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After changing health insurance providers and having difficulty getting prescriptions filled, I was getting testy. Very testy. Then I read that the new national insurance program would be released on 35 floppy discs, and that did it. I knew there was no help coming from Washington any time soon. In a slow burn that waxed over several weeks into a full-blown white-hot rage, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Who the blazes needs doctors and pharmacies anyway? Fuming, I strode into the local health food store to look for alternatives. I was somehow drawn to the back of the establishment, where I had never been before. The farthest wall was completely covered with row after row of tantalizing glass jars labeled with exotic names for the herbs and substances they contained. I was mesmerized by their promise.

Feverfew and Eyebright Herb seemed straightforward enough in their purpose, but some of the names were inscrutable. Fortunately, my iPhone provided the properties of these substances. I learned that Muira Puama is used to treat impotence. But a row beyond, the Chaste Tree Berry would seem to negate the need for Muira Puama. But who takes it–the man or the woman? The herbs were not labeled by gender. The Dong Quai Root promises “female balance and well being” while it would seem that taking Horny Goat Weed might upset that balance. Would male use of the Horny Goat Weed lead to sowing Wild Lettuce Herb? Or Cumin Seed? Or would female use of Horny Goat Weed lead to becoming a Horehound Herb? These possibilities seemed too risqué to discuss with the attendant in the store, so I averted my eyes from the labels as I declined her offer of assistance.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 4.33.51 PMGotu Kola was the name on the jar that then caught my eye. My iPhone told me: “Gotu Kola is used to treat bacterial, viral, or parastitic infections, urinary tract infection, shingles, leprosy, cholera, dysentery, syphilis, the common cold, influenza, H1N1 (swine) flu, elephantiasis, and tuberculosis. Gotu Kola is also used for fatigue, anxiety, depression, psychiatric disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and improving memory and intelligence.” I was impressed, as I continued to read that Gotu Kola is also used for treating “sunstroke, tonsillitis, fluid around the lungs, liver disease, hepatitis, jaundice, systemic lupus, stomach pain, diarrhea, indigestion, stomach ulcers, epilepsy, asthma, anemia, diabetes, and for living longer. Some women use Gotu Kola to arouse sexual desire.”

Shazam! Gotu Kola is the go-to potion to heal whatever ails you! Just think of the health drink and its advertising campaign: “Go to Gotu Kola Cola for the drink that cures disease, makes you smarter and live longer, and makes the ladies randy!” I pulled down the jar to ladle out its contents to take some home for date night with my husband, but before I could, my eye was drawn to other glass jars on the wall with mysterious labels in this cornucopia of health.

I discovered herbs to promote the well-being of the mind. Judging by the name, Boldo Leaf clearly gives one a bolder approach to life. Okay, I made that one up. But I do know that St. John’s Wort is said to elevate the mood and combat depression. And it is a heck of a lot cheaper than pharmacy antidepressants. The Mexican Oregano looked suspiciously like cannabis, and I was stunned at the blatant labeling of Black Cohash. I looked around furtively to see if I could load up baggies without being seen. No one in sight. I did find it comforting to learn that Gingko Leaves will sharpen your memory. Perfect after you frazzle your brain toking up.

Some of the names of herbs had a decidedly religious bent. Devil’s Clawhoof emitted evil waves, while Skullcap Herb seemed to promise the temperament of a monk. Blessed Thistle and Solomon’s Seal gave off a whiff of the Old Testament, while Frankincense, Myrrh Gum, and White Incense Herb positively reeked of Christmas. Do angels make Angelica Root? Could widespread use of Blessed Thistle revive flaccid Christianity, if combined with little whips and hair shirts? Would it be unconstitutional to put these holy herbs into the city reservoir? Or would that constitute another commie plot to get us orally?

