Aloe vera

 

These images are almost as soothing as Aloe vera itself! When I look at this plant I feel relieved.  The juice inside of this succulent is perfect for applying to burns and to dry skin. It also may be taken internally (although I’m not sure of the preparation of this, Aloe vera drinks are readily available), to help with gut issues.  One tip is that you can harvest an entire Aloe rind and put it in the freezer for later use.  It’s helpful to have this in the kitchen since it’s easy to reach for if your skin gets burned.  Another tip about growing Aloe in a container is that it does not to be watered frequently.  Since it’s a succulent, Aloe uses water very efficiently and can be watered twice a month, or every two weeks, only when the soil through the container is dry.  Happy Aloe!

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The Naturist

indigenous-plant-medicines-mexico-circa-1520

One of my part time jobs this summer is as a cook at a mental rehab facility. I like to think that the food I prepare and serve is a healing force. There is a specific diet, which is based on a whole grain rotation and an incorporation of as many vegetables as possible. The basic philosophy of this diet stems from the connection between chemical and nutrient imbalance as a cause for mental disabilities. Each patient is also prescribed a vitamin regiment. Furthermore, the programming at the facility is based in a holistic approach to self-care through diet, exercise, and spirituality. Several teachers come to host classes and outings where the patients, called students, participate in doing art, tai chi, drama, exercise. Rather than writing about the food or the program, I am most intrigued by a book and a system of medicine that came to me through the director of the facility.

Samuel Thomson
 The Thomsonian System is a course of herbal-medical treatment designed and taught by Samuel Thomson in the late nineteenth century. Samuel Thomson wrote a book (several volumes) called the New Guide to Health, in 1822. This is not the book to which I was introduced but rather a book about the Thomsonian System, written by Doctor R. Swinburne Clymer, called The Medicines of Nature. The book contains a sampling of Materia Medica of Thomson’s System as well as his main formulas. I have been reading an original copy of this book from 1926 with it’s stained yellow pages and musty smell.
I think it is important to look at the history of botanical medicine, from early indigenous peoples and ethno-botanical studies to pioneers in clinical herbalism and naturopathy in western civilization. In the 1800’s, Samuel Thomsan was an outspoken herbalist. It is clear that the rift between natural medicine and the allopathic model is endemic throughout most of western civilization, especially in America.


There are modern practitioners of all sorts who maintain that natural medicine is the best mode of treatment, but in this age, most people are skeptical of this position! Dr. Thomson’s philosophy is that, “Nature and Nature alone, will be the basis of all curative activity.” He notes that disease is dis-ease (an un-ease) or an imbalance due to a lack of certain elements or minerals.
Of course modern medical research has disproved this blanket statement. For example, a common disease in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was dysentery. We now know this is caused by different types of microorganisms (Shigella sp. and Entamoeba histolytica). Nonetheless, his book contains herbal remedies to treat this serious disease.
The basis of this thought, however, is rooted in science. The human body’s natural state is that of homeostasis or equilibrium of functioning, and its inability to do that results in disease. In this example, Dr. Thomson’s system selects healing plant-life according to the organic mineral element content. This method of treatment is to enhance cellular activity for the body to achieve homeostasis on its own. The practitioner merely supplies the body with food.

A metaphor for food as medicine
A metaphor for food as medicine

Eat Algae, What?

This semester I have been working on a project in my Ecology class to experiment with growing Spirulina, a type of algae, which is gaining popularity through its reputation as a Super Food. This algae is known as fertilizer for organic food production and to remove chemicals from wastewater. I am interested in the ease of producing this versatile algae, as an organic gardener, aspiring homesteader, and mostly because I have been taking Spirulina almost daily for over a year now and am nearly dependent on the nutrients that it offers as a vitamin supplement.

While I am interested in the MANY aspects and benefits of this algae, I will continue to share some information about Why Spirulina is good for you, intertwined with some facts that I’ve learned through my research.

Many people are perplexed to hear that green plants contain proteins, but Spirulina is one example. The dry weight of Spirulina is 50-70% protein, as it is comprised of a balance amino-acid content. Other vitamins present within this algae are vitamin B-12, B-carotene, and Vitamin A, which in particular has been shown to decrease the risk of cancer. In addition to being a safe guard against cancer, Spirulina is proven to boost the immune system.

The nutrient availability is amazing! It does depend, however, on the growing conditions of the Spirulina as to the exact nutrient content, similarly that the taste and nutrient content of vegetables depends entirely on the soil in which they were grown. If your food is eating chemical fertilizer, so are you. If your food is eating fresh air, lots of nutrient input and sunshine, as you will be too.

From a gardener’s perspective, the ability to grow Spirulina means, not only having access to a nutritious food source, but access to organic fertilizer for the soil and crops as well. Small system farms can have the ability to grow the fertilizer they need with very little input. I am amazed at the potential here.

In terms of purchasing this Super Food, it is sold in capsules in the vitamin department of most natural food stores, but in select markets, it is sold in bulk in a powdered form. I would suggest the latter, as it is cheaper than encapsulated powder and will last you a really long time. Just add a teaspoon a day (more if you feel a cold coming on) to a smoothie, on top of oats, or in a glass of water. The taste may take some getting used to, but it’s not as strong tasting as seaweed for example.

Researchers are discovering more about Spirulina everyday, and it is clear that this algae super food will have so many benefits for public health and food production. I would like to go into this topic more if folks have an interest, send me your comments and let me know.

Spirulina Algae Bloom