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THE HEALTHCARE BATTLE IN THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why Is Securing Quality Healthcare for Americans So Difficult?

The Political and Economic Picture

Of all the major industrialized nations of the world today, the United States is probably the only nation that does not guarantee healthcare to all its citizens.  We spend more than any other advanced nation on healthcare, yet have worse outcomes for all the money we spend.  In spite of the astronomical prices we pay for all aspects of healthcare in America, there are millions of people who are uninsured or underinsured, and obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic and debilitating conditions run rampant and unchecked.  In my travels, the foreign nationals I encounter constantly wonder why the United States has not been able to adequately tackle what they see as nothing more than the basic accounting and management problems presented by the task of providing sufficient healthcare to all.  For sure, the roots of America’s current healthcare crisis reach deep into the American psyche, into a primitive, unreasoning fear of what many see as the specter of socialized medicine or a “government takeover of healthcare” a propaganda line that was promoted by Ronald Reagan and others back in the ‘60s.

Healthcare is like a political football that keeps getting tossed back and forth on the shifting tides of America’s political fortunes.  We had a pretty good public healthcare system in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare during the previous administration, but now that the Republican Party is in control of the presidency as well as both houses of congress, they seem to be hell bent on destroying Obamacare.  The only reason why they have not been able to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is due to the massive, vehement protests of ordinary citizens who would face dire health consequences if the ACA were to be repealed.  In spite of all the Republican rhetoric and cynical double-speak about “the nightmare that is Obamacare”, the simple fact is that Obamacare has indeed saved lives.  The so-called alternative healthcare plan that the Republicans are trying to slap together, in a desperate effort to get something – anything – passed, which they have named the American Health Care Act (AHCA) has only about a 17% approval rating among American voters.  So why are the Republicans so persistent in the face of what would seem to be surefire political suicide?

Traditionally, the Republicans are the party of big business interests and the economic elite, whereas the Democrats have traditionally been the party of the working class.  In recent years, however, a flood of corporate money into our political system has corrupted both parties and made them more beholden to the corporations and the super-rich than they have traditionally been, affecting the Democratic party as well as the Republicans.  The Republican-led “Reagan revolution” of the 1980’s introduced the idea of “trickle-down economics” – that giving more money to the super-rich and the economic elites would enrich the whole economy as the corporate executives would then invest that money back into their business enterprises.  But in one form or another, over a thirty-plus year period, “trickle-down” has failed to work, and the reason for this is not hard to figure out for any intelligent person who is willing to do some sincere, objective reflection:  If the aggregate consumer demand for the goods and/or services that the corporations provide is not there, simply investing money to expand operations and create jobs will not pay off.

This leads us to the economic truth that consumer demand, which is supplied by the middle and working class, is the real engine that drives economic growth.  Put another way, give a rich person some extra money – which they don’t really need – and they will do one of three things: lavish spending on luxury items, stashing that money in an offshore or tax exempt bank account, or wagering it on the stock market casino in risky investments of questionable worth.  But give a middle or working class person some extra money and they will pump it right back into the economy by buying needed goods and services.  These economic realities may run counter to traditional conservative values like self reliance and the Protestant work ethic, but what works, works, and sooner or later these realities must be accepted if we are really serious about fixing our economy.  In other words, to heal our economy, and our healthcare system, which is roughly one-sixth of it, we must take money from where it is not needed and put it where it is needed – back into the hands of ordinary consumers to drive economic growth.

Due to terrible Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, the floodgates of corporate money have been opened, and this “dark money” has had a corrupting influence on both major political parties.  But since the Republican party has traditionally been the party of big business and the economic elite, they are the ones who are most corrupted by, and beholden to, the super rich and the big corporations.  And so, the Republicans hardly seem to do very much anymore, legislatively speaking, unless there is some big tax break or giveaway to the corporations or the super rich involved.  This so-called “American Health Care Act” that they are trying to ram through congress is actually a pseudo- “health care” act – it’s actually a bill that, at its core, decimates and makes massive cuts in the Medicaid program, which is probably the single largest healthcare provider to poor and working class Americans, and gives that money in massive tax cuts to the corporations and the super rich.  And no matter how they try to dress it up, no matter what kinds of changes they may make to it to make it more politically palatable, this basic core they will not change.  It’s really a tax cut bill masquerading as “healthcare”.

Obamacare was funded mainly through a small or modest increase in taxes on corporations and the super rich – and now the top 1% and the big Republican political donors want their money back.  As proof of this underlying agenda, Republican leaders speak of the urgent need to repeal and replace Obamacare so they can get on to other pressing business – the first item of which is what is euphemistically called “tax reform”.  So one way or another, through this pseudo “healthcare” bill, or more openly via “tax reform”, the super rich and the Republican political donors fully intend to get their money back, and the people be damned.  In reference to the current healthcare crisis, a recent political cartoon highlighted the main difference between Reagan era Republicans and today’s Trump Republicans:  The Reagan Republicans were into coming up with all kinds of convoluted explanations as to why “trickle-down” economics would benefit everyone, whereas today’s Trump era Republicans are much more cynical and direct, saying, “I’m cool with you dying” to the lower classes.  The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that at least 16 million people would lose their health insurance under the current Republican plan, and of those, at least several thousand will probably die.  This makes healthcare a more visceral, “hot button” issue than anything else in American political life.

From Reason to Religion: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

There is a deep, irrational fear of “socialism”, “socialized medicine” and “a government takeover of healthcare” in the American psyche; perhaps it is a relic of the McCarthy era communist witch hunts, perhaps it is due to the rugged, independent American frontier mentality or the pioneer spirit – or a combination of all the above.  So, whenever a group of legislators gets together with a sincere desire to improve the healthcare lot of the American people, as they did in the previous administration with Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, there arise irrational fears in the American psyche.  During the Obamacare fight, conservative politicians were constantly invoking the specter of government-run “death panels”, being completely oblivious to the fact that there were actual death panels in the existing healthcare system in the form of health insurance company officials who continuously denied health insurance coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.  “Don’t pull the plug on grandma!” they would cry out.  These irrational fears have robbed them of the mental clarity needed to figure out that the whole idea of insurance, in which risks and liabilities are spread out among the masses, and in which the many take care of the unfortunate few, is basically a socialistic concept.

The Affordable Care Act was a good start in reforming America’s healthcare system, but it didn’t go nearly far enough.  Some of the worst abuses of the private, for-profit health insurance companies were eliminated, like denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, but it still left those same private, for-profit health insurance companies in charge of our healthcare system, without any competition from the government – the foxes were still guarding the health care henhouse, so to speak.  Obama and democratic legislators in congress refused to even give a single payer healthcare system or a public option to provide competition to the private, for-profit health insurance companies, and so keep costs down, a fair hearing.  Solving America’s healthcare crisis is essentially very, very easy.  We already have a government-run healthcare system for those aged 65 or older called Medicare, and even as it is, it has run remarkably well, and is one of the most liked government programs for elderly and retired folks.  Now, any third grader with halfway decent math and computational skills could see that making Medicare available to all and having a larger risk pool, with younger and healthier individuals paying into the system as well as older people, could only put Medicare on a sounder actuarial footing.  Just one thing stands in the way of this eminently simple solution – the incredible financial might and political power of America’s private, for-profit health insurance companies.

Whether it’s insurance or religion, the socialistic concept of taking collective care of the less fortunate finds a universal voice and advocacy.  Quite early on in the Bible, in Genesis 4: 9, “bad brother” Cain asks God, who is inquiring about his brother Abel, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  And prominent theologians have argued that the whole rest of the Bible is God’s long, drawn-out answer in the affirmative.  The whole Christian message definitely culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who went around the Holy Land giving free healthcare to everyone who asked for it.  “As ye have done to the least of my brethren, ye have done also unto me”, says Jesus in the gospel of Matthew; in other words, the basic moral and ethical yardstick by which a society and a nation can be judged lies in how it treats the least and the poorest among them.  This is diametrically opposed to the cynical, cold-hearted “I’m cool with you dying” stance of the cartoonist’s depiction of Trump era Republicans.  In one way or another, all the world’s great religious traditions answer Cain’s question to God in the affirmative.

Many states in the US have a law mandating that all drivers obtain car insurance – then what’s wrong with a mandate that all obtain health insurance coverage, since what is being covered is our physical or bodily vehicle, which is much more precious to us than any car?  Nevertheless, insuring one’s health is much more complex, and involves some difficult and thorny ethical issues.  More than the differences that exist between different makes and models of cars, individual differences among people and their health are much greater, and definitely no one size fits all.  And so, the factor of individual freedom and choice enters into the equation.  President Washington’s personal physician, Benjamin Rush, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, advocated for the inclusion of medical freedom, or freedom in healthcare, as a fundamental human right, but sadly, this was not given explicit mention or voice in our nation’s founding documents.  Although I may be a “bleeding heart liberal” on many other issues, I am most independent and in favor of individual freedom of choice when it comes to healthcare, and do not favor a blanket mandate of treatment procedures by the government.  Above all, I believe that an individual must be free to follow his or her conscience in matters of healthcare, just as with religion, and must also be free to choose the way of natural healing.

In the second part of my blog on the important and vital topic of healthcare, I will share and discuss my personal views and vision for an ideal healthcare system for America – and where the natural healing option and traditional healing systems like Greek Medicine fit into the picture.

EPIDAURUS, THE MOTHER OF ALL HEALING SPAS

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Thursday, April 27, 2017

I just got back to Romania from another trip to Greece, to visit a friend there who was a fan of my website, and interested in Greek Medicine. I had always wanted to visit the Asclepion at Epidaurus, but I had always found one excuse or another for putting it off. But finally, becoming tired of excuses, I decided to make the Epidaurus trip and experience for myself what makes this one of the most famous and talked about tourist and archeological sites in all of Greece. You’d think that, with my interest in Greek Medicine, I would have seen Epidaurus on my first trip to Greece, and frankly, I can’t tell you why I ever managed to put it off for so long. I suppose that the same thing applies to those who live in California or Arizona, or some other state of the great American Southwest – they always mean to visit the Grand Canyon, but keep on putting it off. Now, having finally visited Epidaurus, I’m glad I finally got around to doing it.

On the bus trip down to Nafplio, which is the jumping off place for all who visit Epidaurus by bus, in the seat next to me sat a young Greek lady named Maria, who was my companion and conversationalist on the trip down. As soon as we crossed over from the isthmus of Corinth into the Peloponnesus, one of the first things to assault my senses from the roadside were the bright scarlet red poppy flowers, like the bleeding heart of Mother Nature crying out, “I love you!” to all of her children. “What do you call those flowers?” I asked, after I had finally succeeded in pointing them out to her. “Paparuna”, she said. “We call them Poppies in English,” I declared, noticing the obvious similarity between the Greek word and our own name for the flower. From my studies of Romanian herbalism, I knew these particular poppies to be Papaver rhoeas, a non-narcotic botanical relative of the opium poppy, but one that had marked sedative and nervine properties nonetheless. Take a tea of the flowers for insomnia, said the Romanian herbals.

