So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Folk Medicine

Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health by D. C. Jarvis
Dr. Jarvis spent his medical career serving the rural state of Vermont and studying the folk medicine practices he found there. The results of his lifetime work in this area are published in this 1958 book aptly titled Folk Medicine. To read it today is to go back in a time machine to visit a rural doctor of the first half of the 20th century who is studying the folk medicines of his time. He speaks of people growing up close to the land, small farmers eating their locally grown crops and the products of their animals. He never mentions a veterinarian, and he cares for the farmer's animals as much as he cares for the farmers and their families.
The Vermont soil is low in potassium. He personally added granite dust from the stone cutters in Barre to his garden soil because granite has potassium in it. People were shorter in Vermont because they ate foods grown in this potassium-deficient soil.
One of the things he discovered in his research into the folk medicine practices of rural Vermont was the many ways that the people compensated for the low potassium in their diet. The major one was a reliance on a drink made of apple cider vinegar, often mixed with an equal quantity of honey and diluted with water. Much of the book is devoted to this simple drink and the many beneficial effects he ascribes to it. He claims the benefits come from vinegar's acidifying effects on the body, the healthful sugars present in the natural honey, and the many minerals, particularly potassium, contained in both ingredients.
Vermont farmers of Dr. Jarvis' time didn't go down to a local grocery and buy a bottle of apple cider vinegar and a jar of honey. They got a barrel of fresh-pressed apple cider, most likely from their own trees or a neighbors, and let it ferment in the barn, past the hard cider stage, until it turned to vinegar. They got their honey from local bees. Today you would have to look far and wide to find anyone with a vinegar barrel somewhere around their property; today vinegar is made in a factory in 2-3 days rather than the back yard in 6-12 months.
Dr. Jarvis was writing for a time and place that do not exist anymore, but our need for potassium still remains essential, and food is its primary source. The kind of vinegar the farmers brewed in their barns is made by a few health food companies, and fortunately almost everywhere in America you can find local sources of honey. The modern diet is built around supermarkets instead of gardens and livestock. Much of our food is manufactured, where efficiency and shelf life are industrial concerns. We take multivitamins and supplements, often added to our manufactured foods, to meet our nutritional needs. A vital connection is lost in all of this with the life of the soil and the plants grown in it. Could a drink made from raw, organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and honey make a difference to our lives? I would like to think so. Is this magical thinking? At this time you could it is, since I haven't found research to back it up, but as a librarian I know how to look for information.


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