Thursday, 25 June 2015

Here Be Dragons Nearly Here

Remember this?

(except without the free sample bit).

A few years ago, I used to do science workshops with children of whatever age.  These were generally popular and successful although also hampered by lack of resources and poor attendance.  The time came when our own children reached adulthood and I stopped doing them because of that, and also because I found them very discouraging.  However, there is a quandary for me in home education, thus:  how do you participate in home ed without becoming some kind of teacher when your own children are not participating?  There is a danger that as your children leave that age group, you will cease to empathise as well and not be able to "keep your hand in", as it were.  On the other hand, one does seem to acquire useful skills and experience as one raises children which are then lost to the home ed community when one leaves it.

In order to address this, I decided to produce a collaborative book with the children involved in the late lamented Big Science project.  This kind of got off the ground with the design of two dragons, but after that failed to proceed, as is often the case with my projects.  I decided to turn the germ of the idea into a book called 'Here Be Dragons'.  The idea behind this was to write the kind of book I enjoyed reading as a child, and from which I learnt a lot (shades of Ross Geller here:  "playing AND learning", but okay, if it's just entertainment that's also fine because childhood needs to be enjoyed for its own sake too).

I spent eight months on this book.  At first I expected collaboration but found that people were unwilling to do so, probably because they had lives to live, so I ended up writing it myself with input from others.  I also wanted it proofread by others, so I sent them copies and it didn't happen, so it's more or less stayed as a first draft.  Most importantly, I wanted it illustrated.  Each of these activities was to be rewarded by a share in the profits.  None of them was forthcoming.  I then got concerned that I would miss the deadline and that the bad energy created by missing the deadline would affect me in other ways unless I imposed swingeing consequences for missing that deadline.  Then I missed the deadline.  I stuck what I had on Scribd and did something else I forget - possibly put it on Smashwords - and abandoned the whole thing.  Someone also suggested that I pay the illustrators, and I would of course have been entirely willing to do so but that would only have been possible after someone had actually bought the book.

That was someone else.

This person was not the one who made the rule that the book wouldn't be published, so I'm going to cheat and pretend that rule wasn't made by me at all, but by the previous occupant of this body, as it were, even though neither of us was dualist.

Therefore, I am now revising 'Here Be Dragons' with a view to publication.  The illustrations problem has been addressed by exhorting the reader to illustrate the book, I have added a glossary and a preface, today I will be adding a table of contents and I will then be providing a cover.  I will then submit the book to Create Space.

Then it will be ignored.  Nobody will buy it, read it or even notice it's there.  I will have wasted my time and the discouragement I feel as a result of the silence will probably provoke a bout of depression.  I can't really avoid this depression, just acknowledge that it's lying there in wait for me, probably some time next week.

This is the thing about us, Liz and me.  We put enormous amounts of effort into what we do, and incidentally what we do includes looking for paid work with an employer, and we're not even fussy about that work - shelf-stacking or street sweeping is fine - and nothing, nothing at all ever yields financial rewards, and we don't know why.  Nonetheless, I'm convinced there's something I must be doing wrong, and I can't see what it is.  I also find that the suggestions people make are entirely useless and reflect projections of their own issues.

So I dunno, I wrote a book, it's rubbish, and it's going to be on Amazon.  Whatever.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

"Will, Will, Harry, Stee..."

Three months since I last posted here, but this time there is something worth saying again finally I think, so here I am.

Now, I am in no way a monarchist.  I think the monarchy is a pointless anachronism and probably has no place in any society, and even if it had, that it had long outlived its usefulness by the seventeenth century when Cromwell did his thing.  Having said that, I also think the monarchy is the least of our troubles and that arguing for a republic is a bit like complaining that the handle of the axe which is about to chop off your head is green rather than red, so I don't feel strongly about it and I think there are more important things to worry about.

Even so, I find the monarchy interesting for a number of reasons, and also believe it to be a structure to hang history on in the same way as the periodic table is a structure to hang happy tales of underachievers with lung cancer on (or maybe even chemistry) and the tree of life to be something useful to enthuse oneself about the variety of life on.  On the whole, monarchs are winners, so there is a problem with looking at history through queens and kings, and I also see history as a process which goes on without individuals having much to do with it, so I wouldn't want to personalise history too much, but doing that can give you a way into it.  Unlike most other subjects I've mentioned on here, I'm very much an outsider to history.  It's not like science, herbalism or linguistics to me, so I may very well be pretty naive with respect to it.  Well, I just am - what more can I say on that matter?

