traveler's Diarrhoea' as this is a fairly commonly occurring problem. As a natural remedy purified fullers earth has magic properties (in Germany it is sold as 'Heilerde - healing soil)though many people don't like to swallow the mud. Sometimes a few days of fasting cures the problem, or eating nothing but rice and bananas. The most dangerous thing about prolonged diarrhoea is a depletion of fluids and certain electrolytes and trace substances. To counteract this problem there are special mixes available which are a lot like lemonade powder. They contain all the essential substances and can simply be stirred into water to make a drink that resembles Lukozade. However, for extreme cases it is worth taking some kind of magic bullet pill that will simply stop the diarrhoea (there are several effective brands,ask your doctor or pharmacist).
Sunburn is not just painful but dangerous. Especially in this day and age of growing ozone holes, which amplify the dangers of the ultraviolet rays of the sun, it is foolish to roast on the beach for beauty's sake. Always protect exposed skin more than you think is necessary and during the very hottest part of the day it might be wise to stay in the shade altogether. However, if you do get sunburned, one of the best remedies is Aloe Vera gel, the juice from the succulent leaves of the Aloe Vera plant. Thankfully this magical plant often grows wild in places where it gets very hot and one usually does not have to look for it for very long. Break off a leaf and spread the jelly-like substance on the burnt area. Repeat as necessary. If you don't want to forage for your sunburn remedy it is possible to get Aloe Vera based creams and gels at the pharmacy or healthfood stores. Another tip: always cover your head in the sun and put extra layers of protective cream on ears, noses and other exposed parts. Make sure you drink plenty of fresh water to avoid dehydration.
For mosquito and other insect bites it is usually not the bite itself, but the possibility of transmitted diseases that pose the problem. Ticks can bring on Lyme disease, which can be disastrous if not treated immediately. Mosquitoes can transmit malaria, leischmansiosis or worse still, yellow fever. Thus adequate protection is well recommended. One of the most effective substances against mosquitoes and other insects is DEET. In the US this highly toxic substance is still legal for the manufacture of insect repellents. However, it is not wise to put this stuff directly on the skin and also one has to be extremely careful not to accidently let eyes, mouth or other sensitive membranes come into direct contact with this poisonous substance. It may be used to put on clothes when entering extreme conditions where insects are indeed a plague. However, there are many other less, or non-toxic substances that can be used to ward off little beasties. Essential oils of anise, tansy, crysanthemom, pennyroyal, wormwood, mugwort and rue all have insecticidal properties and can be mixed with a base oil to serve as insect repellent. It should be noted though, that none of these oils are safe during pregnancy. Another measure that may be worth considering is to take a mega-dose of vitamin B complex. Apparently vitamin B makes the human blood unpalatable to biting beasties and they are generally happy to look for victims with tastier juice elsewhere. However, the emphasis here is on mega dosage. Ask you physician, they can administer the correct dose by injection. Another simple protective measure is to cover up during the times of the day when the bugs are most rampant or in places where there is an increased risk factor. If you go into the woods and know that there is lyme disease in the area wear long sleeved clothes and a hat and perform a careful tick check upon return to the house. Depending on where you travel, one of the most widely distributed 'weeds' with the most remarkable bite curing properties might be close at hand. Broadleaved Plantain, (Plantago Major) grows almost anywhere and provides an excellent instant remedy for bites and stings of any description, even spider bites. Lavender and Tea tree essential oils might also be useful, though the potential for allergic reaction is greater.
For strains and sprains there is no better aid than Arnica tincture. It can have a sheer magical effect and take swellings down and pain away almost immediately. Try to get a strong, high percentage tincture. Cremes are usually less effective. Alternatively, or additionally, get some tiger balm. It works great not only on muscle aches and pains but is also great for headaches, coughs and colds. This chinese ointment, based on a combination of essential oils is one of the most remarkable remedies per se. This remedy should not be missing from anybody's first aid kit.
To clean wounds, stop bleeding or treat inflamed gums you can use Myrrh tincture. Carry some surgical wipes with you as these are individually wrapped and thus stay clean.
