Years ago, I decided that I wanted to live healthy and naturally, for me that meant not only eating healthy and exercising. It also meant that I needed to have healthy and natural alternatives to traditional medicine. Not only was I determined to replace the OTC drugs in my medicine cabinet with natural alternatives, I also wanted to reduce doctors’ visits.
This decision meant that I was going to learn everything I could about herbs and plant-based alternative therapies and treatments. Now, you have to understand this was in the days before the internet, so my options were to start at my local library.
There I checked out “The Old Herb Doctor” by the herbalist Joseph E. Meyer. Full of recipes and common sense advice, I began the chore of filling spiral notebooks with copious notes written in my cramped handwriting.
The library also carried the books “Health from God’s Garden” by Maria Treben, and “The Book of Home Remedies and Herbal Cures” by Carol Bishop. I found “The Honest Herbal” by Varro E. Tyler, PhD, which was informative, but lacked recipes and instructions on how to use herbal remedies Once I’d devoured every book on herbs and herbal remedies, plant identification and herb gardening, that the library had, I hit the bookstore, picking up books on naturopathy and homeopathy, natural remedies and aromatherapy to my growing library of information.
About that time, I was visiting my parents, expounding on what I was learning and how much healthier it was to use herbs. Of course, I was totally ignoring the fact the my mother used to pick fresh peppermint growing next to the garage, and prepare me a bit of mint tea whenever I had a tummy ache. I was too full of everything having to do with herbal medicine and remedies.
The next day, Mother invited me to go with her to visit a friend. Reluctantly I agreed, actually being a bit ungracious, considering she was pulling me away from my “studies”. Later I would apologize profusely for being such a poop. You see, the “friend” was actually not my mother’s friend, but her mother’s, my grandmother’s, friend. She dragged me up and introduced me to this tiny wizened woman, with green eyes peering out of what seemed like a roadmap of wrinkles.
“Maggie,” my mother said, “this is my son and he thinks he knows about herbal remedies, but he needs some guidance. You’ve been moaning about the fact that you don’t have anyone to pass on your knowledge to. Well, now you do. him.”
With that, she pushed me forward, then turned, walked back to the car, got in and drove away!
Maggie and I both watched her drive away and then rather warily looked at each other. For a long moment, those green eyes, narrowed and looked at me piercingly. I shifted uncomfortably, feeling like she could see into my soul and know that I left my bed unmade and had taken a swig of milk out of the carton before putting it back into the refrigerator.
However, I managed to meet her gaze, and she must have seen something in me, because with a quick nod, she turned away with a quiet, “Okay, let’s go.” With that she lead the way to water pump next to the path leading from her back door to a large garden. Pointing to a bright green plant growing next to the pump, she commanded, “Tell me everything you know about that plant, and yes, you may pick off a sprig.”
I eagerly broke off about a five inch stem with about six leaves attached and examined it. Thankfully, I knew this one. “Peppermint,” I said, identifying more by the smell and the square stem and leaf arrangement, than anything else.
“Close,” she said. Then she went on to explain that it was actually spearmint, how to grow it, when to harvest it, what parts of the plant to use, how to preserve the plant and how to use it.
Thus began my training as an amateur herbalist. I say “amateur” because I never received a degree in the healthcare profession, but I trained with a woman who had learned from her mother and grandmother the ancient art of herbal medicine and herbal healing. We only had 14 months together before she died, but in that time I came to realize the wisdom of my mother’s introduction, and to recognize the honor of learning from a woman like Maggie.
When she died, I was stunned to receive all of her notes and books, and a letter charging me to not “let this knowledge die, but pass it on to future generations.”
This is my effort to honor Maggie and carry on her legacy.