Wild medicine and Tansy cakes
It started with the Tansy cakes. I had to ask
myself ‘Why would anyone eat anything so utterly disgusting
in taste’? Chrysanthemum Vulgare is a common perennial
in the British Isles and the name Tansy is said to be derived
from the Greek ‘athansia’, meaning ‘immortal’.
Reasons suggested for this include the fact that the dried
flower lasts forever or that it has a medicinal quality contributing
to long life. Looking back to Greek literature, Tansy was
given by the Gods to Ganymede to make him immortal. In the
language of flowers the gift of Tansy means ‘Rejected
address’ - “ I am not interested in you”.
Its strange taste, not unlike the smell of ‘mothballs’
might have something to do with this.
certainly had a reputation as a vermicide and vermifuge (killing
and dispelling intestinal worms) in the middle ages. John
Gerard wrote in his 17th century Herball: “In the
Spring time are made with the leaves here of newly sprung
up, and with eggs, cakes of Tansies, which be pleasant to
taste, and good for the stomacke. For if any bad humours cleave
there unto, it doth perfectly concoct them and scoure them
Tansy was a common kitchen garden herb for medicinal
and culinary use, in place of expensive foreign spices such
as nutmeg and cinnamon. It was used to flavour custard, cakes,
milk puddings, omlettes and freshwater fish. In Ireland it
was included in sausages called ‘Drisheens’. Its
use as a springtime ‘cleanser’ became ritualised
into a part of the Christian religious Easter traditions;
“On Easter Sunday be the pudding seen,
To which the Tansy lends her sober green.”
The consensus on this much written about herb
is that it was used at Easter to purify the blood after lent.
This consensus shows a problem though, in that in England
the plant does not show leaves until the end of May - well
after Easter. This is evidence of the assimilation of natural
‘self-medicating’ herbalism into a controlling
Observation of wild and domesticated animals
shows that they regularly self-medicate with wild plants.
Sick chimpanzees chew bitter leaves from a bush not normally
part of their diet, and then recover. Research by Michael
Hoffman shows that a particular nematode worm is common in
the monkey’s gut during the rainy season and that their
chewing of the leaves coincided with the prevalence of this
parasite, which it destroyed. This was the same bush that
local tribes use to get rid of stomach parasites.
and cats self medicate by eating couch grass or cleavers.
Parrots, chickens, camels, snow geese, starlings - all have
been observed consuming substances normally alien to their
diet to remedial effect. Bears particularly are venerated
by North American Indian culture because they symbolise the
powers of ‘regeneration’. North American Indians
discovered the use of a root called Osha from bears. It is
so effective as an all round painkiller, antiviral, antipeptic
that it is now on the endangered species list.
The Woolly Bear caterpillar has also been observed
to change its diet according to whether it is infected by
a particular parasite. Normally a Lupin eater, the caterpillar
increases its chance of surviving a particular fly parasite
by changing to a diet of Poison Hemlock. Self-medication is
not therefore a ‘rational choice’ in other species,
but a carefully integrated part of a survival mechanism against
an invisible predator - disease. Humans seem to have lost
this sense of their own health and are not usually informed
as to the uses of plants growing around them.
Humans often self-medicate though - alcohol
indulgence to deal with stress being an obvious example of
this or the ready availability of pharmaceutical or street
drugs. We often consume substances such as caffeine or sugar
drinks for easy energy. The natural trait towards self-medicating
may well be at the basis of many of our unconscious ‘eating
choices’. Potatoes contain a form of opiate and all
foods to some extent can act as ‘alteratives’
to a unique physiology. We talk about comfort foods and rewarding
ourselves with treats to eat. Sometimes we have a favourite
food that can help if we feel too ill to eat. Quite often
this is scrambled egg, which is a unique food because it contains
all of the amino acids we need to digest it, or chocolate,
the ultimate comfort food treat.
An extreme example of what we do is shown in
‘Pica’ where a person gets uncontrollable desires
to eat certain edible (and inedible) substances. This condition
is occurs in pregnant women and is thought to express the
need for particular minerals. Because our food sources are
often limited to processed food, and because of the destruction
of herbal folk-lore and access to wild medicine, many of us
have lost touch with our ‘health sense’ or ability
to use food or wild plants as self-medication. But finally
the wheel is turning and people want access to this more holistic
and gentle sense of health that is prevalent in other medical
philosophies such as Chinese or Tibetan. If you like the taste
of mothballs you could even try Tansy cakes.
Article with thanks to Roger Phillips and Michael
Mitchell is an artist and writer who lives in Cornwall
UK. He has a role in publishing at the edge of paradigm shift.
He feels that as a culture we are between two worlds, the
first a world in decline - that of ‘old rational science’
- the second, a quantum world of energy held back by the first,
struggling to be born in our consciousness.
The purpose of work at simon’s publishing
site is to help people shift paradigms. So on simon’s
sites you will find celebratory material that promotes positive
involvement with holistic health at a quantum level. You will
also find material that is deeply questioning of established,
orthodox and ‘accepted’ wisdom.
simon’s new site is at http://www.simon-mitchell.com