So here is a suggestion of what to pack:
Also pack remedies or medicines for problems you know that you are prone too. If you frequently suffer from travel sickness take peppermint drops with you, or if you know that your body commonly reacts a certain way to a change of climate take with you what works best in your experience.
When travelling, also think about your sexual health. Holiday romances might be tempting but can be dangerous. AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are a worldwide problem and often rampant at certain tourist destinations. Take protective measures with you as they may not always be easily available in strange and far off lands.
|Synonyms:||Hartheu, Fuga daemonum, Hexenkraut, Unsere Frau Bettstroh, Waldhopf, Wilder Magram, Faerberkraut, Frauengliester, Unsere Liebe Frau Gras, Sonnwendkraut, Blutkraut, Loecherkraut, Jaegerteufel|
A perennial herbaceous plant, which grows to about. 2ft high. The erect, upright stems bear two raised lines along their length and branch out in the upper parts. The opposite, sessile leaves are ovate to linear and covered with numerous translucent dots, the oil glands. The margins are entire and skirted with black dots. The five-petaled yellow flowers with their prominently protruding stamens are borne in clusters. They flower from June to August. The seeds are borne in capsules. The taste is aromatic, bitter, balsamic. The flowerbud, when squeezed and rubbed on the skin stains red, this is a good way of verifying the correct species.
St. John's Wort grows throughout central Europe and the British Isles. Its' habitat are verges, meadows, hedgerows, wood clearings and waste places. It has also been naturalized in many parts of the US, where it is regarded as a noxious weed.
St. John's Wort just seems to know when midsummer is near and its time has come. Its flowering time coincides with the zenith of the midsummer sun and so it seems entirely appropriate that it has long been honored as a summer solstice herb. The little flowers resemble little suns themselves, while the reddish oil resembles blood, the sacred juice of life, which in the olden days was often sacrificed on this day to ensure the continuity of life. The proper gathering time for this herb has always been midsummer when its potency is said to be at its peak. Some sprigs were cast on the ceremonial bonfires, others were blessed and hung above doors, in stables and barns. It was thought to offer protection against the hazards of excessive sun, fire, lightning and droughts and to and scare off witches and demons. Christianity has absorbed much of these pagan traditions. The church dedicated the herb to St. John and continued to use it in similar ways within the context of their St. John's celebrations on the 24th of June. They hoped that its solar radiance would protect them against evil witchcraft and daemons of any and all descriptions. They even used it as a talisman to identify witches in conjunction of a magic formula:
The formula was written on a piece of paper and it, together with some St. John's Wort gathered during the first quarter of the moon, was strewn on a piece of leather. This talisman was thought to reveal the identity of a witch. A charm containing the holy herb also protected against wounds from swords, knives and bullets. St. John's Wort was even used in Witch-trials. It was thought that in the presence of such an upright, open and radiant herb of the sun no evil could persist. (Why the honourable herb did not perish in the hands of the inquisitors remains a mystery). During the Middle Ages St.John's Wort enjoyed its greatest reputation. It was known as 'Fuga Daemonium' and thought to protect against all types of evil spirits and daemons. The Doctrine of signatures identified it as an herb of the sun. Its' sunny, upright character was used to dispel the daemons of depression and melancholy, while its punctured leaves and red oil signified its usefulness for treating wounds, cuts and burns.
Today St. John's Wort's magical association have largely been forgotten though it continues to play an important role in medical herbalism. In recent years it has enjoyed a great popularity as a natural anti-depressant. Yet, its very popularity has also created some controversy. In the US this sudden boom has been especially noticeable, even though authorities have been making efforts to suppress its use and brandmark St. Johns Wort as a potentially dangerous herb and noxious weed. The allegations are that its photosenzitising properties are dangerous and that it can produce unwanted side effects when used as an anti-depressant. St. Johns Wort does have photosensitizing properties, but the most likely victim of this effect is grazing lifestock, which may consume great quantities of this herb and at the same time may be exposed to high temperatures without any sheltering shade on the ranges. This problem can particularly severe in southern parts of the US. While internal use of St. Johns Wort rarely poses this threat to humans, one should avoid exposing areas of skin treated with the oil directly to sunlight or the ulraviolet rays of a solarium. As regards its safety in the treatment of depression, caution is advised. St. Johnswort affects the Seratonin levels and thus can produce negative effects when used in conjunction with other anti-depressant drugs which also affect levels of neurotransmitters. Thus, before using St. Johns Wort as an anti-depressant it is advised to consult a qualified physician who is knowledgeable about drug/herb interactions.
