In Appalachia, there is a race to protect the practice of healing with plants

healing plant

In Appalachia, there is a race to protect the practice of healing with plants

healing with plants :- Andrew Bentley paused at the top of a hemlock tree on a recent hike through Red River Gorge, an
hour to the east of Lexington, Kentucky, in Daniel Boone National Forest. He was able to run his
fingers across the soft mat of deer moss and smiled as if he was greeting an old acquaintance. Then
after, he stopped. “Pipsissewa!” he exclaimed and pointed at a clump of tiny star-shaped, tiny
flowers that were bursting out of the soil. “You’d never see this in an herb shop.”


Bentley is 45 years old, sporting a slender gray beard and a calm philosophical, and solitary air. He
is a fourth-generation Appalachian herbalist who gets nearly all of his medicinal tinctures from the
woods, he’s no stranger to the natural world. He was raised in nearby Lee County (population:
7,395) and as a kid was often found wandering the hillsides that were sloping and dense along with
three of his brothers. “Occasionally, you’d come across someone’s marijuana patch and they’d shoot
at you,” he said laughing. “It’s an unregulated location. There’s a lot in freedom.”

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It was spring’s first day and the leaves had yet to yet all sprung up however it did not keep Bentley
from pointing at the dangling Beard lichens that were hanging from the branches as well as
jewelweed and pine needles that is what he likes to boil to relieve congestion. Families with dogs
and children strolled by him along the trail however his gaze was concentrated on the ferns, moss
violets, and the soil. Every now and then the man sat on the trunk of a tree and waited for a while,
listening.

Bentley isn’t a physician. However, with over 30 years of working as a herbalist his experience (he
started treating patients at the age of 16) and has gained many patients who seek the healing
properties of plants, hoping to ease chronic discomfort as well as anxiety, and high blood pressure
and depression. If this sounds like a stretch take into consideration that approximately one-third of all
medications originate from plants and that even supermarkets like Whole Foods now offer elderberry
syrup (a supposed boost to the immune system) as well as ginger tea (a digestive aid) along with
Tylenol as well as Pepto Bismol.


Folk medicine has been classified as superstition, which is similar to prayers and faith healing
However, the growing population has made it much easier for practices like Bentley’s to flourish.


“Until the ’90s, the practice of herbal medicine was a gray area legally,” Bentley explained. This
changed in 1994, after the federal Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act put herbs in an
entirely separate category from substances, creating a regulatory system for them within the
supervision of the Food and Drug Administration and creating the conditions for the current herbal
supplement market to thrive. The legislation prompted studies of herbs such as St. John’s wort, the
ginkgo Biloba plant, as well as garlic, and standardized the use of these plants for health, however, it
also has raised concerns with health experts, who argue that the regulatory framework for the
industry is insufficient. In 2015, for instance, an investigation by the New York state attorney general
claimed that the four herbal supplement companies misleadingly labeled their products as being
infused with herbs, even though testing revealed they had no herbs in any way.


The method of herbalism is a lot simpler to follow. When Bentley began the doors of his Lexington
office in 2000, the doctor was amazed by the number of clients who remember seeing herbs at
home. “I kept hearing, ‘My grandmother used this stuff, but she didn’t teach anyone before she died.”
People who grew up in rural eastern Kentucky as Bentley did were not averse to herbal remedies as
something new however, they saw them as something completely familiar.


President Lyndon B. Johnson once spoke of The isolated Appalachian mountains in the United
States as “a region apart.” It has the ability to elude the general public. In some areas, poverty is
40% of the population as per recent figures. The stereotypes that are adamant about Appalachian
individuals (see: Deliverance) dominate the majority of Americans who have a perception of this vast
area of the nation and these stereotypes have proven difficult to overcome. However, these
mountains have been vital in providing the country with everything from coal and timber to tobacco,
and at times, marijuana.

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American Ginseng is a different source. In the early 1800s, the natural stimulant, which is found in
the mountains of these areas was a hit in the form of one of the initial US products exports to China
and China, which it is highly sought-after even today (at an estimated price of between $500-$1,000
for a kilogram, it’s also the most profitable Appalachian plant).


Mary Hufford, a visiting professor of folklore studies at Ohio State University, explained that ginseng
was frequently a reliable source of income for the Appalachians. “In times of bust, they’d get out their
trowels and dig ginseng.” It was a way to keep coal miners on the strike and buyers of ginseng
would gather to cash in on the newly dug roots.

However, Hufford said, an unspoken code of conduct prevented the overharvesting of ginseng.
Since the plant can take around eight years to mature and foragers make sure to not leave more
than they get. Hufford recalls talking with Dennis Dickens, a 90-year-old resident of Big Coal River,
West Virginia who would remove the youngsters, which were berryless, to shield the plants from
diggers who were rushing.


In recent times the demise of many industries like tobacco and coal has resulted in poaching. The
entire ginseng patch is ripped from the ground in order in order to earn a quick profit. The theft has
become so apprehensive for foresters that many have put up security cameras in order to guard
their crop.


