Natural Health
Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

Mullein: a Gift From the Birds

Occasionally I find I have random plants popping up in my flower beds. These plants make an appearance despite me not planting them there. I call these my “gifts from the birds.” Let’s face it, seeds migrate. There’s evidence of plants moving across entire continents. Windblows seeds. Waterways carry seeds. Seeds can cling to animal fur. Birds eat the seeds and sometimes they leave droppings with still viable seeds in it.

Once of the summer gifts from the birds that I am overjoyed to see in the side ditches this summer is mullein. This is a distinctive plant that makes its presence known. It is described as growing one to two feet in height in most informational sources, but I have seen them taller than me. So, they have gotten over five foot three inches tall. They have one stem and around this stem fuzzy, broad leaves grow in a whorled pattern. The single flower stalk is home to the small balls from which the little yellow flowers bloom. They are native to Asia and Europe, but have made their way west to North America. It grows readily in the midwest and eastern states. Here in Ohio I get to enjoy this plant often.

The yellow flowers of mullein

Mullein is sometimes referred to Kings Lantern. Its Latin name is Verbascum thapsus, but there are a ton of different plants that belong to the Verbascum species. Mullein is listed in many herbals as being especially beneficial for the lungs and respiratory system. Through the ages, the fuzzy leaves were used to line the insides of shoes to insulate against the cold. There are wives’ tales about this being enough to help remedy lung congestion.

The flowers can be boiled in olive oil to produce an oil many people use to alleviate the pain associated with ear aches. Boil these same flowers in honey and you get a delicious syrup which is said to relieve cough and chest congestion. The leaves and roots can be dried, powdered and encapsulated. These capsules are then ingested to aid with a host of discomforts. It has emollient and astringent properties, so it can soothe irritated tissues, including skin.

>is a treasured gift from the birds.


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Spring is for Dandelions

It is spring in the Great Lakes region, even if we did receive a healthy dose of snow for Easter. While the lilies and snowdrops are fighting their way through the snow, the herbalist in me is craving the first of the spring herbs. Dandelion is one of my absolutely favorite herbs in general, but in the spring time it holds a special place in my heart.

 Lilies fighting to bloom in Easter snow in Ohio

Piss-a-lint as it is sometimes called sends tender lion-toothed leaves out while some plants are still dormant. These greens can be consumed much like spinach. As a kid I have faint memories of my grandpa cooking spring dandelion greens with eggs. These leaves are rich in minerals like iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. It supplies thaimin, riboflavin, Vitamin C and B6. But what I love is the mild, yet slightly peppery, flavor of the fiber packed leaves. The young spring leaves are not as bitter as they can be as the weather warms up, but they still offer a bitter quality.

In herbalism, a “bitter” herb is one that stimulates the secretion of certain digestive enzymes in the digestive tract. They contain a chemical constituent called “tannins.” These tannins send out the signal to the pancreas and liver to start churning out the enzymes to break down the food that is coming. . Dandelion has been said to “thin the bile.” This is referring to its tannin content’s ability to cause the gall bladder (or directly from the liver if the gall bladder is gone) to squirt bile. Traditionally, bitter herbs were served as a salad as a starting course of a meal. The pile of iceberg is a far cry from the original starter greens of the past. Aperitifs made from gentian had been used as a bitter, as well.

Dandelion also serves as a mild spring cleansing herb. Its diuretic actions pull excess fluids via the urinary system, while supplying minerals like potassium to keep from becoming dehydrated like some over-the-counter diuretics.

 Dandelion leaves greening up in the Ohio spring rains

I pick fresh dandelion from my yard. Be sure you gather yours from an area free from chemical sprays like weed killers. I also do not gather from along the road sides of busy highways due to the exhaust pollution. Dandelion greens can be eaten fresh, just like you would eat baby spinach this time of year. It can also be cooked. One of my favorite recipes is sautéing fresh picked and washed leaves in butter with finely chopped onion added to scrambled eggs. You can also dry the leaves for use in teas later.

Photos by author.


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Start Your Herb Garden Today

mint patch fresh

Whether you are shoveling three feet of snow right now or, like us, just enjoying some pleasantly cool weather with seasonal showers, winter is as good a time as any to start an herb garden (or plan to expand the one you already have). If you live in a warm climate, you can grow herbs outdoors perennially. If you are more weather-challenged, you can keep your herbs in pots indoors, and transfer them outside in spring.

