My mother grew up in Britain before the National Health Service, so like many of her generation, she's a fix-it-yourself kind of person, when it comes to the ills of her family. She also does not trust drug companies, so will always try to take the natural method of healing any medical problem over the pills prescribed by her doctors. As you probably know if you’ve read some of my posts in the past, about 18 months ago, Mum had to start taking pills for just about the first time in her life (she’s almost 80) following a minor stroke, and took it as a personal affront. This post isn’t exactly about my mother, it’s about me and those like me – those of us who look at the plant world to cure our ills, or turn to traditional healing methods that have stood the test of time. I guess that when it comes to medicine, I am my mother’s daughter.
That’s not to say I hold with some of her cures. I remember when I was about seven years old being stung by a wasp (a yellowjacket) on my derriere. My mother brought out that time-honored antidote to wasp sting – an onion. All I will say is that it is very hard to ride a bike with half an onion in your underwear.
Those early years of the National Health Service, which followed hot on the heels of a massive advertising campaign that lastest through much of the 1930’s and 40’s to get people out into the country and “hiking” (it’s an old word used by a British ad exec at the time, to describe a very brisk walk across the countryside. It’s a joining of “hill” and “walking”), saw a rise in vitamin supplements for children, especially following the dark years of rationing when kids suffered from all sorts of ills as a result of poor nutrition. My mother was determined to ensure that her children would not want for their vitamins, as she had throughout the war. Before I went to bed at night I was dosed up with a tablespoon of Virol, a thick, sweet malty goo that was, I think, loaded with Vitamin B. On top of that I had to glug down a tablespoon of rosehip syrup, and a halibut oil capsule. Actually, the Virol came last, because Mum gave us each our spoonful to suck on – and that brown treacly stuff always stuck to the top of your mouth and you spent the next hour trying to pry it away with your tongue, then it sat on your chest all night.
Despite the Virol and the onion, I have always been open to supplementing my diet with weird and wonderful things. Not that my mother’s healing methods necessarily did the trick. When my brother was six he had a dreadful stomach upset, so Mum brought out the old-fashioned ginger beer (if you’ve never had it, it’s like a frothier, more gingery version of ginger ale) known for diminishing the symptoms of gastric distress. The poor kid was chugging back glass upon glass of ginger beer, wondering when the pain would go away. In the meantime, the doctor thought he had a bug that was going round, and said that ginger beer would be just the thing. Of course it wasn’t a bug, it was peritonitis as a result of a ruptured appendix, and it’s a wonder he made it alive to the operating room.
Nevertheless, I have continued to try alternative or complimentary methods of healing or illness prevention before taking something with “Glaxo-Klein-Beecham” stamped on the side, or “Merck” across the top of the bottle. My husband suffers from a type of rheumatoid arthritis, so I went through a phase of researching everything I could on the disease, because it really is a nasty thing to have. I discovered that celery juice was found to be quite efficacious in the natural treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. For his birthday that year, I bought him a juicer and half a dozen head of celery to get him started. He just looked at me as if I had landed from another world, let alone another country. Of course. I should have guessed – his dad was a doctor and his mother was a nurse, so there’s no way my Cleveland lad was going to entertain the thought of ramming celery into a juicer every morning and – heaven forbid – drinking the stuff.
All this brings me to my latest ... what would you call it? Experiment? Yes, experiment.
About a week ago, I read an article on oil-pulling. What, may you ask, is oil-pulling (not to be confused with pulling someone who happens to be rich from work in oil)? Oil-pulling is, frankly, a really quite off-putting regime of ridding the body of bacteria and toxins using either sunflower oil or sesame oil. And the oils must be cold-pressed, not just refined through any old process. Basically, first thing in the morning, you take one tablespoon of the oil and use it like a mouthwash, swishing it around your mouth and through your teeth, but definitely not swallowing it. You do this for fifteen minutes. Each and every morning. Apparently, in certain cultures (in the Ukraine, in parts of India), this practice has been going on for aeons. Recently it has been the subject of much interest from the scientific and medical commuities, as it has been linked to success in healing conditions from arthritis to cancer, from high blood-pressure to behaviour issues. The theory is that the oil “pulls” all the nasty gremlins from the body, which is why, when you are done, you have to make sure you send all the spent oil down the sink and wash it away – because it’s chock-full of cooties.
I thought a photo of sunflowers would be more palatable than a sink draining.
I must confess, the thought of oil in my mouth just makes me heave. Yuk! However, I told another friend, who after several days of doing this (she just had to try it), reports that her teeth are whiter and that her skin has begun to clear up – she had some sort of excema. And, surprise, surprise – my mother tried it straightaway, which really amazed me as my Mum can’t even brush her teeth without gagging, she’s as sensitive about textures in her mouth as me. On the first day out with her sunflower oil, she managed to swish for twenty minutes (yeah, I know, five more minutes than the article said – I come from a competitve family).
So, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Just about everyone I have told about oil-pulling has tried it and continued on with the regime – it’s just me that’s completely turned off. I tried it yesterday and spent twenty minutes cleaning the bathroom mirror because the oil went everywhere when I nearly choked on the stuff.
I can hear you thinking, “Oh, this is what writers get up to when they’ve just sent back the final draft of their latest book and they’re sitting there, twiddling their thumbs.” But after watching Michael Moore’s Sicko last week, I think I’ve got to try everything I can to remain in the peak of physical condition. This is a country in which you cannot afford to get sick, whether you have insurance or not.
So, I’m curious – does anyone know what colonic irrigation actually is? It’s always sounded too weird to me, sort of Paris Hilton meets Deepak Chopra. And have you ever done something really strange and unusual in the name of good health?
PS: Do you know, that in British hospitals, they would always serve patients a half a pint of Guinness or another stout ale in the afternoons, because it’s loaded with health-inducing vitamins. When I was seven, I had to go into the hosptial for eye-surgery, and because I wasn’t allowed to play, they put me in a room between the men's surgical ward, and the womens’ surgical ward. To keep me occupied, the nurses would take me around with them when they were giving out the stout ration – the nurse would pour each beer and I would take the glass over to the patient. Needless to say, I was a very popular child. And I’d never seen so many grown-ups happy to see me.