Funny how the red poppy flowers managed to catch my attention, I mused, trying to figure out exactly what Mother Nature’s message or purpose had been in bringing them to my attention. And the best thing I could figure out from it all was that, perhaps the old physician – priests at the Asclepion at Epidaurus, which I would soon be visiting, used the flowers to lull restless pilgrim / patients to sleep, and to brighten their dreams in anticipation of a visit by the god Asclepius, to facilitate a dream healing by him. It definitely seemed that Mother Nature was using this plant to try to get my attention, and that it had something to do with my approaching visit to the Asclepion. Maria got off and into the arms of her boyfriend at Argos, a nearby village to Nafplio, and as we rolled into town, I was struck by the commanding presence of a large Acropolis-type mountain fortress, which was presided over by the statue of a medieval Greek prince, its reigning lord. I had a lot of problems finding the bus to Epidaurus at Nafplio, and my nerves got quite frazzled. I definitely needed something to calm me down.

The bus let us off right at the entrance to the Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus; the entrance fee was 12 Euros. I had gotten an early start from Athens, and had not had anything to eat at all that day as I strolled into the sanctuary; that, and my frazzled nerves combined to make me rather light headed, giving me difficulty in focusing or concentrating on the descriptive plaques that were written about the various parts of the site. The ancient amphitheater, perhaps the best preserved one in all of Greece, is what usually gets the lion’s share of the tourists’ attention. I whipped out my trusty pan flute to test its acoustics, which is one of the best ways I know of for doing this, but was promptly silenced by a security officer – I hate when that happens! I then moved on to check out the other parts of the Asclepion site, taking in the wealth of information about them that was written on the plaques. This Asclepion, I noted, definitely warrants careful investigation and study, not just from the therapeutic standpoint of ancient healing practices, but also from a religious perspective as well, for the mystery religions that were practiced there.

And when I finally arrived at the portal of the Temple of the Egyptian Gods, which was dedicated to Imhotep, the Egyptian god of medicine, who was Asclepius’ predecessor, growing amidst the ruins, as if waiting especially for my arrival, was a stand of red poppy flowers. I picked a couple of the flowers and started to munch on their petals. The Romanian herbals were right – they had a definite calming effect on my frazzled nerves, and I felt a lot better. I then strolled up to the site of the ancient Abaton, or incubation chamber in which the pilgrim / patients laid down to have their healing dream visitations from Asclepius, and was reminded again by this dream therapy approach to healing that the red poppy flowers I had just munched on could have been very serviceable in getting the pilgrim / patients to sleep deeply and soundly, so that their healing and restful rejuvenation would have been more complete. After exiting the Asclepion site, I was picked up by the bus and taken to what would be my hotel for the night – the Hotel Avaton (=Abaton), which was right outside the entrance driveway that took one to the site.

“We specialize in giving our guests the best dreams possible!” said Hotel Avaton’s owner and proprietor in greeting me at the reception desk, which was not only a great sales pitch for the hotel, but also an obvious double entendre and reference to the patron deity of the nearby Asclepion. After being shown my room and putting my baggage there, I promptly paid him for the night, which kind of surprised him. On hindsight, I probably should have waited until my departure to pay him because, after our initial conversation he split and made himself totally unavailable, which was quite upsetting to me, since I am definitely the type of person who likes to ply people with all kinds of questions. But as it was, I did manage to ask him about a few things, like about a good place to eat an early dinner – the taverna across the street – and about the all-important poppy flowers.

“Where are the Paparuna flowers?” I asked, after a cursory glance at the surrounding fields failed to reveal their presence. “The Paparune were blooming profusely all over just a couple of weeks ago, but now they’re on their way out,” he replied. It was around the twentieth of April, so please keep this in mind if you plan to avail yourself of the poppy flowers while visiting the Asclepion. Nevertheless, the hotel’s owner did manage to tell me in a general sense where I might be able to find some; and part of where he pointed lay in the direction of the Asclepion. I had only picked a couple of poppy flowers at the Temple of the Egyptian Gods, and I had now almost run out of petals. Where was I going to replenish my stash of what I had decided was to be my Eucharistic sacrament and offering to Asclepius before I retired to have my healing dream in the Avaton that evening? I quickly formulated a battle plan: I would walk the entry road towards the Asclepion, paying the 12 Euro admission fee if I hadn’t found enough of the flowers by then, going right to their divine source. But if I managed to collect enough of the blossoms before reaching the gate of the Asclepion, I could save myself the money.

So, I set off walking towards the Asclepion, admiring the view and the incredibly majestic natural setting of Epidaurus as I went. I imagined that I was a pilgrim to the site in Roman times, or in some bygone era, fervently offering my prayers for healing to the god Asclepios as I went; perhaps I had to be taken there in a horse and wagon, or some other ancient form of conveyance if I was unable to take myself on foot. What stood out the most of the local flora were undoubtedly the incredible variety and profusion of thistles – until the Paparuna flowers appeared, calling me passionately with their bright red and deep scarlet hues. And I managed to pick quite a few of them, more than sufficient to meet my needs, before I got to the Asclepion gate. It seemed like the Asclepion had pretty much closed for the day by mid-afternoon, when I got there, but thankfully, the refreshment stand was still open. I had availed myself of a Spanakopita or Greek spinach pie earlier; now it was time to slake my thirst with a glass of their freshly squeezed orange juice.

After passing the time in a rather vexing argument about the pros and cons of astrology with a local taxi driver while enjoying my orange juice, I started walking back towards the Hotel Avaton. About midway through my walk back, a light drizzle started, which got my jacket a bit wet. I consoled myself with the anticipation of finally being able to sit down to eat a fitting and proper meal at the taverna across the street from the hotel. I finally arrived there, and none too soon, as the initial drizzle had by then turned into a rainfall that was considerably heavier. The sheltering trellises welcomed me as my refuge, and I went into the restaurant and taverna of the Hotel Alkion. I was greeted warmly by the restaurant’s host, Mr. Iannis (John) Gavriilidis. He gave me a menu and I took my seat in the back, by the window, gazing out on the highway and the magnificent local countryside. When visiting Greece, the Peloponnesus is about as “country” as you can get, and the nature here grows in such wild profusion that you wouldn’t be surprised to see the god Pan and his fellow satyrs prancing through the glen with their cloven hoofs.

I started out with a large bottle of the local sparkling mineral water and a plate of tzatziki (Greek yogurt – cucumber dip), supplemented by bread and olive oil, as well as some local olives. I inquired about the distinctive olives and their oil; the olives were rather dry and shriveled, but they had an exquisite flavor, with a subtly sweet and woodsy aftertaste, and the olive oil that was pressed from them, which was equally distinctive. The olives, Iannis told me, were Manaki olives, which were local to the area; the Manaki olive oil, which was pressed from them, was one of the top olive oils that Greece produced, and carefully inspected and protected for its quality and purity by the Greek government. Not only was the olive oil distinctively yellow in color, having virtually no greenish tint to it; it was also incredibly sweet and free of any harsh or bitter aftertaste, reminding me of the Sabine olive oil that Galen wrote about in his treatise on Hygiene, which he said was the only variety he used for making his massage oils.

The surprising thing about the tzatziki was that it was literally loaded to the gills with raw garlic. When I remarked about this to him, he promptly pointed out to me how good garlic was for the heart, circulation and blood pressure. On this I could not disagree, and also pointed out that the heating nature of the garlic counterbalanced the cold, wet nature of the yogurt; he responded by saying, “Balance is good, right?” But out of politeness, I merely nodded, refraining from telling him that it was a case of over-balance, or overkill, with the garlic. I hoped that the excessive heat of the garlic would not keep me up that night and disturb what I hoped would be a healing dream. I kind of wondered if Iannis had not been tipped off by the owner of the Hotel Avaton that there was a “health nut” in town and Iannis had not responded accordingly, by loading the tzatziki to the gills with garlic, especially for me. After all, it was the off season touristically speaking, and I can understand an eagerness to curry favor at such times.

Next came the lamb chops and the bitter greens, which were steamed. By this time in my stay in Greece, I had grown a bit tired of the obligatory Greek salad, and wanted to have something different. I doused the bitter greens with the customary lemon juice and olive oil; Iannis told me that he himself had collected the greens in the mountains, and that they were called Razikiya. Subsequent research and inquiry showed me that these Razikiya greens were none other than Dandelion greens, which are also called Taraxako in Greek herb stores in Athens; this is probably why the botanical name for Dandelion is Taraxacum officinale. Dandelion greens seem to be the generic, all-time favorite bitter greens of health enthusiasts in Greece, and it’s an excellent choice where healthy vegetables are concerned; Dandelion cleanses the liver, detoxifies the blood, strengthens the stomach and digestion, and has a mild diuretic effect, improving fluid metabolism throughout the body. I heartily recommend them.

I took another look at the menu at the taverna, but decided not to order anything more. I then retreated back to the Hotel Avaton to start the incubation process, to get right with the god of medicine and prepare for my healing dream. Fully sated from my early dinner, I took a brief nap under the covers. Then I read a bit. It was late April, but it was unseasonably cold still – alas, anomalies like this are an all too frequent casualty of climate change. Feeling the chill, I tried to turn on the radiator to get some heat, but to no avail – the whole heating system had been turned off. After all, it was no longer winter – and besides, it was also the off season for tourism, and I was only a tourist traveling on a budget. Sometimes I think that Greece is so incredibly blessed with great tourist sites that the Greeks kind of take it all for granted with a “this is it – take it or leave it” attitude. But still, the sun was going down and it was getting colder by the minute. I had to start getting more resourceful if I was going to beat the cold.

As the evening twilight darkened, I decided to leave my room and see if the proprietor had returned to man the front desk – no luck there; the lights were on, the front door was open, but there was no one there. I saw that there was one other room besides my own in which the lights were on – so, I was not the only guest, as I had presumed. I knocked on the front door and there to greet me was a tall, slender middle aged European man, probably German. I asked him if he had discovered the secret to the radiators and turning the heat on, but no luck – he hadn’t. I saw his partner there on one of the beds, wrapped up from head to toe in a bunch of towels as if she were a caterpillar wrapped up in her cocoon. She was in her chrysalis, waiting to emerge into the light of the rising sun the following morning as a beautiful butterfly. I felt like waving my hands over her in some magical gestures, intoning over her the words: “Now incubate!” I knew that I too had to return to my own room and follow suit.

