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7.12.11

MyWitchDoctor Dot Com

For many years, I've had an abiding interest in herbal and traditional medicines.  Maybe it's genetic.

My great, great, great grandfather, Gideon Linscom, was the first European doctor in Texas.  He spent a good part of his life studying and recording the traditional medicine of the Kickapoo and Comanche indians.  His papers are in the University of Texas archives today.  His efforts garnered him the crossed arrows, meaning friend and protector.  That honor is still conferred on my family and recognized by, among others, the Lipan Apache.

I spent a couple of years studying herbal medicine with a curandera in New Mexico.  There are a number of maladies I can literally cure with leaves and tree bark and flowers.  For instance, if you have a bad case of diarrhea, make some tea with those big, giant cockle burs you find all over the southwest US.  It's a bit bitter, but it will stop you up like a cork in a bottle.

Along these lines, I've been learning bits and pieces of Indonesian home remedies.  As a general category, they are referred to as jamu.  There's a whole range of things that fall under this classification, and every once in a while the government issues dire warnings about jamu, I suspect because someone got a healthy bribe from the pharmaceutical industry.  Just like when Bill Gates came and paid off a bunch of officials.  Now they steal people's laptops for not having registered copies of Microsoft products.  Thank God for Ubuntu and OpenOffice.  Jerk.

Anyway, there's a lot of interesting lore and folk medicine to be found around these parts.  And what brings all this up is the fact that I'm fighting off a winter cold (in a land without winter), and one of our great readers sent in a rather scary tale.

She was laid out with a "mysterious" disease that caused a repeating fever spike, delirium and various other unpleasant effects.  She reports going on gambling outings (not a usual activity) and shopping, bringing home boxes of items that she's found around the house.  The only memory she has of all this is a vague, dreamlike recollection of a casino.

This sounds to me like malaria, though she lives in Oklahoma.  Not a place you'd expect tropical diseases.  But then, not a place you'd expect earthquake swarms, either.  Anyway, I recalled that the gin-and-tonic was invented by British occupying forces in India.  The bark of a certain tree produces quinine, which is used to make tonic water.  Drinking tonic water regularly wards off the disease, and is a very effective cure, as well.  Mix with your favorite gin, which itself is a medicinal concoction of berries, flowers and juniper leaves, add a wedge of lime for Vitamin C, and you have a fairly effective medicine for malaria, that has the benefit of give you a buzz, while you're at it.

The world is full of medicines like this.  Aspirin comes from the bark of the yew tree.  Marijuana has been used for millennia as a pain remedy, anti-stress benefits, great for the eyes and brain, and has a number of well-known side benefits.  Cocaine is a very effective pain relievers and puts a spring in your step.  The leaves have been chewed for as long as anyone cares to remember, for the same reason folks drink coffee.

The list goes on, of course.  In fact, most pharmaceuticals originated as herbal medicines.  However, being the evil, greedy jerks they are, they extracted the key ingredients, made them artificially, and then patented them.  Then they bribe governments to make the original plant illegal so only they can profit from the health benefits.  Jerks.

In almost every case, though, the natural substance is far more effective and healthful than the artificial constructs.  Sure, they isolate the active ingredient, but that ignores all the other natural effects inherent in the plant itself.  Where Big Pharma gets away with their crap is things like double-blind testing and other statistical falderal that gives them the air of sophistication and science.  It completely ignores the fact that the chemicals were discovered centuries ago and tested over all that time, with recipes being perfected over generations.

Back to jamu, it's quite a performance.  The most common forms of jamu are sold by women with large baskets on their backs.  In the center section is a thermos with hot water and a couple of glasses.  Arranged around the outside are a dozen bottles of eucalyptus oil, mustard paste, various powders and seeds and other extracts.  You explain your malady to her, and she proceeds to mix up the appropriate concoction.  Got a cough?  A dark brown liquid reeking of menthol.  Feeling tired and run down?  An orange liquid with mustard paste in the bottom.  Need a boost in the marital bedroom?  A foul-tasting greenish-brown liquid.  And all quite effective, I might add.  After drinking the potion, she refills the glass with warm water so that you can get every last grain and drop, and wash the whole thing down.

Even doctors here often prescribe herbals and home remedies.  For one thing, they are much cheaper than the Vultuers' poisons, and most folk here trust the potions much more than the Big Pharma pill-popping.  Vitamins and supplements are a big business here.  People are also more likely to drink fresh fruit and vegetable juices.

My wife went out and plunked down a couple of big ones on a fancy juicer after getting a nicely designed and printed recipe flier with various juices for various health effects.  One is for general health, another for cholesterol, another for digestive health, and so on.  It makes no difference that I eat hot peppers like candy, my blood pressure is textbook perfect, and one time, about ten years ago, my triglycerides got pretty close to the upper limit.  The only thing wrong with me is I'm blind and my ears ring like Sunday in Paris.

But the juices are pretty good, so I drink them without complaint.

I attribute my overall good health to the fact that I've been taking supplements for decades, and I use a lot of rosemary and oregano when I cook (fresh of course).  Oregano, especially, is very good at preventing bacterial infections and cleaning out the blood.  In fact, other than the whole MS thing, I usually don't get sick at all.  The one exception is that every year in November or December, I get a cold.  It's like clockwork.  Even living in the land of eternal summer.  I also tend to gain weight precipitously this time of year.  Haven't been able to shake my body's seasonal time table.

My one major concession to Big Pharma is aspirin.  Aspirin has been my friend and companion all my life, long before they found out it's good for more than just headaches.  I've used it for pain, sunburn, overheating, and just every day health, to open the blood vessels and get oxygen to the cells.  Once in a while, I resort to anti-biotics, particularly since I'm susceptible to sinus infections, though I generally try to avoid them, preferring my body to do its job.

When it comes to herbal and folk medicine, I've found it wise to follow the local customs.  Each region has its own list of problems, and the locals have the ways and means, learns over uncounted generations, to deal with them.  I learned early on that chewing guava leaf prevents and cures dengue fever.  I picked up the habit of grabbing a leaf or two as I walked through the market, and chewing on it for an hour or so.  Can't really say if it has helped, but I know six other expats who've been stricken in the past four years, needing hospitalization for a week and coming close to death's door.  I've noticed that mosquitoes don't even land on me.  Connection with guava leaf?  Who knows?  But I'm dengue-free, so far.

I also like gin and tonic, and I've never had malaria.  You decide.

It's difficult to eat enough veggies and fruits to get the health benefits, which is why juicing is so effective.  You can fit a lot of fruits and veggies in an 8 oz. glass, when they're liquefied.  Certainly, taking your supplements is de rigeur.  And study up on medicinal plants that grow wild in your local area.  You'd be amazed at what you can treat out of your own back yard.  Not only will it save you money, stop feeding the Big Pharma greed machine, and be much better for you, but if society collapsed tomorrow, you'd have a valuable skill to trade on.

It's a lost art, and one well worth re-learning.  I just wish the damn juicers weren't so expensive!  It's time for me to get kerikan to deal with my masuk angin.  I'll reek of kayu putih, but it makes my wife happy, and it really works.

To your health!

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