Anyway, there's a famous mnemonic rhyme for the kings and queens of England from William the Conqueror onward.  It has various versions, one of which goes like this:

Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three;
One, two, three Neds, Richard two
Harrys four, five, six... then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the bad,
Harrys twain VII VIII and Ned the Lad;
Mary, Bessie, James the Vain,
Charlie, Charlie, James again...
William and Mary, Anna Gloria,
Four Georges I II III IV, William and Victoria;
Edward seven next, and then
George the fifth in 1910;
Ned the eighth soon abdicated
Then George the sixth was coronated;
After which Elizabeth
And that's the end until her death.

I've always felt a little uneasy that we can't know how this ends, but that's just how time is, isn't it?  As it happens, someone on YouTube has addressed this issue thus:

We just don't know what the future holds, do we?

Monarchs are interesting for several reasons.  One of them is that they are people who represent their time.  They're clearly not representative of people at their time in that they are far from average, but the attitudes they have and embody are often in some way typical.  Moreover, precisely because there's nothing special about them, they constitute interesting character studies because they're thrown into the limelight and respond in all sorts of ways to the pressures their times and places put upon them.  Also, they are by no means any more free than their subjects.  They have to marry out of expediency, for example, and if they try to exercise their supposed freedom in certain ways, bad stuff happens to them (think of Edward II for example).

Also, what's going on around them is important.  A country in which even a royal can die of smallpox in this part of the world is clearly very different from the one we're living in now, and many of the events currently taking place in other parts of the planet are remarkably reminiscent of what went on here a few centuries ago, so either it's being hushed up better here than it used to be or we have no leg to stand on when we look down at such shenanigans.

Therefore I make no apology for being interested in the monarchy, and to this end I hereby submit the picture I've just cobbled together which is the real raison d'etre of this entry.  It's derived from the artwork above and will of course be removed on request, but here it is:

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Getting From There To Here

Here we are!  Finally posting another entry on the "main" blog.  Incidentally, in case Healing Tree is wondering, I am currently overthinking the melothesia entry, which is why it hasn't emerged.

One of the weird things about my life is that I went from being completely against home education to being almost completely in favour of it in the space of about three years around the late '80s and early '90s, and I cannot clearly recollect the process, although I will try to work out what happened and how.

Early in my school life, when I was about six, in 1974, I can remember getting excited about a project we were doing called "My Book", which was supposed to be "all about you".  I don't know how I drew the conclusion, but I imagined it would be about anatomy and physiology, because at the time I understood my identity to be that of a human animal, and therefore a physical organism whose primary attributes were biological.  I was very disappointed to find it was about a much more obvious sense of "aboutness", which I don't recall but was much more boring to me.  Another incident was about bees, and again I expected much more detail than was actually presented.  In both cases, I was being presented with information which I already knew.  The academic side of school really bored me, and I saw it as a distraction from study.  I was rather bookish, but I did also do practical things outside of school, particularly biological stuff about protozoa, wildlife and the like, particularly focussed on aquatic freshwater animals.  In the areas I found interesting, I didn't learn anything new in the classroom in academic terms until I was doing A-levels, by which time I had lost interest and switched off academically.  It should be pointed out that in practical terms I did pick up a few things and in areas where I had little interest such as French and History I did learn something because I hadn't explored them myself, but the motivation was not there.  You can perhaps see the seeds of a future home edder in that lot.

Nonetheless I was heavily in favour of school.  I felt that it needed to be tinkered with a bit but that the principles were sound, and in about 1978 the idea seemed to be that they were moving towards being increasingly child-centred and using school as a place for educational resources accessed autonomously, so that was the kind of school I expected to be in favour of as an adult.  I even considered a career as a teacher quite seriously.  Even now, if schools were like that, I would probably think they were okay, if a bit superfluous.

However, the main reason I was in favour of school was that I was communist.  I felt that bringing children up in nuclear families led to children getting screwed up by their environment, and in fact not only did I approve of schools, but I disapproved of families.  I thought children should be taken away from their parents at birth and raised in state children's homes in order to avoid being indoctrinated by their parents.