My herb garden is my favorite, most useful, most versatile and easiest to maintain green patch. Once herbs get going, they’re extremely easy to grow and only require minimal care. They don’t need a lot of space or water, and can be tucked into nooks where you can’t grow much else. Many herbs boast of wonderful medicinal properties and a whole array of culinary uses. In fact, for someone just establishing a garden, I’d recommend to get started with herbs. Here is what we currently grow:

Rosemary – Grows as a spiky green arborescent bush. Rosemary has antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties, and is great in enhancing the flavor of roast meat and fish. Can be propagated by placing cuttings (without blossoms) in a jar of water in a sunny space.

Sage – Sage tea is great for both colds and coughs, and digestive complaints including gas and stomach pain. Leaves can also be used in a variety of meat, fish and pasta dishes. We got our sage as a seedling from a nursery, and it took months to really get going, but now it’s a mighty bush.

Hyssop – I love this Mediterranean herb in cooking, and use it in pasta sauce similarly to how I would use basil. Hyssop sprawls once it gets going, and soon you’ll have it in abundance.

MintMint has a wonderful fresh smell and is great in teas. Our personal favorite get-well tea for colds is a sage-mint combo with a sprig of rosemary. Mint is also thought to aid stomach pain and indigestion, and can offset nausea. There are several varieties of mint with subtle differences in flavor – we currently grow two. Mint, like rosemary, can be grown from cuttings placed in a jar of water until they take root.

Lavender – Lavender is a new addition to our herb garden. Many proponents of natural medicine are familiar with lavender essential oil, but the fresh leaves, too, have antiseptic, antibacterial properties, and lavender tea is considered to be a soothing, calming infusion, great for treating insomnia. I personally don’t need any reason to grow lavender other than its delightful smell. If you grow lavender from cuttings, those need to be placed directly in moist potting soil, rather than in water, to take root.

A flowering herb patch will attract bees and other useful pollinators to your garden. If you have an excess of herbs, you can always dry them by hanging them up in bunches, in or out of doors, and store them in airtight containers for later use. You can make herb-infused olive oil by putting sprigs of fresh or dried herbs in the bottle. You can give away bunches of fresh herbs, or pretty containers of dried herbs, as gifts. You can make satchels of dried herbs, particularly lavender, to scent your closets or other confined spaces. Herbs can also be used to scent homemade soaps, body scrubs, lotions and other artisan body care products. Finally, if you’re daring and adventurous and have a lot of herbs, you can try your hand at making essential oils. The possibilities are endless!

So take a leap and start an herb garden today. Whether you end up with a full-blown patch, or just a few pots on the windowsill, I can guarantee you will enjoy it.  

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


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Was Four Thieves Stolen?

Danse Macabre 

History of Four-Thieves Vinegar

When researching the history of Four Thieves Vinegar I realized there are many more versions of this folklore than I expected. The reason there are so many versions is because the story itself dates back centuries. A popular recount is that during an outbreak of the plague in Marseilles around 1772, four robbers ransacked the sick and dying. These four thieves, even though exposed to the plague, didn’t fall sick because they used a medicated vinegar topically. They were eventually caught and in exchange for leniency by the court they shared their prophylactic recipe which became known as Marseilles Vinegar and also Four Thieves Vinegar. The use of protective medicinal vinegars dates back even further to the 14th century bubonic plague; I’m sure these four opportunistic criminals didn’t come up with the bright idea all on their own.

The original recipe was handed down for centuries and many variations were the result. The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Receipts, Notes and Queries published the following in 1900.

Four Thieves Recipe

In another book called Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy, Gattefosse claims that the following is the original Four Thieves recipe which hung in the Museum of Paris in 1937.

Take three pints of strong white wine vinegar, add a handful of each of wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram and sage, fifty cloves, two ounces of campanula roots, two ounces of angelic, rosemary and horehound and three large measures of champhor. Place the mixture in a container for fifteen days, strain and express then bottle. Use by rubbing it on the hands, ears and temples from time to time when approaching a plague victim.

The late Dr. John R. Christopher (1909 - 1983) when writing about the medicinal value of garlic pointed out, “Garlic was the principal ingredient in the famous Four Thieves Vinegar which was adapted so successfully at Marseilles for protection against the plague when it prevailed there in 1772. This originated, it is said, with four thieves who confessed that, while protected by the liberal use of aromatic garlic vinegar during the plague, they plundered the dead bodies of the victims with complete safety”.

