Skip to content

INTESTINAL INDIVIDUALITY AND PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Monday, September 3, 2018

Intestinal Individuality and Biochemical Individuality

The whole of Greek Medicine is based upon the constitutional precepts of humor and temperament, and constitutional bodymind types, as embodied in the Four Temperaments, which are Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholic and Phlegmatic.  Each of these four basic constitutional types is characterized by a predominance of a certain pairing of the Four Basic Qualities, as well as a certain humor.  Although Greek Medicine has four basic constitutional types, each person has their own constitutional uniqueness, which is composed of their own unique admixture of these basic four types.  Constitutional individuality expresses itself in other ways as well, many of which have been elucidated and developed by other pioneering figures of modern holistic medicine.  Even when I was in acupuncture school, one of my professors stated that one can be just as individualized on the inside, in terms of their internal organs, as they are on the outside, with their unique facial features.  One person can be blessed with amazing lungs but a stomach that is chronically weak or sluggish, whereas another could be blessed with great kidneys, but a liver that is vulnerable, for example.

Greek Medicine sums up its notions of constitutional medicine in the concept of Physis – the individualized uniqueness of the body as a whole, which is much more than the sum total of its individual parts.  The body experiences health as a whole, gets sick as a whole, and makes the recovery back to health as a whole.  The Four Humors, and their individual constitutional balance, admixture or krasis, is fully manifested in the digestive tract of the individual and its balance and interaction of the Four Humors in the digestive process.  The large instestine, sitting at the bottom end of the digestive or GI tract, is the final result or consequence of all the individualized digestive alchemy that went on before, and a strong case could be made for calling it the most particular and individualized portion of the whole GI tract.  In fact, the individuality of the large intestine and the lower GI tract goes way beyond its gross, visible anatomical features, and extends into its microbial biome of intestinal flora as well.  Talk about Physis, and the unique and ineffable whole being much more than the sum total of its parts – the human intestinal biome exhibits that principle in abundance.

There are billions of microbes populating the large intestine and the GI tract, which could be functionally categtorized into three basic groups: beneficial probiotic bacteria, harmful pathogenic bacteria, and a neutral group called comensual bacteria, which lies somewhere in between the two, having a function that is neither beneficial nor harmful.  Beneficial probiotic bacteria include mainly lactic acid forming bacteria of the Lactobacillis and Bifidobacterium geni; they facilitate the final digestion or breakdown and absorption of vital nutrients in the gut and promote a healthy immune response.  In fact, many holistic physicians consider our intestinal biome of friendly bacteria to be the largest single part of our immune system – yet, strictly speaking these friendly bacteria are not part of our bodies, but exist in a symbiotic relationship with it.  The intestinal biome of an individual consists of the sum total of all three major groups of intestinal and digestive organisms, be they beneficial, harmful or indifferent, and the particular balance and dynamics of their interaction as a whole, which can be extremely complex – kind of like politics, which can confound even the most experienced pundits.

The Problem – And My Awakening to Intestinal Individuality

I have always been plagued with intestinal problems, and sensitive, quirky guts.  In spite of daily supplementation with probiotics, intestinal problems and complaints have dogged me all my adult life.  Looking for relief from intestinal challenges I was then going through, or at least something that would change the ballgame and put it into a more positive phase, I went into a health food store and bought some capsules of Saccharomyces boulardii – a yeast-like microbe that I heard had recently been touted by Dr. Oz on Oprah as being a magical panacea for many different types of imbalances or disorders of the intestinal flora.  Whenever Dr. Oz or Oprah tout something on their shows, there’s a big run on it, with health food stores usually selling out of it within 24 hours.  But here I was, lucky enough to be able to get my hands on a bottle of the stuff.  I quickly popped a couple of capsules, eager to see miraculous changes in my gut health, but, sorry to say, was severely disappointed when I developed adverse symptoms within a couple of hours after taking it.  Since then, I have assiduously avoided S. boulardii.

How could something that was so highly praised as being a panacea for your gut health have gone so wrong in my case?  Well – with the genus name Saccharomyces, which is also the genus name for Brewer’s Yeast and other yeast-like organisms, its very biological kinship with yeast could have been a problem.  I knew that I was allergically sensitive to Brewer’s Yeast, so it’s only natural that a biological cousin to it would provoke a similar allergic reaction as well.  Also, for years I had struggled with another yeast-like pathogenic organism, Candida albicans, which was probably the result of a previous immune weakness engendered by all the mercury fillings I had in my mouth (over thirty of them!), which I had taken out and replaced with plastic composite resin fillings when I was in my thirties.  So, ok – I could see how, in my case at least, the highly touted miracle cure for intestinal flora problems didn’t work.  This little personal case study of mine also pointed to a thorny little problem that is inherent in the mass marketing of any health product – you have to market it to a hypothetical “common man”, or to a statistically normal or average person – keeping in mind that there will always be certain individuals who defy the statistical norms.

My memory of this disappointing incident from my past was rudely reawakened when I received an email from someone seeking to promote the results of their own study into the supposedly best probiotic supplements on the market.  And indeed, for the vast majority of those within the statistically normal range, their results might prove to be accurate.  The only thing is that you have to take these findings with the proverbial grain of salt when it comes to your own guts, and how they might react to the highly touted product.  Luckily, with the wide range and diversity of probiotic supplements that have recently flooded the health food marketplace, there is a high degree of probability that at least one supplement that’s out there will work for you.  Anyway, when I looked at the findings of this study, and the microbial breakdown of their recommended probiotic supplements, I found that my old nemesis, Saccharomyces boulardii, was in a majority of the top products cited.  Of course, S. boulardii wasn’t the only probiotic organism that was in those supplements – which were a mixture of many different strains – and just because I had had an adverse reaction to pure S. boulardii didn’t necessarily mean that I would have a similar adverse reaction to these blends.  I would just have to try them, and see how my own guts responded – while holding on to my receipt, so I could get a refund if necessary.