My politics shifted from red to green in the mid-'80s,  When Cathy Cantwell posted me the Green Party manifesto in '86, I read it avidly from cover to cover and agreed with almost all of it.  The only things I disagreed with in the entire book were the discouragement of trade, because I felt redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer countries could not be achieved in any other way, and their support of home education, because I felt it would make it harder to break into the vicious circle of oppression which was destroying the planet.  At the time, I still accepted the idea that humans were powerful enough to wipe out all life on Earth, so the stakes were very high indeed.  Nonetheless I joined the Greens and got involved, eventually, because disagreeing with two policies, one of which I didn't expect to affect me directly due to me being convinced I was sterile due to being gender dysphoric and not wanting my body to "work" in that way.  Therefore to me at the time, children were just "out there" somewhere in an abstract kind of way, and not something I wanted to concern myself with.  I was also a little inclined towards voluntary human extinction, which is the idea that you don't have any children so that the planet does fine after the species has gracefully and peacefully vanished off its face.

While all this was going on in my personal political journey, government education policy was changing.  In fact, I approved of GCSEs because of their emphasis on coursework rather than just exams, but not particularly of the National Curriculum because it didn't seem locally determined enough.  I should point out that at the time I thought the UK and England should be broken up into regional states such as the Midlands, the North and so on, so a National Curriculum didn't make sense to me.

My political allegiances changed again in the late '80s as I became anarchist, and this is where things become a little confused.  I didn't think much about education of children because I had become quite cynical and thought the species would die out soon anyway.  There didn't seem to be much of a future and I certainly had no prospect of having children.  With 1991 and the first Gulf War, I entered utter despair because I couldn't believe the naivete of the general public.  It seemed that attitudes hadn't moved on since the First World War, and to have children would be to inflict existence upon them in a doomed world.  It would be cruel for them even to be born under those conditions.  Also, at the time I was blissfully single and not even considering sex, which in any case wouldn't yield any offspring.  It was only gradually that I came to realise that in fact I very probably had already conceived, but that's another story interesting here only as an illustration of how deeply I was in denial about the possibility of reproducing.

When I was twenty-four, in '92, I was working producing lesson plans on environmental issues based on the National Curriculum, and I noticed something quite startling.  Up until that point, I had assumed that the National Curriculum had been kind of "vamped up" and had more advanced content at appropriate ages than CSEs and GCEs, for example, had had.  However, I was most disappointed to find that in fact the opposite seemed to be the case.  It was just the same old story of stuff I'd known since I was seven.  It also gradually emerged that there were oversimplifications which were effectively lies, and I don't think it's okay to lie to children anyway, but it also makes learning inefficient by destroying trust and meaning you have to unlearn and relearn repeatedly.

I can't pinpoint it completely, but I suspect having a look at the National Curriculum was a factor in my about-face on home ed.  I realised that whereas parents might not be perfect (and at this point I wasn't thinking in terms of autonomy), they could hardly do a worse job than the government.  Also, once I realised having a child was something which was probably just going to happen regardless of my satisfaction or otherwise with the means whereby she would be brought into the world, I became very focussed on developments in schooling and, when asked at the time why we were considering home educating, I would answer that everything the government did to change education policy was another reason for doing so.

There are various ways of changing the world.  You cannot, of course, use your child as a vehicle for doing so, because it's her life.  However, if you have children, you are unusually strongly focussed on their needs and know them better than anyone else.  Moreover, children are where you can break into the circle of unhappiness down the generations.  The little bundle of joy God (or the Atheon) has lent you needs to become a bigger bundle of joy and to thrive from whatever life will chuck at it.  In order to do that, I needed to be a responsible parent and not hand her over to strangers, no matter how well-trained and well-intentioned they might be.  It was my fault she existed, so I needed to do what I could to maximise her chances of flourishing.  Consequently, we chose to present both children with the option of going to school or not, and they never chose to opt in.

It was really initially the revelation that the government wasn't really interested in educating children at all that did it.  Nevertheless, the freedom of children to attend school if they so choose is important.

