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

Off-Grid Simplicity: Discovering Peace on the Porch


Guest blog post by Tim Scarbrough

Simplicity. For many months now, this seems to be a place I must inhabit — a place of peaceful simplicity. A definition of the word "simplicity" is a thing that is plain, natural, or easy to understand. It might be pluralized as "simplicities of pastoral living".

Yet, to further the concept, I think the perception of simplicity is as personal as the feelings a sunrise might create in your heart, or perhaps the giggle of a baby or the mew of a kitten. Is it a place of raw basic emotion? Perhaps one of nostalgia or sweet memory?

I believe all these examples are true and much more than many of us might consider. Let me elaborate from a recent discovery as I was recovering from some of the worst effects of radiation and hormone treatments I experienced while fighting prostate cancer.

I recently rediscovered my front porch, a place of simplicity.

I have a small farm in rural southern Illinois and have always had a great view from my porch. I’d commonly see bees and trees, dogs and cats, gradual and sometimes rapid growth of plant life, especially mid-summer crabgrass and field corn. Before my divorce some years ago, throughout 22 years married, our porch was seldom used — and not at all for meetings, quiet time with God, calm reflections, or meditation.

Last year, a former girlfriend of mine gave me a nice cigar. We sat together and laughed, smoked it, and drank a little just spending quality time together, on the porch.

I newly saw, even in the beginning of 2020, my porch was a place that gave me comfort. In this place, I found a peace that I’d not known since my marriage was sound, and all of my children were smaller, living inside.

How utterly simple and profoundly peaceful!

In my deep pain from treatments, work stresses, and old terrible memories that bubble up from time to time I was able to sit comfortably on my porch, just me and the Lord.  Sometimes with a glass of tea or coffee, maybe a pipe of aromatic tobacco and a brandy: There I found a deeper place of simplicity and peace. Afresh I saw trees and grass. With new insight I saw my small herds of goats and sheep grazing. Hummingbirds, honeybees and wasps buzzed by, And goldfinches flew across the yard.

I could see the faint expression of a breeze through a leaf on a low branch or through only the top of the boughs of very tall trees. A thunder storm might cause the rain to fall and the trees to bend but there I sat, enjoying the sight and feel of it all. A dog or cat at my feet and I was not suffering but just basically at rest. I might have been utterly exhausted or feeling terrible but I could find peace sitting there and letting the wind blow and simply just be.

porch view

View from the porch.

For some months since this rediscovery, my porch remains a place of simple peace.  An escape for me from a world of pestilence and uncertainty, in all seasons a location to quietly commune with God and the world he created — a basic place of simple joy.

I encourage you to search your home for this special secret place. I guarantee it exists. You just need to search it out. When you find it, make it your own and use it often if not daily. Each of us needs this to live life in order to decompress or be quiet amidst worldly noise. Your body, mind and especially your soul will be thankful of the decision and the time spent in this peaceful place of simplicity.

Seek it out….right now!


Tim Scarbrough is a retired Army veteran, single dad of four awesome kids and owner of a small farm. He serves others through his local church, mentorship and public speaking in Toastmasters, and building missions with Habitat for Humanity.

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur'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.

Homegrown Fruits and Vegetables for Sunburn Protection


Summer at my house means spending many hours each week outdoors, with most of them tending to my garden and yard. But sizzling in the summer heat means exposure to ultraviolet rays that can cause skin damage. Even while summer is winding down throughout much of the United States, here in Alabama we have steaming heat and lots of sun through September and October.

When we think of protection from the sun, most of us think of sunscreen (30 SPF and above), avoiding the sun between 10 AM and 3 PM on a sunny day, covering up while in the sun, and of course, staying hydrated!  You want enough sun exposure to help your body convert cholesterol to Vitamin D3, but not too much so as to prevent sun damage. I worry that when I slather my skin with suntan lotion, I not only expose my body to toxins, but I will not absorb enough sunshine in order to convert to Vitamin D3.

