CALLING THE CIRCLE
In mid-winter here, a nurse at the University of Minnesota at Duluth's Student Health Services asked me if I would consider packaging up 50 small pots of my winter-made, wild-herb Boreal Forest Triple Antibiotic Ointment (see my herbal store, this website), for her medical team to take on a volunteer medical mission to Kenya, to isolated, outlying communities there. The University's health clinic has had great good luck with my Boreal Forest Triple Antibiotic salve, for all sorts of skin issues with students. I was honored that Giving Ground and the Forest would be included in the outreach mission in this way, and I gladly sent the 50 small pots along in the doctor's/nurses' medical materiel crates, of course declining payment.
The team consisted of a Kenyan doctor from Minneapolis' Regions Hospital, and three American sisters, two of whom are nurses, and the third a photographer. They paid for their own transportation from Duluth, and all other costs, to get to outlying countryside in Kenya, and here is a letter I received upon their return:
Just out of Africa! The trip was a success in every sense of the
A hearty thanks once again for your Triple Antibiotic Ointment - it was
I mean it, Pam. We called it "liquid gold" as we saw so much ringworm
Please be well, my friend."
I like to think through the roots of the word, "salve." It comes to us from the Late Latin salvare, for salvation, and from the Old and Middle English sealf, to save. All of you who know me, and those of you who are thinking of coming for a first retreat/workshop, can imagine how elated I was to receive the letter! Not one bit surprised: herbal medicine can work miracles, when it is the right plant or combination of plants for the work asked of it.
This much-planned trek to Kenya introduced, among many other medicines, a powerful herbal salve, beloved in our Superior National Forest north country, to peoples in an equatorial landscape vastly different in every geographic landmark! Such an enormous undertaking brought 'closer to home', for me, several disquieting issues in herbal medicine.
A re-re-birth of interest in the old herbal medicines is occurring world-wide, and there are unsettling questions we must deal with in a timely and orderly fashion, if we will not be doomed to repeat some of civilization's classic mistakes.
There is much worry, among herbalists and other biologists and botanists, concerning the over-zealous harvesting of wild plant material for herbal formulas. Every time there is a news flash about "miracle herbs" curing some ill, the ensuing market up-ticks confound start-up programs aimed at protecting and sustaining the plant species singled out for such unhelpful notoriety. In this country, two of our endangered, much over-harvested wild plants are goldenseal and wild American ginseng.
There is increasing uneasiness over fuel costs, environmental as well as financial, and on a planetary scale, to transport herbs from one continent to another.
There are critical challenges concerning the saving of non-hybridized seeds as well as of saving ancient knowledge: the cataloging, archiving and re-introduction of the old seeds and ancient formulas indigenous to each continent, region, altitude, latitude, soil type.
Stephanie writes that "the herbals are definitely being used over there, as I would see 'medicine men' along the roadways selling elixirs and poultices… with a huge sign saying Herbal Medicine." And again, "Women would be at tabletop stands on an open sidewalk in the cities of Kenya doing the same thing."
International survey teams, and organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), are 'calling the circle', to address such issues as harvest sustainability, organic soil replenishment, transportation and ethical marketing strategies. Representatives from the United States have often been most notable by their absence at these international convocations, gatherings which almost always include 'developed and developing' nations in their speaker panels and guests. Time is critical. Another on-going debate is how to include all stake-holders, from indigenous farmers, land owners small and large, to scientists, environmentalists, manufacturers small and large, and marketers, in working toward accords, policies, regulations, pacts.
In the Journal of the American Botanical Council, "Herbalgram," Number 73, an article by Courtney Cavaliere, (pages 56-59) called, "Brazilian Women Promote Sustainable Harvesting of Endangered Rosewoods" helps to illustrate some long-term goals we must succeed in addressing as an Earth. A group of women in the northern Amazon as state in Brazil have begun an industry to sell soaps and other herbal products made with rosewood oil, while at the same time farming rosewood tree plantations as a sustainable resource for the future. In such ways as this, groups of local citizens in many parts of the world, often with initial help from governmental or non-governmental organizations, can work toward gaining new skills, and raising communities' standards of living, while helping to sustain plant communities in danger from over-harvest, erosion, soil depletion and other scourges.
Every such story brings new hope that THIS TIME we might get it right: the honoring and re-valuing of ancient medicinal formulas, the shepherding of the plant species, the sharing and bartering of medicaments on a global scale, in the most efficient and ethical ways.
I marveled at the chance to be part of a profoundly mindful effort, on a very human scale, to extend a tentative greeting from a tiny, forested hamlet tucked just south of the tundra, to the equatorial regions of rural Africa.
© 2004 by Pamela Thompson, Giving Ground - all rights reserved