Katie Commender, an expert in agroforestry as well as director for the Appalachian Harvest Herb
Hub was raised around the use of homemade remedies. She would spend weekends together with
her parents in Blackwater, Virginia, gathering herbaceous plants from the field. “They never went to
the doctor,” she told me in a way, and then to the same place they’ve been for generations, to their
large backyard. It’s true that the Mixed mesophytic forest that makes up the Appalachians are
among the most biodiverse areas in America and produce a variety of species that don’t exist
elsewhere. Not just ginseng, but the black cohosh, goldenseal slippery elm, and black cohosh are
powerful botanical powerhouses that are available at no cost to all who live in these mountains.


Today there are fewer and fewer people who are doing it. In the 1950s and 1960s, about seven
million Appalachians moved out of the mountains to move northern states such as Michigan and
Ohio seeking factories. Today, the older generation of commercial harvesters face difficulty finding
apprentices who can take over the work. “It’s back-breaking work, “Commander acknowledged,
noting that the wild harvesters typically have to carry sacks of 50 pounds through the woods for days
at a time in order to gather enough herbs to earn a profit. “There aren’t nearly as many people
wanting to take on that job these days. You can earn more by working at Walmart.”


Commender is currently working on the Pilot program that will be launched this season at Duffield,
Virginia, to teach the next generation of harvesters who harvest wild herbs. The aim, she explained
is to “create a more robust economy” which connects wholesale producers with foragers who are
knowledgeable in sustainable practices. This will ensure that the forests’ finite resources don’t run
out, and hoping to keep this ancient practice alive for future generations.


At the moment, the public is particularly open to healers such as Bentley. In everything from the
sound baths to eggs yoni to turmeric tea, Americans have embraced alternative therapies in
conjunction with conventional treatments and herbal remedies are no exception. Herb supplements
have seen double-digit growth by 2020 according to the Food Business Journal and the flu outbreak
of the flu has led to demand for herbs such as echinacea (purported for its ability to improve
immunity) as well as elderberry (a traditional remedy for fighting flu) to increase.


Rebecca Linger, the co-author of A Guide to the Toxicology of Select Medicinal Plants and Herbs
from Eastern North America has spent seven years studying the research behind Appalachian herb
remedies. Certain claims for medicinal benefits are, according to her, been proven to be true. Her
book mentions the joe-pye plant, which is traditionally consumed as a tea for relieving gallstones is
an illustration of a plant whose beneficial qualities “are borne out when you look at the chemistry.”

“Natural,” however, isn’t always safe however, she cautioned. “The market for natural medicines has
really exploded over the last couple of years. People are seeking to heal themselves naturally, and
so they’re buying lots of items from the herbal aisle, without understanding the way they work.”


The herb boneset, as an example, is commonly employed as a remedy for reducing fever. However,
when combined with Tylenol boneset compounds commonly referred to as pyrrolizidines may react
with Tylenol to cause liver damage. Another risk is herbal sedatives: for those who have low blood
pressure mixing these herbs with incorrect medication can result in the blood pressure being
reduced excessively.


Linger recently started a course about folk remedies at the University of Charleston, West Virginia,
and is a teacher, and students can learn to handle situations in which patients mix and match natural
remedies with their medications. “Pharmacists and medical professionals end up telling you to avoid
taking any of the herbal remedies. This isn’t because they aren’t convinced that they’re effective, but
because they don’t know how to use them.”


Health experts, as well, caution that these supplements aren’t “received the same scientific scrutiny.”


In the secluded areas of Appalachia the understanding the importance of herbs was as easy as
walking out. The direct route to the forest provided constant access to not only plants but also to all
kinds of food items: fruits or vegetables, honey as well as wild animals. As these techniques like
boiling ginseng roots or picking chamomile flower petals evolved throughout time and became part
of the popular culture. (Texts like Linger’s could provide an understanding of the chemical basis of
medicinal plants, however, that research is backed by decades of experience.)


The knowledge of specific plants and their functions is only gained by observing the landscape over
a number of generations explained Hufford. “When you have a cycle that exceeds the span of
individual human lives, it’s so important that families preserve the knowledge.”


The Appalachians are among the oldest mountains in the world and it’s only natural the Indigenous
inhabitants were the first to integrate knowledge about native medicinal plants throughout the
Appalachian region. But, because of the removal of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Shawnee tribes
in the 1800s evidence of their involvement in Appalachian herbalism is not found. “There’s a
historical hole,” Hufford declared.


What’s remained whether for good or bad is the strong connections Appalachians have made with
the ecology. Herbalists are often an intermediary between plants to those that depend upon them.
Bentley is a herbalist who acquired his knowledge of herbs from his grandfather and father and
grandfather and is conscious of how important it is to carry on the tradition. This year, he started the
year-long training for herbalists which comprises four walks with guided herbs through the forest,
and he provides webinars via the American Herbalists Guild).


“For most of history, knowledge about herbal medicine has been handed down orally,” said the
doctor. “Storytelling has always been a part of that, and still is.” In many instances when he’s leading
his pupils through the woods of hickory or pine groves, his guide will incorporate a narrative element
to make the herb more intriguing “Like how Achilles used yarrow to treat injuries in the Iliad,” he explained. These kinds of details illustrate the purpose of a plant to treat and show the length of time this practice has been around. “Narratives,” he said, “stay with people.”

In Appalachia, there is a race to protect the practice of healing with plants