But what if I were to tell you that there are foods you can grow and consume that will help prevent sunburn naturally? (And better yet, that these are foods that are easily grown in your backyard throughout hot summer months when you need the protection the most.)

Eat Your Vegetables to Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage

Research suggests that certain types of foods can help prevent sunburns and skin damage.  High fruit and vegetable consumption along with certain kinds of fish (Carcinogenesis, 2003), and daily green tea (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2001) may help prevent sunburn and skin cancer, like melanoma. And there is now research showing that slathering the skin with suntan lotions can actually harm the skin, potentially causing cancer as well as preventing Vitamin D absorption (Environmental Working Group).

Sunburn occurs because the body is unable to make enough melanin to protect the skin. When the skin is repeatedly exposed to the sun, causing many burns over a period of time, skin cancer can result. Serious skin cancers often occur later in life, usually as a result of multiple blister-producing sunburns as a teen.  In fact, a study shows that each serious sunburn occurring in adolescence can double the risk of developing melanoma. (Skin Cancer Foundation)

I was one of those teens, staying hours and hours in the sun, and have had many blistering sunburns. Now, I watch my skin carefully and take steps to protect myself in the sun. I still love the sun, and spend many hours out in the yard as an avid gardener. But I do believe that my diet, which consists of eight to 10 servings of vegetables (mostly garden fresh), and lots of fish, and green tea have kept me from any skin cancer to date.

Several studies suggest that vegetables contribute to a diet high in antioxidants and may play a role in helping you avoid sunburn. The more antioxidants in your skin, the less your risk of getting burned by the sun. Although it is unknown exactly how vegetables and fruits protect your skin from sun damage, specialists say that it is most likely related to the antioxidants’ anti-inflammatory properties that fight the inflammatory process the sun has upon the skin. (National Center for Biotechnology Information)

Best Fruits and Vegetables for Sun Protection

The best kind of fruits and vegetables to consume for sun protection are likely those harvested fresh from the garden, because garden-fresh produce most often contains higher nutrient content than store-bought alternatives. The deeper more vibrant the color, the more anti-oxidants these foods contain, providing more nutrients and helping the body become less susceptible to cell damage and disease. Store-bought vegetables often are not ripened in the sun and have lost many of their nutrients by the time they reach your kitchen table — some losing up to 90 percent of their nutrition within the first 24 hours (spinach is often cited for this). (Chicago Tribune, 2013)

Examples of dark leafy greens for sun protection include collards, kale, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, as well as many herbs. Also let’s not forget about the deep red, orange and yellow vegetables as well as purple vegetables in the garden: tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, yellow squash, melons, eggplant, even strawberries and blueberries, as well as many more fruits from a tree that come in bright delicious colors. All can be grown and consumed to help cells of the inner and outer skin layers bounce back from damage.

Studies suggest that foods high in beta-carotene, lycopene and Vitamin C, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids are key to preventing sunburn and sun damage. (John Hopkins Magazine)

So, eat up! Now is the time to enjoy your summer harvest, and begin planning on what to plant next season to help prevent sunburn and skin damage. I’ve developed a Superfood Blueberry-Spinach Salad recipe in order to get a lot of these nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables in a single meal.

Veronica Worley is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and avid gardener, who helps men and women overcome chronic illness with functional lab testing, food and lifestyle changes. Connect with Veronica at Veronica’s Healthy Living, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Schedule an appointment with Veronica using this link, and read all of her 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.

Make Homemade Comfrey Balm to Ease Soreness and Heal Wounds

Native to Europe and Asia, comfrey, often called the “miracle plant,” is a rather attractive perennial herb with hairy or prickly stems and lance-shaped leaves. Comfrey’s small bell-shaped flowers grow in various colors, typically cream, pinkish, or purplish (depending on the specific variety of the plant), and the plant has dark-hued roots that extend quite deep into the ground. 