The whole phenomenon of intestinal individuality can most readily be seen in another area as well – that of laxatives.  For example, although many people find Senna a great laxative to take, those with sensitive, colicky intestines tend to have problems with it.  When it comes to Senna, you can either be in the “no problem” group, the “OK if properly buffered and blended” group, or the “absolutely not, not even in small doses” group.  Again, another episode comes to mind:  I was preparing the night before getting a colonoscopy from Romania’s top gastroenterologist when I took, instead of the synthetic Dulcolax he recommended for emptying my bowels, a natural herbal laxative from a Romanian herb store.  Unfortunately, it contained Crusin, or Buckthorn Bark (Rhamnus frangula), which, although being a very gentle and reliable laxative for most people, had the opposite effect of constipating me.  Finally, with only a few hours to go before my colonoscopy, and sweating bullets, I had to take a large dose of Castor Oil to get my colon cleaned out, so I could watch my colon live on TV – you see, the good doctor didn’t believe in anesthesia, since there is a very slight, but real, possibility of death while under its influence.  To show you just how finicky my guts are, a close botanical relative of Buckthorn bark, Cascara Sagrada (Rhamnus purschiana), of the same Rhamnus genus, but native to the New World, works great as a laxative for me.

Finicky guts usually equals an entire GI tract that is finicky as well.  The intestines, both large and small, are all part of the same hollow tube that extends, with various modifications and adjunct structures, from the mouth at its top end to the anus at its bottom end.  Again, another colorful episode from my past comes to mind.  I was taking a yoga teacher’s training course in south India, and one particular morning upon arising, we were trying our hands at a particular yogic cleansing technique that involved gradually swallowing a long moistened strip of soft cotton cloth until it reached the stomach, then slowly drawing it back out.  I was having a very rough time of it, to say the least, gagging on every inch of the cloth, which absolutely refused to go down.  I then turned around and saw that the guy next to me had swallowed the whole length of cloth in a mere ten seconds or so, with absolutely no problems at all.  That’s gastro-intestinal individuality for you!

The Great Complexity of the Human Gut Biome, and Modern Threats to It

So, we have within the greater Physis of the human body, a smaller micro-Physis that is the human gut biome, or community of microorganisms living in the human gut; and as I said before, it is incredibly complex.  First, you have the intestines themselves, and their mucosa and secretions, existing within the larger digestive system, which also contributes to the mix.  Then, you have the gut biome of the individual, a mini-Physis in its own right, a complex, interactive microbial population consisting of various factions of microbes, either beneficial, harmful or neutral, and the complex interplay between these various factions and sub-populations.  And then, you have various factors born of the interplay between the GI tract and its organs, and the individual gut biome, which can generate such diverse phenomena as food allergies and sensitivities, leaky gut syndrome, intestinal flora imbalances and disorders, and a whole host of other complex reactions and developments.

To put it frankly, our toxic, denatured modern world has not been very friendly to the human gut biome.  Among factors that are injurious to it are smoking, drinking, a poor diet, sweets, junk foods, antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides, and genetically modified foods.  Toxic metals in the mouth, such as mercury amalgam fillings and other metals used in dental work, also take their toll.  Bt toxin, or Bacteria thuringensis toxin, which has been genetically engineered into many of our staple food crops, is a toxin that kills insects by exploding their guts; don’t you think, then, that it might be able to poke a few holes in our own guts as well?  Another pathogenic organism that is very prevalent in our guts these days is Candida albicans; it, along with Bt toxin, can cause micro-lesions in our gut mucosa that can let foreign proteins into the bloodstream, generating food allergies and sensitivities galore.  Although pathogenic organisms like Candida exist in virtually everyone’s guts, they only do real damage if they get out of control and are allowed to proliferate due to a deficiency of protective probiotic bacteria; it’s all a matter of balance.  The indiscriminate overuse of antibiotics these days has led to the harmful mutation of other bacteria; when I was young, for example, E. coli was a perfectly harmless and innocuous gut bacteria – now, harmful new strains have developed that can do real damage.

To counter all these newfound threats of modern life, science and research into probiotics has really exploded in recent years, with new strains being discovered, catalogued and researched all the time.  In general, all beneficial probiotic bacteria will improve the digestion and absorption of vital nutrients from the food we eat; they will also have a beneficial healing and balancing effect on our immune systems as well, with some experts affirming that they may even be beneficial in treating autoimmune disease.  Collectively speaking, these newly discovered and researched probiotic strains have become valuable therapeutic tools in the holistic healer’s arsenal; in addition to their common beneficial effects on digestion and immunity, different strains have become recognized for other auxiliary therapeutic benefits as well.  In addition to the probiotic organisms themselves, prebiotics are also being utilized, since they provide valuable food and nourishment that enhances the growth and proliferation of the friendly bacteria.