I don't know if that explains why I completely changed my mind, but I do that sometimes, very suddenly.  I still don't know fully what happened, but it did.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Herbs And Planets

This is the kind of post which risks annoying people who think of themselves as sceptics, so before I launch into this, I want to say in defence of the concept that just as nowadays we refer to things as being, for instance, in the Rosaceae, which reminds us that they're likely to contain vitamin C and tannins, or the Ranunculaceae, thereby reminding us that they're probably quite toxic, so back in the day, before Linnæus, people needed another method to help them remember significant features of herbs.  In fact, over the next few days I plan to cover quite a few of the most contentious aspects of herbalism.  I also want to point out that just because this is "out there", it doesn't mean everyone uses it.  It also has cybernetic significance, and as usual I suspect that word is going to make people think of this kind of thing:

(both copyright 1981, BBC - will be removed on request).

Incidentally, that last graphic is less than 2K in size and could easily have been displayed on a BBC Model A or a ZX Spectrum, so the fact it's copyright 1981 is quite appropriate.

Anyway, herbs and planets.  Astrologically, the traditional planets are:  Cynthia (the "Moon"), Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  Many astrologers nowadays include other planets and there are also the "hypothetical planets" such as Cupido, but leaving those aside, in the seventeenth century when the herbalist Culpeper was around the general idea seems to have been that there were eight like today, just a different eight.  Let's get going:

Associated with Cynthia, here labelled "Moon", are those herbs to do with water or which are cold or lunar in shape.  One example is the banana and another the cucumber, but others are weeping willow and many types of seaweed.  The general association is between the tides and the herb itself, although menstruation and pregnancy are not associated with it.  I'll come to that in a bit.

Next is Mercury:

Mercury is so similar to Cynthia that even astronomers are often unable to tell the difference from photographs of craters on either body.  From a distance it's somewhat easier because Mercury lacks the "seas" found on our companion world.  Mercury is associated with the metal because it darts around the Sun very fast, like quicksilver.  Mercury is an airy world in astrological terms and is therefore associated with plants whose aerial parts are finely divided, or contain a lot of negative space, such as dill:

(Yes I know I've used it before).

Mercurial herbs are also associated with communication and therefore the voice and throat.  Their airiness is also expressed in their fine odours, another example being Valerian:

Valerian also indicates a signatury thing:  herbs of Mercury have an affinity with the nervous system because it too is finely divided and subtle.  The communication thing also links Mercury with Gemini, but that's another blog post.

Next, Venus:

This is of course not what Venus looks like at all.  Earth and Venus are the only major planets with feminine names.  Just to explain this image, this is what Venus would look like if she had water and had been more like Earth, and in fact at some point early in her history, this is what Venus might have looked like.  Venus as she stands is completely covered in cloud and this leads to one of the associations with her herbs.  Only the superficial parts of Venus are visible and the rest is hidden.  This is seen as giving the planet an affinity with herbs which have a superficial action, on the skin for example.  The association with the female reproductive system - "venereal herbs" - is another thing. This is where menstruation and pregnancy come in, and it means that gooseberries and raspberries are venereal herbs.  So is rose, partly due to its association with the skin - it prevents scar tissue - and partly because it has a prominent non-phallic reproductive part, namely its flower.

The next "planet" is the Sun:

Solar herbs include herbs which look like the Sun, so for example:

"Hypericum-perforatum-250605-1" by Michael H. Lemmer - Own work * Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

Hypericum perforatum, incidentally, is intensely "signatury" to me.  It has so many associations it's not true.  The Sun doesn't literally have rays in the sense that a sunflower or a marigold has, They tend to be strikingly orange or yellow, and to be bitter or aromatic.  They also have direct associations with the Sun, such as the tendency the above plant has to photosensitise the skin, the tendency of the one above that to follow the Sun and the usefulness of marigold for alleviating sunburn (hint).

Mars, the bringer of war, is the "male" planet and as such is associated with herbs which vigorously defend themselves in various ways such as nettles, thistles and mustard.  These plants have weapons.  Some of them, such as arum lilies:

"Arum maculatum 0 700". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

have a frankly phallic appearance, so the idea behind it can be that they look like the male member in the same way as a rose might be considered to look like the female one.