On the way back to my room, I hit on a bright idea: Since the other rooms all had their keys in them, and were open, I could go into a neighboring room to raid it for extra quilts and blankets to keep me warm that night, which I promptly did. Turning the lights down low, I wrapped myself up in blankets and sat in meditation, trying to get centered, trying to enter my own personal healing space and vibe. After getting thoroughly immersed in this meditative state, I then reached out to the night table beside my bed, where I had placed the poppy flowers I had gathered that afternoon. Eating and chewing them petal by petal, I stopped at about six petals or so, feeling their calming effects, but not wanting to overdose or get too groggy. My aura was brightened, and so would be my dreams, I hoped, especially by the arrival of the god Asclepius. I then lay down in my bed, wrapped in multiple blankets, and drifted off into dreamland; the poppy flowers had made it easy to relax and sink ever more deeply into sleep. Sure, there was the noise of the occasional car speeding down the highway outside our hotel – a minor annoyance that ancient visitors to the Asclepion never had to deal with, I am sure – but it did not touch me or disturb my peaceful composure.

My dreams had been brightened, and my aura jazzed a bit in a subtle way by ingesting the poppy petals, but alas – no visit from Asclepius came that night. Or at least none that I was aware of; maybe the dude works behind the scenes with more subtle healing ways than we are aware of. Or maybe the poppy petals are a sedative that also has a dulling effect on the mind and consciousness, something like Valerian root, which made me oblivious to any visit by Asclepius, even if it had happened. Maybe what could be said about those poppy petals was that they “robbed you of the vision”, which is what Chief Sitting Bull said about the pernicious fire water. At any rate, whatever had happened that night, there was apparently no miraculous healing vision of Asclepius. I woke up kind of disappointed, but nevertheless grateful that I had finally visited Epidaurus and its Asclepion. Many tourist guidebooks comment on the remarkable natural grandeur of the site, but I feel that it is much more than that; I believe that the Asclepion at Epidaurus is actually a vortex site for spiritual energy, much like Sedona or Mount Shasta in the USA. I got an early start walking back towards Nafplio in the early morning twilight, until I was given a lift into town by a friendly Greek farmer in his pickup truck. I caught the first bus back to Athens.

As the Greeks say, Geia Sou! (Health to you!)

UNTUL PAMANTULUI: THE MYSTERIOUS BUTTER OF THE EARTH

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I remember when I was a little boy back in Tokyo, Japan.  My dad used to take me on various outings to interesting places in the city on his days off.  One of his favorite light lunches was soba, or Japanese buckwheat noodles, and one of his favorite soba dishes was tororo soba, which consisted of a plate of soba noodles with a big slimy white mass heaped upon it.  My dad told me that that slimy goo was grated, fresh yama imo, or mountain potato – it gave you extra “competition for survival power”, as the restaurant’s own PR put it.  Years later, when I studied Chinese herbal medicine in acupuncture school, I learned that that same tuber or wild yam that the Japanese called yama imo, or the mountain potato, was called Shan Yao, or “Mountain Medicine” In Chinese; Chinese herbalists said that it was a valuable tonic for the Qi or vital energy of the spleen and kidneys.  It was also a key tonic ingredient of Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, or the Six Flavor Rehmannia Pills, which is one of Chinese Medicine’s basic kidney tonics.  Shan Yao, a long tuberous root, is a member of the Dioscorea family of wild yams, just like the Mexican Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) that gives us a plant based estrogen.

Fast forward to the early 1990’s after I got out of acupuncture school.  One of my early trips to Romania sent me in pursuit of a certain wild yam that the Romanians called Untul Pamantului, which means, “Butter of the Earth”.  The Romanians give it this name because, curiously enough, the long, tuberous root is slimy and greasy like butter when you break it or cut it open.  When hearing of this, I immediately thought of the slimy yama imo or mountain potato that my dad used to relish on his buckwheat noodles.  Sure enough, my subsequent research on the plant revealed to me that it was also a member of the same Dioscorea family of wild yams, but not, unlike yama imo or Shan Yao, or the Mexican Wild Yam, of the Dioscorea genus itself.  It had a different botanical name – Tamus communis, or the Common Tamus root.  Another interesting property that Untul Pamantului had was that, if you broke it open and smeared its slimy or greasy surface on the skin, your skin started to itch and burn; this would draw an increased blood supply to the affected area, a property that herbalists call rubefacient.  And this was how most people used this Romanian variety of wild yam – rub a tincture of the fresh root on the skin, and the topical irritation it provided would draw extra blood, with its metabolic heat and other vital principles, to the area to relieve aches and pains and speed healing, as a kind of herbal Ben Gay, if you will.

I had been introduced to Untul Pamantului  a little while back by a Romanian-American friend of mine, who showed me how to prepare a tincture from the grated fresh root by soaking it in tuica, or Romanian plum brandy; if plum brandy should be unavailable, vodka or any other 80 proof spirits should work just as well.  Soak one kilogram of the grated fresh root in one liter of 80 proof alcohol for a couple of weeks, and the tincture is done.  But instead of using the tincture as an external rubefacient and antirheumatic liniment, my friend introduced me to a whole new way to use it, which he said was much better and more efficacious than the topical application.  When taken daily on an empty stomach in teaspoon sized doses, the tincture not only had anti-rheumatic properties, but it would slowly start to rejuvenate your entire body from the inside out.  And so, he was claiming that this mysterious Romanian wild yam was actually something like what Indian Ayurvedic medicine calls a rasayana, or a rejuvenative tonic.

As a testament to its power and effectiveness in this capacity, he told me the story of one of his uncles, who I will call Uncle Nicolae, who, he claims, was the one who first discovered the internal use of Untul Pamantului.  Uncle Nicolae, he told me, at almost 70 years of age, was old and decrepit, his body virtually crippled from chronic arthritis.  He prayed to God to be shown something, anything, that would provide him with relief.  In response to his prayers, says Uncle Nicolae, an angel of the Lord appeared before him and told him to go up to the top of the hill and dig up the wild yam, the Untul Pamantului that was growing there; the angel also gave him instructions on how to prepare the tincture of the fresh root, and how to take it internally for rejuvenation.  Uncle Nicolae did as the angel instructed and sure enough, bit by bit, the crippling arthritis started to dissolve and fade away; he became once again sprightly and light of step.  He also started to feel way more energetic, with more energy than he had felt in years; he started to pester his wife so much with his amorous activities at night that she almost divorced him.  Feeling all this newfound energy, Uncle Nicolae decided to return to his old occupation of being a well digger to pick up some badly needed spare cash.

On subsequent visits to Romania I had the good fortune to be introduced to Uncle Nicolae by my Romanian-American friend.  The three of us even had the opportunity to go up to the top of the hill near his humble cottage in the sub-Carpathian zone of Romania to dig up some Untul Pamantului.  Frankly, at little more than half his age, I had a lot of difficulty keeping up with Uncle Nicolae as he darted here and there, thrusting his shovel into pay dirt as he dug up one root after another.  Believe me, I was entirely worn out when we finally came down the hill after sweating it out in the mid-morning sun.  I bought some of the Untul Pamantului he dug up, and the rest he went down into town to sell.  And so, I then started to take more seriously what I had previously considered to be merely a fanciful tale, as tall as the hills of the sub-Carpathians.  I also discovered, through experimentation, that there were other ways to prepare and take this Romanian wild yam than simply preparing an alcoholic tincture of the fresh root; the dried root could be boiled in herbal decoctions as well.

While in Romania, I have been able to locate information on Tamus communis that other Romanian herb researchers had found out about its constituents, which include vitalizing saponins quite similar to those found in Ginseng, as well as various phyto- or plant hormonal substances, which is not surprising, considering that it is a relative of the Mexican Wild Yam.  In terms of Chinese herbal medicine, Untul Pamantului would be classified as an anti-rheumatic herb to dispel pathological wind-damp from the bones and joints, as well as a kidney yang tonic to vitalize and rejuvenate the genitourinary and endocrine systems.  But, as with many other kidney yang tonics, a word of caution must be added, due to its hot and stimulating nature: those with chronic irritation or inflammation of the genitourinary passages could experience an aggravation of this irritation and inflammation with regular or continued use.  Since this chronic genitourinary irritation and inflammation can also be hidden or latent, it may be wise to discontinue use of Untul Pamantului should these symptoms develop.  In Ayurvedic terms, Untul Pamantului is a rasayana, or rejuvenative tonic, as well as a vajikarana, or virilific / aphrodisiac.  It also dissolves and neutralizes ama or toxins, especially those of a cold, wet kapha (Phlegmatic) nature with regular use.

To be slowly rejuvenated and given increased sexual energy and vitality, from the inside out, the general treatment protocol is to take a teaspoon of the alcoholic tincture of the grated fresh root, prepared as described above, in the morning upon arising, on an empty stomach.  Take just one teaspoonful per day in this manner – no more.  You will probably start to feel its effects within a few days in improved energy and vitality, both sexual and otherwise.  But men – before you rush out and buy your plane tickets for Romania to get some of the stuff, there are a few things you should keep in mind.  The first one is that the season for digging up Untul Pamantului and selling it in Romania’s open air markets is in the colder months – in the fall after the autumn leaves have fallen, and in the early spring, before the spring leaves bud forth from the trees.  That’s the season when plants store all their vital energy and nutrients mostly in their roots, including the Romanian wild yam.  Untul Pamantului  may be available from country herb sellers and at the local open air markets at other times of the year, but these seasons – in the late fall and early spring – are when it is most readily available.  The second thing I’d like to remind you of is to check with your doctor and/or do your homework on the herb if you should have any special medical conditions, like a heart condition or a chronic kidney or urinary tract infection.  If you’re taking any pharmaceutical drugs on a regular basis, please also consider the possibility of negative or problematic herb – drug interactions.  In addition, its high saponin content might warrant caution if you are taking prescription blood thinners.  As I said, check in with your doctor before taking it, or running off to Romania to get some.

Romanians who know about Untul Pamantului like to boast that it grows only in the sub-Carpathian zone of Romania.  But on my herbal and healing journeys throughout the Balkans, I have seen the herb mentioned elsewhere as well.  I was at a vegetarian restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey when I saw a book on local herbs lying around; I opened it up and found that one of the herbs discussed therein was Tamus communis – my old Romanian friend, Untul Pamantului.  And if it is found in the hills around Istanbul, Turkey, my guess is that it probably grows in other parts of the Balkan peninsula as well, such as Bulgaria, or maybe also in Greece.  This should provide those of you who are aspiring herbal explorers and adventurers out there to do a little “field research” and see what you can dig up.