|PARTS USED:||Aerial parts, collect when in flower, for the oil usually only the buds and flowers are used, though many people report good results with oil produced from the flowering tops.|
|CONSTITUENTS:||Essential oil - caryophyllene, methyl-2-octane, n-nonane, n-octanal, n-decanal, a-and b pinene, traces of limonene and myrcene, hypericin (photosensitizing), hyperforin, Glycosides (rutin), tannin, resin, pectin|
|ACTIONS:||Antidepressant, sedative, nervine, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, astringent, vulnerary, diuretic|
St. John's Wort is an tonic for the whole body. It is a gentle rather than a cathartic cleansing remedy that improves overall function and tone of the vital body systems. It strengthens and regulates the metabolism and tones the stomach, liver and kidneys, thus helping to clear toxins from the body. The ancients used it to help the eliminative processes of the kidneys and to support the liver. Internally, a small amount of the oil or better still, the expressed juice, taken on an empty stomach is said to be effective for stomach ulcers and gastritis. In the olden days expressed St. Johns Wort juice was used to stop internal bleeding,the spitting of bood as well as diarrhea, especially if this was also accompanied by blood.
It is also an excellent nervine with a calming and sedative effect on the nervous system. It is an old remedy for headaches and migraine and can also be used to treat anxiety, melancholy and irritability, especially during menopause or for cases of PMT. Old herbalists also recommend it for cases of 'shaking and twitching' (Parkinson?) It is said to be effective for treating bedwetting in children, especially when due to a nervous disposition or anxiety. For this purpose, 1 tablespoon of the infusion given at bedtime is said to suffice, though one may also massage a little bit of the oil into the lower back. As a diuretic, St. John's Wort helps to eliminate wastes and toxins from the body, which assists the treatment of gout and arthritis. The tea is also effective for indigestion, stomach catarrh and as a vermifuge. It is recommended to only use the fresh herb or tincture as the dried herb looses much of its potency.
In the olden days the external uses of St. Johns Wort were much more common. It was known as an excellent wound healer that could purify the wound and knit the skin together The expressed juice or a compress made from fresh bruised herbs is best, though modern herbalist are more inclined to use diluted tincture. The compress can be applied as a vulnerary to treat wounds, cuts, bruises varicose veins and burns. Tabernaemontanus reports that the powdered dried herb can be strewn directly into putrefactive wounds to clean and heal them. In his days it was also used as a fumigating herb by midwiwives to help women who were encountering severe problems during their pregnancies or child birth.
St. John's Wort Oil
Traditionally the flowers were steeped in Poppy seed oil to produce a bright red oil. However, since Poppy Seed oil has become virtually unobtainable, Olive oil can be substituted. Fill a jar with flowering tops and cover with oil. Macerate for 2 weeks. Strain and press out the flowers, repeat the process using the same oil, but adding fresh flowers. This oil is used for treating sunburn, other mild burns, neuralgia, sciatica and rheumatic pain as well as sprains and strains, cuts, wounds, as well as muscle and nerve aches and pains. It is also said to reduce scarring. Tabernaemontanus mentions an elaborate recipe for a combined oil which, among other things includes a variety of gums and resins such as frankincense, myrrh, mastix etc and other herbs, including Plantain leaves, Yarrow and Tormentil to make, what he claims to be a superior wound oil effective for just about any kind of ache or pain.
Since St. John's Wort contains the photosensitizing agent hypericin it is recommended to avoid direct sunlight after both internal and external use. If you are on any other medication, especially anti-depressant drugs, consult a doctor with regard to negative drug-interactions before use.
