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The Practical Herbalist

The Master Herbalist

A herbal instructor I once had told of his first herbal teacher and mentor and the greatest herbalist he knew. It was his grandmother. Though she was not formally trained, she was sought after in the neighborhood for her wisdom and folk remedies. He told of one particular case that he remembered from childhood that helped him realize how wise she was. This is how I remember the story.

A husband and wife came to her. They were in their 60's, and the wife was distraught because her husband had had a mild heart attack. The doctors said his arteries were clogged and that he was at risk of dying of another heart attack. The husband was known to the kids of the neighborhood as an angry and mean man to be avoided. The husband said little, the wife related how he was grumpy especially about her cooking which gave him heartburn. She also told her that this all got worse after he had retired, and started just sitting around the house all day complaining.

The recommendation from the grandmother was the herb Hawthorn. In Chinese medicine Hawthorn berry is used for digestive complaints like heartburn. In western herbalism the leaves are mostly used for heart and blood conditions (possibly due to the old belief that "heartburn" was a condition of the "heart"). Instead of giving the couple hawthorn out of her stock of herbs, she explained that this was a serious case that needed fresh herbs. To save his life, she explained they would both have to walk daily to the far side of the neighborhood where there was a particular patch of Hawthorn. They would have to work together to bend the branches to cut the best leaves from the outermost branches. He would have to make a tea every day from fresh leaves, and when the berries were in season, collect the berries to make jelly to have daily at breakfast.

Several months later the couple stopped by to say that the doctors had said his health was much improved. The heartburn was gone, his blood pressure was down and he had lost weight. The man standing in the house was no longer an angry withdrawn man, but rather a talkative, happy man who held his wife's hand and talked about plans to travel and see the world and visit relatives.

After they left, the grandmother explained that Hawthorn was only a small part of this miraculous change. What the man really needed was joy and love in his heart. A daily walk, a relaxing cup of tea and working with the woman he loved was important for helping him transition into his new life of retirement. My instructor explained that medicine was not about the proper tool, (hawthorn) but rather how you use it to help the patient heal.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066