Four Thieves Morphed into Oil and More

There is no doubt that the term Four Thieves sprung up centuries ago to describe an herbal vinegar tincture containing plenty of garlic. Just like many other herbal traditions, Thieves Vinegar recipes have been happily created, shared and enjoyed by herbalists and wise women in the kitchen ever since; cottage industries also sprung up to share this valuable medicine with the community. In relatively more recent years, essential-oil blends were created and given the similar name Four Thieves Oil or just Thieves Oil even though these oil blends didn’t have that much in common with the ancient vinegar recipes. One company, Young Living, has produced an entire line of Thieves products including essential oils, soaps, cleaners, mints, toothpaste, etc. which don’t resemble the original recipe at all.

Herbal Medicine

This would be all well and good, except that Young Living trademarked the name Thieves, so now no one else can call their products by that name or any name even similar. The four thieves making this recipe famous took advantage of the sick and dying, and as the story goes weren’t locked up back in the day. Now hundreds of years later the name, that has become synonymous with their traditional recipe, has been put behind lock and key.

Was Four Thieves Stolen?

So now this begs the question, “was four thieves stolen?”. The herbal community believes so. They are still reeling from a similar trademark debacle because another traditional recipe, Fire Cider, was trademarked by Shire City. I wrote a post for Mother  Earth News two years ago entitled, Fire Cider Original Recipe and Controversy, which explains how Rosemary Gladstar, the godmother of modern day herbalism, coined the term Fire Cider. Throughout her life, and still to this day, Rosemary freely shares the beloved recipe that she created with her students at the California School of Herbal Studies in the early 1980’s. If she wished to sell it, Rosemary can’t legally use the term Fire Cider to describe her own recipe! This also effects longstanding cottage businesses that have used the term for decades. Some may ask, why didn’t she trademark it? To Rosemary and other herbalists, myself included, trademarking the terms Fire Cider and Four Thieves is like trademarking Chicken Soup or Elderberry Syrup. It’s concerning that the trademark office didn’t do more research before handing out these trademarks to ensure generic terms stay in the public domain. Rosemary, along with Mary Blue, Nicole Tells and Kathryn Langelier (aka as the Fire Cider Three), is working with the US Patent office to create a master list of traditional terms that their office needs to be aware of before more of the people’s heritage are stolen. The hope is to free the terms Fire Cider and Thieves, and to set a legal precedent to protect generic  and traditional herbal terms from trademarks in the future.

If you would like to help these causes or just learn more, please visit the Facebook page Traditions Not Trademarks or www.freefirecider.com

I hope you've enjoyed learning about the history of Four Thieves and the current state of affairs. Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Judy DeLorenzo is a holistic health practitioner, garden foodie, and daycare founder. She has a deep understanding that food is medicine and "we are what we eat" so we should treat our bodies with respect by eating pure, whole, super nutritious foods. She loves to grow and shop for food, create recipes, cook, take food photos, and share the process with clients, her social media audience, family, and friends. You can learn more about Judy's healing practice at Biofield Healing and enjoy her blog posts at A Life Well PlantedRead all of Judy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 


 

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Crafts and Homemade Body Products

 

Many people thinking of spinning, weaving, knitting, soap-making and other home-based crafts as fancy hobbies rather than attributes of simple, self-reliant living, but it all depends on the context. You may certainly spend a lot of money, if you wish, on soap and candle molds, essential oils and costly equipment, or you may do things very simply, actually saving money in the process.

I have made wonderful homemade soap with old oil I had absolutely nothing else to do with, and I have made candles from paraffin drippings which were otherwise absolutely useless. I have unraveled old sweaters and used the recycled yarn for making new things, and utilized tattered felted yarn as doll hair. Basically, as most of the time I can’t afford hobbies which cost money, I get creative with what I have on hand.

I view proficiency in traditional skills as a kind of security fund: today it may be very cheap and easy to go into a store and buy whatever you might fancy, but tomorrow it may just happen that people who can make their own will find themselves very glad of it. This goes for knitting, sewing, spinning, basket-weaving and any craft you might think of.

A good place to start would be to try your hand at making your own natural body care products such as body butters, balms, scrubs, lotions and deodorants, which are very satisfying and usually very quick to make, and great for personal use, as holiday or hostess gifts when packed in pretty jars, or even as a potentially profitable home-business venture – not to mention they are a lot healthier than anything commercially available!

Like many other artisan wares, body care products can be as simple or complicated, as cheap or expensive as you like to make them. Here are some easy-to-make recipes which are my personal favorites:

Super Simple Salt Scrub

Ingredients

1 cup sea salt
1\2 cup good quality oil such as almond, coconut or grapeseed
Several drops of your preferred essential oils (optional)

Mix everything, place in a jar and use in the shower for gentle exfoliation and moisturizing.

Coconut Sugar Scrub

Mix coconut oil and sugar in equal proportions (for example, 1\2 cup coconut oil and 1\2 cup sugar).