Chief among the prebiotics is a complex carbohydrate, a FOS, or fructo-oligo-saccharide, called Inulin; Inulin is so-called because it was first discovered in Elecampane root, or Inula helinum; other related herbal roots, like those of Dandelion, Burdock and Chicory, are also rich sources of it as well, as is the Jerusalem Artichoke.  Although they don’t contain Inulin in any appreciable quantities, there are many other herbs and spices that are useful in promoting healthy bacteria in the gut, and getting rid of intestinal fermentation and putrefaction.  These include Asafoetida, Cardamom, Frankincense, Galangal, Garlic, Marjoram, Myrrh, Oregano, Patchouli (those hippies got it right!), Star Anise, Thyme and Turmeric.  One of my favorite ways to correct and balance my digestive and intestinal flora is to chew on Mastic gum or resin (Pistachia lentiscus).  If one is gastronomically inclined, one can make one’s own sauerkraut and bran pickles, which the Japanese call Nuka Miso Tsukemono.  I even made my own bran pickles when I was living in Romania; although they didn’t have the traditional Japanese rice bran over there, the available wheat bran worked just as well.  Another great prebiotic supplement is Colostrum.

***

Useful Links for Further Information

With so much ground breaking research being done on probiotics these days, there is a great wealth of information that is out there on various websites and web pages.  To begin with, I can provide you with the link to the research study done by the organization that recently emailed me:

The Best Probiotic Supplements

The following is a link to an article that discussed the author’s pick for the eighteen best probiotic strains for your gut, with a summary of the therapeutic benefits of each:

The 18 Best Probiotic Strains for Your Gut

The following link is from probiotics.org, and lists all the most beneficial and extensively researched probiotic strains; just click on the strain name to get a brief summary of its benefits and uses, as well as research results:

Top 15 Most Researched Probiotic Strains

Or, simply do a google search on the strain you want to know more about, if you should see it listed in a certain probiotic supplement you’re taking, or are thinking of taking.  Just remember that the ultimate proof of its therapeutic suitability and efficacy in your case will be how your own body, and your own gut, reacts to it.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS ON MIXED TEMPERAMENTS

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Thursday, May 3, 2018

Introduction: The Phenomenon of Mixed Temperaments

My Greek Medicine website has been up and running for over ten years now, and I have been offering Medical Astrology consultations through my website for clients all over the world for almost that long.  And in the process, I have gotten to see quite a few individuals, with a wide variety of health issues and challenges – and a similarly wide variety of constitutional makeups.  Many, if not most, or at least the vast majority of them, want to know their constitutional nature and temperament, and with it, how to eat, take herbs and supplements, exercise, and live in accordance with their inherent constitutional nature.  After all, knowing one’s temperament is the foundation and starting point for all health, hygiene and self care in Greek Medicine.  Many of these clients want simple, or at least clear cut answers in this regard, in order to have a similarly simple and clear cut path of self care laid out for them.

As I have written on my website, simple temperaments are comparatively rare; the usual pattern is a dominant or primary temperament followed closely by a strong secondary temperament, and definitely, I would say that the majority of people fit into this category.  But there are also many people, you might call this group a fairly large minority, in which the obvious or manifest characteristics of their temperamental makeup are not limited to two, but noticeable patterns and characteristics of still others may be present.  Or, the blending of different temperaments within their constitutional makeup may be quite complex and subtle, offering nothing that clear or obvious to latch onto.  In fact, one early visitor to my website was one of those whose constitutional nature was a complex and subtle blending of at least three of the Four Temperaments.  I told him this after looking at his natal astrology chart, and a prominent Unani Hakim had also told him basically the same thing after examining him.

The whole concept of constitutional nature, or temperament, is something that is not limited to Greek or Unani Medicine alone, but is also shared by Ayurveda as well.  To show the basic universality of the concept, the very term prakruti in Ayurvedic Medicine can be translated as “Nature”, which, incidentally, is also the basic translation for the Greek term physis.  And in both the Greek and Ayurvedic systems of medicine, the “nature” in question is the nature of the individual’s entire bodymind when viewed from a holistic perspective.  Ayurvedic medicine has three basic constitutional types, or doshas: Vata (Nervous / Melancholic); Pitta (Choleric / Bilious); and Kapha (Phlegmatic / Serous / Lymphatic).  And an individual who is more or less a harmonious blending or intermixture of all three doshas is called Sama Dosha.  And this condition of being Sama Dosha, which could be seen as being somewhat analogous to the subtle and complex mixing of temperaments I referred to earlier, is not at all a bad thing; in fact, it is a desirable state of harmony and balance.  It’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of!

Managing Mixed Temperaments

If you should have a mixed temperament, how do you manage it, and what are the basic directions and strategies for health, hygiene and self care that you can take from it?  The simplest mixed temperament situation one can have is to have a primary or dominant temperament followed by a strong secondary temperament.  If this should be the case, then the basic approach or strategy is to start with the self care guidelines for your primary or dominant temperament, and then make modifications to it so as not to unduly aggravate your secondary temperament and its humor.  With this approach, you can then construct a regime that honors the therapeutic self care guidelines for both your primary as well as your secondary temperaments.  Any other strong temperaments beyond your primary and secondary ones can usually be managed by following the general guidelines of a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle; you can view them as “sleeping dogs”, if you will – if you don’t unduly disturb or aggravate them, they will usually lie there peacefully and undisturbed – and when they are disturbed, deal with them as the occasion demands.

