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Feb 142014
 

"Why do bulls and horses turn up their nostrils when excited by love?" Darwin ponderedWhere_is_the_love deep in one of his unpublished notebooks.  Scientists long ago documented a rich array of animal pheromones, everything from seal, fox and civet, various rodents, boars, beavers, musk deer . . . even the effluence discharged by whales.  Discovering biochemical bouquets for attracting mates as well as marking territory and used for defense, as is the case with the noble skunk.  And, we took them as our own for exotic and sought after perfumes, not putting much thought into human scent, assuming our unique evolution and poor sense of smell lends to the idea that unique olfactory-challenged, sight-oriented hairless bipeds would be the species that conquers the Earth.  Hah! 

I don’t doubt that many of my readers here, like myself, dismiss the notion that we humans are bereft of scent-driven socializing.  That just because early scientists in autopsy couldn’t find the same hardware in humans, those two little pits, the VNO (vomeronasal organ) in each nostril, we had been left out of the savory realm of scent.  So, our olfactory prowess was dismissed and discarded, those early analysts  nodding their heads in agreement that humans simply did not rely on scent to any appreciable degree . . . and even physiologists declaring in the 1930’s that humans lacked the brain apparatus necessary to process VNO signals.  So, even if we had a VNO, the thinking was our brains wouldn’t be able to interpret its signals.

So it goes, the scientific dogma for most of the previous century that humans do not rely on scent to any appreciable degree.  I’m here to report that reports of our olfactory devolution have been greatly exaggerated!  And, it will come as no surprise to readers here that physiologists did discover a functioning vomeronasal organ inside the human nose. Using microscopes unavailable to early nasal explorers, discovering pits lined with receptor cells that fire like mad when presented with certain substances.  And probably less surprising that the discovery was prompted by a venture capitalist searching to cash in on manufactured human pheromones.  Tom Tykwer’s 2006 movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, featuring Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s dark quest for the ultimate perfume ingredient and its exquisite period sets could have us fantasizing a clever 17th century feminine entrepreneur doing a brisk business selling handkerchiefs scented with her body odor.  Or, who knows, perhaps it is the next olfactory market evolution yet to come.

Getting back to smelling each other and our pleasure therein, it appears we are also profoundly equipped with attraction-beckoning pleasant odor-producing capability . . . human sweat, urine, saliva, breast milk, skin oils, breath and sexual secretions all contain scent-communicating chemical compounds.  Zoologist Michael Stoddart, author of The Scented Ape, points out that humans possessThe Lovers denser skin concentrations of scent glands than almost any other mammal.  We have long believed that humans don’t pay much attention to the fragrant or the rancid in their day-to-day lives.  Part of the confusion resides in the fact that not all smells register in our conscious minds and that they are rejected when we don’t want to think about them anymore.  In studying aromatherapy, we learn that our conscious mind can refuse to acknowledge the presence of odor, especially after prolonged periods of smelling it.  We are, therefore, advised to  diffuse in time periods according to other protocols and parameters not related to actively and consciously detecting the aromatic blend being diffused.

As we study and learn more about DNA, there is a segment called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), codes which function as the immune system’s eyes for recognition.  This recognition triggers the immune system’s teeth – the killer T cells – who then swarm the intruders. Studies in mice have proven that females choose by evaluating males’ MHC profiles and choose those most dissimilar to their own to avoid inbreeding.  It was during early studies involving humans that we discovered we were capable of discerning small differences in the immune systems of mice. This led to further tests in which women rated men’s body odor and sexiness . . . exactly like mice do.  We much prefer men with scents that vary the most from our own. 

Although, even that is complicated in that there are still anomalies to the general rule of choice yet to be definitely ascertained. Doctors have known since the mid-1980s that couples suffering repeated spontaneous abortions tend to share more MHC similarities than couples who carry to term. And, if we don’t also know and accept same sex attraction by now, we might remain in those dark, dank ages.  Those who might be offended by the notion that animal senses play a role in their attraction to a partner need not worry. As the role of smell in human affairs yields to understanding, we see not that we are less human but that our tastes and emotions are far more complex and sophisticated than anyone ever imagined.

Perfume_Bottle_AntiqueWhile this ramble may give you something interesting you may not previously know, on this Valentines Day, you’re probably more interested in a simple bottle of perfume, rose-scented tea and the ever-beloved chocolate delight.  Just remember, if you haven’t developed an awareness yet, while you are nibbling on that lover’s ear, to sniff a bit . . . and judge for yourself whether he/she is the one. 