Such was the sum total of my knowledge or and experience with Untul Pamantului, or Tamus communis, until the writing of this blog posting.  Then, I decided to do a little google search on Tamus communis, and what I found was most enlightening.  First of all, I found that the genus names Tamus and Dioscorea are basically synonymous and interchangeable; and so, the Latin botanical name for Untul Pamantului could also be rendered Dioscorea communis.  As such, I also found out that this species of Tamus or Dioscorea was the only known European species of Dioscorea, and that it was originally considered to be native to England, although present all over the European continent.  Although the French will often cook up the young shoots of this wild yam, which is also called Black Bryony, it is commonly considered to be toxic, due to its high saponin content.  The constituents that seem to give the fresh root the ability to itch and irritate as a rubefacient are calcium oxalate and histamine-like substances; these rubefacient properties of the fresh root are helpful in treating chilblains by bringing blood flow to the affected area, which makes sense, and the high saponin content can also disperse ecchymoses, or “black and blue” bruise marks of extravasated blood, due to their hemolytic or blood thinning properties.  So definitely, check in with your doctor before taking Untul Pamantului if you are on prescription blood thinners – or stay away from the Butter of the Earth.  The alleged toxicity of the fresh root may be the main reason why Untul Pamantului is usually only used topically.  Was Uncle Nicolae right in using small daily doses of the tincture of the fresh root as a rejuvenative tonic elixir?  You decide.  Many herbs that are toxic in large doses can be extremely beneficial or therapeutic when taken in small doses – that’s the whole principle behind homeopathy.

Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dioscorea_communis     

 

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease or medical condition.  The reader assumes full personal responsibility and liability for the application of this information, and is advised to consult with a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his condition or symptoms persist or worsen.   

THOSE EXOTIC ROMANIAN VEGETABLES!

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Monday, April 3, 2017

Spring has sprung, and here I am, back in Romania again.  The apartment I’m staying at happens to be right next to Piata Obor, Bucharest’s biggest and best open air food market.  Anytime I need to go food shopping, the best food and produce in Romania is only a stone’s throw away.  In the springtime, Romanian piatas (pronounced piazza, similar to pizza) are full of lush greenery – verdeata (verdeazza), as Romanians call it, literally “greenery”.  Eating a lot of green leafy vegetables in the springtime is the best way to purify your blood – the Sanguine humor, which is associated with this time of year – for a good “spring cleaning”.  Romania has a number of distinctive, exotic vegetables and greens that I have seen nowhere else.

The first thing to catch my eye when I enter the marketplace is Loboda (Atriplex hortensis) whose leaves scream out at you in bright, electric shades of red and purple.  Romanians typically put Loboda in ciorbas (hot soups or broths) or eat them in salads.  This leafy vegetable is a nutritional powerhouse.  First of all, it is very rich in protein for a vegetable, being 17% protein by weight – which makes it an essential item on the menu of those devout followers of Eastern Orthodox Christianity who are doing a vegetarian fast during lent.  Being red or purple, it’s not surprising that Loboda is also rich in iron, like spinach, as well as the minerals potassium and magnesium for the health of the heart and muscles, as well as impressive amounts of calcium and beta carotene.  Loboda is also rich in dietary fiber to promote bowel regularity and protect against diabetes and heart disease.  Loboda s also rich in anthocyanins and phenols, powerful antioxidants that give the leaves their red and purple color, which protect against premature aging and memory loss, as well as urinary tract infections.  Because Loboda, like spinach, contains large amounts of oxalic acid, those who tend to form kidney stones should not eat it.  -1.

Next to the Loboda, whose leaves are a bright pea green is a strange green vegetable that Romanians call Leurda (Allium ursinum), which are the leaves of the Bear Garlic.  Not surprisingly, these broad, pea green leaves have a strong garlic flavor and aroma.  And they can be potent and powerful, sending their hot, garlicky aroma deep into every cell and pore of your body; don’t eat too many of them at one sitting, or you may well overdose, and bite off more than you can handle.  The overall therapeutic uses and profile of Leurda is actually quite similar to that of Garlic, being used for hypertension and as a vasodilator to stimulate the heart, dilate the peripheral blood vessels and improve circulation, as well as to lower cholesterol.  Being a powerful stimulator and modulator of the immune system, Leurda also has valuable antimicrobial properties that come in handy in respiratory infections.  Because Leurda is so strong and potent, lactating mothers are advised to avoid it, and those with a delicate stomach and digestive tract should avoid consuming too much of it, as I cautioned earlier. -2

Next to the Loboda and the Leurda you will find a green, leafy vegetable that Romanians call Stevie (Rumex acetallosa).  Stevie is the leafy, above ground portion of a Romanian variety of Yellow Dock, whose rootstock is used by American herbalists.  Since Stevie, or Yellow Dock greens, is a close botanical relative of Rhubarb, which is also rich in oxalic acid, it too would probably be contraindicated for those with a tendency to form kidney stones.  Stevie is quite similar to spinach in its overall taste and energetics, and probably rich in iron and blood building nutrients as well.  Yellow Dock root, after all, is used by American herbalists as a blood tonic that improves the liver’s ability to store blood and hemoglobin.  An interesting feature of Stevie is its soft fiber or mucilage content, which becomes quite apparent when you boil or steam the vegetable; this appears to have a soothing and lubricating mild emollient laxative effect on the bowels.  When I was researching Stevie for this blog posting, what I found was that even Romanians confused it with Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), the Paraguayan sweet leaf and antidiabetic sugar substitute.

But my absolute favorite exotic Romanian green is Leustean (Levisticum officinale), which is an aromatic green of the Parsley family.  Perhaps the closest other vegetable you could compare it to would be European style celery greens, but the wonderful aroma of Leustean, or Lovage greens, is far more pungent and robust.  The typical Romanian way of using Leustean is to add it to hot soups and broths, or ciorbas and let the wonderful aroma fill the whole pot, and enliven all the subtle flavors of the broth or soup.  Care should be taken never to boil, or even to steam, Leustean greens for too long, otherwise the aromatic essential oils will dissipate.  In terms of its therapeutic uses, Leustean is a great tonic and stimulator of the heart and blood circulation.  In this, Leustean is quite similar to its botanical cousin Chuan Xiong, or the Szechuan Lovage root used in Chinese herbal medicine, and the exquisite flavors and aromas of both plants are quite similar.  While fresh Leustean greens can be found at the open air food markets, dried Leustean leaves can be found in the Plafars or Romanian herb stores.  Reading that I have done even leads me to believe that Leustean leaves were known to the ancient Romans, and were munched on as a refreshing snack at the Roman baths.

But by far the king of the healthy spring vegetables here in Romania is Urzici (Urtica dioica), which is the great Stinging Nettle.  Nettles are quite famous and well used as a healthful vegetable and a medicinal tea throughout Europe, and in the springtime, when the fresh Nettle leaves are springing forth anew, European health enthusiasts, with gloves on and basket in hand, go out into the forest or meadows to pick Nettles.  In the Romanian piatas, Nettles are often sold by the gypsies, and you buy them by the bag, as they are quite light; however, they cook down quite a bit.  Those who accidentally brush up against Stinging Nettle leaves know full well how the plant got its descriptive name, but the itching sting quickly disappears as soon as the herb is cooked, or the leaves dried.  Nettles are another medicinal plant that you can either buy in the markets and cook up as a vegetable, or get from the herb stores or Plafars and brew up as a tea.  The uses and health benefits of Nettles are legion.

Nettles are a great green herbal superfood that is rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and is recognized as a blood tonic par excellence, with an abundance of iron and vitamin C that is very beneficial for treating anemia.  It is also an alterative or blood cleanser with mild diuretic properties that improve body fluid metabolism, which also optimizes the viscosity of the blood, improving its clotting properties.  As a blood cleanser, Nettles are particularly recommended for those with arthritis and rheumatism, as well as allergies, including asthma and hay fever, if used on a regular basis.  Nettles also have valuable anti-inflammatory properties.  If you fancy yourself to be a great chef, you may want to try your culinary skills out on cooking up a batch of fresh Nettles; the herb itself doesn’t have that much flavor, but by combining it with other herbs and condiments to “sweeten up the pot”, so to speak, you can create a culinary masterpiece.  Or, if teas are more your bag, steep a heaping tablespoon of dried Nettle leaves in a cup of boiling water for about five minutes, strain and drink, sweetening it with a little honey and lemon if desired.  I often powder up dried Nettle leaves, combining them with dried Parsley leaves and other dried herbal superfoods to create a kind of green herbal superfood powder that I call Vitamix.  Wash a spoonful of it back with water, or mix Vitamix into smoothies. -3.

To cook a batch of fresh Nettles up into a tantalizing vegetable dish, you first have to put the fresh Nettles you’re going to cook into a large sieve or colander and rinse all the residual dirt and sand out of them with flowing water.  Then, chop them up fine, one handful at a time, until you’ve chopped up the whole batch.  Then, chop up some garlic, green onions or leeks and put them in the pot with the Nettles, throwing in about ½ to one cup of water.  To help with the digestion of the Nettles and to relieve gas, you may want to throw in a few pinches of Greek Oregano and a Bay Leaf or two.  Also put in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Also highly desirable is to chop up some fresh Leustean leaves for their wonderful flavor and aroma, and throw them in only during the last few minutes of cooking.  Steam the Nettles and other veggies slowly for about 45 minutes or so.  Add a little soy sauce to taste, and eat.  Yummy!

Sources:

  1. Beneficiile consumului de loboda
  2. Leurda (Allium ursinum) – beneficii şi proprietăţi
  3. 11 Amazing Benefits Of Stinging Nettle

CELEBRATING TEN GREAT YEARS!

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Friday, March 24, 2017

It was ten years ago now that GreekMedicine.net got started, under highly bizarre and unlikely circumstances.  Through a series of strange errors and coincidences, I wound up, quite by accident, in Romania.  My best friend Sam’s wife, a professor in dental college, had taken an X ray of the tooth that was bothering me, and had come to the conclusion that nothing could be done for it; it wasn’t until the advent of digital X rays and their higher resolution levels that the real problem with that tooth could be found and corrected.  But for the meantime, there I was in Romania, stuck there without any clear goal or purpose.  Sam was working at ITC, the Romanian government’s computer and informatics institute, and suggested to me the idea of putting up a website.  But a website about what?  After thinking it over for a bit, I decided that a website about traditional, holistic Greek Medicine would be the best.  I had had previous work experience and training in the holistic healing field, as an acupuncturist and herbalist, and had been licensed in Chinese medicine – so I had quite a bit of experience and expertise in the natural healing field that I could bring to the table. 

Another thing that appealed to me about the whole Greek Medicine idea was that it was, at that time, virtually unknown to the world at large, and virtually uncharted virgin territory.  In getting the website up and running, and in establishing a bona fide presence on the internet, the help of my website designer and webmaster Cristian Mihai Albu was indispensable.  The whole Greek Medicine idea also appealed to my natural inclination to fight for the neglected, the underdog – the world has three great traditional healing systems: Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Greek / Unani (Graeco-Arabic) Medicine.  Everyone knew about Chinese Medicine and acupuncture; many people had heard of Ayurveda; but hardly anyone back then had ever heard of Greek or Unani Medicine.  Why not help out the underdog, the “new kids on the block” when it came to natural healing?  Astrologically, Greece was all a part of my Venus on the Midheaven zone, and therefore a favorite part of the world for me, as was Romania as well.  I had been to Greece before, and had addressed a conference about the subject of Medical Astrology – and for me, Medical Astrology was the portal or gateway that got me into Greek Medicine.  

