Ramblings from the Mountain:
Happy November! A month of many celebrations here in Panamá--Day of the Dead, four (or is it five?) national patriotic days honoring the country's move over the years towards independence from various colonial powers, the much loved adoptee, Thanksgiving. There is lots to celebrate, including the miracle of just waking up each morning.
We've been back from our trek to Australia for a month now and time has flown! So many things to catch up on here at the finca: rebuild the chicken coop to keep the coyotes (or is it a jaguar?) from eating our babies; construct a keyhole garden outside the kitchen to catch the scraps and create a lovely salad garden; plant new seedlings; get ready for the coffee harvest; catch up with clients and friends and make more product and brainstorm for the coming year and clean up the trails for the soon to start tourist season and...and...and... So. That's why it's been a while since we've gotten a newsletter out!
The Oz report: Australia is a lovely country with friendly people. It is BIG and it takes a long time to get anywhere. We had hoped to connect with practicing herbalists while we were there, but we were only mildly successful. In general, we found that the level of herbalism practiced in Oz today is not very connected to local plants or indigenous knowledge. The stores and naturopathic clinics we visited simply stock the mass produced stuff one can order from anywhere. One exception was the Chinese Traditional Medicine Clinic in Sydney (love the Chinese!) and another was our morning with Rainbow Serpent, an aboriginal ethno-botanist up in the foothills near Cairns. What she essentially told us, with examples and samples, was that Bush Medicine equates, mostly, to Bush Food. The berries, roots, leaves and minerals available for wild crafting in the Australian bush are the source of their traditional medicines—and their diet. She demonstrated how the aboriginal people would take a toxic root and through an elaborate process of leaching, roasting, and grinding, turn it into a flour that was a staple of their diet. Certain red berries were used as abortificants...or to get rid of a pesky neighbor. A particular blue berry looking fruit (tasted a bit like sour cardboard), wild figs, bananas, coconuts...all had both nutritive and curative properties. One of the most interesting bits of information she shared was the native use for the dirt harvested from giant termite mounds: crumbled up and mixed into a tea, this was taken to control intestinal upsets, ranging from constipation to diarrhea. Why? Turns out the primary mineral present is magnesium. Remember Milk of Magnesia? Same basic stuff. How did they know?
Rainbow Serpent smiled when asked this. “We watch the animals. If they eat it, then we know it can be eaten. If they avoid it, we experiment to find out why. We feed things to the kangaroos and see what happens.” Ouch.
Which raises the question, often, how DO herbalists know about the plants and what they do? Herbal lore, passed down for generations upon generations, forms the basis for much everything we know about health and well-being...or it did, until about the last 70 years. A lot of it has its roots (and leaves!) in trial and error, observation, analytical evaluation. Today, much of the traditional herbal wisdom is being supported by clinical findings from major universities and laboratories.
Which brings us around to this: some people draw battle lines between traditional plant based medicines—often scoffed at as being New Age snake oil or some other derogatory term—and what is commonly called Modern Medicine. We choose not to engage in this sophmoric debate, beyond pointing out that the multi-national pharmaceutical cabal (aka Big Pharma) is in no way a disinterested altruistic party wishing only the best health for the most people at affordable prices. It is a profit driven, billion dollar industry and don't kid yourself. They practice their own form of trial and error—often on the unsuspecting public. (That's you.).
What we would like to say is this: many people want to eat what they want, drink what they want, smoke what they want, as much as they want, as often as they want and they do NOT want anyone suggesting that their arthritis, their fibromyalgia, their high blood pressure, chronic digestive issues, cirrhotic liver, diabetes, obesity or cancer is in ANY way related to life style choices they have made for themselves. And, sometimes, these lifestyle choices include over use or misuse of Modern Medicine's Miracle Drugs—often under the guidance of physicians, who are woefully untrained in nutrition and diet and who are courted by Big Pharma to push the newest pill.
And this is what has happened as a result: 70% of US citizens over the age of 60 are taking at least one prescription for a chronic health condition; 50% of them are taking as many as seven different meds; 25% take even more. The most commonly over-prescribed meds are antibiotics, antidepressants, pain killers, and various digestive, cholesterol and blood pressure concoctions. Many are taking drugs to counteract the negative side effects of other drugs. It is a slippery slope, and only goes downhill.
At Cloud Forest Botanicals, we occasionally have a client with serious and long-term health issues come to us and decide to give 'alternative medicine' a try, because at some level, they know they are courting disaster if they continue on in the usual fashion. They ask questions and tell us why they are hurting and sick. We often make dietary suggestions (they usually hate this), evaluate their exercise habits (they really hate this) and we may or may not suggest the use of plant based formulas to help them balance their systems.They go home. They continue to eat, drink or smoke whatever they like, take a few doses of tincture, decide it isn't working (or worse, they have some kind of reaction to something and blame it on the herbs) and then denounce herbalists as quacks who are endangering the health of the public. Sigh. Never mind that The American Medical Association itself reports that in the US, the number of people who die each year from prescription drug related complications is second only to the number who die in car accidents.
Plant medicine clearly has its place in the maintenance of our bodies. People RARELY have adverse reactions to herbs. Obviously people can have allergic reactions to a whole range of foods and plants, coffee, or shell fish, or peanut butter, for example. Of far more consequence from our standpoint are reactions caused by the poisonous side effects, overuse and misuse of prescription and over the counter drugs.
A woman at the gym said the other day, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” (reference Psalms 139:14). It is true. The human body is a marvel of mechanical, chemical and electrical engineering. It requires regular care and the proper fuels. Diet, exercise, sleep, supplements, stress management...you know the drill. Good health depends on many factors including good genes, good habits, and the good fortune not to contract a deadly virus, be exposed to some awful environmental toxin or get hit by a truck. But in large measure, good health is a matter of choice—choosing what to put in your mouth, choosing to exercise, choosing to meditate, choosing to make informed decisions and take personal responsibility for your own well-being. There really is no short cut.
Elizabeth Worley and Dianne Heidke,
here with Rainbow Serpent, Australian Aboriginal Ethno-botanist, wishing you health and peace.