A Letter from Trina Shore Sims
My Mother was Euskaldunak, my Father Ukrainian Ashkenazi with a broad streak of the Mongolian Golden Horde. It happens that each family historically had been responsible for the health and well-being of their respective communities. So I was raised with strong traditions of self-reliant healthcare on both sides.
Nutrition and exercise to maintain the body's own optimal functions were understood to be essential. Massage, visceral manipulation, hydro- and thermal therapy, herbalism, inhalation and aromatics, hypnotism, and even the beneficial use of certain minerals and insects were common to me as a child. Mumps, measles, scarlet fever and a host of other diseases were considered inevitable in childhood and were routinely treated at home.
"Modern" medicine was embraced as well - public sanitation improvements and vaccines against old threats like smallpox had proved their merits. The Salk and Sabin polio vaccines were new. Antibiotics saved many who previously would have died from the consequences of even minor injuries. However, Thalidomide for morning sickness, radiation treatments for croupy kids, and other, equally well-intentioned therapies produced tragic consequences.
Surrounded by ethnically diverse neighborhoods it seemed perfectly natural that each group's health practices arose from their history, their homeland, and their clan's predominant characteristics. Grandmothers kept a few potted plants on fire escapes; hoarded ancient paper packets of faded leaves, some given to them by their own mothers and grandmothers.
But mostly the old herbal medicines retreated to the less-accessible shelves of ethnic groceries. Fortunetellers sold them like magic charms - instructions and incantations braided together.
Training from age four as a classical performing artist it was necessary and expected that I learn to care for common injuries and illnesses in the course of rehearsal and performance. My teens and twenties were spent touring: directing, performing, and generally living without a net – or health insurance. As producer, director, slave driver, and mother hen it was up to me to keep my casts and crews on their feet. Countless times I resorted to grocery or convenience store, field or garden, or a host's pantry for remedies.
On the road improvisation ruled. Water for teas or fomentations could be heated by placing a filled canteen on the vehicle's air filter. An antique pink sateen corset with wicked inch-wide steel boning could be strategically stuffed with falsies and scraps to stabilize cracked ribs and wrenched spines. A dance belt and tennis ball eased hernia and a hot oil and comfrey leaf pack helped repair the rupture.
Then, thirty years ago, I was required to undergo a complete physical examination as a condition of employment with the local school district. I’d not seen a physician in years and went looking for a walk-in clinic where I could just get the necessary form signed for a quick twenty bucks. Instead, good fortune led me to Dr. Santiago Zamora, an elderly General Practitioner who had served his community pre-natem to post-mortem for many decades. He conducted the most thorough and respectful physical I’d ever had. His comments after the examination convinced me that I was on the right track. Furthermore, the respect which he expressed for herbal and traditional forms of healthcare encouraged me to pursue the matter in a far more serious and deliberate manner.
I began more systematically to explore various traditions of ethnobotany as well. Seeking oral, practical, and literary sources I concentrated on areas which expanded upon my background and custom or were pertinent to my clientele. The latter led to my developing a better grasp of American herbalism - whether indigenous or adapted transplantation. This clarified my philosophy and I adjusted my repertoire to be more appropriate to the bioregion in which I now live. I learned to use some New World herbs in place of their European or Asian counterparts, and limited or dropped altogether the use of rare or endangered plants.
This was the basis of the "Integrated American Herbalism" which I both practice and teach.
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Treat yourself well.
Trina Shore Sims