Add a dash of lemon zest, vanilla or crushed dried herbs (optional). It will make your body scrub smell delicious!

Mix, place in jar and use in the shower.

Oatmeal Honey Facial Scrub

Ingredients

1\2 cup oatmeal, finely ground
1\4 cup honey, preferably raw – honey has some wonderful healing properties and is very good for the skin.
1\4 cup olive, almond or coconut oil

Mix, gently rub into skin, let sit for a couple of minutes and wash off.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


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Educating Children in the Spirit of Simple Living

 

One of the most beautiful things about simple living is how child-friendly it is. Closeness to nature, a slow pace of life and an abundance of simple, practical activities are just the thing for children of all ages (and adults, too). Young and old alike enjoy digging in the dirt, playing with baby chicks or shaping dough into loaves of bread.

I don't think education, however inspiring and individually adapted, should turn into running in circles around the child and making sure there's no boring moment. I see many parents driven by the famous "Mom, I'm bored!” especially during summer vacations - so much that they feel compelled to entertain their children 24/7. As soon as the child says he or she is bored, they will be immediately taken to the mall, the zoo, the swimming pool, or signed up to any number of extra-curricular activities.

Boredom, while often seen as unproductive, can in fact be of infinite use. A bored mind is a clear, unoccupied mind, which can, when provided with the right tools, produce great things. Inventions, books, scrapbooks, crafts, paintings, new recipes, creative role-playing games, and even various household projects have been known to grow out of a seemingly nonconstructive, "bored" state of mind.

Learn like Pollyanna

Remember Aunt Polly?

'... At nine o'clock every morning you will read aloud one half-hour to me. Wednesday and Saturday forenoons, after half-past nine, you will spend with Nancy in the kitchen, learning to cook. Other mornings you will sew with me. That will leave the afternoons for your music.'

Some home economics is still taught in kindergartens and schools, though it went out of fashion - but even if there were a lot of home economics classes, the best place to learn things like that would still be at home, where cooking, sweeping the floors, sewing, mending, knitting and working in the garden occur as part of our day-to-day lives. A little child learns a lot simply by observing an apron-clad mother, and later by participating in simple tasks.

After the aforementioned speech from Aunt Polly, Pollyanna exclaims, 'Oh, but Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly, you haven't left me any time at all just to - to live... I mean living - doing the things you want to do: playing outdoors, reading (to myself, of course), climbing hills... and finding out all about the houses and the people and everything everywhere...'

I heartily agree, perhaps because I'm such a dreamer and always loved unstructured time as a child myself. It was not laziness or boredom - it was necessary, at least for me, to encourage creativity. The most unusual projects sprang up from that "doing nothing" time.

In the past, and I'm saying this without idealizing or waxing nostalgic, it was easier for children to participate in the daily doings of a household. People grew and raised their own food, made their clothes, walked over to visit friends. Today, life may be materially easy, but it is more complicated. Now children spend their days in schools, cars, after-school activities, and in front of the screen.  All of these are artificial environments, producing nothing real in the way of a genuinely useful, satisfying project that is so beneficial for the little child. And I don't know about you, but here in Israel people are constantly clamoring to have government-funding for ever longer school days, to solve the problem of what to do with their children in the afternoon.  

We strive to live gently, slowly and simply. The crazy pace of our world often doesn't allow parents to get their children to participate in day-to-day life, because they are so bent on doing everything as quickly and efficiently as possible - and little children do slow you down. Also, children are often shuttled off to too many activities to leave them any time for participating in simple life and simple chores. 

My children, from a very young age, were taught to pick up their toys, gather eggs, help out in the kitchen, help sweep the front porch, do simple cleaning tasks (wipe the windows, etc) and hang up small items of laundry. Work is not a punishment - being allowed to participate in the adult life is a treat, an honorable badge of being a big kid and Mommy's helper. I'm not saying they do all the above with a 100%-success rate, but I do try to keep them involved on a consistent basis. 

When your children are very young, it’s perhaps more effective to do all the work yourself. But I know that some years down the road, I will be very glad for allowing my daughters to hang up their own underwear, taking about five minutes for each item. 

From Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

 

California Poppy: A Cooling Sedative Herb for Relaxation

herbal self care

This article is excerpted from the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course at the Herbal Academy.

Unfortunately, the word stress has become commonplace in our day-to-day language. How many times have you felt stressed or said that you were “stressed out” this past month? We use the word “stress” for anything from a feeling of being run down to severe overwhelm to mild frustration. Though its overuse may diminish its meaningfulness, we should not underestimate the detrimental effects stress can have on our bodies, our minds, and our emotions.

