Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Happy Homesteader Blog
Sponsored By: Gurneys! - Get $20 off any $40 Order!
We are taught to believe that we need an expert to heal us. If we have an ailment then we must immediately make a doctor appointment and trust whatever prescription they give us. If our symptoms are less severe then we are supposed to visit the closest drug store to choose an over-the-counter medication aimed at treating the ailment. These ideas have been told to us for as long as we can remember through TV ads on the latest cold medicine, magazine articles preaching the need to go to the dentist every 6 months and the doctor once a year, and health insurance companies paying for preventative visits. I am not arguing whether these things are right or wrong - that is a discussion that is far too loaded and involved to get into here - but I just want to bring up the point that before this mindset, homesteaders felt they had the power to heal themselves.
People used to be able to trust their instincts and the natural world around them enough to cure simple ailments. There was common knowledge about what to do in the event of a minor complaint, such as a sore throat or ear infection. The doctor was treated as a real expert and called only when illnesses were severe. Medicine came from plants and food and prevention from diet and exercise. Why have we gone so far to the other side of the spectrum? We do we feel like we have lost the ability to heal ourselves? And why do we feel that we need a fast acting chemical drug to treat every little complaint we have? After all, if marijuana and hemlock plants can have the effect that they do on humans, then why can't there be other plants whose effects are just as strong, but use their powers for good.
Herbal medicine has been used far longer than the chemical medicine we have now and it's mystifying how something so deep rooted in our ancestry has become so lost to us. Everyone can tell you what Bayer Aspirin is for, but how many can tell you what willow bark can cure? The funny thing is, much of our modern medicine has been derived from the imitation of plant compounds. White willow has a compound called salicin which does all the same things we know aspirin will do (reduce swelling, relieve pain, fight fever, etc.) So why don't we all use this? Well, it was difficult for companies to extract large amounts of salicin for sale, so it was engineered synthetically into salicylic acid. Of course, the synthetic version came with side effects on the gut inducing things like ulcers, so it was yet re-manufactured into acetylsalicylic acid or what we now know as common aspirin. I'm not arguing the need for chemical drugs or the advancement in medicine, I'm just simply in awe at how we have lost the knowledge of what used to be common place. I mean, it's not like we said, "Aspirin is great! But I'm going to keep my willow bark tea on the shelf and continue using it some of the time or at least as a backup." No, we didn't even bother to remember this knowledge in order to pass it on to future generations. Instead we tossed it right out in the name of convenience and savvy marketing and began teaching younger generations about how to shop for over-the-counter medication to such a degree that today most of us are actually scared of taking herbal remedies.
Let's face it, for many of us, being given a dropper full of Mullein tincture causes us pause unless it's from a trusted source (usually someone who has taken it before us and not died!) And the thought of actually harvesting some Mullein yourself and brewing yourself a cup of tea causes us more than doubt and most likely fears of being thrown into a violent attack from gastrointestinal upset. Did I pick the right plant? Is this really safe to take? Am I taking the right amount? When I gave my mother a cocktail of homemade tinctures for a common cold she even asked if it was going to interact with her blood pressure medication! And if we are so brave to try it, then we might find ourselves discouraged with the results. After all, those magic pills from the drug store shelf have been designed to be more powerful and much faster acting. Why take a tincture every half hour until symptoms begin to subside when you can just pop one pill and be done with it? And why on Earth would we continue to put up with a bit of mucus when the latest drug will clear it right up? Well, in my opinion I rely on the slower acting and possibly less effective herbal remedies (which are only less effective in the short term) whenever I can because 1) it's something I can make myself and therefore don't need to be dependent on a drug company 2) it's far less harsh on my system and I don't have to worry about those longs lists of side effects 3) I don't feel the need to eradicate every uncomfortable symptom because I believe that being a little bit sick actually makes us healthier since it activates our body's own immune system kind of like exercising a muscle to make it stronger 4) I do not want to continue fearing my instincts by losing the connection we all once had with nature.
So I've begun to overcome the hesitation I once had concerning natural medicine. It wasn't as hard as I thought. Here's how I got started, maybe it's a path for you too:
- I started with a good book and an introductory class from a trusted source. Start by looking for books under Wildcrafting in the Farm Dreams bookstore. I find The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook to be a great introductory book. I also like The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs by Reader's Digest for a quick reference on how to grow and use over 100 herbs. For classes, try an internet search for "herbal medicine making classes" in your area. There are even some online classes available and colleges dedicated to herbalism listed here.
- I began opening my eyes as I walked about and looked up many of the plants that surrounded me. I took pictures of interesting looking plants and then did an images search online to see if I could identify them. I also used websites like USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service plant database and field guides of edible plants like Nature's Garden. The best time I spent though was a nature walk in my state that identified plants.
- Once I began identifying what grew around me, then I began to learn what it was all used for. There is a ton of information online, but I am always sure to cross reference things from multiple sources just to make sure the info I am getting is safe. A good start is Botanical.com which is a site with over 800 plants listed and gives detailed info on identifying and using them all.
- The next step was to start simple medicine making. You're probably doing some of this already without even thinking about it.
* First, I added fresh herbs to more of the cooking I was doing. Most of the time I would forget to use all of the herbs I had growing in my garden, so I made a point to put to use what I had worked so hard to grow like rosemary, sage, and thyme. Not only did the food taste better, but I began to understand the properties of herbs like how they dry, the aromatherapy effects, and how to cook with them without destroying their medicinal qualities.
* Then, I began to brew herbal tea from my own garden rather than those little paper packets bought at the store. I never was able to replace my morning cup of coffee with tea like I wanted, but I was able to incorporate a cup of tea in the evening or late afternoon on most days. I bought a tea ball and tea kettle to make things easier and this prompted me to make tea more often. Not before long I was choosing specific plants for medicinal teas to cure ailments and altered my tea making by steeping longer and covering while steeping as to capture the herb's volatile oils. If you're trying a new herb in a tea and are not sure if you'll like the taste, then just add a bunch of mint to the mix. It covers most flavors!
* When I found myself wanting herbs that I didn't have, I kept a list. That winter I ordered seeds of most of the herbs that I wanted from Mountain Rose Herbs and started a medicinal garden. The herbs you grow yourself and pick fresh are far more potent than anything you can buy in a store and I was happy to find out that many of the medicinal herbs grow like weeds! Easy!
* Soon I was gathering herbs for making tinctures and herbal oils. I've realized that tinctures are very easy to make and if kept out of light then they last for a very long time. It's also a really convenient way of taking medicine. The oils took a little more practice, but after literally frying a few batches I figured out how to keep the herbs warmed in oil all day by putting a heating pad inside a large stainless steel mixing bowl and then putting a smaller stainless steel mixing bowl inside that which holds the oil and herbs. It keeps the contents right around 100 degrees for hours to extract the properties of the herb in the oil. Now I add the oils to my salves, lotions, and soaps.
* The final step happened last year when I literally threw out the contents of my medicine cabinet. It was all expired anyway! I felt liberated and free!!
It will take a long time for me to really trust my instincts and I am grateful to know that the medical experts are there in case of a real emergency, but I am proud to feel confident in my ability to heal myself of the minor aliments that might come about. Funny thing is, living an honest life in the fresh air of my homestead means that I rarely ever get sick!
~ Daisy, The Happy Homesteader
Make a comment!