Ayurveda and traditional healing traditions from around the world are dismissed as “pseudo-science.” The justification for this arrogant condescension is: “Herbs haven’t gone though a clinical trial.”
This argument is lazy. You can find medical research literature of
herbs like gurjo, hibiscus, and timmur, in the Western scientific
tradition, archived online. I have read these research articles via
the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of
Health. People do not bother to read this research, although they are only a click away.
The Kathmandu Post ran an article about Kathmandu traffic police planting tinospora cordifolia or gurjo at the Tinkune Park. Gurjo is thought to prevent coronavirus. The traffic police, one of our most vulnerable frontline workers, were grateful to have this healing herb.
This article called it an “untested herb.” There are over 300
scientific research articles about the herb and its usages, including for osteo-arthritis to HIV/AIDS, from respectable researchers on the web. The fact the herb has been in use by many ethnic groups in Nepal, creating a pool of “pharma testers” who’ve gone through a clinical trial of its efficacy for hundreds if not thousands of years, seem lost on Western educated people flaunting their infallible modern credentials.
I have written articles mentioning the medicinal value of timmur
(Sichuan pepper). Trekking in Langtang in 2005, I can down with a
severe headache as I was ascending to Kenjin Gompa. My friends
suggested I descend. My headache was debilitating. I could see why people died from lack of oxygen to their brain. In Langtang Village, the villages told me the local medicine for altitude sickness: chew timmur, and drink lots of garlic soup. I may have taken a tablet of Western medicine as well. My pounding headache disappeared only the next morning. I was able to go up to the monastery and admire the cheese factory and the yak herders.
As an undergraduate at Brown University, I was hired by Professor Phil Lieberman to analyze speech of air traffic controllers, looking at audio waveforms on a computer. Lieberman was researching speech, and if it could show how tired people had become and thereby predict aircraft accidents. In 2004, Lieberman sent students to track mountaineers climbing without oxygen. He wanted to see if there was a link to oxygen deprivation, speech impairment and brain damage. I reported on this story. I knew that oxygen levels were important and could affect physiological functioning of the body.
When the coronavirus epidemic was a few months old, observers
(including me) started to have doubts about the efficacy of
ventilators. Publications reported doctors themselves were baffled. Although their oxygen levels were dropping through the floor, patients were sitting up, speaking, and talking. The doctors concluded that the symptoms were more akin to altitude sickness, and that they should stop using only mechanical indicators to calculate O2 levels, since pumping people full of oxygen could cause more harm than good.
When I wrote about timmur acting as a natural “ventilator” that pumps oxygen into people’s brains, I was bringing this two strands of my life and education together. To my twitter critics accusing me of "pseudo-science,” this ethnographic lived experience may have been lost.
I had never drunk hibiscus tea before I went to Bali in 2009. A
wonderful woman called Janet O’Neefe organizes the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, and I was one of the invited speakers. After the festival, I took a cooking class via her Casa Luna Cooking School. A jovial man led the session. The other dishes were usual Asian fare, but hibiscus tea stayed in my mind. With a flourish, the instructor took out the pistil and added bright red petals to boiling water. Then he added a dash of lime, turning purple wilted petals into a pink drink. It looked like a magic trick.
I drank this tea because it was refreshing. Only later did I realize
its medicinal properties. When I have debilitating menstrual cramps, I drink hibiscus tea and am operational within half hour. As I researched online, I realized this botanical treasure is an ancient Ayurvedic medicine. Rudrapushpam is deeply revered and has many usages. Hibiscus had the highest anti-viral effect on the avian flu virus in a research comparing different teas. People mistakenly think antibiotics will heal coronavirus. But what we need are anti-virals, not antibiotics which kill bacteria.
We already have powerful medicine that are stronger than any dubious Big Pharma drug. People infected with coronavirus in the West die of blood clots. In Nepal, we eat turmeric daily--turmeric is a blood thinner. Hibiscus tea, chyawanprash, timmur, and other herbs, taken in moderate and correct dosage, don’t harm the kidney or liver. Hibiscus can be available for free to all in the Indian subcontinent.
On Twitter, Baburam Bhattarai called for free hospitalization for
coronavirus patients. This sounds like a responsible activist call,
although Mr. Bhattarai was last seen infecting large Terai crowds in an irresponsible vote-gathering endeavor. If government pays
hospitals, there is a big chance people will be given unnecessary
treatments that damage lungs, livers, kidneys and brains. Americans report a dramatic range of post-hospitalization symptoms, most likely caused by drugs and treatments.
It may be more responsible to fund districtwise Ayurvedic, Amchi and indigenous medicine production, deliver herbal medicine right to people’s doors, and provide care to those who need help at home.
Writer and filmmaker
148 Hattimahankal Marg,