Jupiter is of course the largest planet, and the Solar System has been described as consisting of the Sun and Jupiter with assorted debris:

It is of course bloody massive, like the biggest human internal organ, the liver, which basically does everything except for the few functions performed by other more specialised organs.  The function of the liver in the human body is often to change things which are problematic if they hang around to ones which aren't as problematic.  This frequently involves absorbing toxins and converting them to a form which is less toxic and/or can be booted out of the body.  The planet Jupiter does exactly the same thing for Earth, and here's a photo of him doing it:

Those "bruises" you can see near the pole are a comet hitting Jupiter, which is a big target with a lot of gravitational pull, so it's a useful planet to have around.  It also had the role of pulling rocks, dust and gas around in the early Solar System so that the planets formed roughly where they are, so were it not for Jupiter, Earth wouldn't exist and there might not be any planets capable of supporting "life as we know it".

It's not surprising, therefore, that jovial herbs govern the liver.  An example is dandelion:

"DandelionFlower" by Greg Hume - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Many liver herbs are also yellow, but since the same applies to solar herbs this can be a bit confusing.

Finally, there's Saturn:

Saturn is of course distinguished by its rings and, in terms of early modern astronomy, its position on the edge of the Solar System.  Both of these things can be considered limits.  Saturn can be personified as Old Father Time:

"Lord's weathervane". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Father Time's scythe is of course very like the Grim Reaper's and this is also true of saturnine herbs:  they tend to kill people.  An example of a saturnine herb is the deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna:

Atropa is named after Atropos, one of the three Fates, the one who cuts the thread of life.  In other words, the Greek version of the Grim Reaper.

Saturn also governs herbs which have prominent rings, which obviously includes many trees (which are not botanically speaking herbs).

That's all a fairly sketchy portrait of herbs and the traditional solar planets.  The next entry will be about the star signs, Melothesic Man and iatromathematics.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Sympathy For - Well, Everyone Really

I don't know how common sympathy symptoms and allied phenomena are.  I can remember a friend of mine at primary school hurting his leg while playing football and me feeling the pain a while later.  My mother used to worry about my introspection because I used to watch the blood circulating in my retinas against featureless surfaces, and I can see her point.

I don't think of sympathy symptoms as magical or psychic in nature.  They're more like stigmata - the wounds you get on your hands and feet, or arms and legs, when you think about the Crucifixion.  Those are by no means miraculous.  They're just an emotional response to the idea of the Crucifixion.  I daresay if a Star Trek fan thought about Dax enough in the right way, she might develop a rash on her temples.  Nonetheless, there is the usual temporal oddity that symptoms turn up before you learn what someone's problems are, and I can't explain that except to link it with certain things I don't talk about.  We are of course aware that according to Einstein simultaneity is illusory.

Anyway, leaving that aside, I would also connect it to the experiences of Gilbert's Syndrome and IBS, both of which I have had.  The former is recurrent jaundice, sometimes triggered by emotional stress, and the latter is of course Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  My view of my own IBS is that it symbolically expressed the emotions I pushed down out of my head into my belly, and that my bowels, like those of many other people, expresses emotions in the same way as faces do in most other people.  It also feels like my abdominal region in particular has powerful emotional meaning to me to a greater extent than it does for most other people.  One interesting aspect of my IBS is that it played up when I might expect to feel anxious but I genuinely did not consciously feel anxious at all when it did so.

I'm not being precious about my IBS.  In fact I may have a history of not being precious enough about it, but that's another story.  What it seems to have done for me is to have provided a precedent of some kind for mapping patients' symptoms onto my body.  As I said, sympathy symptoms are not ESP.  They are more like a subconscious imagining of what's going on for the other person and a possible intuition of what their problem might be.  They often involve pain but plenty of other experiences can happen too.  For instance, my bowel habit might change, I might experience shortness of breath or a cough or start burping.  The experience which gives me a clue about what might be going on is that if a patient has her back to me, I feel pains on the same side as her but if she faces me, they're on the opposite side.  This means, for example, that appendicitis could in theory be confused with tubal pregnancy if it were a psychic phenomenon, or for that matter if my intuition were telling me something.  My interpretation of that is that I am reflecting the person with whom I am currently engaged.

Another aspect is the gynaecological one but I've forked the blog now so I'll leave it.

