The Lessons Of Xunantunich

This past January an unusual thing happened…My wife and I took a vacation!

For the past couple of decades, I’ve been the Lone Ranger in my veterinary practice. My wife is also flying solo in her midwifery practice. So when I heard the word Vacation, I assumed it was some sort of obscure thing other people did like that other word I sometimes hear…lunch

But last winter things changed. The herb business went absolutely crazy and I actually had to hire a veterinarian to help out at the vet practice so I could spend more time at the herb building. A few weeks after the new vet started, I was sitting at the table with my wife looking at a nice lunch she’d made me. It was sort of a surreal experience. It’s not that she’d never made lunch for me before but this one had been made recently. I stared at it and poked it tenuously with my fork, not sure what one should do with a lunch that was still warm…at lunch time! 

While eating the lunch I suddenly had an epiphany. My wife noticed that something significant was going on in my head and asked “What’s wrong?” I stared at her silently for a moment and then asked “When is the next time you’re out of dates for a birth?” She responded, “I’m out of dates right now for about ten days.” 

A few more moments of stunned silence from me as I mustered the courage to actually say what I was thinking…

We could…go away.” I whispered, scarcely willing to say the words out loud. 

What?” She asked

You don’t have a baby due and I have a vet that can cover the practice.” I said 

We could go away…on a vacation.”  At that point lunch was forgotten and I grabbed my laptop and Googled Cruises leaving this week. I actually found one. There was one cabin left on the boat and it was cheap! I started clicking add to cart and buy now buttons frantically. “Hah!” I said exultantly “We’re going on a vacation!

Where are we going? My wife asked.

Silence again from me. “Umm…I dunno…It’s on a big boat..let me check.

It turned out we were going to the Caribbean. A few days later we were settled into our cabin on the boat and off we went. Our cabin window had an amazing view of a giant life boat at no extra charge! 

One of our stops was in Belize. We got off the big boat and got onto a bus for a long ride. During the bus ride, a cute young lady told us all about Belize. I was surprised that when she got “off script” she mentioned medicinal plants a number of times.

When we got off the bus, we started up a long trail headed to Xunantunich, a famous Mayan ruin. We were guided by a young Mayan fellow. As we walked he pulled some leaves off a branch and handed them to me. “Chew this” he said. I poked the leaves into my mouth (I mean, wouldn’t anyone?) and started chewing. I recognized the flavor as allspice (Pimenta dioica). My tongue and gums immediately started to get happily numb. “We use that one for toothache.” he said. As we walked through the jungle, he introduced me to a number of other plants that were important to him.

This one is for fevers.

That one is good for worms.

Those leaves heal cuts

None of this was part of “the tour”. It was just important to him and he wanted to share. At no point had I told this fellow or the nice bus lady that I was an herbalist or that I had any interest in plants. 

On the same trip, I had a similar experience with a young lady in Honduras. She also made several references to medicinal plants and how she used them simply in passing as part of her conversation. 

I was delighted and moved to see the close connection these good people still have with the plants all around them. At the same time I was saddened by the realization that we, here in North America are losing that connection. 

I was in Rexburg Idaho this past weekend at a church at the blessing of a new grandbaby. As we left the church I noticed the beautiful landscaping. They were ready for about anything. They had Spirea for fevers, black-eyed Susans for infections, Cinquefoil for diarrhea or RSV outbreaks and a dozen other medicinal trees, shrubs and flowers. I watched as the congregation left the building and walked past those beautiful plants without the slightest inkling of what they could do for them. 

I told one daughter about the cinquefoil and the RSV virus and she was really excited. Apparently, every winter, Rexburg is the RSV capitol of the world. She will tell others and maybe some little kids in Rexburg will be less sick this winter. 

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already a plant lover. I hope that you’ll share what you know. I hope that you’ll talk about your passion for these wonderful plants with those around you. Let’s embrace the wonderful inheritance our grandparents tried to give us and pass it to the next generation. The Mayans haven’t dropped the ball on this for millennia. It’s time for our generation and our culture to reclaim our birthright of God’s bounteous, botanical blessings and make sure that our children don’t forget the plants that surround them.

I’m determined to do my part in this endeavor. I hope you’ll join me. If you’d like to help, please share this article via FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or whatever other voices you may have. Maybe we can get some conversations started. Many hands make light work. 

Doc Jones

HomeGrown Herbalist School of Botanical Medicine

If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants,

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