Sunday, May 18, 2008

Herbal Gladiator

I am known to have a strange fascination with historical healthcare. I don't know what I could or would ever do with all of this information that my brain seems to collect with ridiculous detail. Most of these healing remedies are arcane, gross or even painful. Still, my thinking brain lights up like a an MRI on an episode of 'House' when I hear things like maggots and comfrey sharing a common healing chemistry. ((Big question is: why doesn't it fire up like that when I'm looking for my keys or my shoes?)) If you have seen the movie "Gladiator" you may remember the scene where a severely wounded Maximus (Russell Crowe) is being carried across the desert in a stretcher by the mysterious but kind Juba. Juba is skilled at healing and tends to Maximus' wound by allowing maggots to eat away at the purulent flesh and later by chewing up some sort of plant material and packing the wound. I have known about maggot debridement therapy being used to clean a wound of necrotic flesh (picked that scrap of info somewhere years ago) but what I learned recently that excites me so much is that... as the larvae eats, so it eliminates!! Common sense, right? Believe it or not, that maggot excrement has been studied by scientists and found to be extremely high in a substance called allantoin. I have always known allantoin to be the cell regenerating component found in the common comfrey plant that is now blooming in profusion my garden. So you can imagine my renewed respect for the lowly maggot whose gift is the gruesome task of eating decaying flesh. While he is busy cleaning out a wound, he is happily depositing an abundance of wound repairing poop as he goes!! Perhaps there is hope that our pesty Brown Marmorated Stinkbug may offer some other sort of beneficial use to the healing, probably not. If you are as morbidly interested as I am in reading further on the subject of medical maggots, click here. Just an FYI, this link is not for the squeamish, there are very graphic pictures. Anyway, back to the allantoin-rich comfrey in the gardens. We did our first cutting of comfrey leaves yesterday that were whirled in the food processor and frozen into convenient sized ziploc bags. They will be used as ready-to-go poultice pack for bone bruises (comfrey also known as 'knit-bone) strains and sprains. The poultice packs can also be used on clean wounds that contain no infection or dirt. It works so well at new cell proliferation, there is a very real possibility of new skin healing over an active infection. So for this reason, comfrey shouldn't be used topically on very deep puncture wounds or deep gashes until it is determined that the wound is scrupulously clean and healing well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Susan, I'm fascinated by historical medicine TOO! I read "Diary of a Midwife: Martha Ballard, 1789-1802," (may not have the years exactly right) and it changed my world view. This woman delivered over 800 babies in rural Maine and lost ONE mother. Her last delivery was the week she died, at age 75, I think. In any case, this was the beginning of obsession for me. Learning how those people lived made me feel that we/I am living out of sync with nature in too many ways. So now I will tag you as a favorite and visit often. By the way, I found you through Pinterest. Thank you so much for your work and words! Abby, Kent OH


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