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The knowledge and practice of traditional medicine in Central America is as diverse as its cultural heritage and botanical diversity. In an area that is not just home to more species of plants than most other regions on earth, but is equally rich in cultural diversity, the number of plants used for medicines in different ways by different peoples is sheer endless. To discuss this fascinating field of knowledge at any level of depth would require a book (probably in several volumes), rather than a mere introductory article. Thus I will have to restrict myself to giving a brief overview on the history and background of traditional medicine rather than attempting to discuss particular plants in great detail, since I could never do them justice considering the scope of this article. However, I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to make their own inquiries as they travel through Central America. In my experience most people are more than happy to talk about plants and their uses and I have found this subject to be one of the most satisfying ways of making contact and engaging in communication with local people I have met on my travels.
Sadly, in the more urbanized areas traditional plant knowledge is rapidly disappearing, as 'modern' western medicines are becoming more readily available (unfortunately skilled doctors who can dispense them appropriately are not). Modern medicine is considered more 'progressive' and thus distinguishes the urban dwellers from the campensinos. However, luckily one usually does not have to search for very long before coming across a knowledgeable person, who may not exactly be a shaman, but who certainly knows at least some of the more commonly used remedies. Traditional curanderos or yerbaristes are often found selling their wares at market stalls. Also, many forest workers, such as the chicleros, who often spend several weeks deep within the jungle, still rely heavily on the plants they find in the forest, for medicine, for food and for the materials they need to build simple shelters. In rural areas poverty and the remoteness of the communities have been contributing factors in preserving traditional plant knowledge. This knowledge was already ancient and well developed by the time the first Europeans set their eyes on the Americas.
When America was 'discovered', Europe was still in the throws of the, in many ways, barbarous Middle Ages, whilst the Aztec civilization that the Spaniards encountered was at its flourishing height. European orthodox medicine, having divorced itself from its herbal roots and traditions some centuries earlier, was at that time little more than an abhorrent torture. The best hope a sick person had of regaining their health was to avoid the heroic treatments of doctors, which largely consisted of bleeding and purging the wits out of their patients and poisoning them with mercury and other toxic substances. The medical practices of the New World on the other hand, especially among the Aztecs, were extremely advanced. The Aztecs and Maya not only knew and used many different kinds of healing plants but also had various types of medical practitioners who specialized in different kinds of illnesses. There were hospitals where the sick could be isolated from the rest of the community and given specialist care and attention.
Among other indigenous cultures of Central America though, everybody was their own healer and the institution of 'medicine man' or healer did not exist. Sometimes a person acquired special knowledge about a particular disease (usually through direct experience) and would be more than happy to help others with the same affliction. Certain types of illnesses believed to be caused by 'supernatural' forces demanded a more magical treatment for which specialists known as shamans were usually called in.
Today, various healing traditions have merged to a greater or lesser extent, though regional and cultural differences do still exist. Most people have a rudimentary knowledge of various healing plants, which they might grow in their gardens or collect in the fields and nearby forest (folk medicine). For the more serious systemic diseases the help of a curandero is sometimes sought. These are people who are skilled in the uses of medicinal plants and usually have learned their craft from a close relative.
Some practitioners specialize in the treatment of snakebites only. There are a number of deadly poisonous snakes in Central America and help in the form of an antidote injection is often too far away to be of much use. The snakedoctors enjoy a high respect in their communities and are well paid if their treatment is successful.
Older women who are experienced in matters of childbirth frequently act as midwives. They take care of all affairs related to feminine health, provide pre- and postpartum care and offer general emotional support to young mothers.
Despite centuries of determined efforts by zealous missionaries, many people in Central America still adhere to ancient beliefs concerning the spirit world. Thus, it is hardly surprising that many diseases are thought to be caused by what we call 'supernatural' forces (but to them are perfectly natural, albeit invisible beings). Physical therapies have no effect on alleviating the symptoms of those types of diseases, let alone their causes. Babies and small children for example are especially susceptible to what is known as 'the evil eye' thought to be caused by the jealousy of other women or people who are unable to have children of their own. Sometimes the source of affliction is thought to be a curse sent by someone who is bearing a grudge against the victim. At other times a diviner has to be consulted to clarify the origin and possible treatment methods for the disease. Either way, matters of this sort are usually dealt with by priests, diviners or shamans.