Indeed, there are a number of different analogies or metaphors that can be used to describe the blending of qualities, humors and temperaments in one’s overall constitutional makeup.  Ones that come most readily to mind are those of a beautiful symphony, with a dynamic interplay of diverse themes and motifs; a beautiful tapestry, woven together with threads of four different colors, representing the Four Temperaments or pure types, in varying proportions and textures; or that of an artist’s canvas, with a complex blending of colors, tints and shades.  If one’s constitutional makeup should be a particularly subtle or complex blending of different humors and qualities, then the basic way to manage such a constitution would be to observe a high degree of sensibility and balance by maintaining a generally healthy diet and lifestyle.  And of course, all the guidelines for personal hygiene and self care in Greek Medicine boil down to one simple rule or guideline: Listen to your body, and what it is telling you! 

Constitutional Nature and Temperament versus Acquired Conditions

In Greek Medicine, there are two basic factors or dimensions to consider when assessing one’s current state of health, or lack thereof: constitutional nature and temperament versus acquired conditions.  Nature or physis, which is your original or innate constitutional nature and temperament, is that of being your true, original healthy self.  However, human beings, being endowed with free will, are free to indulge themselves, or to commit any kinds of errors or indiscretions in diet, nutrition and lifestyle that they choose.  Usually, we are inclined by our innate constitutional makeup and its dominant humors, qualities and temperaments to indulge in errors and indiscretions that are congruent with these dominant factors in our constitutional makeup, but not always.  And so, it is very possible, even probable or likely that, during the course of our lifetimes, we will veer away from the innate path of health that Nature originally mapped out for us, usually in accordance with our constitutional makeup.

And then, in addition to chosen indulgences, errors and indiscretions, there are totally exogenous factors, even unforeseen accidents or calamities, that can have a powerful impact on our health, and really throw us for a loop.  This is probably what the English playwright Shakespeare had in mind when he penned his famous words: “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”  These can be foreseen to some degree, especially in the essential nature of their impact, with the predictive tools of Medical Astrology, but still, they may surprise us in the exact nature and way that they manifest or play out in our lives.  Major milestones and transitions in life can also have a powerful impact on our health; perhaps the most obvious ones, when it comes to women, are the milestones of pregnancy and menopause, or the change of life.  We can’t totally control these exogenous health calamities in life, but we can use the tools of Greek Medicine and natural healing to assess the exact nature and degree of the damage or injury to our health, so that we may design and implement the right remedial measures to bring ourselves back to a state of health and balance – or at least closer to it.

When I studied the art of clinical assessment at the Ayurvedic Institute, Dr. Lad would constantly lecture us on what he called “the Prakruti / Vikruti paradigm”. Prakruti refers to our original or innate constitutional nature and temperament, or the state of being our original, old healthy self; this finds expression in the very word used to denote health in Ayurveda, which is Swastha, with the initial Swa denoting oneself.  Vikruti refers to a state of divergence from our original state of health, which Greek Medicine calls the State of Nature, which is often a wayward path of chronic or repeated errors and indiscretions in diet, hygiene and lifestyle.  Although Greek Medicine is not quite as clear cut as Ayurveda in its designations of Prakruti versus Vikruti in contrasting our original state of health with subsequent digressions from that ideal, Greek Medicine usually refers to our innate state of health and wellbeing as Eucrasia, meaning “good mixture”, versus Dyscrasia, or “bad mixture” when referring to subsequent states of digression and defilement of one’s health.

The job of the true physician or natural healer is to guide the patient back from a diseased or digressed state of dyscrasia towards a state of health or eucrasia, which is in accordance with one’s innate constitutional nature and temperament.  This is quite like the untangling of a tangled or knotted ball of yarn or thread – many different health factors that were all tangled and out of order need to be brought back into their proper relationship, order and alignment.  The physician must first assess how, in what ways, and to what degrees the errors or digressions occurred or were committed, and then reverse them – address the root cause, and then remedy or undo it.  A particularly interesting exercise our class went through one evening at the Ayurvedic Institute was the comparison of “before and after” photos of various famous people, which spanned several years to see how they had changed, to see how aggravated humors or qualities had crept in to distort or alter their appearance, in an effort to discern their nature.  You can even do this simple little exercise on yourself, if you have photos spanning many years.  How has your acquired condition changed over the years?  The results can be quite interesting and enlightening.

Taking stock of how the state of your health has changed over the years can be a quite humbling experience as one meditates and reflects on it.  Why on earth did we stray from the path of health and balance that Nature intended for us, and why did we violate our body’s own innate healing wisdom?  The answers, once arrived at, can be extremely subtle and complex, as much spiritual and psychological as they can be conscious or physical.  Too many people have been living so unnaturally and unhealthily for such a long time that they may not be able to tell exactly where the path of Nature and healing lies; for these people, each one of the Four Humors may be vitiated or out of balance.  Indeed, their ball of yarn when it comes to regaining their health may be extremely tangled and confused.  And part of this sorting out process lies in discerning the difference between inherent or innate constitutional tendencies and inclinations versus acquired conditions; a careful review of one’s medical history is usually necessary .  But if one is patient and persistent, progress can definitely be made.