My great awakening when it came to Medical Astrology had happened a few years earlier, when I was visiting my pan flute teacher, Damian Luca, in Brussels, Belgium for a series of one-on-one lessons.  I wandered into a metaphysical bookstore in downtown Brussels, Belgium, where he lived, and came across a book, written in French, entitled L’Astrologie Medicale by Sylvie Chermet-Carroy.  What struck me from the very first moment I opened that book was her equating of the Four Elements of astrology with the Four Humors and the Four Temperaments of Greek Medicine – and so, the connection was made, and the door initially opened way back in Brussels.  Since my French left a lot to be desired, I read the book with rapt attention, holding the book in one hand and a French dictionary in the other.  The more I studied of Medical Astrology, and the Greek Medicine that went along with it, the more everything else I had studied about natural healing, including my previous studies and training in Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, came together under its eclectic umbrella.  

A few years after my brief sojourn in Brussels and my awakening to Medical Astrology, I decided, through another set of unlikely coincidences, to study Ayurvedic medicine at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico under the tutelage of Dr. Vasant Lad.  I had demonstrated an aptitude for the subject during my studies there, but I must admit that Ayurveda was far from a perfect fit for me personally.  As one classmate of mine put it, most of the students at the Ayurvedic Institute were literally on fire with enthusiasm for Ayurveda, thinking that it was “the greatest thing since sliced bread”, but he could sense that for me, it fell quite a bit short of that.  When speaking about subjects like dietary therapy in his evening lectures, Dr. Lad would, curiously enough, drive home some points about the subject that stuck in my mind.  Later on, I would go home and read a copy of Hippocrates’ Aphorisms that I had and notice the same passages, literally word for word, that Hippocrates had said over two thousand years earlier.  It was the old chicken and the egg question for me of which really came first, as the Ayurvedic people were touting that they were the oldest natural healing system on earth.  Regardless of who came first, I finally concluded that good medicine is good medicine, and what works works, regardless of the country or culture from which it arose.

Gradually, as I got more into writing about Greek Medicine, I really started to realize the true greatness of what I had stumbled onto.  Surely, Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda were great healing systems, but they were quite insularly Oriental and parochial in nature, and very much rooted in the cultures, philosophies and worldviews from which they arose.  Greek Medicine, and the broader Greco-Arabo-Persian healing tradition that it came to embody, were something much more cosmopolitan and universal, transcending the usual borders of geography and culture.  Furthermore, it was also the traditional healing system from which modern medicine grew and evolved.  I am quite the history buff, and it’s fascinating to trace the origins and evolution of modern medicine from the classical notions of humor and temperament that form the basis of classical Greek Medicine and healing.  Here, in Greek Medicine, is truly a natural healing system for the whole world.  Like Ibn Sina or Avicenna a whole millennium ago, I started to see how the basic precepts of Greek Medicine are reflected in all the great traditional healing systems of the world.  

My first opportunity to “take my website on the road”, so to speak, and get an actual taste of the true universality of Greek and Unani Medicine was when I was invited to speak at a Unani medical conference that was being put on at Aligarh Muslim University near Delhi in India.  I had been introduced to Hakim Anis Ansari, the chairman of the Kulliyat (Basic Principles) department of the Tibbiya College there, by Hakim Assad of the Unani Doctors website and online referral service; he now leads a Facebook group by the same name.  At Aligarh, I met those who were involved with Unani Medicine, or working in related fields with an interest in it, from all over the world.  I was warmly received when I gave my talk, and later on I did some studying and observation of Unani Medicine at work at a clinic in downtown Delhi.  It was truly a great experience.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  My website and its following, which is you, my dear reader, grew by leaps and bounds.  It gives me great pleasure and fulfillment to be in touch with seekers of health and healing from around the world.  And thank you, Cristi, for a great ten years!

DIETARY MUSINGS OVER THE HOLIDAYS

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Sunday, January 17, 2016

I spent a few days for Christmas with my sister in San Francisco. My sister and I have often had many heated arguments about dietary matters. Back when my mother was alive, both she and my sister would frequently go on the low carb, high protein Atkins diet in order to lose weight. The Atkins diet never struck me as a diet that was even remotely healthy – all that meat and steak day in and day out, washed down with thick cream… guaranteed to pickle your arteries with cholesterol and send you off to the cardiologist in no time flat. I would lecture my mom about the deleterious effects of such a diet to no end, but it didn’t seem to sink in at all. It really worked for losing weight and giving my mom that slim, trim figure that she was known for, and that’s all she cared about. And my sister took after my mom when it came to dieting.

One of the most formative influences in my life, especially when it came to diet, nutrition and natural healing, was my best friend John Hopkins, proprietor of Oh Happy Days Natural Food Store in Altadena, California. Just as zealously as my mom and my sister were in following the carnivorous Atkins diet, Brother John, who I like to call Saint John, the health food Gandhi of Altadena, was a staunch vegetarian. Vegetarianism is a dietary way of life with a lot of good, solid epidemiological evidence to back it up. It really does seem to reduce the risk and occurrence of morbidity and degenerative disease, especially as one ages. Brother John called fresh fruits and vegetables the protective foods, and from my own personal experience, I would have to agree with him. Although I may not be a complete vegetarian, as an herbalist, I have always felt that a plant centered diet is the foundation of good health.

When I was living in Romania, I was involved with a bunch of Romanian yogis who were vegetarians of the ovo-lacto-vegetarian persuasion, who included eggs and dairy products in their diet. At that time, communism had only recently fallen in Romania, and the food and dietary options available to the Romanian people in those days were still quite limited in terms of protein sources. There were walnuts and sunflower seeds, but other nuts and seeds were in short supply. Avocados, a mainstay of the California diet, were unheard of. We had all the feta style cheese that we wanted – from cow, sheep or goat milk, take your pick – and we had eggs, and without those protein sources, we’d be sunk. When it came to eggs, the yogis had some mighty strange notions – they considered the cholesterol-rich yolk the healthy part of the egg, and discarded the protein-rich whites, which are usually considered to be the healthy part of the egg back home. We also had beans, but these were mainly white or navy beans and chickpeas.

In the early days with the yogis in Romania, I was living with them in their ashrams in a rather squalid, slum-like neighborhood in Bucharest. And I ate what they ate – no meat at all. I also adhered to their intensive regimen of yoga training, and the young yogis, who were considerably more youthful than myself, were always telling me how pallid and run-down I looked. But then, wanting a little more privacy for myself, I moved out and rented my own apartment. And, as a kind of little experiment on the sly, I went out and supplemented my vegetarian fare with a chicken leg at a restaurant in town about once or twice a week. Of course, I didn’t breathe a word about it to my yogi friends, but I kept on getting spontaneous complements from them about how healthy and robust I looked. I just smiled and said, “Thank you!”

When it comes to keeping my diet in order, I tend to follow the dictates of my natal astrology chart. With my natal Ascendant in Scorpio, I need some meat in my diet to nourish my blood and hemoglobin adequately, due to the Martian classical rulership of this sign. But at the same time, Scorpio is also a Fixed sign, and Fixed signs generally have problems with elimination and detoxification – and so, my diet should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to cleanse and detoxify the blood and lymph, as Scorpio, a Water sign, has an affinity for the vital fluids of the body and the moist, flourishing Phlegmatic and Sanguine humors. One of the things that my sister told me she found out about our family medical history in our dietary arguments over the holidays was that Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory disorders of the GI tract ran in my mom’s side of the family – and I have the two fiery, Choleric planets, the Sun and Mars, associated with inflammatory disorders, in direct opposition along the Taurus / Scorpio axis, with Mars, most closely linked with pathological inflammation, conjunct my Scorpio Ascendant. Between Taurus, which rules the mouth and throat, and Scorpio, which rules the rectum and anus, I have the whole GI tract contained within this inflammatory opposition – and believe me, I have really had to watch my digestion all my life. Because of the influence of Mars, its classical ruler, which rules the bile, Scorpio can also have bilious problems from eating too much meat.

And so, there it is – different strokes for different folks. I have found that the natal astrology chart is a pretty reliable guide in dietary matters, like a dietary and overall health maintenance manual for your bodymind. Another thing that many holistic healers have found to be very valuable as a guide in dietary matters is the Blood Type Diet – and it just so turns out that my sister and I have two different blood types, even though we’re siblings. My sister, not surprisingly, is a type O – the hunter / gatherer, and most meat-friendly of all the blood types – whereas I am a type B – the omnivore. In Japan, where I was born, the whole matter of blood types is quite the rage, although not so much as a system of dietetics as a guide to one’s personality and behavior.

Although I have some credence in the idea that different blood types, in a general sense, may thrive on different types of diets, I have quite a few reservations about adopting the whole Blood Type Diet, as outlined in Peter D’Adamo’s book, Eat Right for Your Type, hook, line and sinker. Nevertheless, I have many colleagues as holistic healers who swear by it. One of the nagging unanswered questions I have from that book is that there are two herbs – Rhubarb root and Red Clover – that are on every blood type’s “do not take” list. Now, Rhubarb root I might be able to accept, since it is a vigorous laxative / purgative, and not for everybody; but Red Clover??? It’s one of the mildest, most innocuous herbs that I know of! Why the heck is it on every type’s “do not take” list? I think I first noticed this peculiar anomaly when I was perusing the book at Oh Happy Days, Brother John’s health food store, which is frequented by quite a few eccentrics – and I vividly remember falling into a crazy argument about the whole Red Clover question with one of them!

The blood type diet book also seems to fall into some magical thinking as far as I’m concerned – it chalks everything up to what they call “lectins” which precipitate a kid of harmful coagulation of the red blood cells and hemoglobin in your bloodstream. For me as a type B, I’m OK with duck and turkey, but chicken is supposed to be bad for me, and to set off these “lectins”. But golly, gee – all these varieties of fowl seem to be pretty similar to me. A colleague of mine, and an ardent follower of the blood type diet, told me not to eat sesame tahini, that it was bad for me, and advised me to have almond butter on my morning toast instead. But when I took a serum IgG antibody blood test for hidden food allergies, I found out that I was allergic to almonds (they do give me problems if I eat too much of them), but not to sesame! But the blood type diet people just counter that the whole blood type thing with the “lectins” is one thing, and food allergies are another, and that both operate independently of one another. Lamb is supposed to be the best meat for type B’s like me, and I must admit that I feel pretty good after eating lamb. Might also be the Greek in me – who knows?