The gathering of medicinal herbs, as well as the healing ceremonies themselves are usually accompanied by a more or less elaborate ritual. Copious amounts of Copal or Pine resin are burned as offerings to the Gods. Mayan healers place a great deal of significance on administering their herbs in doses that are based on magically important numbers such as 3, 9 or 13, often given in pairs to establish a balance of male and female energies. They also tend to identify herbs as either 'male' or 'female', though the corresponding parts of a given pair frequently belong to botanically quite unrelated families and the actual physical gender of the plants in question bears no relevance on this system of classification.
The techniques used to administer herbal remedies are quite varied. A common method of preparation is the decoction, whereby fresh herbs, roots or barks are placed in a pot of cold water, brought to a boil and then left to stew for a while. Such decoctions can be taken internally or if required, applied externally to wash wounds or to treat fungal infections and other types of skin conditions. Therapeutic bathing using various herbal decoctions for their medicinal properties, is also a common practice. For wounds and aching muscles or bones herbal plasters are usually applied directly to the painful area. Salves and ointments are less common - perhaps because fatty substances have a tendency to go off or melt in hot climates thus losing their healing properties. So far most of the above mentioned herbal applications may sound pretty familiar since they are also commonly used in western herbal medicine. However, there are a number of methods used by indigenous people in Central America that may seem quite strange to many of us today, though in the past similar methods were also a common part of traditional European herbalism.
The art of smoking for example, (now largely considered a vice) was originally learned from the Indians who Columbus encountered on his first trips to the New World. Among all indigenous people of the Americas Tobacco is considered one of the most holy plants. It is a most powerful, sacred medicine and (among other things) plays an important part in plant gathering rituals. Many indigenous people (as well as more traditional western herbalists) believe that plants are closely associated with particular spirit beings who govern the medicinal powers of each particular plant. Thus it is of utmost importance to address the plant spirit and to ask its permission, cooperation and assistance when gathering plants for healing purposes, otherwise the gathered plant material would have no therapeutic value. According to Indian tradition plant spirits appreciate tobacco, which is generally offered as a reciprocal gift. It should be mentioned though that natural tobacco is quite a different kind of substance to what is nowadays sold as cigarettes. The chemical concoctions produced by the tobacco companies and the dried leaves of Nicotiana rustica used by most indigenous people can hardly be compared. Furthermore, this sacred tobacco was never intended to be inhaled, but is generally used by blowing the smoke, e.g. at a sick person to dispel the disease causing demons or to purify ritual instruments. Smoking is not restricted to tobacco either. Many different medicinal plants are rolled into large cigarettes, which may be smoked for their therapeutic action. Sometimes such herbal cigarettes are not used for smoking at all, but are employed in a kind of fumigation practice, which involves passing the herbal cigarette over particular energy meridians of the body in very precise patterns and rhythms. Sometimes they are even burnt more or less directly on the skin (moxibustion). The explanation for this procedure is that burning a herb releases the plant spirit, which can then directly penetrate the skin of the sick person and thus perform its work where it is most needed. Similarly, the protective power of plant spirits are often utilized as herbal amulets, which are believed to ward off disease causing spirits and other negative influences.
Surprising though it may seem, enemas are also an Indian invention. The Spaniards learned this method from the Aztecs, who used it not just for healing purposes, but also to administer powerful hallucinogenic drugs as part of their religious practices. Enemas have found their way into western herbal medicine and about 100 years ago were considered to be of foremost importance for 'inner cleanliness'. While they have since gone out of fashion, one should not underestimate their effectiveness and therapeutic value.
The types of plants used to treat various kinds of illness very much depend on seasonal and local availability. Many plants, familiar to us as decorative in-door plants or tropical fruits and vegetables from the shelves of our supermarkets, in Central America are also known for their medicinal properties. Corn (Zea mais) for example, a sacred plant among all agricultural peoples of the Americas provides not only a staple food considered a staff of life, but is also used medicinally. Its' life-giving properties makes it an ideal nourishment for the sick, whilst the maize-beard or cornsilk (hairy bits that surround the cob) and the inner core of the cob are used as a diuretic and diaphoretic, which can be employed as a lymphatic cleansing remedy.