Contact:

For questions or comments on this blog posting, please contact David Osborn, MH, L.Ac. at the following email address:

davido@greekmedicine.net

 

DAVID WELLS, TEACHER OF THAI YOGA (REUSI DAT TON)

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Introduction to David Wells and Thai Yoga

David-WellsI was first introduced to David Wells and Reusi Dat Ton, or Thai Yoga, when I attended an evening seminar that David hosted on the subject at the Oh Happy Days Natural Food Store in Altadena, California.  The presentation was interesting, lively, and beautified with a magnificent slide show of Thai artwork that David had amassed from his years in Thailand.  But this wasn’t just any traditional Thai art; David was showing slides of artwork depicting Thai hermits practicing the techniques and poses of Thai Yoga, which he called Reusi Dat Ton.  The Thai name for their traditional yoga system means something like “The Self-Stretching Exercises of Sages”, since the Thai word “Reusi” is related to the Sanskrit word, “Rishi”, denoting a hermit or sage.  David told us that he had studied Reusi Dat Ton with traditional masters of this yoga when he was stationed with the Peace Corps in Thailand.  I had a nice chat with him after his art show and presentation, and learned that, like me, he had also studied Ayurveda, but not at the Ayurvedic Institute like I did, but rather at the California College of Ayurveda in Grass Valley.  Thai Yoga was the yoga and healing system that gave birth to Thai Massage, which is now enjoying great popularity due to its combination of yoga stretches with massage techniques.

David Wells later let me sit in on a Thai Yoga workshop that he was giving at a yoga studio in nearby Sierra Madre.  In the class, he led the students through a series of stretching and self massage exercises designed to soften, flex and reduce tension, stiffness and pain in every joint in the body.  It was amazing how he worked all the major joints, from head to toe, in a rigorous and systematic manner, and after going through this routine, all the students felt a whole lot better, including myself.  Although you can pay a practitioner of Thai Massage a considerable sum of money to have them stretch and massage your joints for you, it’s nice to know that its parent healing art, Reusi Dat Ton, has devised a system that allows you to do this valuable stretching and massage therapy on yourself.  In recognition of Reusi Dat Ton’s great value to patients and clients in helping them to reduce chronic joint pain and stiffness, David now works at a treatment center for chronic pain in upstate New York.

Thai Yoga and Traditional Thai Medicine

When I was living in Tucson, Arizona, I had a Medical Astrology client who had been one of David Wells’ Reusi Dat Ton students.  She had also studied Traditional Thai Medicine with a master teacher of that traditional healing art.  Interested to learn more, I set up a meeting with her in a nearby coffee shop, and she proceeded to explain the basics of Traditional Thai Medicine to me.  It turned out that Traditional Thai Medicine has points in common with Greek Medicine, as it seeks to balance the Four Elements in the body, and the Four Elements of Thai Medicine just happen to be the same ones as those of Greek Medicine: Fire, Air, Earth and Water.  She told me that, if her teacher wanted to get a deeper perspective on certain persistent health conditions or imbalances that weren’t so clear in one of his patients, he would consult the patient’s natal astrology chart to get a look at the deeper roots of the problem.  I was interested to know that Medical Astrology is also used in Traditional Thai Medicine, an eastern healing system that is far removed, geographically and culturally, from Greek Medicine.

David Wells, in the introductory pages of his new e-book on Reusi Dat Ton, states that the ancient Reusis or Rishis who created Thai Yoga were also the custodians of other branches of secret traditional knowledge and lore in diverse fields, such as medicine, music, alchemy, astrology, and much more.  He also has a diagram of a Tree of Yoga, showing how Thai Yoga is related to the original Hatha Yoga of India, as well as to Tibetan Yoga and other forms of yoga.  Although traditional Thai arts and sciences, including medicine and healing, flourished in the medieval era, Traditional Thai Medicine, including Reusi Dat Ton, was almost snuffed out on two occasions.  The first was in the eighteenth century, when invading Burmese forces destroyed Thailand’s old capitol in 1767, and along with it, many priceless old documents and treatises on medicine.  The Kings of Thailand then patronized Traditional Thai Medicine, working diligently to restore the corpus of old medical literature and to promote the healing art.  The priceless medical documents, as well as statues of the Reusis executing the poses of Thai Yoga, are now on display at the Wat Po temple in Bangkok.

The second time that Traditional Thai Medicine was almost vanquished was in the early twentieth  century, when it fell out of favor due to the importation of modern Western Medicine.  It even lost its patronage from the royal house of Thailand.  The modern revival of Traditional Thai Medicine began around 1978 in response to the United Nations’ World Health Organization’s call for the strengthening and revival of traditional healing and herbal medicine practices in member nations around the world, and the incorporation of such indigenous traditional healing practices and modalities into the primary healthcare program.  Now, there are schools of Traditional Thai Medicine that are flourishing in Thailand.  But traditional healing and herbal medicine never fell out of favor in the rural areas of Thailand, where a strong system of folk medicine and herbal healing persists to this very day.  Thailand enjoys a tropical climate that is warm the whole year round, so why not go off to Thailand to study Thai Massage, Thai Yoga or Traditional Thai Medicine?