I went to acupuncture school and got my license way back in the early days of acupuncture in California. At that time, the curriculum, or instructional program for licensing in acupuncture and Oriental Medicine was quite short and sparse, and did not include a bona fide course in nutrition. This deficiency in my training prompted me to take a continuing education course in nutrition, which I enrolled in, eagerly hoping to get filled in on some of the nutritional basics I had missed out on in school. The abstract of the course sure looked promising. But when I actually took the course, I was quite dismayed to find that about three quarters of it, after a pretty perfunctory introduction to the subject, was – Peter D’Adamo’s blood type diet! My heart sunk to my feet – there was nothing about this in the course description! I could have just bought the book and read it, at considerably less expense than paying for the course, and gotten my continuing education credits elsewhere.

And so, my “inner jury” is pretty much out on the blood type diet. The Red Clover question still nags me, I must admit, and I can’t quite figure out what the magic of these “lectins” is all about. And colleagues of mine in the natural healing business continue to get remarkable results with it, even to the extent of healing chronic and recalcitrant diseases in their patients. And my sister, the type O hunter / gatherer, is filling up on meat, this time under the auspices of the Paleo diet. Doesn’t all that meat really drive up your cholesterol, doesn’t it really acidify your blood and load it with harmful toxins? My sister is quite a zealot about exploding what she sees as these “myths”. But a huge amount of epidemiological evidence does show that a plant based diet does indeed lower rates of morbidity and degenerative disease, and prolong the lifespan considerably. Just ask Ancel Keyes, the discoverer of the plant-based Mediterranean Diet, who lived to be over a hundred on his diet. And remember that Saint John, the health food Gandhi of Altadena, is smiling down on you when you choose to go vegetarian!

MY GREAT ODYSSEY

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Wednesday, December 2, 2015

road

A lot of time has passed since I left California, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge, so to speak. I have been on a long quest, a journey, which has been quite an odyssey for me, all in the pursuit of the elusive bluebird of happiness. And the happiness that continues to elude me so far in my 63 years on this planet is one that has come fairly easily for many people, and which they take for granted: happiness with a woman, or a romantic partner of the opposite sex. If God wills it, I shall hopefully fulfill this dream of mine before this life is over.

And along the way, I have been able to explore the world of herbal healing, and Greek and Unani Medicine, and do what I could to network with those who were interested in Greek Medicine. Perhaps foremost among these journeys were my two trips to the Holy Land, the first of which I made from Altadena California in 2010, and the second of which I made from Redlands, California in 2012. Upon my return to Redlands in 2012, I soon moved down to Guanajuato, in central Mexico.

From Guanajuato, Mexico, where I stayed for a few months, I moved back to Tucson, Arizona, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Tucson was a very metaphysically and holistically aware city, and, while meeting many companions along the healing path, I succeeded in getting licensed in acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Arizona. I also got to know some of the healing herbs of the Sonoran Desert, like Yucca or Ocotillo, and connected with an Apache medicine man.

From Tucson, Arizona, I made two journeys back to Bucharest, Romania, where I first put up this website. I was seriously looking to settle down there, but alas, it seemed like it wasn’t meant to be. Nevertheless, I did enjoy some speaking engagements at conferences of the AAR, or the Romanian Astrologers’ Association. I even wrote an article on one of their conferences for a major American astrology magazine.

In the fall of 2014, I took a side trip from Bucharest down to Athens, Greece, where I was most warmly greeted by the Greek Naturopathic Doctor, Matina Chronopoulou. We visited famed healing and retreat sites sacred to Mother Nature in the region of Arcadia in the central Peloponnesus, and feasted on all the wonderful natural cuisine of the region – roast lamb, Dandelion greens, chestnuts, walnuts and golden honey.

On my second trip back to Romania, I tried to make another visit to Greece, but was sidetracked by two things: the unfolding political and economic crisis in Greece, and a Mexican lady who a mutual Mexican-American friend of ours was trying to introduce us to. I even went back to Mexico from Romania to meet her, but alas, the relationship didn’t work out. And so, I am still looking for that special lady. If you think that you might have something to offer me, and we might be able to find happiness together, and you resonate personally with what I have presented on this website, and you are a lady between the ages of 50 and 60, I would love to hear from you, and enter into a dialogue.

So far, this website on Greek Medicine has been my most significant and meaningful achievement in life, and it continues to warm my heart to hear how it has helped and enlightened many seekers of healing wisdom around the world. I cannot afford to let this internet mission of mine that I have taken up slide, I cannot afford to neglect this cause, out of a sincere desire to be of assistance to my readers. And so, I have embarked on a program to expand and upgrade my website, to make it even more enlightening and informative. Yet I do not wish to sacrifice fulfillment in my personal life for the sake of my professional life, and am seeking that balance between head and heart, between partnership and praxis.

I am currently residing in the state of New Mexico, in the city of Santa Fe, the state capital, which is a great center for holistic healing, natural therapies, and spiritual teachings. It is a truly beautiful place, and they don’t cal New Mexico the Land of Enchantment for nothing. However, I can do my internet work from anywhere in the world, and am willing to relocate anywhere on earth to be with the right person.

And so, if you would like to contact me to offer me any feedback or suggestions on expanding and upgrading my website, or improving its outreach ministry, please contact me. If you are in need of a health and wellness consultation, or a Medical Astrology consultation, please contact me. And if you are a lady who is interested in exploring the possibilities of a meaningful relationship or partnership with me, please contact me. My contact email address is: davido@greekmedicine.net

Sincerely,
David Osborn, MH, L.Ac.

PERSPECTIVES ON THE DR. OZ AFFAIR

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dr-OZ1Dr. Mehmet Oz is a name that is so trusted for health advice in our media these days that he can make a recommendation for a dietary supplement or health product one day, and stores sell out of that same product the very next day.  As such, he belongs to a very exclusive club, the likes of which include such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey – who first invited him on to her show as her “go to” doctor to discuss various health issues of the day and make his recommendations.  With patronage from the most respected lady in daytime TV, it wasn’t long before Dr. Oz developed a huge following of his own.  The huge amount of trust and respect that Dr. Oz commands, and the huge influence he wields on the viewing public, have put him in a very enviable position indeed.

So, it is not that surprising that Dr. Oz has come under a lot of fire recently, ostensibly for hawking herbal and nutritional supplements which many have branded as “quack treatments”.  In fact, a group of ten doctors got together and wrote a letter to Columbia University’s medical school, at which Dr. Oz holds a faculty post, demanding that he be fired by the University for promoting these treatments.  He was even summoned before congress and cross examined for promoting what many have claimed to be dubious supplements and treatments that many claim have departed from what they call evidence based medicine.  In the process, Dr. Oz has come under a lot of fire from those who have their doubts about the safety and/or efficacy of the products and treatments he is recommending, whether they are motivated by a professional or industry agenda, or just plain skeptical about health supplements in general.

Dr. Oz chose to passionately defend himself and tackle his attackers head on, exposing them for who they were.  Many worked for conservative think tanks and had a vested interest in defending GMOs, or genetically modified foods, and the current anti-labeling status quo in the United States.  It turns out that another doctor who signed the letter had been implicated in major Medicaid fraud.  Defending the public’s right to know what is in our food, and advocating for GMO labeling is one of the things that Dr. Oz supports.  Dr. Oz passionately proclaimed that he would not be silenced in a TV announcement to confront his critics.  Identifying his critics, the ten doctors who signed the letter to get him fired, and their ties to the GMO industry, Dr. Oz brought the GMO issue front and center, suggesting that perhaps this was the real reason these doctors wanted him silenced.

And he may well be right.  Polls show that about 90 percent of Americans would like for GMO foods and ingredients in foods to be labeled as such.  From a moral, ethical, and even a common sense standpoint, GMO labeling just makes sense.  GMO advocates claim that GMO foods are no different from, and just as safe as, non-GMO food, whereas GMO opponents claim that GMO foods have not been adequately researched and tested, and may not be safe.  But leaving this obvious controversy aside, doesn’t the public have the right to know what is in their food?  Even ingredients which are not controversial are routinely labeled because someone can have an adverse reaction to virtually any food ingredient.  People are very health conscious these days, and many are choosing to buy organic – and these same people don’t want to be inadvertently buying and eating genetically modified foods.  And who can blame them?

Perhaps the real reason why Dr. Oz’s critics have mounted this attack against him for promoting what they claim to be “quack treatments” is because they know that they could get much more sympathy from the public on this issue than if they chose to attack him on what is their real agenda: his stance on GMO foods, and having them labeled.  With the vast majority of the American public supporting GMO labeling, they could not get any sympathy or support from the public on that issue.  But if they silence Dr. Oz and shut him down for these alleged “quack treatments”, they have also silenced a powerful voice for GMO labeling as well.  So, the recent attacks on Dr. Oz could very well be summed up as a stealth or false flag operation.

What the recent attacks on Dr. Oz have made clear is that there is still a lot of widespread skepticism and even downright opposition to herbal and dietary supplements, and how to regulate the industry.  The spectrum of opinion on these matters is quite diverse, and runs all over the map.  The supplement and health food industry still has powerful opponents in high places who would like nothing better than to shut it down for good.  Many of those who profess skepticism about dietary supplements even allege that the basic quality and purity of the ingredients contained in these supplements is highly questionable, but in my experience, if you do your research and homework, and buy your supplements from a reputable company, the quality, potency and purity is pretty consistent and reliable.

But what about the claims that Dr. Oz and others have made for these supplements?  Haven’t they gone way over the top in touting them?  Here again, opinions range from unqualified support and agreement with these claims, or at least the freedom of speech for Dr. Oz and others to make them in a free and democratic society, to downright condemnation of these claims as misleading and dangerous.  Those who make powerful claims for health and dietary supplements are often stigmatized as “snake oil salesmen” by skeptics in the media.  But where does the truth lie?  Are these health and dietary supplements powerful therapeutic tools and allies in the improvement of one’s health, or are they worthless frauds, preying upon the gullible and infirm?  Or does the truth lie somewhere in between?

In watching current videos on the whole Dr. Oz affair, I heard a very important point being made:  That Dr. Oz, or any other licensed physician who touts or makes claims for a certain health or dietary supplement on TV isn’t, in the strict sense of the word, practicing medicine – they are simply educating and informing the public about what their general opinion is on these products and what they can do.  The actual practice of medicine, on the other hand, is a much more personalized affair, and involves the personal clinical assessment of the patient by the physician in order to recommend or prescribe the treatment or remedy that is best suited for them – on an individual, personalized basis.  And so, if you see Dr. Oz, or any other media doctor or expert touting some nutritional or dietary supplement on TV, it is up to you to do your homework and find out if that would be the right treatment for you – and in that process, it is often, perhaps even usually, a wise option to consult with a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner.