One curious looking substance called Copal Resin caught my eye. A quick online search told me that the Mayan Indians consider Copal Resin sacred and have been using it in ceremonies since before the Spanish arrived in the late 15th century. The Mayans burned Copal Resin along with coals in incense burners, passing the fumes over the body to “cure various illnesses while protecting oneself against sorcery, sickness, and misfortune.” Not only that, but the fumes would “cleanse the body after contact with the ritually unclean, sick persons and corpses.” I am not making this up.

Holy smoking coals, Batman! Now we know what every single man, woman, and child in the world needs: a good smoke cleansing to protect them from sickness, misfortune, and sorcery. Think of the implications for not only health care, but almost every aspect of human life, from family dynamics to sociology, psychology, politics, and foreign policy. We could end sickness and misfortune. Call the UN!

I learned that Marshmallow Root has long been used as a treatment for wounds and burns. In 1898, the King’s American Dispensary noted that “marshmallow root is very useful in the form of poultice, to treat painful, inflammatory tumors, and swellings of every kind, whether the consequence of wounds, bruises, burns, scalds, or poisons; and has, when thus applied, had a happy effect in preventing the occurrence of gangrene.” Is that possible? Americans just before WWI thought so.

As I was imbibing the heady promise of these amazing substances, one question troubled me. How can I really know which ones I should take? It would be fine with me if I skipped the doctor’s office and insurance hassles, but I knew I would still need some way to diagnose my maladies.

Booyah! There’s one for that, too! I jubilantly read: “Copal resin is said to reveal invisible energies that appear like rays of sunlight filtering through an early morning mist. Healers may use it as a diagnostic tool to help them see the deeper dimensions of a client’s energy field,” allowing them to gaze “through the smoke to detect illness and energy blocks.”

Well, that does it. I’m a convert–sign me up for this plan. I can use the smoke of Copal Resin for diagnostics, instead of paying for expensive visits with a doctor who has a staff of thirteen people on salary and ten expensive pieces of diagnostic equipment he still has to pay off. Blowing some smoke will be much cheaper than a CAT-scan, a stress test on a treadmill, X-rays, sonograms, and thirty-two kinds of blood analysis, and the results will probably have about the same rate of reliability.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 4.33.41 PMThe mere sound of the names of the herbs on the huge wall was enthralling. Tansy Herb, Violet Flower, Queen of the Meadow, Shisandra Berries, and Sheep Sorrel Powder. Yes, I would like to be Queen of the Meadow, please. Two scoops went into a bag. Other herbs had names with a foreboding sound: Cat’s Claw Bark, Wartwood Herb, Prickly Ash, and Bloodroot. Does Rue Wort make you rue the day you use it? Would Mugwort Herb turn one into a character from Harry Potter?

Astralgus seemed to beckon me. I responded cagily, first checking its credentials. My iPhone told me that Astralgus is used to treat upper respiratory infections, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and help improve overall weakness. I moved in closer for a look. Proponents claim: “Astragalus stimulates the spleen, liver, lungs, circulatory, and urinary system. It is also used to treat arthritis, asthma, and nervous conditions as well as to lower blood sugar and blood pressure. Astragalus improves the immune system, liver, and cardiovascular system, and also been tested for breast cancer, the common cold, hepatitis, and lung cancer.”

Cowabunga! Astralgus is the Swiss Army knife of all remedies! This potion certainly deserves a place on my kitchen shelf to replace several meds I have been taking to lower my blood pressure and treat my arthiritis. I ladled several spoonfuls into a bag.

Gleefully clutching my bags of herbs, I strode to the checkout counter with the joy of liberation. No doctors! No pharmacy! No insurance hassles! And I had Copal Resin for any future diagnoses I might need. My total bill for everything was $21.85, less than the co-pay on one of my usual prescriptions. And I now have the promise of becoming the Queen of the Meadow, Woohoo!

Gentle reader, I anticipate that by now some of you may be wondering why I would be willing to trust the reliability of resin smoke to diagnose disease or to believe in the outrageous and unproven claims of the healing properties of these herbs.

My reply is that it takes just as much credulity to believe that the smoke and mirrors in the current plan are going to produce better health. And it most certainly will be a lot more expensive.

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