Comfrey grows to approximately 3 feet tall. Its first reported medicinal use dates back to approximately 400 BCE.  Latin in origin, the word comfrey means “to grow together,” leaving little speculation as to why Greek physicians often relied on the herb to treat inflammation, wounds, ulcers, gangrene, burns, fractures, and sprains.

As an herbalist, licensed holistic esthetician, professional aromatherapist, and certified reflexologist with an affinity for formulating products that are effective via topical application, comfrey is one of my go-to herbs — it has so many remedial uses. Comfrey-infused oil, available from better health food stores, herb shops, and online retailers such as Mountain Rose Herbs, is the base of the following recipe, which contains a key oil-soluble, pharmacologically-active constituent called rosemarinic acid.

Being a rather formidable polyphenol or antioxidant, rosemarinic acid boasts antimicrobial, anti-allergic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties, plus it is gently astringent or tissue-tightening. Like Vitamin E, it may help prevent cellular damage within the skin and speed wound healing.

Applied topically on a regular basis, comfrey-infused oil offers pain relief for muscular soreness and stiffness, bruises, strains, sprains, achy or arthritic joints, and gout. Great for everyday achy hands and feet, too. In fact, I make my own comfrey leaf-infused oil and use it liberally with my clients in my foot and hand reflexology practice in Marble Falls, Texas. It comforts their sore, tired, stressed muscles, tendons, and ligaments and prevents my heavily-worked hands from barking at the end of my long day performing manual therapy.

Cooling Comfrey Balm Recipe

Photo by Mars Vilaubi (copyright 2018)

This is a gorgeously rich balm with the unusual spicy-sweet aroma of German chamomile, the cooling pop of peppermint, and the relaxing floral of lavender.

It counteracts the itch, redness, inflammation, and heat of most generic and poison plant rashes and is the ultimate soother for relieving pesky insect bites and stings.  It calms and comforts irritated skin tissue and encourages healing. Plus, it’s incredibly beneficial for conditions such as minor burns or sunburn, cuts and scrapes, scars and stretch marks less than two years old, dry eczema and psoriasis that is accompanied by itching, peeling, flaking skin, and dry, cracked, chapped, or fissured skin.

I often reach for this beautiful, aromatic balm at the end of the day, right before retiring — massaging it anywhere achiness and irritation reside. The scent lulls me to sleep and my discomforts fade away. Ahhh!

Make yourself a batch or two, won’t you? This recipe is also perfect for gift-giving — design a decorative custom label with directions, ingredients, and date made. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want a jar for their natural medicine cabinet. It’ll come in handy year ‘round.

Recipe notes: Safe for folks 6 years of age and older.  For children aged 2 to 5, reduce the essential oils by half. Do not use on deep cuts or puncture wounds (a seeming contradiction), as comfrey oil may stimulate the outer layer of skin tissue to mend and seal the wound before regeneration of deeper subsurface tissues, which could result in an internal infection. Use balm after the wound has significantly closed.


Yields approximately 4 ounces (120 ml), or ½ cup

  • 10 drops German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) essential oil
  • 10 drops peppermint (Mentha piperita) essential oil
  • 4 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
  • 7 tablespoons comfrey-infused oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons beeswax pastilles or flakes (use the greater amount for a firmer balm)
  • One 4-ounce dark glass or plastic jar


1. Combine the comfrey oil with the beeswax in a very small saucepan over low heat, or in a double boiler, and warm until the beeswax is just melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes, stirring a few times.

2. Add the German chamomile, peppermint, and lavender essential oils and stir again to thoroughly blend.

3. Slowly pour the liquid balm into the jar. Cap, label, and set aside for 30 minutes to thicken. No refrigeration is required. Store at room temperature, way from heat and light. Use within 1 year.

How to Use Comfrey Balm for Healing

A little goes a long way, keep this in mind! For irritated, rashy, hot, inflamed, sunburned skin or insect bites, first wash the affected area with mild soap and cool water. Pat dry. Massage a small amount of balm onto the area and surrounding skin. Continue twice daily until irritated area has healed.