Fortunately, there are many herbs that can help with symptoms of stress and bring us to a more relaxed state. In the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course, we have identified a number of herbal allies to support our overall health and wellbeing. Here, we take a look at California poppy, a helpful sedative herb that can be used to manage our stress response.

First, a Look at Sedatives

Herbs are often classified into actions—the effect that an herb is believed to have on the human body. A sedative herb, also known as a relaxant, calms and soothes the nervous system, and can help induce sleep.  

The stress response is likely to present as signs and symptoms such as increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, palpitations, poor digestion, insomnia, and anxiety amongst others. Sedatives are often used to help a person who is unable to sleep because of stress causing these problems.

california poppy

California Poppy for Relaxation

This delightful herb is a great choice for someone who is unable to stop overthinking and worrying about things or simply cannot switch off their thoughts. Being a sedative herb, California poppy (Eschscholzia californica Cham) is commonly employed to improve sleep and rest. So if you find yourself counting sheep at night, it might be time to add California poppy into your bedtime routine.

Interestingly enough, California poppy is in the same family as the opium poppy; however, California poppy contains different alkaloids that produce a mild sedative effect instead of a narcotic effect. The group of alkaloids in California poppy are much less potent than morphine and codeine.

California poppy has been used to address a variety of mental complaints including depression, anxiety, melancholia, nervous agitation, hyperactivity, restlessness, insomnia, neurasthenia, and nervous tension (Tierra, 1988; Tierra, 1998; Mars, 2001; Romm, 2009; Marciano, 2015). It can be used to reduce stress, aid in relaxation, and to calm the spirit (J. Snow, personal communication, 2010).

California poppy is said to exhibit a dose-dependent effect, such that lower doses are predominantly anxiolytic, and higher doses have a sedative effect (Romm, 2009), while excessive use may lead to a hangover effect (Mars, 2001). Many practitioners use California poppy in lower doses, combined in formulations with other nervine herbs (Abascal & Yarnell, 2004). In a clinical trial with over 250 patients, researchers studied the efficacy of a French formula (Sympathyl®), containing California poppy, hawthorn flower (Crataegus laevigata), and magnesium, for treating mild to moderate anxiety disorders. Participants taking the California poppy formulation had significantly improved anxiety symptoms after three months compared to those taking placebo (Hanus et al., 2003).

If you have California poppy growing in your area, harvest the plant when it is just beginning to flower. Tincture the plant fresh, or use for infusions. A latex-like solution present in the leaf, stem, root, and flower is the target to capture in tinctures and infusions.

** For California poppy’s dosage and safety considerations, please consult a clinical herbalist or reference the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course by the Herbal Academy.

California poppy is just one of many herbal aides that can be helpful in overcoming symptoms of stress and managing your stress response. If you are interested in exploring more relaxing botanicals and approaches for stress management, we welcome you to join us at the Herbal Academy in our Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course.

Discover What “Herbal” Self-Care Really Means

Discover What “Herbal” Self-Care Really Means

Herbal self-care is much more than just taking herbs when we are frazzled or blue or tired. The Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course explores stress and its effects on wellbeing and then delves into the holistic approach to self-care for stress management. You’ll walk away with an understanding of the nutritional choices, lifestyle practices, and herbs that can transform your response to stress and enhance your wellbeing.

Learn more and register for the class.

Marlene Adelmann is the Founder and Director of the Herbal Academy, international school of herbal arts and sciences, and meeting place for Boston-area herbalists. Through the school, Marlene has brought the wild and wonderful world of plant medicine to thousands of students across the globe. Learn more about the Herbal Academy at theherbalacademy.com.

References

1. Abascal, K., & Yarnell, E. (2004). Nervine herbs for treating anxiety. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 10(6), 309-315.
2. Hanus, M., Lafon, J., & Mathieu, M. (2003). Double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a fixed combination containing two plant extracts (Crataegus oxyacantha and Eschscholtzia californica) and magnesium in mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders. Current Medical Research and Opinion, 20(1), 63-71.
3. Marciano, M. (2015). Eschscholzia californica. Retrieved from http://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/2015/09/20/eschscholzia-californica/
4. Mars, B. (2001). Addiction-free naturally: Liberating yourself from sugar, caffeine, food addictions, tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
5. Romm, A. (2009). Insomnia. Journal of the American Herbalists Guild, 8(2), 14-22.
6. Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology: An integration of Western herbs into the traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic systems. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
7. Tierra, M. (1998). The way of herbs. New York: Pocket Books.


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