Wormwood

                                     1X;;Photo by Dixie Davis

I’m working on a book about a life in herbs, and this excerpt is from a bigger piece on wormwood: Artemisia Absinthium, or absinthe, AKA the Green Fairy.  It was first made as a cough syrup.  The rest is history and some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

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On a snowy New Year’s Eve upstate, after a few sips of the bitter concoction of absinthe, I carried my other-worldly-milky-green-fluid upstairs.  Jamie came up with me, leaving Matt alone with the bottle.   When we were both almost ready to leave for a party, we heard him making his way up the stairs, a detectible struggle in every step.  Leaning on the frame of my bedroom door, his consonant-less words spilled in my direction.  “I don’ wanna see you get old, Steph.”

“What in the world, Matt?  Go get dressed.  We should have left an hour ago.”

“I can’t bear to see your teeth fall out and your skin hang on you like a skeleton.”

As I put on my mascara, I said,  “Get out of here now.  You’re freaking me out.”

“I’m not kidding.  It’s just too sad to think about seeing my loved ones go from beautiful to ugly.”

“Oh God, how much ‘Madness in a Bottle’ did you drink?”

“Only two.”  I learned long ago that his capacity to count liquids is impaired.  “But what if you get age spots and your hair goes thin…”

Absinthe is linked to the ruination of a few generations of writers and artists, especially in France.  Thujone, the chemical component once thought to be what drove everyone nuts is much lower in modern formulas, which is what we were drinking.  But now it’s believed it wasn’t thujone causing naked parades in the street, a jailed Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh to cut off his ear, Verlaine to shoot Rimbaud, or Hemingway to commit suicide.  The current belief is they were all suffering from alcohol poisoning: starting in the morning, going deep into the night, seeking new forms of literature and art.

“Of all nights, Matt, God help me.  New Year’s Eve is hard enough.  As long as I can think, I consider myself vital, so leave me out of this crap.”   I slammed the door.

From the hall, I heard, “It’s the Green Fairy talking, Steph.”

I yelled, “You’re morbid.”

“What if your breasts start to hang down to your waist.“

“Shut up, shut up, shut up,”  I said, opening and slamming the door again and again, as if the whoosh of air were capable of changing the course of history.

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Dixie Davis, photographer and artist, lives in Tuscon, Arizona with her husband, Tom, their dogs, fish, flowers, and a life in the desert that she chronicles daily with her beautiful eye and appreciation in the natural world.

 

The Capsicums

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The Capsicums

Cayenne pepper has been an integral part of my medicine cabinet for fifty years.  It’s always been referred to as The Master Herb, and I confer.  Upon discovery of its benefits, I avoided more than one perilous trip to a medical office, especially for sinus, ear, and throat issues, frequent complaints in my youth. Doctors are not above The Harvey Weinstein Syndrome, especially then, and trust in their profession became hard-earned.  But their prurience drove me to a body of knowledge in self-care, and an eventual healing practice.

For emergencies in travels, a bit of cayenne is worth the space it t consumes in a curated-down-to-the-ounce suitcase.  Traveling in the former Yugoslavia, early nineties, my friend and I met a local writer along our unplanned route, and before we gave it much thought, we were sitting on the deck of a freighter, traveling to the pastel island of Cres in the Istrian Sea.  After checking into an austere room in someone’s house, I changed into my swimsuit and jumped in the water.  Within seconds, a blast of wind circled my head and resulted in an earache and a raw throat.

Our new friend possessed a natural ability in languages, and eventually understood I was asking for cayenne for a concoction.  After going into a number of grocery stores on my behalf, he said, “We don’t use cayenne in this country.”

Remembering a chicken dish from nearby Hungary, I said, “I’ll try paprika.”

Also a member of the capsicum (pepper) family, I later learned paprika has many of the same anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant properties as cayenne.  He went back in the store and came out smiling.  I squeezed the juice of a lemon into a water bottle, put in a pinch of paprika and drank it down, repeating hourly until bedtime.  By the next morning, my fellow travelers no longer peered at me from the front seat of the car as if they were plotting a drive-by/drop-off at the nearest hospital.

This series of shorts is not meant to be an herbal medicine guide, so only a few basics of cayenne’s benefits are addressed above.  But in writing this, I recalled that in addition to lowering blood pressure, it can be mixed with water for an effective bug repellent in vegetable gardens.  And cayenne is used in self-defense in the form of pepper spray.

In all these years, I’ve never carried it in my purse, and now I don’t really need it.  Well, maybe for general safety, but it’s certainly no longer necessary to repel unwanted sexual advances.   Personally, at this stage in life, being referred to by a man as wise, glamorous, intelligent, or strong, are all preferable to the minimizing label of ‘hot.’

Shepherd’s Purse

 

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In the late 60’s, with weeks of constant flow in the female nether land, the only doctor who didn’t immediately dismiss me suggested I needed a hysterectomy; that or a psychiatrist.  Fearful, enraged, and determined to find better options, I left his office and immediately and purchased several books on herbal medicine.  The first thing I read was that the surgical term, hysterectomy, came from the word hysteria.

Looking through an index, I discovered a very thorough section on my symptoms.  Shepherd’s Purse, a common herb, was highly recommended for its positive results.  My ex and I lived in a loft downtown, and many times I’d walked by an old-style apothecary, and until that day had never had a pressing reason to enter,.  I went in and asked for Shepherd’s Purse, imagining the proprietor would sell me dried leaves in a little packet, very little interaction, and I would be free to go home and make a tea.

“What do you need with that particular herb,” he asked.  I was more than unprepared to have an intimate dialogue, but compared to the previous doctors who asked nothing, he was kindly and respectful and it took very little time for him to gather all the gory data.

With surprising agility, he climbed a rickety rolling ladder, almost to the ceiling, and came back down with a tin labeled Shepherd’s Purse.  Stationing himself at a stained counter, while I read through the walls of his inventory, he brewed the concoction.  Handwritten instructions were taped on the brown bottle of the formula.  As he gave it to me, he said, “Listen carefully,  At all times, you must keep your feet warm.”

Within a few hours, my feet were completely numb with a cold not felt anywhere else in my body.  And the cramps increased by the minute.  But following his directions, I soaked my tootsies in hot water, which had the extra benefit of a more relaxed abdomen, and continued the appropriate dosages.  By day three, the month long onslaught was history.  The symptoms being dealt with, I had a long way to go in discovering the causes, mostly stress, but I possessed the bare bones of an herbal library, which has continued to serve as my personal insurance against hysteria.

Stephanie Urdang