March 28, 2013
How many of us were badgered by our mothers to “Eat your greens” when staring at the dinner plate, preferring to polish off the spaghetti, fried chicken, or pizza, letting the green stuff sit. Spinach? Broccoli? Collards? Yuck! In Germany, there are a couple of seasonal, very “green” traditional foods, consumed mostly in the Fall and Winter when the first frost occurs, and continuing on until spring. I am sure most people don’t really think about the health benefits of what they are eating, however, there is no accident that these traditions happen when our immune systems are lowered by cold weather and the bacteria that germinate indoors, during those months.
Once again, I’ve noticed some interesting and inspiring differences between Germany and America. I just can’t help it. One of the areas of great interest to me is healthcare, and attitudes towards health and healing. Both Germany and America have amazing foundations for medical care and treatment, as well as great education in the healthcare fields.
But one thing I’ve noticed which constantly astounds me is the proliferation of neighborhood Apotheken, or Pharmacies. I swear, there is a small pharmacy on just about every other block, and every second corner, even in the smaller villages. It’s crazy, how many pharmacies there are. Americans want to be fit and healthy and Germans want to be sure they stay healthy and just assume they will be fit as a result. However judging by the number of Apotheken, I would venture to say that they have a serious preoccupation with health.
Of course all Germans can afford it, but I won’t go in to the health-care-for everyone-regardless-of-your-ability-to pay aspect, here in Germany. That is for a later blog. What I want to concentrate on is the foundation of traditional medicine, and educational opportunity, and how that plays out in both Germany and America. Traditional medical systems in all countries around the world use phytotherapy as the basis of their doctrines, and it is the basis for most modern medical practice.
About a year ago, while doing research for a book, I came across an article with a wealth of information regarding the African Diaspora’s contribution to modern medicine. An article titled, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy, in the Atlantic World, the author Brian Grabbatin states, “…The slave voyage may have ended at the auction block, but Africa’s botanical legacy did not.” 1
I began an ongoing exploration about Slave Healers who used their powerful core knowledge of plant remedies and cures. Slave Healers on antebellum plantations were the black “nurses,” assigned by the slaveholders to staff plantation hospitals, and they did not only treat other slaves, but worked with white patients as well. Ex-slave narratives contain many accounts of these inter-racial encounters, and the work of these “herb, or root doctors.”
In a slave narrative, the former slave John Mosley is quoted, ”When the slave became sick we most time had the best of care take of us. Maser let our old mammy doctor us and she used herbs from the woods… Yes if we got a leg or arm broken Maser would have the white doctor with us, but that was about all, for our old negro mammy was one of the best doctors in the world with her herb teas. When she gives you some tea made from herbs you could just bet it would sure do you good.” 2
Check this out. In 1847 when The American Medical Association (AMA) was formed, many of the founding physicians in South Carolina also played active roles in the development of the “plantation hospitals.” Francis Peyre Porcher was a young doctor who was among the numerous white physicians who needed information on the medicinal plants of the United States, as they were not listed in their European catalogs of botany or their Materica Medica. To fill that void, the newly formed AMA created the committee of Indigenous Medical Botany. In an eye-opening article by Marita Graham Goodson in the Western Journal of Black Studies, she relates that while describing the medical wealth and extensive healing properties of the plants in South Carolina, Francis Porcher made “…more frequent reference to information obtained from Africans than he did to that from the white medical men who had been his teachers.”
She further recounts that the efficacy of these slave-plant remedies provided the basis for Porchers medical school thesis, and subsequent report to the AMA. Included in that thesis was knowledge of plants he collected from Native American medical practitioners as well as accounts of the African-based medical practices of slaves on Caribbean plantations. These remedies would later help combat the rampant epidemics of Yellow Fever, Cholera and Malaria, which swept through the South in the late 1840’s.
During the Civil War, in what can only be seen as a perversely ironic, twist of fate, the Confederacy published Francis Porcher’s book, Resources of Southern Fields and Forests, which was based on an expanded version of his medical thesis gleaned from “…fifteen years of experience among the sons and daughters of Africa, practicing medicine on them and watching them practice as well…” Those African slaves made a sadly invisible yet invaluable, fundamental contributions to the future medical standards of the AMA.
So what does that tell us about the power and use of medicinal plants and their place in contemporary medical practice? At the beginning of the 20th century, traditional plant medicines, or phytotherapy declined due to the rapid development and fiscally profitable production of synthetic medicines. However, people in low and middle-income countries never stopped using plants as their main source of medicine. And, as rising medical costs plague most societies around the world, we have seen a renewal of interest in traditional practices and herbal remedies.