As a general rule, herbs, vitamins and nutritional supplements are generally of a much milder nature and character than pharmaceutical drugs.  And because they are generally gentler and milder, they are usually not as sure to work for treating or correcting the condition or symptom that you are using it for as taking a pharmaceutical drug would be.  But then, on the positive side of the leger, you don’t have all the negative or adverse side effects that you experience with pharmaceutical drugs either.  In the United Sates, herbs, vitamins and dietary supplements are classified as a food product, which reflects their generally gentler, milder, more nutritive nature and character.  Actually, supplements fall somewhere in between food and medicine, and when you take them, you are, in a sense, following Hippocrates’ dictum to let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.

And so, taking those pills of Green Coffee Bean Extract may not melt away the fat on your belly just as magically as Dr. Oz said it would.  It’s up to you to do your research and homework on that matter, and find out just how well those Green Coffee Beans are suited for melting away that fat in your case.  And, as part of that process, you shouldn’t be averse to seeking the personal advice and guidance of a physician or healthcare practitioner.  Those Green Coffee Beans, or those Sea Buckthorn Berries, or whatever, may have an impressive amount of clinical research to back them up, but this is no guarantee or substitute for personal, individualized guidance and treatment from a licensed physician or health professional.

Source Videos for Further Study

In the preparation of this blog posting, I watched several videos about my subject, and drew from them as source material.  I will provide you with the links to them below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY1ziaA6os8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkzGNDNovu4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgApDJwc4Ow

REFLECTIONS ON ADDICTIVE DRUGS, SOCIAL SYMBIOSIS AND RECOVERY

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Just yesterday, I was contacted by a drug treatment center called Steps to Recovery.  Amy, one of their staff writers, had written an interesting and informative article about the prevalence of Adderall abuse and addiction amongst college students seeking to improve their mental, cognitive and athletic performance levels.  Adderall, it turns out, is a psychoactive drug, a stimulant and cognitive function enhancer, whose principal use is in the treatment of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  However, because it enhances certain memory functions as well as cognitive performance, it is commonly used, and abused, by college students, especially right before exams and term paper deadlines.  The drug seems great, the ideal solution to make the grade, but there are hidden dangers and drawbacks to its use, both nutritional/physiological as well as psychological, and the drug often takes its abusers off into precarious and unforeseen directions.  For the past couple of years, I have been based in Tucson, Arizona, a college town, and so, this drug and addiction issue seemed to hit particularly close to home.

The Social Symbiosis of Drug Dependency and Abuse
If one takes a little stroll down through the pages of history, one can find interesting case histories of how psychoactive drugs have been used, in many ingenuous ways.  There is the ritual use of hallucinogens, or entheogens, like Ayahuasca in the Amazon or the Peyote cactus amongst the Native Americans of Mesoamerica and the Southwest in shamanic journeying ceremonies.  In a darker vein, there is the use of addictive drugs to enslave or oppress a nation or a people by a foreign colonial power, as in the Chinese Opium Wars perpetrated by the British around the turn of the last century.  But what seems to be the prevalent dynamic, in any given nation, culture or subculture, is a kind of peculiar social symbiosis between that nation, society, culture or subculture and their prevalent drugs of choice.  For example, why the predilection for stimulants and amphetamines amongst the Nazis?  Because when you’re riding high on them, you’re all pumped up and feeling like the Master Race!  The drug of choice of an individual, or a society or subculture, says a lot about the underlying imbalances, fixations or pathologies that are at work in it.  

In more traditional societies, the use of mind altering drugs, as in the examples cited above, tends to be kept within a certain circumscribed religious or ritual context and niche, and abuse of the drug for other purposes, and in a general context, seems to be relatively rare.  But in these traditional societies, there is also a strong family and social structure, in which the more addictive, dark or destructive aspects of human nature tend to get channeled in more innocuous ways.  But within the modern world there has been tremendous social change and upheaval, in which the traditional support structures have degraded or broken down to a large extent.  In today’s fast paced modern world, it seems like people don’t want to take the time or to be bothered with the inner psychological and spiritual work on themselves that is often necessary in life, and are rushing around looking for the quick fix.  And ironically, the chemical fixes or solutions that they find don’t wind up being quick fixes at all, but rather things that complicate and drag out the necessary work of healing, transformation and recovery.

I have seen, in the people I have known around me in life, many examples of drugs being used as a “quick fix” by well meaning people, which later led to huge problems.  A lady friend of mine, who is quite rebellious and independent by nature, told me that her mother would just pop her a benzodiazipene drug to calm her down as a kid, as a kind of instant substitute for proper parenting; this led to an addiction that was very hard for her to beat.  When I was in Romania, I met a young lady who was very focused and intent on getting into the national music conservatory whose mother, as a quick fix substitute for proper nutrition – and parenting as well, perhaps – would give her a chemical sedative to calm her nerves before a big performance or audition.  After I lectured her on the nutritional importance of fresh fruits and vegetables and a sound, balanced diet in the health and wellbeing of the nervous system, she protested that that was all fine and dandy, but the cold, hard reality of it all was that fresh fruits and vegetables happened to be one of the more expensive food categories at the food markets of economically strapped post-communist Romania.

Here, back in the USA, we may not have the same conditions of economic deprivation to contend with, but there are other deleterious forces at work.  Everyone’s familiar with the “Ritalin Generation” – a whole generation of kids who, all too often, were slapped with a diagnosis of ADHD and given drugs that would conveniently mask or manage their symptoms and make them more docile or compliant.  A friend of mine, the mother of such a child, complained to me that too many children, perhaps even most of them these days, are pathologized and given a medical diagnosis, and the drugs to boot.  Imagine if Einstein, who could easily have been diagnosed with ADD, were numbed down with Ritalin – we might not have the Theory of Relativity.  Or, if Mozart, whose behavior was also quite precocious and unmanageable, and left a lot to be desired, had also been “managed” and turned into a placid zombie – the world might not have his prodigious musical creations, and would be culturally a lot poorer.  Yes, pathologize a hard to manage child who doesn’t fit, and lude them out with drugs as a quick fix to avoid taking the extra time and effort necessary to help them cultivate their extraordinary gifts.  Many times, and this is often symbolized in spiritual allegory and world mythology, a hideous or threatening monster guards a precious gift or treasure.

Then there’s also the allegorical symbolism of the genie getting out of the bottle, or the mad scientist whose creation runs amok.  Once these drugs and inventions of the pharmaceutical industry are out in circulation, they may wind up being used, either rightly or wrongly, constructively or destructively, for purposes other than that for which the drug was developed.  And no matter how hard you try to control access to the substance, it seems, it always gets out into these illicit and unintended venues.  And such seems to be the case with Adderall.

Filling the Hole, Remedying the Deficiency
Drugs are the quick fix; they’re the instant remedy that is used to fix what is perceived as personal inadequacies or shortcomings, or to plug up what we feel to be the holes or deficiencies within us.  A Native American medicine man once explained to me that there is, all too often, the looming gap or chasm, that big hole that we feel within between what we are, and what we feel we should be – and there ain’t enough sex, drugs or rock ‘n’ roll in the world to fill up that huge hole.  That takes more time, patience and inner work on oneself, which seems to be in very short supply these days.  Sure, there is the psychological and spiritual side of the holes and deficiencies we all face in our lives, but all too often, and perhaps virtually always, there is a huge nutritional dimension to that hole as well.  Depressive bouts and mood swings, for example, can often be linked to the roller coaster ride of blood sugar instability.  Take an inner psychological and spiritual approach and reach out to a Higher Power on the twelve steps to recovery, but at the same time, do something, whatever you can, to improve your diet and nutritional status as well.  Nutritionists often like to point out that there is no such clinical entity as a deficiency of a psychoactive or mood altering drug, but there are definite deficiencies and imbalances in things like blood sugar and adrenaline levels, as well as neurotransmitters, and that these can often be traced back to nutritional causes.  Many pharmaceutical drugs have been shown to create nutritional deficiencies, so you can be getting into a vicious circle of mounting deficiency and dependency.

If you’re going to use a substance as a crutch, or as a hurdle to get you over a performance challenge in your life, it is always better to use a substance that is more natural and less toxic.  You can arrange the possible options that you have for using a substance to aid you in a kind of continuum from the very synthetic, extreme and toxic at one end to the relatively natural, nontoxic and innocuous at the other end.  Let’s take stimulants, for example:  At the extreme and toxic end you would have amphetamines and pharmaceutical stimulants or “uppers”; then, you would have caffeine and other stimulants; and finally, a gentle stimulant that is not as sleep depriving as caffeine, like Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguayensis) on the most natural and innocuous end of the spectrum.  But even this most natural and innocuous option should not be construed as a substitute for proper diet, nutrition and exercise.  There are also medicinal herbs, called Nervines, which act as general tonics and balancers to the nervous system.  Examples would be Skullcap, Valerian, Gotu Kola,Passion Flower, Damiana and Royal Jelly.  These can go a long way as part of a nutritional and health regimen to heal and rebalance the nervous system.  The herbal supplement user must also beware that the herb is being used properly, and not abused.  An herb that has made the headlines in recent years as being commonly abused as a stimulant is Ephedra, or Mahuang – a Chinese herb that is traditionally used not as a stimulant or energy tonic, but as a remedy for asthma and respiratory tract infections, for short term acute use only.

Greek Medicine on Drug Abuse
In Greek Medicine, there is an intimate relationship between inner predisposition and outer pathogenic agents or factors, including the potential for drug abuse.  Simply stated, it states that a pathogenic factor or agent will not be invited in unless the individual or host has an inner predisposition or weakness towards it.  And although everyone has their own unique individual constitutional nature and temperament, there are four basic constitutional types, or pure types, from which each individual’s constitutional makeup is composed and derived.  When it comes to the potential for drug abuse, two basic dynamics seem to come into play:  Either the individual, according to his or her dominant nature or temperament, will crave a drug that feeds or aggravates that nature and is congruent with it, leading to further imbalance, or the drug is sought out as a crutch to remedy shortcomings of a certain constitutional nature or type, where it may be unduly aggravated or imbalanced in a certain individual.

Let’s take stimulants, for example:  People of a fiery, Choleric temperament like to seek out thrills and excitement, and are prone to using stimulants to feed this craving for thrills and adventure; this can then consume them, and their energy and vitality, leading to burnout and exhaustion.  Such an individual needs to learn constructive moderation and purpose in their search for challenges and adventure.  On the other extreme, people who are overly sluggish and Phlegmatic in nature may be attracted to stimulants for the opposite reason – just to be able to drag themselves out of bed in the morning, and give themselves a much needed “kick in the pants”, or a wake up call.  Such an individual will find that, over time, the stimulants deplete his or her energy even further, and that the post-stimulant crashes get lower and lower.  Time to learn moderation, or to seek out more natural and innocuous substitutes for the hard drugs.