The Papaya (Carica papaya) is not just valued as a refreshing fruit (especially good with lime juice), but is also valued as a digestive aid. The milky latex of the unripe fruit, leaves and stem has meat tenderizing properties. In Central America it is a common remedy for treating warts and corns, whilst phytopharmaceutical companies of North America use it to produce tablets with it that can help with protein digestion. The very ripe fruit is also said to be a very soothing application for those unlucky ones who have had too close an encounter with the dreaded fire coral. (Might be useful for other stings and bites of venomous beasts as well).
The Avocado-tree (Persea americana) provides a favorite vegetable as well as a number of natural remedies. In Belize the leaves are used to make a tea for colds, coughs, fever, diarrhea, painful menstruation and high blood pressure. A poultice of the leaves is used to treat headaches, rheumatism and sprains. In South America a preparation made from the seeds is used as a contraceptive.
The leaves of the Wild Pineapple (Bromelia pinguin), when crushed and heated, can be applied as a plaster for sprains, fractures and bruises. Mangoes (Mangifera indica), which originally came from Asia, also provide more than just a tasty snack. The seeds are said to be useful in treating intestinal worms and the Caribs make a tea with the leaves to treat flu. In Belize children with feverish conditions are bathed in a Mango-leaf decoction whilst in South America a leaf decoction is used as a contraceptive and abortifacient.
Allspice (Pimento dioica), a familiar spice often used in christmas cookies etc. also has medicinal properties. Not only can the leaves and berries be made into a useful soothing and aromatic tea that helps to settle upset stomachs, but the fresh berries crushed with oil also make quite a potent warming application for aching or arthritic joints.
Many palms are rich sources of food and medicines and also supply materials for building (e.g. thatch) or provide fibers for weaving, basketry etc. Coconut (Cocos nucifera)trees for example are not just a valuable source of fibre and thatch but very young Coconuts for example yield a gelatinous substance (which later hardens and becomes the familiar coconut flesh) that can be used as a nourishing food for people suffering from stomach problems or hepatitis.
The list goes on and on and on. The above mentioned examples are by no means intended as complete accounts of the uses of these plants but are merely mentioned as a small offering from the ethnobotanical riches of Central America, that await anyone with an interest in this field.
© Kat Morgenstern , adapted from an article which was first published at the El Planeta website
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by Ingrid Naiman
Seventh Ray PressSeventh Ray Press, Berkeley, 235 pages, includes several appendixes with extensive reource sections, bibliography, and indexes
I have never read a book on cancer or cancer treatments before and I have not experienced this disease at close range through the anguish of close friends or relatives. I can only imagine the suffering, emotional and physical, that these people and their closest relations are going through. Ingrid Naimans book touched me with its empathetic, yet practical and spiritually well balanced approach. It is very well written, so that even difficult material is easy to assimilate. Ingrid Naiman does not avoid challenging questions, yet she offers at all times paths for empowerment, helping sufferers to gain new perspectives and encouraging them to take charge of their lives and their bodies. This in my mind is the best approach any healer can pursue. She draws the correlations between the philosophical and the physical questions of existence and thus treats cancer patients as whole psycho/spiritual/physical beings, not just as victims. Her spiritual approach is very well grounded and does not get caught up in the trappings of fluffy newagism. This book offers practical guidance as well as spiritual/emotional support.
She places her knowledge of cancer salves within a historical context, tracing its traditions and the developments of cancer treatments through the ages. Today cancer salves are all but forgotten. Though various anti-tumor plants are mentioned in various ancient herbals and medical textbooks and modern researchers also investigate vast numbers of plants for their effectiveness against cancerous growth, today the treatment focus is on chemotherapy. Where plant meterials are considered it is usually a matter of extracting the famous active constituent in order to produce a chemical weapon based on that molecular structure. 'Cancer Salves' is a very clear and comprehensive outline of herbal treatment methods, with detailed descriptions of the herbs, the processes encountered, case histories and much, much more.