 

Links and Internet Resources

Anyone who wants to connect with David Wells personally and find out where and when he is teaching his classes and workshops on Reusi Dat Ton is invited to go to his website:

www.wellsyoga.com      

Anyone who is interested in David Wells’ introductory manual on the self massage techniques of Reusi Dat Ton is also invited to go to the page for that e-book on Amazon.com, whose link is below:

Self Massage and Joint Mobilization of Traditional Thai Yoga: Reusi Dat Ton Part 1 Handbook (Volume 1)

The web pages that I used as information sources on Traditional Thai Medicine in the preparation of this article are as follows:

The Integration of Thai Traditional Medicine in the National Health Care System of Thailand

TRADITIONAL THAI MEDICINE

 

THE STORY OF MY LIFE LONG LOVE AFFAIR WITH HERBS – Part One: The Early Days

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Monday, December 4, 2017

Introduction: An Old “Blast from the Past”

“Hello – may I speak to David Osborn?”, announced the voice at the other end of my cell phone line.  My jaw dropped as I recognized that unforgettable voice from way out of my past – over thirty years ago, to be exact.  It was none other than my very first roommate from Pasadena, California, my old friend Al.  What followed in our phone conversation was a long trip down memory lane.  And one of the highlights of the conversation was my thanking him profusely for his influence in guiding me more along the path of herbs for health and healing.  Of all the things in my life, I reflected, herbs were probably the single most valuable thing to me, veritable life savers, the serendipitous gifts of Mother Nature that were practically there for the asking.  Al used herbs on a regular basis for all his health needs, and advised me to do so as well – advice which I gladly followed.  Let me repeat that key statement once again: Of all the things I have encountered throughout my life, herbs stand head and shoulders above all the rest in their great value to my overall life and health.  I really don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for herbs.

Herbs in My College Days

Indeed, Al was one of those key formative influences who stepped in at a critical point in my life to guide and shepherd me onto the herbal path, but he was by no means the only, nor was he the first.  There had been others before him.  The first one I can remember, and the very first if my memory serves me correctly, was my voice teacher in college, Professor Leighton.  He was very big not only on herbs but also on nutrition for optimum health.  “A singer’s body is his instrument,” he would remind us, “You must keep it clean and healthy.”  And keeping the body clean, when it came to singing, meant especially keeping it clean from phlegm.  And so, Fenugreek tea (Trigonella foenum-graecum) was probably the very first herb that I was introduced to, thanks to Professor Leighton.  “Vitamin C and Fenugreek tea” was his motto, with the vitamin C to ward off colds, and the Fenugreek tea to act as an expectorant to loosen up the phlegm in our sinuses.  Mr. Leighton kept a large box of Kleenex on the piano in his voice studio, and had us sip Fenugreek tea as we practiced our scales.  Then, when we hit the high notes, their vibration would dislodge the phlegm, and we’d reach for a tissue to expectorate it.  Many voice students of his, said Mr. Leighton, had throats and sinuses that seemed hopelessly blocked and congested with phlegm, but Fenugreek tea had done wonders, he affirmed.

After Mr. Leighton had introduced me to Fenugreek tea, one of the first herbs I tried for the sake of my health was Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), which I had heard was very good for the stomach, liver and digestion – key problem areas in my health.  I remember vividly that first cup of Dandelion root tea – it seemed to be so awfully bitter!  But now, after forty-plus years of drinking herb teas, that Dandelion root, which once seemed so bitter, almost tastes sweet as my palette has grown accustomed to the rich and nuanced flavors of herbs.  Another initially repulsive herb that I was introduced to by a friend in my early college days was Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) – good lord, what a stink it raised!  But it was indeed effective at calming my nerves and bringing on sleep.  Mu Tea was another herbal formula from the Far East that was popular in the herb sections of those early health food stores, which had a large and avid following.  Its rich, nuanced flavors further awakened my palette and made it more friendly and hospitable to herb teas – and it was also refreshing and energizing.

Herbal Adventures in Japan

My first real herbal healing miracle and eye opener to the amazing healing power of herbs and other natural medicinal substances came when I was teaching English as a second language in Japan after my college days.  I had one real killer of a stomach ache one evening – so much so that I was literally doubled over in pain.  My homestay mother, Mrs. Nagata, quickly reached into her home medicine cabinet and pulled out a dried bear’s gall bladder (Felum ursi), cut off a piece, pulverized it with a mortar and pestle, and forced a quarter teaspoonful of it down my clenched jaws as I was doubled over in pain, giving me a sip of water to wash it down with.  My relief was complete and immediate, and the excruciating pain was gone within a minute.  Now, I know that the hunting and poaching of wild animals for their medicinal parts is a controversial, hot button issue amongst those who are concerned with preserving biodiversity and the ecosystem, not to mention animal cruelty issues, but in so many cases, these animal substances have continued to be used in Chinese herbal medicine precisely because they are very potent, reliable and effective remedies.  And my miraculous healing with the bear’s gall bladder that evening truly bore that out.  To borrow a substance, like bile, that one is acutely lacking in from an animal is one key way that traditional medical systems utilize our close kinship with the animal kingdom.  The use of Ox Bile Extract in the over-the-counter digestive aids sold in health food stores follows this same basic principle.

Mrs. Nagata was a very studious type, and often had her head buried in a book – a habit that I caught from her, which aided me greatly in my study of herbs.  My healing miracle with the bear’s gall bladder had awakened in me a desire to know more about some common herbs used in Oriental herbal medicine, so one evening Mrs. Nagata and I sat down and opened up one of her multi-volume encyclopedias to an article on the subject and read about them.  In those early days of the health food movement, Macrobiotics was all the rage, and a popular restaurant in the center of Osaka where us English teachers would hang out was called the Fuku-en, which means, “Happy Garden”.  I was told by the proprietors that the very founder of the Macrobiotic movement, Georges Ohsawa, whose real Japanese name was Nyoichi Sakurazawa, started their restaurant.  The original Japanese term for the Macrobiotics dietary system he founded was Genmai Seishoku, or “the Brown Rice (literally ‘unrefined rice’) System of Correct Dietetics”.