One thing which does concern me quite a lot is the problem of somatisation, and here I'm not using the term dismissively by any means.  My attitude towards my IBS was that I had an irritating bowel habit which meant I had to be near accessible toilets,but I failed spectacularly to medicalise it and there is a tendency in general for me not to medicalise.  If someone does medicalise her experience, she may kind of experience sympathy symptoms with herself.  In other words, they become a kind of feedback loop where they make themselves worse.  When I say they make themselves worse, I mean that literally - demonstrable physiological and even anatomical change for the worse without the will's conscious intervention.  The person's lifestyle may also change in such a way that structural change emerges, and the picture may then become rather confused as the elements of somatisation and problems associated with lifestyle change merge.  Therefore I think it's probably quite healthy for someone in a position such as my own to feel the pain of others and also to be reluctant to medicalise, as it constitutes a safety mechanism.  It doubtless brings its own problems of course.

Sunday, 8 February 2015


I've decided to turn this into two separate blogs because I have a problem.  One of them, which will stay here and have the same address, will carry on being about home ed and herbs.  The other one will be a dumping ground for my gender-based obsessions.  In my own mind, however, both of these belong together to some extent, and I want to look at both of them here before I split it into two.

"Home Education"
Note the inverted commas.

Historically, we've been a home educating family.  I want to deconstruct that before I go any further.  Almost all families home educate.  Children are born to their parents and on the whole learn in that environment to use language, walk, use the above implement and the like, and it's even been said that something like four-fifths of learning occurs in the first two years of life.  This sounds unquantifiable to me, but I have to say it appeals to me that everything that happens after the age of two is just icing on the cake, filling in a few minor details, whatever.  Children in the contemporary West then go to school, but over the course of their childhood time spent in lessons amounts to only 8% of their lives.  That 8% is the major difference between families where the children went to school and us.  Consequently, home education, which needn't take place in the home, is the norm, but also a form of parenting, and of nurturing from the general community, which is, I hope, why we're within our rights to consider ourselves still to be involved.  There's so much to say about what's called home ed that, well, it would fill a blog.  However, I also think it relates to gender in a couple of ways, one personally, one not.

The negative experiences Sarada and I had at school were a factor in our decision to make the children aware of and to facilitate their choice to go to school or not.  When I pursued it, I found myself surrounded by women and found that the fathers tended to take a back seat and were even sceptical about the whole project, although this is a generalisation I feel bad about making because of course there are also plenty of fathers who are actively involved in it too, and even those who aren't might be playing a supportive role in other ways such as in financial terms.  It did however seem odd to me that more of them weren't more involved in the way I and the mothers I knew were.  Hence I found myself in the common position, for me, of doing something which was seen as typically female, but not because it was "female" to my conscious mind, but because it seemed natural and normal.

There is, though, another aspect of this.  I was unable to bear children of course.  Now, I stand by our joint decision to present the children with the possibility of opting for or against school and to change that choice at any time as a positive thing for our offspring, but I also think there was another factor in it which led to me taking a particular fork in the road of my life:

I've mentioned this before but seeing as not many people read this blog I should probably do so again.  I am very reluctant to present home ed as anything other than the norm or something which needs an explanation, as to me it simply seems like a rational choice connected with things like the inefficiency of schooling as a way of delivering the overt curriculum, and in any case school wasn't something we needed to use because of the nature of our paid work.  I'll come back to that, incidentally.  Even so, I have to admit that it probably was a factor in my decision that I had a need to compensate for my inability to become pregnant by involving myself very directly and heavily in the children's upbringing.

The whole project, which has lasted two decades and is I hope still happening,  could rightly be seen as a way to deal with the fact that my own babies grew inside someone else's body, and no matter how passionately I might feel for that person, and overawed at what she was motivated to do out of her love for me, things which I wouldn't dream of detracting from, it was her and not me who bore them and that is a loss. I would also say, though, that the kind of loss it is is not in fact any greater than the kind of loss which crops up in people's lives all the time in other circumstances and that just because someone happens to be female it should not be seen as implying that they have in any way missed out by not having children. Moreover, I fully recognise the potential burden and liability having a fertile set of ovaries can be, or at least I hope I do.  That said, my approach to parenting did have an element of overcompensation to it.