However in 2013, the global marketplace of medicinal plants has brought the issues of regulating and safeguarding against contamination and residues to the forefront. Of course, in the pre-industrialized, pre-chemical world, this kind of quality assurance was unnecessary. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that nearly 80 % of the world’s population is dependent on traditional medicine for primary health care, and has published guidelines for the assessment of herbal medicines in an attempt to help governments develop regulations that ensure herbal and plant based medicines are safe and safely administered. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/documents/s14878e/s14878e.pdf
Pass the Oscillococcinum (?)
Herbal medicine is more readily accepted in Europe than in the United States, and a number of the Homeopathic remedies in the U.S. are imported from the EU. The French company Boiron produces Oscillococcinum, a first symptom homeopathic remedy for the Flu, which is highly effective and sold in the U.S, but oddly enough, not allowed in Germany due to trade restrictions. However, European physicians, health professionals and researchers have formed ESCOP, the European Scientific Cooperative for Phytotherapy. This organization is publishing monographs on individual herbs used in clinical medicine as well as those used for self-medication.
Back to the corner Apotheke. In Germany, every single one of those corner Apotheken are well stocked with phytomedicine. Bulk bags are dispensed by pharmacists who are trained in both Western bio-medical and plant medicine. Wow. Go ask about herbs for; bronchitis, hypertension, gallstones or a liver detox and they know exactly what you need. They disappear into the back and come out with several bags of herbs, root, and flower cures, and proceed to ask you questions about your condition. I find that to be a wonderful benefit. This does not happen in a local Walgreen, Rite Aid or CVS! Everyone in Germany as far as I know, uses phytomedicine first and synthetic medicine and prescriptions as a last resort.
In Germany, the Ministry of Health has a separate commission, The German Commission E, which compiled 380 monographs evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbs for licensed medical prescribing in Germany. There is an English translation by the American Botanical Council. The commission itself was formed in 1978 and is presently part of the “Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte” (German equivalent of the FDA). German doctors study herbal medicine in medical school, and since 1993, all physicians in Germany must pass a section on these medicines in their board exams before becoming licensed. So cool!
In America, the FDA (U.S. food and Drug Administration) attempts to regulate the burgeoning herbal and supplement industries, but there is currently no licensing body for the practice of herbal medicine in the United States. However, America has wonderful schools which license and teach practitioners the Western bio-medical model, and Oriental approaches, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Within the Western medical community, naturopathic physicians have a solid foundation in botanical medicine and phytochemistry, and many hospitals in the U.S. are now acknowledging and implementing the traditional medical practices of the immigrant communities. I’ve listed links to several organizations and schools at the end of the blog.
Things are slowly changing, and Homeopathic Pharmacies are popping up, at least in my home state of California, where you can go to find quality medicine, and expert advice from trained homeopathic professionals. Sadly these are far and few between, and usually only found in “higher income” areas. The general population is still in the dark in regards to herbal medicine, which is labeled Alternative and sometimes regarded as “quackery.”
What is Homeopathy?
Homeopathy originated in 1796, and according to The Society of Homeopaths, “ …Is a system of medicine which involves treating the individual with highly diluted substances, given mainly in tablet form, with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their specific symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to each patient.” Homeopathy has been extensively studied and clinically proven to work and the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH) is the organizing body for homeopathic medicine in the U.S. The NCH provides accurate and up to date information about homeopathy to the public, as well as offering the NCH Summer School which provides, “…instruction to those who wished to learn self-help skills for family use, as well as highly specialized classes for health care professionals in medical specialties such as medical doctors, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, veterinarians, and other health practitioners…” They even offer webinars on their website for those that are interested: http://nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org
Eat Your Greens!
Here in Germany, a traditional and quite delicious dish is Grüenköhl, or Kale. Super rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins, Grüenköhl, is eaten with gusto and is really full of health promoting power. The other is Frankfurter Grüen Sauce, a deeply green sauce of 7 blended herbs (4) which is absolutely delicious. All of these herbs are medicinal and I found it really interesting that these healing plants are readily enjoyed by just about everyone. O.K., they are often accompanied by fatty pork dishes, but still… The power of these plants to heal has worked its way into popular cuisine, under the radar of even the most stubborn skeptic!
So, no matter what type of medicine you prefer for healing, go eat your greens! I certainly am.
Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (review)-Brian Graabbatin
-Southeastern Geographer Volume 51, Number 3, Fall 2011 – http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/southeastern_geographer/v051/51.3.grabbatin.html
2. John Mosley interview, Rawick, suppl. 2, vol. 7.6, Texas, 2805.
3. Medical-Botanical Contributios of African Slaves to American Medicine—Marita Graham Goodson,
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 11, No 4, 1987
4.Herbs in Frankfurter Grüne Sauce: Italian Parsley, tarragon, Chives, Dill, Chevril, Sorrel, Lemon Balm
American Botanical Council: http://abc.herbalgram.org
Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences: http://www.scnm.edu/-Southwest
HerbNet-List of University Programs in the US: http://www.herbnet.com/university_p2.htm
Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Links: http://blog.chestnutherbs.com/links