Truly, Macrobiotics was a wonderful culinary experience.  In addition to the brown rice that formed the mainstay of the diet, there were also a wide variety of side dishes, consisting of various sea vegetables like Kombu, Hijiki, Nori, Wakame and Arame; Japanese pumpkin squash, called Kabocha; and my favorite, which was Goma Dofu, or Tofu made with Sesame seeds.  As a garnish or condiment for our brown rice, we would use Gomashio, which is made from sea salt and roasted sesame seeds.  I was all gung ho on Macrobiotics, and ate a heck of a lot of brown rice – it took a long time to boil or cook up, but at least it was easy, if not so quick, to fix.  Once, when I suffered from an extreme case of low energy and devitalization, I took my first trip to visit an acupuncturist.  The acupuncturist came into the room and did what seemed to be nothing more than a massage of my back while I was lying face down on my belly; I waited for what seemed to be ages, wondering when the acupuncturist would return to finally stick the needles in.  When he finally returned, I asked him if he was going to put the needles in and he told me that he had already inserted them the first time he came in – and that now he had returned to take them out.  Boy, was I surprised!  The acupuncturist’s message to me was not to eat so much brown rice, but to eat more side dishes as well – he felt that too much brown rice was not right for my constitutional type.

I asked the acupuncturist if he had any recommendations for me in terms of herbs, and he told me that that wasn’t his department, or specialty.  You see, in Japan, the acupuncturists are trained to do only acupuncture and massage; to get herbs, you had to go to a pharmacy and get seen by a pharmacist who had been trained in Kampo-Yaku, or Chinese herbal medicine (literally ‘Chinese Formula Medicine’).  Luckily, there was a Chinese herbal pharmacy right around the corner from the Fuku-en.  The next time I was feeling out of sorts, when I had symptoms of sluggishness, bloating and slow digestion after meals, I took the opportunity to visit this herbal pharmacy for a consultation.  The formula I was prescribed was Rokkunshi-to, or the Decoction of the Six Gentlemen.  It was for a sluggish, devitalized spleen, pancreas and digestion that had become bogged down by an excess of phlegm and dampness.  It came in a nice little bottle, and consisted of little pills or tablets that had been made from the freeze-dried extract of the original herbal decoction.  I could either take my medicine in pill form, I was told, or dissolve the pills in hot water and drink them as a tea.

The “King Herb”, or principal ingredient of the Six Gentlemen Decoction was none other than the legendary Ginseng (Panax ginseng), a Qi tonic and energizer for several core bodily functions, including the spleen / pancreas functions of digestion and assimilation.  To this first “gentleman”, three subsequent herbal gentlemen were added to assist the king and make its energizing properties more specific and focused on the spleen, pancreas and digestion: Bai Zhu, or Byaku Jitsu in Japanese, a spleen tonic that also dried up excess dampness (Atractylodes macrocephala); Fu Ling, or Bukuryo in Japanese, a gentle diuretic to drain these excess fluids and dampness from the body (Poria cocos); and Zhi Gan Cao, or Ji Kanzo in Japanese, which is Honey Baked Licorice root – a spleen tonic that works closely with Ginseng while also balancing and mellowing out the effects of the latter.  These four herbs are known as the Four Gentlemen, and serve as the core of the formula.  To these initial four gentlemen are added two more “gentlemen”, which enhance the formula’s ability to dry up and concoct / eliminate accumulated phlegm and dampness.  The first of these, Chen Pi, is dried, aged tangerine peel, which harmonizes the stomach function and dispels phlegm and dampness (Citrus reticulata); and the second one, Ban Xia (Pinellia officinalis) is an acrid, drying and slightly toxic herb which is a strong remover of phlegm and dampness.  And finally, two more ingredients, fresh Ginger root and Chinese Jujube dates, are added to balance and round out the formula, with the fresh Ginger root also serving to detoxify the Pinellia.

Looking back on it, I can see how the basic principles followed in the construction of this basic and famous Chinese herbal formula are quite congruent with the basic principles of Greek Medicine, although in theoretical terms, the pathophysiological principles behind the condition it was used to treat might be expressed a little differently.  Greek Medicine would probably see this as a condition in which a decline in the vital metabolic and digestive Fire has allowed pathogenic excesses of the opposite yet complementary Water element, in the form of turbid phlegm and dampness, to accumulate in the digestive tract and the core organs of digestion.  The overall nature and temperament of the herbs selected to treat this condition would be basically the same as in Chinese herbal medicine – warming and stimulating herbs like Bay Laurel leaves and Juniper berries, for example, combined with expectorant herbs to concoct and remove the excess phlegm, like our old friend, Fenugreek seeds.  Truly, Chinese herbal medicine has its own humoral principles and concepts, just as surely as Greek Medicine does.  Both traditional healing systems are dealing with the same clinical realities.

My Herbal Education Continues Back Stateside

There have been two reigning passions in my life that have served to guide my path throughout life: music and healing.  To that I can add a third, which has been spirituality and metaphysics – which has found ample expression in the Medical Astrology section of my website.  After I had studied voice with Professor Leighton in my college days, I went to graduate school in Seattle, where I studied ethnomusicology, or the study of world music, at the University of Washington.  Back in those days, which was also in the seventies, Seattle was a city that was fertile soil for spiritual pursuits.  I was involved in a spiritual path called Eckankar, which was also billed as The Ancient Science of Soul Travel; although the true quality and authenticity of this spiritual teaching may be open to debate, I nevertheless had some of my most profound spiritual experiences while on this path.  And its founder, Paul Twitchell, had written a book entitled Herbs, the Magic Healers, which advocated herbs as a basic healing path for those “Eckists” who were his disciples.  Although a lot of the material in this book seemed rather far-fetched and fanciful, there was also a lot of sound advice and herbal healing principles presented therein.