For aches, pains, bruises, strains, sprains, cracked skin, and minor skin burns that have cooled, apply a small amount as needed up to three times per day.

Recipe excerpted from Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils: A Beginner’s Guide (available in the Mother Earth News Store). Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Stephanie Tourles is a licensed holistic aesthetician, certified aromatherapist, and gardener with training in Western and Ayurvedic herbalism. She has also written many other books, including her best-selling Organic Body Care RecipesHands-On Healing RemediesRaw Energy In a GlassRaw Energy; Pure Skin Care; Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils; and Naturally Bug-Free (all available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). Visit her website to learn more, and read all of her 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.

Aloe Vera Cream


A skin savior, aloe vera gel, comes to the rescue after a monster sunburn. A natural, holistic approach to after sun skin care. I'll be teaching you an easy two-ingredient recipe resulting in your own homemade moisturizing cream.

This cactus like plant contains a gel inside its spiky leaves that contains loads of medicinal properties people have been using for thousands of years. Aloe vera gel can be used for consumption or topical use. The main reason people consume the gel is for the antioxidants, vitamins, and the digestive relief it provides. External uses include; treating a variety of skin conditions, burns, psoriasis, frostbite, cold sores, etc. 

I should mention if your burn is severe you should consult a doctor before applying aloe. However, if your sunburn is mild let's dive right in! We will be creating a paste from the gel and coconut oil.

Step 1: Have your aloe vera plant handy. If you do not have the plant you can buy the leaves at the supermarket or purchase pure aloe vera gel. 

Step 2: Cut the leaf from the base of the plant. 

Step 3: Remove the thorny edges of the leaf by slicing the edges. Then cut the leaf open down the middle. You will see the clear aloe vera gel.

Step 4: Using a spoon, scoop out the gooey substance from the leaves into a bowl.

Step 5: Transfer gel into blender with 1 tbsp of coconut oil and blend to smooth consistency. 

Once your final product resembles that of a paste you can bottle it up in a jar and store it in the fridge for up to one month. With no added coloring, preservatives, or perfumes this paste has a short shelf life so use accordingly. To treat a sunburn, remove gel from the fridge, the gel is most healing and soothing to skin when cold. Spread a layer over affected areas. Apply a few times a day to sunburned area.

Taylor Goggin is tropical gardener in Florida who gained her skills in cooperative agriculture while work-trading with a World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program on the Hawaiian Islands. She now grows papaya, banana, avocado, fig, tomatoes, and medicinal herbs to make into inventive plant-based recipes. Connect with Taylor on Instagram, and read all of her 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.

Broadleaf Plantain: A Wonderfully Edible and Medicinal Weed


Broad-leaf Plantain, or Plantago major, is a common perennial ‘weed’ found across North America. I’m sure you have seen this unassuming little plant in your yard, along the roadside or at a local park. Plantain grows well in poor soil, and can often be found coming up along sidewalks or in heavily traveled areas. At our farm, this little plant grows happily along our dirt driveway where the soil is compacted and heavily traveled. While it may be deemed an enemy by those who want a pristine lawn- plantain is a truly wonderful medicinal plant that is easy to find and identify and offers a wide range of health benefits.

Plantain leaves are oval shaped and easily identified by their 5-7 veins growing parallel out from the center. If you pick a leaf, you will see stringy fibers- like those in celery. It grows in rosettes, with many leaves growing out from a central shaft and can become a ground cover where allowed.

The flowers of plantain grow straight up, like little green spears, on leafless stalks. While they are not showy or fragrant- they do provide important food for honeybees and native pollinators.

Plantain is incredibly moisturizing, and can be eaten, taken internally or topically to treat skin and digestive issues. When harvesting for food or medicine, it is important to gather healthy plants from pollution-free areas. While plantain grows happily along the side of the road, these plants should not be used for human consumption.

Young leaves, before the plant flowers, can be steamed and eaten like spinach with similar nutritional properties. Plantain has been used internally medicinally to support the digestive system, treating persistent diarrhea and chronic digestive issues.