There's a completely separate way in which home ed is relevant to sexual minority and conformity issues. Families whose children don't or can't conform may take their children out of school, sometimes after bullying. Additionally children who have never been to school may not feel the pressure to be in the closet in the first place.  Transition is therefore likely to be easier for home edded children for two reasons. The general ethos of the home ed community is likely to be one of considerable tolerance. This doesn't mean that schools don't try so much as that their starting point is much further than the ideal and the inertia of intolerance is greater there. All of this applies to other aspects of nonconformity as well, not just LGBT issues.

A third aspect of our own lives also touches on the home ed situation. We are money-poor and time rich because both of us pursue stereotypically female and therefore marginalised occupations. Such employment is usually seen as an adjunct to a main income rather than a source of livelihood, and even both added together are insufficient for financial independence.  It's also the case that we are both inclined to parent the children in a similar way, not in terms of similar parenting style - we are in fact very different parents - but in terms of interaction and time spent.

There's probably more than this, but mention of occupation leads me to the second major subject of this blog.


Over the period of my training, nine out of ten students were female.  The same proportion applies to my patients.  Earlier the proportion of female to male was even higher, and I've even heard that at some point in the 1980s the number of male students was in fact zero in the UK, and since at the time the course here was very popular internationally that would seem to apply more widely, at least in the English-speaking rich part of the world.  I don't know why that is, and of course it applies across the board.  I just do what seems normal to me but it gets construed as female.  I'm just guessing here, but there could be some kind of social process here where women tend to approach health issues differently than men.  The stereotype of female nurses and male doctors, however, is seriously outmoded, although as I've said, this is severely marginalised work.  Most people don't even realise herbalists, Western ones that is, are practitioners and those who do often confuse us with homeopaths or traditional Chinese medicine people.

There are all sorts of reasons why I became a herbalist, but the tiresome self-analysis has already reached a peak on this entry, so I won't go there.  I will, however, say that the perception that it was a way of getting hold of oestrogenic and anti-androgenic remedies and using them myself was one of the big motivations for me, and this in fact is another way in which gender issues and herbalism intersect.  There is a particular issue which I'm currently burning to write about regarding publicly funded healthcare and transition, but leaving that aside for now, if you did want to dodge being a drain on taxpayers' resources and still address the problem, you would get a limited amount of mileage from doing it the way I am right now.  There are gardens and fields with various plants growing in them, and also corner shops with various herbs and spices in them, meaning that you can avoid having to go to the NHS to stop yourself from killing yourself, since that's apparently not a good reason to go to them.  More on this later, on the shiny new blog, except to say that one way of dealing with the not being dead problem is to decide that life is a punishment, so then you just hang around being a parasite instead, but there ain't nutin' wrong with being a parasite or there wouldn't be any men, would there?

There is a more difficult issue with reconciling holistic therapy and trans issues, which is the problem of integration with one's body.  However, that's the kind of thing I'll be blogging about over in the other place rather than here.

Anyway, there's all that and more, and there clearly are good reasons for linking both home ed and herbalism with gender stuff, but were I merely to succumb to the urge to blog about whatever on here, it would make it unfocussed, so for now, this blog will be about home ed and herbs and the other blog, which is not yet in existence, will be about gender stuff.  See you here and there, I hope.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Herbs For Breastfeeding

When I was at school, my friend Tanya, who is incidentally the second to last person ever to give me a haircut, claimed that she was a mammal and I wasn't because one day she would breastfeed her babies and I wouldn't.  This thought made quite an impression on me because when you think about it a lot of what defines the different classes of vertebrate is in fact to do with mothers rather than fathers.  However, she turned out to be incorrect, but only very slightly.

Here's a rather wince-inducing picture:

When you're most familiar with what you can see, there's something very disturbing, rightly so, about the idea of these visible parts being cut into, and I can't look at this picture without feeling a physical pain in my chest.  Nonetheless, it's a useful picture because it illustrates where the milk comes from.  The breasts of people whose zygotes only had one X chromosome are often, but not always, unlike this because the ducts are not hollow.