Those of a Nervous or Melancholic temperament can often be plagued by feelings of nervousness, depression or anxiety, and take sedatives or mood elevators to remedy these perceived defects in their inner psychological makeup.  On the other end of the spectrum, those Sanguine types who like to follow the pleasure principle often find themselves attracted to “feel good” drugs that induce states of heightened sociability or euphoria to kick what is already the keynote of their inner natures up a notch – or even many notches.  Often, the up / down mood roller coaster is linked to similar concurrent swings in things like blood sugar levels.  And so, food and diet should be your first medicine or mode of therapy, to stabilize those blood sugar levels.  Even candy and sugar can be a feel good drug for many, many people, and has all too often been used as a baby pacifier, with disastrous results for one’s dietary and eating habits later on in life.

Herbs and herbal medicines are often used as an adjunct to dietary therapy when the latter is insufficient to do the job, but they should never be used instead of, or as a substitute for, a sound, balanced diet and good nutrition and eating habits.  Then, herbs can essentially become no better than drugs in the way that they are used.

In my website, I advocate Philosophical Counseling as a holistic, drugless substitute for psychotherapy, but most philosophical counselors agree that if an individual is way out of balance in their core bodily functions, and has a hard time getting sufficient sleep or having a good appetite and digestion, that they may need remedial therapy with psychological counseling and mood controlling drugs to bring themselves to the point where Philosophical Counseling and other more natural methods like diet, nutrition and herbal medicine can work.  Once this point is reached, Philosophical Counseling can be used to help one get to the bottom of WHY they use the drugs they do, or have a craving or dependency for them.  What are you after, what are you trying to find when you take drugs?  And, are there any more natural and constructive means for getting there than these harmful, addictive drugs?

For those who want to read Amy’s original article, they can do so by clicking on the following link:

http://www.stepstorecovery.com/college-students-and-adderall-are-the-extra-hours-worth-it/

ALCHEMICAL REFLECTIONS

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Thursday, December 11, 2014
alchemyAlchemy is a very misunderstood and unappreciated art.  When the word “alchemy” is mentioned, ,most people simply shrug it off as some sort of superstitious medieval hocus pocus about turning base metals like lead in to gold.  But this notion is but a prejudicial caricature of an art and a science that was very influential in the development of not only chemistry, but of pharmacology and medicine as well.  In an English language bookstore in downtown Bucharest, Romania, I recently came across, and purchased, an introductory book on alchemy, entitled Real Alchemy, by Robert Allen Bartlett.  It had some pretty nice “blurbs” on the back cover that lavished the book with praise, so I decided to buy it.
I have not yet finished the book, but already it has opened up my eyes to a lot of the basic principles of alchemy that were obscure to me before.  As the blurbs on the back of the book promised, this book was clean, clear, simple and easy to read.  That was quite a relief, since I had tried to read books and articles on alchemy before, but found my eyes glazing over after just a few paragraphs.  Or, you would pore over what appeared to be a rambling mumbo-jumbo of seemingly meaningless or paradoxical gobbledy-gook, wondering what kind of code language and dog whistles were hidden in the narrative for the initiated.
This book starts from the most basic principles of Hermetic philosophy and classical Greek science and metaphysics, and builds on things in a methodical, step by step manner.  It explains how the Four Elements were derived from the primordial prima materia and its binary division into Celestial Salt, or the Fixed Principle, and Celestial Nitre, or the Volatile Principle.  The Fixed Principle of Celestial Salt then manifested as the two Cold, gross, heavy elements of Earth and Water, while the Volatile Principle of Celestial Nitre manifested as the two Hot, subtle, energetic elements of Air and Fire.
Then, the next step is what has always puzzled me: the alchemists’ assertion that every known physical substance is composed of the three basic components of Sulfur, Mercury and Salt.  But hold on – this is only figurative or symbolic terminology, and not literal.  In other words, when an alchemist talks about Sulfur, he is not literally referring to that yellow, foul smelling powder that stinks like a rotten egg; similarly, Mercury is not literally like Mercury from your thermometer.  And likewise, Salt is not literally Salt either.  So what do these three basic alchemical components of substances actually mean?
Sulfur, explains Bartlett, refers to the subtle aromatic, volatile or gaseous components of a substance.  It is that principle that is the combined essence of the two light, energetic elements of Fire and Air.
Mercury is not literally the toxic metal Quicksilver, but rather, the wet, flowing fluid components of a substance that mediate between the most dense and fixed principle of Salt on the one hand and the most subtle and volatile principle of Sulfur on the other.  It bridges heaven and earth, as it were, and is formed from the combined essence of the two wet or fluidic elements: Air and Water.
Salt is the most dense and fixed of the three basic principles, which is the body of dense physical matter that acts as a carrier, anchor or vehicle for the other two principles.  It is formed from the combined essence of the two heavy, dense material elements: Water and Earth.
So how do these three basic principles, or essentials, of Sulfur, Mercury and Salt apply to a medicinal herb?  When we make a Spagyric Tincture of an herb, says Bartlett, we first distill these three essentials out of the plant or herb and then recombine them.  Bartlett pronounces “Spagyric” as “Spa-jeer-ic”,  but I could swear that it was “Spa-jeye (as in ‘eye’)-ric, and will go on pronouncing it my way!
First the Sulfur, or the most volatile components of the plant are distilled out.  If we are making a Spagyric tincture of Rosemary, for example, this first step would consist of steam distilling the essential oil out of the plant.  The volatile Sulfur component of an herb is analogous to its Soul, or consciousness – that which is most subtle and incorporeal.
Secondly, the Mercury, or fluidic essence, of the plant is distilled out from the semi-aqueous mix or mush that remains after the essential oil has been distilled out.  The traditional method, explains Bartlett, is to first ferment the herbal mush, and then distill the alcoholic principle out of it.  The Mercury of a substance, or its subtle fluid essence, is analogous to the vital force circulating within a living body – its Qi, pneuma, or prana, and is called its Spirit.  
This, explains Bartlett, is why distilled alcoholic beverages are often referred to as “spirits”.  This term of “spirits” is one that has traditionally pervaded the fields of chemistry and pharmacology, and has been used to describe substances like Spirits of Turpentine, or Spirits of Chloroform.  Not only in this instance, but all throughout the book, Bartlet gives priceless little tidbits of practical wisdom such as this one to explain why certain things were the way they were in the fields of chemistry and pharmacology.
And thirdly, the Salt, or solid body of the herb, is extracted out of it via the alchemical process of calcination, which is burning it until all the organic matter has been vaporized, and nothing remains but a white ash, which is the mineral content.  This whole process of calcination, or reducing a substance to ash, is most famously used in preparing the alchemical mineral ashes, or bhasmas, of Ayurvedic medicine.  But such alchemical practices are not limited to Ayurvedic medicine; these alchemical mineral ashes or oxides are also used in the Unani, or Greco-Arabic system of traditional medicine, where they are known as Kushtajat,or literally, substances that have been killed – by burning.  Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, goes the old biblical saying.
The final step in the preparation of an alchemical Spagyric tincture is what is called cohobation – the recombining of these three distilled and purified principles back into one finished product.  Alchemists maintain that the Spagyric tincture of an herb is more powerful than the original herb itself, since it has been concentrated and purified, its active essences distilled out of it.
Alchemy has been an important part of traditional healing systems around the world because it has expanded the range of medicinal substances available to the physician.  The basic idea and promise of alchemical medicine is that an herb or medicinal substance that is, in its natural state, too toxic, unbalanced, or otherwise harsh or harmful can be transformed, through alchemical processes, into a nontoxic or less toxic and therapeutically useful substance in the treatment of illness and disease.  This is the fusion of Nature and Art.
In Chinese herbal medicine, for example, the rhizome of Aconite or Monkshood(Aconitum carmichaeli) can be alchemically transformed from a deadly toxin into a powerful circulatory and metabolic stimulant through a secret alchemical process that is known only to traditional Chinese pharmacists.  The resulting herb is very potent, and still quite toxic, although its initial toxicity has been reduced by 90%.  Still, Fu Zi, or Chinese Aconite, is too potent and dangerous to be used without expert supervision and a prescription form a Chinese herbalist.
Homeopaths have taken the European variety of Aconite (Aconitum napellus) and have rendered it relatively harmless and therapeutically useful through another process that is basically alchemical in nature: the homeopathic procedure of successive dilutions and succussions.  And so, homeopathic Aconite is a very useful remedy for colds and flu, for example.  Homeopathy, which uses many substances which are deadly poisons in large doses and renders them therapeutically useful and beneficial through their dilution and potentization process, is essentially alchemical in its nature and approach.
My third and final example is that of a wonderful Calcium supplement that I took while I was traveling in India, which was sold and marketed by the Himalaya company.  It is based on a traditional Ayurvedic bhasma, or alchemical ash preparation, of Calcium.  The remarkable thing about this Calcium supplement was that if you broke the pill up and started chewing it, it literally melted into your mouth and was quickly absorbed by the body.  So far, I haven’t been able to find any other Calcium supplement, no matter how natural or organic it claimed to be, that could do that.  This is the basic purpose behind many Ayurvedic bhasmapreparations: that a formerly inert, inorganic mineral has been rendered into a very easily absorbable and assimilable form, and made very “user friendly” to the body.
I was once privileged to be a student at a summer intensive on Ayurvedic alchemical medicines, or bhasmas, that was given by Dr. Vasant Lad at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He called bhasmas “Alchemical Power Medicines”, which states another objective of alchemy in the art of pharmacy – to produce medicinal substances that are more powerful and efficacious than the ones found in nature.  We were introduced to alchemicalbhasmas made from a wide variety of substances, including shells, sulfur and various gemstones.  And these alchemical ash or oxide preparations are not the exclusive province of Ayurvedic medicine, but are used in Unani Medicine as well.
The whole field of alchemical medicines is a very fascinating one, and a very controversial one as well.  According to the traditional theory and practice of alchemy, even substances that were initially very toxic can be rendered harmless and therapeutically beneficial through alchemical processing – but this flies in the face of modern science and chemistry, which holds that certain metallic substnces, such as Mercury, are elements, which cannot be changed or transformed in any way.  And so, many alchemical medicines containing alchemical preparations of toxic substances like Lead and Mercury have been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration.  However, there are still many alchemical medicines left that do not contain these (initially, in their raw state, according to alchemy) toxic substances.  Nevertheless, the old saying goes, the more powerful and potent a substance is as a healing, therapeutic agent when used correctly, the more potentially harmful it can be when abused or used incorrectly.  At any rate, alchemical medicines should definitely be used under expert guidance and supervision from a licensed health professional.  As Robert Allen Bartlett warns his readers at the beginning of his excellent book:  Kids!  Don’t Try This at Home!