Plantain roots can be dried, powdered and used topically to treat abscessed teeth or infections in the mouth.

Topically, plantain leaves can be used to sooth burns, rashes and sunburn as well as insect bites and stings. Leaves can be crushed or chewed and applied as a poultice directly to the affected area, or can be steeped in your favorite oil to create an infused oil or salve.

One of the most valuable properties of plantain is its ability to draw out whatever needs to be drawn out- including insect venom.

At Olsen Farm we keep honeybees, and currently have 27 hives. Last year I accidentally knocked part of a hive over during an inspection- a beekeeper’s (and most anyone’s!) worst nightmare. I was stung over one hundred times through my pants, but luckily was wearing a veil to protect my face and torso. AI immediately applied a poultice of crushed plantain leaves directly to each sting, and then applied homemade plantain salve for a week. I made a complete recovery with minimal discomfort and without a dangerous allergic reaction- I own it all to plantain! Plantain has an almost magical ability to remove whatever is afflicting us- It can even be applied to stubborn splinters to help the body safely expel them.

To make an infused oil using plantain leaves:

  • Gather fresh plantain leaves on a sunny day from a clean and pollution free area. Allow the leaves to wilt in the sun, getting rid of any excess moisture.
  • Chop or cut winter leaves and fill a pint mason jar 2/3
  • Fill the mason jar to the brim with your favorite oil- I use olive oil because it is inexpensive and is gentle on sensitive skin. Lid and label your jar with ingredients and the date.
  • Let your plantain leaves in oil steep in a dark place for 4-6 weeks, strain our leaf bits and your oil is ready to use!
  • Infused oil can be applied topically or ingested for digestive support. To make a salve, heat your oil in a double burner and add beeswax (at a ratio of 1/4 cup beeswax to 1 cup oil).

I hope you can spot this lovely little plant, and know more about its potential. Plantain may not look like much- but it’s benefits are plentiful!

Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her 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.

Wild Herb Hair Serum (with Video)


Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash

Did you know your local park has the hidden potential of being a forge-able food forest? On a recent bike ride through the park, the herbal haul I raked in consisted of: rosemary, pine needle, and lantana flowers. Of course adhering to foraging rules in my city and only taking a handful of herbs I needed, I am able to create a holistic hair serum to last for months on end!

Learning how to infuse oils is actually much simpler than you might imagine. In fact, I’d say the most challenging step is patience while waiting for your fusion to be nice and potent! Here is an infused oil I know you will love; used to strengthen and grow your hair into a healthy, beautiful mane.

Rosemary. Rosemary is an herbal powerhouse for hair growth. The medicinal properties of the herb prevent hair follicles from being starved of blood flow, weakening, and leading to hair loss. In fact, rosemary improves circulation to the scalp therefore stimulating hair growth. This herb also acts as a cleanser due to its antibacterial properties and naturally cleanses the hair. Rosemary increases shine and relieves irritated, itchy scalps, and dandruff. 

Pine needle. Paired with rosemary, pine needle is the perfect partner to repair hair. This magical herb is jam packed with Vitamin E, known for increasing hair growth. Correspondingly to rosemary, pine needle, keeps the scalp clean and free from dandruff. Also known for reversing hair loss, pine needle can stimulate strong, thick, healthy hair when applied. 

Sunflower oil. Also packed with Vitamin E, sunflower oil, has major benefits for hair health. People use this oil for overall hair restoration, as a deep conditioning mask, or an approach to minimize frizz and maximize shine!