Love and Smelly Kisses,
Marcia

Feb 112014
 

In this age of over-privatization, it is politically healthy to see an honest fight to keep something that belongs in the realm of the commons, to remind ourselves that not everything should be made to hoard for personal monetary profit. Most especially something made from the plants that grow abundantly in all of our gardens and orchards. I, like many herbal practitioners, have been making fire cider since I first began following the excellent herbal work of Rosemary Gladstar, who coined the name in the 1970’s. It is not something our company currently sells, but something bottled up for family wellness and given to new friends along the way, the recipe always evolving and expanding, but based on the tried and true core ingredients Rosemary taught. You may not be aware of the story that recently prompted herbalists across the globe to revolt against the move by three young people to trademark the name ‘fire cider’. To take it for themselves, exclusively, with the threat of legal action that ‘registered trademark’ implies. Enthusiastic, perhaps well meaning, young people who have somehow missed the traditional spirit of self-care and empowerment through herbalism and the wise woman way handed down for centuries. These three young people, Dana, Amy and Brian, are aware that they have sent ripples of displeasure throughout the greater herbal community, but have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to withdraw their registered trademark which restricts any other company from using the name in the marketplace. Instead, they foolishly inflate and see themselves as heroes "bringing visibility to the general public" oblivious [perhaps by choice] to decades of early published herbal work and education provided by Gladstar, Susun Weed, Jeanne Rose, Michael Moore, Paul Bergner, Mindy Green, Colleen Dodt, Cascade Anderson Geller, Howie Brounstein and countless others upon whose backs they deem to build their empire . . . advertising themselves as willing mentors to a seeming new breed of "business-minded herbalists".  Methinks they don’t understand the collective but mostly unspoken pride that probably won’t stop any of us from making and, yes, marketing, fire cider and honoring those who came before us as we continue tradition in the manner intended. Long Live Fire Cider!

 

shaking hand with branch2 432x242And so went my fb post of fierce resistance in response to the definitive gauntlet thrown . . . then Tina Sams from The Essential Herbal Magazine suggested we expand on the idea and genesis of the herbal tradition.  It was then that I realized perhaps I, personally, maybe hadn’t been doing enough to educate young people growing up with fewer and fewer community traditions that represented gathering and openly sharing that occurs without underpinning the necessity for the exchange of money as a prerequisite.  That my personal experience, and that of others like me, both in creating and participating in venues for Agora in the traditional meaning as a gathering place had not taken root and might be lost to future generations with respect to the greater purpose and importance of freely sharing.  And, now if you Google ‘Agora’, you get everything from a Washington D.C. Turkish restaurant to an online charter school, to an art gallery, to an incorporated consumer newsletter,  a ballroom in Cleveland, financial forecasts, and even a movie starring Rachel Weisz.  So much for an ancient word that might have led us to understanding the concept of the commons, and indeed, the very meaning of commonwealth.  Tina calls us to the greater task of defining the greater good as it now applies in our technologically advanced society in which the individual reigns supreme over all he can patent, trademark and profit from.  Where, in the harshest manifestation,  the John Galts appear poised to separate themselves from the rest of humanity in ivory towers and the word ‘inequality’ has risen to prominence in the political discourse. 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of business, I can read financial reports and complex comparative analyses.  I’ve certainly been rewarded generously for my participation in market economics and the ability to incorporate and insure my endeavors for the best possible outcome and security into the future.  The same as those walking before me and beside me, we didn’t just fall off the sunflower-covered hippie VW bus.  Most of us either have experience and education in community planning and public events [a long forgotten professional pursuit, it seems], or specialized study and apprenticeship that prepared us.  Or we discovered a book listing resources or stumbled upon public gatherings of people excited about and anxious to share what they’ve learned – in this particular case, herbs, but the same can apply to music [especially folk and alternative], organic gardening and food politics, and a long list of environmental and human rights activist endeavors . . . those that embrace the idea that there is good reason to make certain knowledge accessible to all, that idea that this will serve and help evolve humanity -  that some information was not meant to be hoarded and privatized.   The idea that this won’t impede an ability to create our own individual design and artistry surrounding products and services that originate in early folklore and have now evolved to include sophisticated science – that we can be rewarded financially without restricting anyone else from marketing their own endeavor rooted in those same traditions.   That idea that claiming a name from the commons as our own to restrict its long shared use is repulsive and antithetical to the herbal tradition.  

I’ve interviewed people who have inspired, entertained and delighted  here on my blog in the past.  It’s time to renew the effort to spotlight those I believe best represent the shared values of a strong and enduring community.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, here are some links covering fire cider . . .

The petition:  https://www.change.org/petitions/united-states-patent-and-trademark-office-revoke-fire-cider-trademark

http://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/ci_25079375/rsquo-fire-cider-rsquo-brand-ignites-dispute
http://www.examiner.com/article/herbalists-fighting-copyright-of-fire-cider-free-recipes-labels-and-an-e-book
https://www.facebook.com/originalfirecider
http://www.sagemountain.com/rosemary-gladstar/winter-recipes.html
http://mountainroseblog.com/fire-cider/
http://commonwealthherbs.com/2014/01/trademarking-tradition-the-fire-cider-controversy/
http://www.punkdomestics.com/category/tags/fire-cider
http://www.healingspiritsherbfarm.com/recipe/fire-cider
http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-fire-cider-recipes-from-the-kitchn-199972
http://naturesnurtureblog.com/2012/12/06/immune-boosting-fire-cider-for-cold-flu-season/
http://thesproutingseed.com/fire-cider/
http://www.readingmytealeaves.com/2012/11/make-your-own-fire-cider.html
http://wildspiritherbs.blogspot.com/2014/01/fire-cider-make-it-yourself.html
http://sagescript.blogspot.com/2014/02/fire-cider-day-2014.html