When my children complain of upset stomach, I offer them "tummy tea" a mixture of lemon balm, catnip, peppermint, chamomile and nettle that I make from herbs grown in my garden. I keep it in an old pickle jar, and the kids know to ask for it. They don't seem to mind it unsweetened, and we drop an ice cube into the teacup to cool it down fast.
I admit, even though I've been studying herbal medicine in my spare time, even though I've read enough scientific studies to know that most of these herbs have both long history and a host of scientific studies to support their efficiacy, even though I know that many medicines are synthetics of natural herbs, I think I honestly thought that it was the comfort of the blanket on the lap, the excitement of drinking from a good tea cup and the warmth of the tea that seemed to "fix" everything so quickly, rather than the tea itself.
But Eric and I came home from an evening out with friends the other day, both of us feeling weighed down and unpleasant. The meal, made by our friends, was very different than our usual diet - heavy enough that it was bothering both of us. Eric took a shower, and I made myself a cup of tummy tea. I drank half of it, and was shocked to notice how quickly my stomach settled, feeling better from the very first swallow. I gave Eric the second half of my cup, not mentioning what it was, just saying that it warm him up, and he noticed the same thing - the moment the tea hit his stomach, he felt better.
This is hardly the first time herbal medicine has worked for me. I've treated mastitis successfully with garlic, my husband takes hawthorne for a minor heart irregularity, and ginger tea got me through my morning sickness. But when it works, I'm somehow surprised in a way I'm not when pharmaceuticals work. Despite this, I have quite as much experience with the failure of pharmaceuticals as I do with the failure of herbs - for example, narcotic pain relievers don't relieve pain and do make me throw up, traditional medicines for indigestion tend merely to take awful, and I've long noticed that a swig of rum mixed with juice and honey is as good as any cough syrup or better. That's not to say that I don't see real and persistent value in some modern medicine, just that I find it interesting that I've been so well trained to expect to turn to pharmaceuticals that even though I know better, I can't help a frisson of surprise that I could fix things simply myself.
And that, of course, is the great revelation of any kind of self-sufficiency. Not that we can do away entirely with the outside world, or would want to. Not that we should cast away all of modern medicine and everything we have achieved, but that in many cases (and one needs to use common sense here) we turn outside, rather than to ourselves, to nature, to the garden, simply out of habit and cultural training that tells us it would be dangerous to trust our own impressions too far. And yet, that ought to be the very first thing we trust.