Alternative Oils

As previously mentioned, I used only one type of oil for this hair serum. However, there are numerous of other oils that nurture your hair back to health. That is why when you are creating your own herbal-infused oil, keep in mind, you can most definitely mix and experiment with what works best for you! Certain oils to include:

  • Argan oil
  • Almond oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Castor oil
  • Olive oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Grapeseed oil

Do not fret over measurements, all these oils contain qualities that help nourish your mane. When thrown together they only have positive benefits towards your scalp and hair. The one rule I will implement is that the oils your select are of the highest quality. Meaning, going organic and minimally processed is ensuring that you will get the oils natural levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

How to Make Herbal Hair Serum

Here is the step by step to creating your own holistic hair serum:

  • Select a jar, make sure it is sterilized and completely dry.
  • Add your herbs and fill your container to the top with the oil of your choosing.
  • Place the container in a dark, warm spot, maybe in your kitchen cabinet, and out of direct sunlight.
  • Make sure your jar is sealed air tight, let the mixture sit for 4-6 weeks. The longer you let the serum sit the stronger your infused oil will be. Patience is key here.
  • Shake the oil mixture to allow the contents to mix and release the herbal elements into the oil every few days.

In a few weeks’ time, you will have your own DIY hair serum! You can drain the oil of the herbs into another clean jar through a cheese cloth. I recommend applying it to your scalp and begin combing it through to your roots. Use 1 to 2 times per week, leaving overnight is the best way to nourish and pamper your hair.

Taylor Goggin is tropical gardener in Florida who gained her skills in cooperative agriculture while work-trading with a World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program on the Hawaiian Islands. She now grows papaya, banana, avocado, fig, tomatoes, and medicinal herbs to make into inventive plant-based recipes. Connect with Taylor on Instagram, and read all of her 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.

What is Chinese Medicine? An interview with Dr. Leon Hammer


Dr. Leon Hammer is a world-renowned expert in Chinese Medicine who studied for almost three decades with the internationally recognized master John H.F. Shen; Dr. Hammer has taught and practiced widely for the past 50 years and authored eight seminal books and 40 articles. The curriculum of the accredited Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine in Gainesville, Fla., is based on his work. 

Dr. Hammer, how would you describe Chinese Medicine to those who don’t know much about it? 

It’s a medicine that is gentle, effective, and treats the individual as a whole within their life context. It’s been proven over a long period of time. It’s a complete internal medicine, one that has treated billions of people over thousands of years for every condition known to mankind. It has all of the tools for prevention, for treating the beginning of the disease process, up to treating complex chronic disease. And it is cost-effective.

How is your work the same as or different from what is called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

What is alluded to today as TCM is not the Classical Chinese Medicine that preceded it. TCM as it is taught and practiced today was invented by a group of traditional Chinese doctors in the 1950s under orders from Mao to create a medicine that is easy to teach, easy to learn and cheap. The practitioners of this new medicine were at first called 'barefoot doctors;' what they practiced was later named TCM.

I learned Chinese medicine as an apprentice to a truly traditional Classical Chinese doctor for many years. His training pre-dated Mao’s orders. 

You have not retired after a half century of work. What keeps you going?

First, it works. Second, it is a masterpiece of harmony, intricacy, and movement, which never ceases to fascinate and intrigue me.

How have people used Chinese medicine in the U.S. as compared with China?

Pain is about 95 percent of what is treated in the U.S., but only 5 percent of what’s treated in China. The rest falls into the category of "internal medicine". In China, Chinese medicine was about 95 percent herbal and about 5 percent acupuncture until Mao. Today, my contacts in China report that the recent and current treatment for the coronavirus is herbal.

Blue lotus, or purple water lily (Nymphaea nouchali). Photo by pixel2013 on Pixabay

Can you give an example of how Classical Chinese Medicine works?

Sure. R. was a 45-year-old college professor who was accompanied by his wife. His complaint was long-standing knee and low back pain that interfered with his ability to engage in his favorite exercise, tennis. He had been treated unsuccessfully by every relevant form of biomedicine and alternative medicine, including acupuncture. He denied any past physical trauma or emotional shock.

When I took his pulse I was most impressed by what is called his Left Distal (heart) Position — it was Flat and a little Slippery. Its rate was slow. He showed no signs of physical trauma [very Tight] or sudden heart shock [Rough Vibration] on the pulse and particularly the Proximal Positions [Kidneys] did not stand out in any way. His tongue was slightly pale; some contraction and redness at the tip. Other standard indicators observed with regard to eyes, face and hands, and bone structure, were unremarkable.

