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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Urban herbalist

If the adage goes “you are what you eat,” then what does that make us? Probably a combination of colorful, plastic shrink-wrapped packaging and a transparent orange cylinder with a person-proof white cap.

At times, it seems as if we eat pharmaceuticals like food and take our daily doses of healthy food or vitamins. Everything we put in our bodies — pharmaceutical drugs and food — has a profound effect on our health.

Maybe we intellectually recognize this fact, but we are neither particularly patient nor good at resisting instant gratification impulses. Processed food has been designed to taste good, and food companies have found the way to our hearts (and wallets). So, we don’t buy the frozen yogurt, the mac and cheese and the chocolate-covered pretzels because we think it is good for us. (We do it because it’s midterms, and fuck it! I deserve it!)

Pharmaceutical drugs have also been designed as a way to circumvent our lack of patience. Last quarter, I was diagnosed with strep throat — a fairly common and benign illness. Even though the doctor informed me that medication would only shorten the course of the entire infection by 18 hours, he still offered me steroids, antibiotics and Vicodin. Medicine, in this case, was not treating illness, but impatience.

What if we were more patient with medicine? What if we were more intentional with what we put in our bodies? The definition of medicine is something used to treat or prevent illness. Everything we eat could potentially be a medicine.

If this were the case, practically any edible plant would qualify. Walking through the produce section at the grocery store or a wild landscape could be like walking through a pharmacy. Herbalism, the practice of using plants to treat illness, requires both patience and intention in order to be effective.

Probably the biggest blow to herbal medicine comes from the scientific community. Despite the fact that people have effectively used herbal cures for centuries, science prioritizes its limited experience with herbal medicine as the premier source of knowledge on the subject. A Google search on nearly any herbal medicine will likely yield a few academic sources that provide inconclusive evidence on its effectiveness.

Pharmaceutical drugs are recalled from the market regularly and the pharmaceutical industry has a reputation that leaves much to be desired from the standpoint of patient (or consumer) health. Here, it is paramount that we separate herbal medicine from pharmaceutical drugs. Herbal medicine is like open-source software — it is free for anyone to learn about and use. Information on pharmaceutical drugs, on the other hand, is intentionally withheld and too complex to understand even if it were available.

But I can understand herbs. There is only one ingredient in garlic, after all. Garlic is medicinally useful for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Like all other herbs, its use is accompanied by many positive side effects.

To treat colds or aid digestion, three to five cloves can be eaten raw. Garlic tea is also convenient to prepare, and easy to drink. For colds accompanied by an irritable throat, garlic can be prepared as a sore throat syrup. Simply mash the garlic into a paste and blend it with honey and lemon. Most often, the reason why herbal medicine fails to meet our expectations is because we take too little. Be generous with your herbal treatments!

This is just one herbal remedy of many others. Western medicine has its benefits, but try an herbal option before heading over to Rite Aid to treat a common illness. The Food Co-op on Sixth and G streets has the most extensive selection of herbal treatments available in Davis. If you think herbal medicine is outdated, consider that about 75 percent of the world’s population still relies on it to some degree.

If this topic interests you, read my column next Monday focused on herbs for women’s reproductive health.

To educate ELLI PEARSON on your favorite herbal remedies, email her at erpearson@ucdavis.edu.

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