It was within the Eckankar community in Seattle that I found my first herbal “guru”, whose name was Gary.  He was like a living, walking encyclopedia of herbal knowledge.  At that time, I was still struggling to get a basic foundation of herbal knowledge under my belt, and my herbal guru, Gary, was very helpful in that quest.  This basic phase of my herbal education could be summed up as constructing a kind of basic conceptual framework via which I could categorize and group herbs according to their basic therapeutic properties and uses, and understand their healing effects.  It was also involved with constructing a basic “inner herbal” inside my head of common herbs for common uses – this herb for this, that herb for that.  Gary would also take me out into the wilderness and show me various herbs: This herb here is Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which was the same Poison Hemlock that Socrates drank; that herb there is none other than Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica), which, unlike Hemlock, is a very useful and nutritious herbal superfood.  Although eating the fresh leaves would sting your mouth and tongue, Gary assured me that if I took a batch home and either steamed or stir fried them, they would lose their sting.  The old Eck Master and Tibetan yogi Milarepa, Gary told me, would subsist for long periods of time on nothing but Nettles.

It was while attending graduate school in Seattle that I encountered my first major health crisis.  To save money, I decided to go on a very cheap diet which I, in my youthful folly and inexperience, erroneously believed would be sufficient and complete.  Day after day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich made with Orowheat bread, which was washed down with a cup of instant orange Tang, which contained vitamin C, but even much more refined white sugar.  After about a month or so of subsisting on this meager and unbalanced diet, I came down with a horrendous case of liver and spleen infection and enlargement, complicated by a nasty case of strep throat and a high fever, because I had let my immune system weaken and degenerate.  The U of W doctor who saw me thought it was a case of mononucleosis or the “kissing disease” which was somewhat of a trendy diagnosis in those days, but other holistic health practitioners who have heard the story since then believe that it was probably some form of hepatitis.  Anyway, there was definitely heavy liver involvement, and after that crisis, I lost a lot of weight, got a sallow complexion, and got a lot more frail and sickly in general.  Needless to say, herbs were there to help me rebuild my health – tonics and liver herbs, mainly.  Those who decide to pursue a career in holistic healing have often – or maybe even usually – had some terrible health crisis in their past that they healed naturally – whereas all too many of those who go to conventional medical school are simply interested in making a good living as a doctor.

Back to Pasadena – and Roommate Al

When I returned from teaching English in Japan, I first returned to stay with my parents who lived near San Diego, California.  That was followed by my first job stateside, working for a Japanese limousine service in Little Tokyo, in downtown Los Angeles.  I initially rented a modest apartment right downtown, within walking distance of my first job, but the blaring music of the Mexicans who lived in the neighborhood would keep me up at night.  And so, I soon found a place in Pasadena, a nearby suburb, and shared an apartment with Al.  It was in the black section of town, right behind a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Al, as I said, was an avid user of herbs – in teas, in pills or capsules, and even topically in the form of salves and balms.  I would ask him about many of the herbs he took, and what they were for, and he would be glad to open up and teach me about them.  Al would also give me lots of other valuable gems of health advice, such as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables: “They’re the protective foods, which protect your body from serious degenerative disease,” he would tell me.

Soon after I moved in, Al took me with him to visit a nearby health food store and meet a friend of his, a guy by the name of John Hopkins, who was the store’s proprietor.  The store’s name was “Oh Happy Days”; it started way back in 1976 or so, and it has been in operation ever since.  Next time that you are in the Pasadena area, I highly recommend that you pay John and his store a visit; in recent years, he has added a vegetarian café to his store – so drop in for lunch, or dinner.  John’s store was just a few blocks away from where we lived, right across the border into Altadena.  I forget exactly what we went over to John’s store to get that day, but dear “Brother John” became quite a mentor to me, and was instrumental in guiding me towards holistic healing as a career path.  Of all the people in my life, with the possible exception of my father, I have always looked up to John as one of the most virtuous and selfless people I know.  He had endured many personal sacrifices to keep his store up and running, and always charged his customers fair and affordable prices, being generous and truthful to a fault.  As a result, everyone in the community trusted and relied on John, and his store became the hub of the local holistic and Bohemian community, which were one and the same thing in Altadena.  And so, I call John Hopkins “Saint John, the Health Food Gandhi of Altadena”.

It was John Hopkins who kept prodding me to pursue a career in holistic healing.  In this, I think that he was, to a large extent, living vicariously through me, since he had for years tried to pursue and finish a professional education in Chiropractic, but was never able to get the necessary time or money together to finish up at Chiropractic College.  Nevertheless, Brother John was always studying up on herbs and nutrition, and doing his best to keep abreast of all the latest advances in the fields of nutrition and herbal medicine.  And so, there were, and still are, many who come to John’s store who would faithfully go to him whenever they got sick, being their trusted “go to guy” for that purpose, going to him before any MD – and they still do.  And if John felt that the customer needed professional help beyond that which he was equipped to give, he would not hesitate to refer him to a qualified practitioner.  Truly, the level of trust and respect that John commanded from his customers was something that no professional diploma or training could buy – it was something that was inherent in his personal character.  It was John’s influence and guidance that led me to embark on the next stage of my healing journey, which was to take up Oriental Medicine and herbal healing as a career path.

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!