What does all this mean?

The Flat quality at the Left Distal Position indicated that the qi (and possibly blood) of the heart was stagnant. [Qi is the circulating life force. It’s also spelled chi and ch’i in English.]  The contraction and redness at the tip of the tongue supported this impression. Slipperiness is a sign of “Phlegm Misting the Orifices,” a common finding in this condition indicating diminished awareness.

Because the Proximal Positions (kidneys) were relatively sound and the lungs not Flat, the event that caused the "Heart Closed" condition did not occur at or before birth. 

However, the Flat quality indicates that at the time of insult to the heart, Mr. R.’s energy was low, usually a finding in growing children up to the age of 14 to 18, when all the qi is being used for maturation. 

I asked him about a possible emotional shock during childhood. His wife reminded him that his mother had died when he was five years old. At that age a child is unable to cope with such a trauma and the feelings of loss and abandonment get repressed, which appears as the Flat quality at the heart positions. Qi is then relatively unable to easily enter the heart. (At a later age when qi is stable, the quality would have been Inflated.)

How does this relate to his knee?

The stagnant heart qi diminishes the peripheral circulation necessary to heal his damaged knee. 

How did you treat it?

The treatment goal was primarily to open the heart and renew peripheral circulation of qi and blood and open the heart orifices (misted by phlegm), related to awareness and to supplement heart qi. Acupuncture and herbs for this purpose led to the complete relief of his complaint within three weeks.

So many variables to diagnose in the mind-body connection!

Yes. Here there was a relationship between an emotionally traumatic event that occurred when he was a child, his heart and circulation, and their relationship to the healing of trauma to his knee. In diagnosing, our fingers read the pulse and palpate acupuncture points, the abdomen and spine; with our eyes, we read the tongue, the eyes, the skin, posture and gait; with our ears we hear the voice and other sounds. Only by taking into account all of these variables is a solution possible.

With this kind of complexity to take into account when diagnosing — is Chinese Medicine considered “scientific"?

According to the Oxford Twentieth Century Dictionary, science is defined as "knowledge, most severely tested, coordinated and systematized, especially regarding those wide generalizations called the laws of nature."

Chinese Medicine is a pragmatic discipline that meets this definition in its original and most creative form. Accumulated knowledge tested and recorded over thousands of years, tested on billions of patients, fits the definition. Our Chinese medical predecessors kept what worked and disposed of what did not. Contemporary Chinese medicine is the residue of what worked. This knowledge has been coordinated, systematized, theorized into principles known as "the laws of nature".

What does Chinese medicine say about the “objectivity” of the observing practitioner?

Over a period of at least 3,000 years, it has perfected the art of observation, the superb refinement of our senses, blended with rigorous logic. It does not pretend that the practitioner is irrelevant. It recognizes that the medical practice is enriched with the intuitive gifts and varied experience and personality of the observer/practitioner.

How can you test and statistically verify something with so many variables?

Chinese medicine is not statistically verifiable in the Western sense. Western science, including biomedicine, eliminates variables and studies one vector or etiology at a time. The standard deviation eliminates everything that could have happened by chance, and in the West anything that could have happened by chance is not accepted as knowledge.

On the other hand, Chinese medicine functions on the relationship between etiologies and the organs and relationships between the organs themselves. 

Red lanterns. Photo by Silentpilot on Pixabay

I’m seeing here the scientific world view as one that isolates the object of study into separate parts, compared with the more ancient, holistic world view which focuses on inter-relationships among subsystems. What are the implications of this?

The founder of standard deviation and statistical significance spoke to my medical school class in 1949. He told us that his introduction of these concepts caused the loss of more knowledge  than any gains in knowledge from its use. Why? Because information that could have happened by chance was excluded. He expressed deep regret about his life’s work. He said he wished he could undo what has now become the foundation of biomedical science.

