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by C. Jeanette Tyson

     When I was a girl there was such a thing as a health movement but it was considered the providence of eccentrics and possibly witches. My grandfather ate Grape Nuts, drank hot water with nothing but lemon, and kept a compost pile, but then every family has its weirdoes.   
     It was, after all, the modern age. Of TV dinners and putting men on the moon. People were tossing away the simple wisdoms in favor of complicated science. And we see where thatís gotten us. Fat, unhealthy and unclear on how to do anything about it.     
    Well, how do you?

During my formative years in North Carolina, I was infatuated with an aunt who would whip up from Florida in her convertible Mustang; she wore false eyelashes and read Cosmopolitan and I thought she was the coolest thing walking on high heels. When she moved back to take care of my ailing grandfather, I emulated her switch to wheat bread and took her advice to stay away from McDonaldís, which was difficult since it was where all the kids went because it was the only place to go. Thatís how I started. So letís see, thatís been thirty years.
     I should tell you Iím not an extreme eater, not vegan or vegetarian or macrobiotic or any of those things that require an off-putting amount of diligence. Peanut butter cookies are one of my favorite things. And it wouldnít be difficult to catch me washing down the kidsí goldfish with a little red wine after theyíve gone to bed. But I definitely do have a philosophy about food, and about food and life, and I mostly practice it. Part of the philosophy is that I leave myself room to improve, you see.
     Recently the young woman who cares for my twins while I do things like write this column asked my advice on vitamins. "And Iíve heard something about detox tea," she said, "and cleaning the bowels?" She looked a little green around the gills.

     But she thought I certainly must know what Iím doing. After all, thereís my fridge: the whole grain bread, fresh fruits, the various milk alternatives, the hormone-free chicken. Sheís seen the foul-looking green stuff I drink and the mysterious stuff I squirt into it and the handful of pills the kids sometimes help pop into my mouth.
     (To digress, while I know itís Vitamin E, I do sometimes flash forward to a nodding therapist with a knowing, sympathetic smileÖso your mom had a little problem with pills, ehÖ.)
     Here are some things I may or may not take on any given morning: uva ursi, dandelion, damian, motherwort, hawthorn, echinacea, bee pollen, chrominium, CoQ10, flaxseed oil, and Superfood, which consists, among other things, of spirulina blue-green algae, purple dulse seaweed and beet root.
     A drawer like mine can be daunting. And, too, it could be a bunch of hokum. A younger cousin who lived with me in California for a while got me started with herbs and other practices and it was slow-going. There is knowledge and habit to be undone, a new language and way of thinking to be absorbed, and there is skepticism all along the way.
     When my father was diagnosed with cancer, my cousin immediately suggested certain herbs. "I donít think a few cups of tea is going to save him," I remember yelling. I regret doing that, I regret that my anguish was louder than her hope.
     You have to come to believe. And you do, in time. But first you just have to start.
     I ventured over to The Herb Bar to see if they had any advice for my sitter. Just walking into that store, I feel transformed. Or calmed. Or at least it sure smells good. There are books to browse, healing paths to contemplate. They have herbs in bulk, tinctures and flower essences, and they have people who know exactly what to do with all those things.
     Jeffrey, whoís trained in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, measured out two ounces of a liver cleansing blend for me. He began to tell me about a lecture series heíll soon be giving on herbs that tone the sexual organs. At least thatís what I think he said. When he went into an in-depth explanation of the possibilities of the extended orgasm, I forgot to take notes.
    But never fear, gentle reader, I did not waver from finding out what it is you really want to know. Remember, how to get started on the healthier life?
     "Most people are bewildered," Jeffrey admitted. "Itís tough for me not to overwhelm people because I know too much. I have trouble meting it out."
     He also said that while he likes to give people options, thatís not what people usually want. Who, we of the Silver Bullet tribe? Say it ainít so.
     So when the neophyte herbalist comes into the store, Jeffrey gets the person to pick one issue. Then he involves her with the fixing of that one thing. Usually that one thing leads to the next. And to the next.
     And pretty soon you have a drawer like mine and sweat that stinks like the medicine cabinet of an old Chinese woman and people think youíre a little weird but frankly, you feel great. Though what you really feel good about is that you took one little step, then put one foot after the other and then you stayed on the road and now you donít really have to think much about staying on the road, itís just where you are.
     Annie Lammot is a wonderful writer who tells a story about her brother as encouragement to other writers. The boy had been given three months to write a report about birds and, the night before it was due, had nothing. The boy was in tears at the enormity of the task when his father put his arm around his shoulder and said Ďbird by bird, buddy, Just take it bird by bird."
     Good, basic instruction on just about anything: diets, relationships, dreams.
     I figured any woman who, of her own free will, takes on the job of twins is brave. So I gave my friend a half jug of Superfood and told her to stop eating the fast food. For now.
     Maybe later we can talk about enemas.
C. Jeanette Tyson is a freelance writer and mother of Maddy and Jackson. She does not wait until the full moon to make tinctures because that seems, well, a little extreme. Though it may not tomorrow. The Herb Bar is located at 200 West Mary. Phone: 512.444.6251. Got a tip, suggestion, idea or feedback for A Little More on Your Plate? Send it to Jeanette at: foodie@austinmama.com


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