Cancer salves are not necessarily gentle. They are very powerful and their effects can be painful and traumatic. Yet, they offer an alternative to conventional treament methods, less toxic and invasive and more empowering for the individuals concerned. Instead of surrendering one's will to procedures over which one has no control, cancer salves are a way of dealing with ones affliction by assuming self-responsibility. The treatment may not be for everyone, but for those who seek an alternative to conventional treatments Ingrid Naimans book is a treasure.
ETHNOMED, the society for Ethnomedicine
is organizing a world conference of Ethnomedicine. Shamans, healers and scientists
from around the world will be speaking and teaching for three days at the
Maximillian University of Munich, Germany. A full program offers morning lectures
and afternoon workshops covering diverse healing traditions and practices
from all corners of the globe: Nepalese shamanism, Sufi Music therapy, shamanic
healing traditions of the Amazon, among Mongalian shamans and African healers,
to name but a few. Lectures and workshops are held in either German or English.
Translators are available upon request.
Check out their website:
Institute for Ethnomedicine
or download this ebook brochure for detailed info on the lectures and workshops offered. (only works on windows systems)
From Africa Diversity mailinglist:
The Traditional Ecological Knowledge Prior Art Database (T.E.K.*P.A.D.), a new project at the American Association for the Science's Science and Human Rights Program, aims at protecting indigenous knowledge against inappropriate patents based on this knowledge. T.E.K.*P.A.D. currently contains over 40,000 entries already in the public domain documenting traditional uses of natural resources. The web site cross-references plant names, medicinal applications of these plants, and prior art, and links to United States Patent and Trademark Office and European Patent Office databases. T.E.K.*P.A.D. operates on the principle of "defensive disclosure," which, by describing information in a printed publication or other publicly accessible medium, helps establish as prior art.
T.E.K.*P.A.D. also contains a "News and Events" section as well as a "Biopiracy Hot List." The "Biopiracy Hot List" contains examples of plants targeted by western pharmaceutical companies and corporations. The entries are linked to archived documentation of prior art in the T.E.K.*P.A.D. database. Additionally, traditional knowledge holders can submit their knowledge to the database if they wish to place it in the public domain.
The database can be accessed via the World Wide Web at:T.E.K. P.A.D.
Please visit T.E.K.*P.A.D. and give us feedback on the project. Feel free to pass this information on to other colleagues not on this mailing list.
For further information, please contact:Stephen A. Hansen Senior Program Associate Science and Human Rights Program American Association for the Advancement of Science 1200 New York Ave., NW Washington, DC 20005 USA Tel: (202) 326-6796 Fax: (202) 289-4950 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
From: Amazon News - 23 May (email@example.com)
Lawyers and other indigenous representatives from diverse peoples who participated in Introductory Course on Intellectual Property and the Seminar on the Protection of Indigenous Knowledge have formed the Indigenous Intellectual Property Commission, known as CIPI. The aim is improve cooperation between indigenous peoples in Brazil to discuss the protection of traditional knowledge and intellectual property. According to Vilmar Guarany, from FUNAI's Coordination for the Defence of Indigenous Rights, the commission will allow indigenous representatives to be included in forums to discuss biodiversity and cultural heritage; "CIPI will establish partnerships with universities, government bodies and international organizations to offer courses to train indigenous leaders to develop mechanisms to defend and protect traditional knowledge".
The Learning Garden is a collaboration between Venice High School, Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the locaal community. Its purpose is bring high quality nutrition and medicinal plants into the public school system, to deepen the level of education for students of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and to educate the community about the benefits of plant-based healing systems.
David Crow promotes the Learning Garden nationally. Over the last several months, he has travelled extensively, speaking at conferences, symposiums, schools, and on radio programs. Promoting the Learning Garden as a model of community-based medicine and health education has been one of his foremost priorities. As a result of his efforts, many people around the country are now aware of the Learning Garden, and inspired by what it represents. David is now working with Annah Williams from the Bay Area to create a non-profit foundation, whose primary purpose will be to share this vision with larger audiences.
Questions or Comments About the Learning Garden?
Feel free to send e-mail to:David Crow
Please send your feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org