Chinese medicine has not eliminated knowledge from chance occurrences. It eliminated only knowledge that did not over time prove clinically useful.

Can you give another example of Chinese medicine working from the paradigm of living relationship rather than dissection of parts?

 While they were aware of anatomy in the Western sense, and performed surgery, all Oriental medicine was more concerned with what makes these anatomical structures, organs, muscles etc. alive than with describing them in detail.

They studied `life’ and called the essential ingredient of life qi. They observed that movement was intrinsic to life ( something that impressed me first during my internship when I had the misfortune of pronouncing hundreds of people dead.) 

Everything in the universe that moves is subject to the same force, qi. Qi is what makes a body alive. The Chinese and other Oriental medical systems focus their attention on how qi is organized in people, animals and the universe, beginning with the concepts of yin/yang, and going much further. 

Might quantum physics be able to describe what Qi is?

Recently the Nobel Prize was won by three astrophysicists for discovering that only five percent of the universe is what we would call reality--that is, what we can see, smell and touch. Everything that has substance and that we call 'reality.' I repeat, only five percent [4 percent per the Kavli Foundation.]

Twenty-five percent of the Universe is what is now called Dark Matter--that apparently is measurable. Seventy percent is what is now called Dark Energy--that is apparently not  measurable.

From the beginning the Chinese scholars and physicians have postulated that the force that creates and maintains life is the same force that moves the planets and stars, the universe. They call it qi and it has never been measured by a machine.

In my opinion, qi is what these astrophysicists are calling the Dark Energy of the Universe in all Life on earth. Qi is this Dark Energy in all living entities--microbes,mushrooms, plants, animals, humans. Its proper flow and functioning is what we call health.

Last thoughts on what Chinese medicine is for you?

Chinese medicine has been for me the fulfillment of a search for a congenial system of healing that embodies the inseparability of body and mind, spirit and matter, nature and humans, philosophy and reality. It is a personal, subtle, gentle, yet highly technical medical system, which allows me to be close to the essence--the life force--in myself and others.  It surrounds me like nature, or a great work of art. I am consumed and renewed at the same time.

Dr. Hammer, thank you very much for your time and teaching. 

Note from the Author and Interviewer

Further information on Dr. Hammer’s work is at The Contemporary Oriental Medical Foundation.

Leon Hammer, M.D., is a graduate of Cornell University, Cornell Medical College, and the William A. White Institute of Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry. In the early 1970’s, Dr. Hammer began a study of Chinese Medicine in England and traveled to study in China in 1981. He studied with the internationally acknowledged Chinese master Dr. J.F. Shen over a period of 27 years. After retiring from his practice of Chinese medicine, Dr. Hammer has devoted his time to writing and teaching.

Dr. Hammer was first published on the subject of Chinese medicine in the American Journal of Acupuncture in 1980. His book, Dragon Rises Red Bird Flies, has become a classic in the field; his second book, Chinese Pulse Diagnosis: a Contemporary Approach has been described as a seminal work. His third book, The Patient-Practitioner Relationship in Acupuncture, unpacks the “sacred space of the client-practitioner interaction.”

He has lectured and taught throughout Europe, Australia, Japan as well as the United States. In 1984, he served as a member of the Commission for Evaluation of Acupuncture Schools, and in 1995, he was appointed a member of the National Blue Ribbon Committee for Initiation of the Herbal Examination. From 1991 to 1998, he served as a member on the New York State Board of Acupuncture.

In 2001, Dr. Hammer received an award as “Educator of the Year” for participation and contribution to excellence in education from the American Association of Oriental Medicine. In 2002, he received an award from the Traditional Chinese Medicine Foundation for “Building Bridges of Integration” between Oriental medicine and Western Medicine.

Dr. Hammer helped found Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine in 2001, and he continues to function as Chairman of the Board and professor emeritus.

Pamela Sherman gardens with her husband at 8,300 feet on part of an old pioneer farm on the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. She can be reached at Read all of Pam'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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters