It’s such a common image in our society, the ‘witch’ at her cauldron, brewing up some noxious potion; inescapable at Halloween. I have started watching a documentary series called “Noxious Weeds” that explores the legends, facts and possibilities of various traditional medicines.
Cultural stereotypes are created from grains of truth, snippets of logic, mixed with worries and fears, and baked in the human capacity for narrative and sensationalism. I’m interested in looking at those grains of truth, and marrying them to my everyday experience. Often all it takes is a shift in words. If we said “Herbalist creating her tonics” it would bring up a VERY different picture, probably a lot closer to reality.
The program was fascinating, but as I was listening, I realized that ‘science’ only focuses on the herbs, not the method. I have no doubt that some of the herbs were very effective, (modern medicine hasn’t quite grasped the concept of individualized medicine, and dismiss anything that only works for half of the people with a various treatment. I’ll save that rabbit hole for another day, though).
So what about the method? In the program they talked about the local healer and/or midwife, and they would bring various tonics that had been prepared on their fire boiling down a big pot of herbs, mushrooms, etc. Here’s the thing- even if the herbs had no effect, they contain iron. A LOT of iron. Modern Western cooking doesn’t use cast iron skillets or big iron cauldrons. If your food is cooked in iron, it’s highly unlikely that you’d be iron deficient, except maybe after giving birth, severe bleeding, etc., (or if you have a tendency to blow up a lot of blood cells. Those mast cells gotta be replaced!). And that is exactly the moment that you’d call the local healer to get that boost!
When I get IV iron, I feel better immediately. It goes far beyond building more blood cells, that takes time. This effect is within a few hours of getting it. It acts like a switch to turn off my mast cells. It doesn’t last long, but it happens every time I get it now. (Now if I could just get regular iron IVs without months between them, that would be something!).
Current research is clear, more developed societies have higher rates of immune and inflammatory disorders. Since mast cells are the inflammation gatekeeper, they’re implicated. We immediately think of pesticides or light pollution, radioactivity, electrical fields or gas emissions. But what if it’s our cooking pots?
I have a good friend who has thalessimia; her blood needs much more iron than most. She is always seeking ways to add iron to her diet. She introduced me to the “Lucky Iron Fish“. (I haven’t come up with a stew that has no veggies or meat, so it doesn’t really work for me). My friend uses a cast iron skillet and cooking pot, and she also has her fish that she can put into other pots when cooking. Not a whole lot of people use cast iron any more though!
So, where does the Nordic Connection come it? By far the ‘easiest’ iron to collect is bog iron. And where is bog iron most prevalent? Northern Europe, The British Isles and Scandinavia. Our bodies have been exposed to lots of iron for thousands of years. Far more than most genetic/ethnic groups. Maybe our bodies eveolved to count on an omnipresent resource. After all, you don’t have to store something you can easily access. I think we need to look beyond anemia, to iron’s effect on mast cells. Iron is known to have a mast cell calming effect. Maybe ‘not deficient’ isn’t enough, that this is a piece of the puzzle that underlies the dramatic increase in inflammation and immunological disorders in current times.
We don’t know yet, but for now, I’m going to go get a “Scaero” bar from our plastic cauldron and call the person trying to sort out my IV’s.