I've spent quite a lot of time contemplating how to help people produce more milk from a herbal perspective.  Clearly it's not the most important aspect of lactation but it is at least something I know a little about.  Personally it seems to be mainly about happening only when it genuinely serves a deeply-felt emotional need which is giving to another person, namely my own child, and it can't be played with or done  "unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly", as it were.  It would happen if it absolutely had to happen to save someone's life in my immediate vicinity, but not otherwise.  When it did happen, I didn't use any herbs or anything else to make it happen.  It just did.  As a result, I have no experience of succeeding in provoking it at first hand with herbs, although I have plenty of experience of succeeding with helping others do so herbally.  Personally I only ever got as far as colostrum.

Anyway, there are really two main types of herbal galactogogues.  One type relies on volatile constituents, particularly β-anethol.  The other doesn't have much in the way of volatiles.  The reason this is important is that the volatiles carry over into the milk itself and tend to sedate the baby, which you may or may not consider a good thing, probably depending on whether you're a parent or not.  To me, it makes sense to give a baby milk which calms the recipient down and smooths the digestive process much of the time, but I've steered clear of those on the whole because presumably it's not a good thing in the long term to have a permanently chilled-out child owing to the fact that they're supposed to interact with the outside world, so you might want to try some of the others. By the way, if you look this stuff up you will as usual find lots of people saying they don't work and of course if you believe all that they probably won't work as well as they will if you just ignore that and get on with it.  I still have very little idea why there is so much out there of this nature which is so clearly at odds with my quantitative and reproducible experience of the efficacy of herbal remedies and the like, but there it is.  I don't know why, but it is so.

The word "anethol" is from the Latin Anethum, which refers to Anethum graveolens, or dill:

which is probably better illustrated like this:

It smells aniseedy, of course, and is an umbellifer - its flowers occur in bunches or "umbels" like the non-umbellifers elder and yarrow.  The umbellifers, which we're supposed to call Apiaceae nowadays, i.e. the celery family - Heaven forfend we actually have a name for a taxon which describes something someone might recognise and relate to, are probably the richest source of culinary herbs and spices after the Lamiaceae, or mint family, but unlike the Lamiaceae, all of which are basically edible, the Apiaceae include quite a few horrendously poisonous and nasty plants such as giant hogweed, hemlock and water dropwort, which moreover are easily confused with very edible members such as parsnips and common hogweed.  In that respect they're like fungi can be, with innocuous and dangerous species often being quite hard to distinguish.

Dill is not necessarily the best galactogogue (milk-stimulating agent) even in that family.  It's part of a cluster of quite similar herbs with similar actions and all containing the aniseedy β-anethol, the others being Carum carvi or caraway, Feoniculum vulgare or fennel, and Pimpinella anisum or anise (as in aniseed).  Each of these does the same kinds of things but to different relative extents.  They are all galactogogue, all anti-spasmodic, all calming and all good for the digestion and reduce flatulence.  They all kill headlice a bit.  Each of them has a particular association for me too.  Incidentally, the "seeds", the strongest parts of the plant in terms of medical action, are all technically fruits rather than seeds.

A long time ago, I was a notorious farter, a situation which only worsened when I went vegan.  My ultimate solution for this was to put caraway seeds in every meal, and it worked admirably, although it also made me smell of aniseed.  I more or less only have others' words for that though since at the time I was anosmic due to B12 deficiency - I had almost no sense of smell although I could smell caraway.

Dill I mainly associate with a pun in Douglas Hofstadter's rather fun 'Goedel, Escher, Bach' and also with a vegan mayonnaise recipe.  Also, my Rural Studies teacher had a dog called Dill for reasons which will be obvious to most people.  On another occasion, having left a jar of dill on the shelf unopened for several years I once opened it and was overwhelmed by a huge waft of anethol.

Fennel is probably the only species in this list which can be used as a vegetable.  It's a major ingredient in the mediaeval recipe Fenkel In Soppes, which I've made a vegan version of, and was an ineradicable "weed" in the back garden of one of my childhood homes.  Finally Pimpinella anisum was the first tincture I ordered, which was for some reason in polyethylene glycol rather than ethanol, and I realise I should know why, and which I never used and is unopened in a cupboard somewhere.

The reason I mention these associations and memories is that that's what smells do.  They bring back memories very vividly because of the evolutionary association between the memory and olfactory parts of the brain.  Therefore many herbs with strong odours will have such associations for people.

A number of other food plants are in this family, notably parsley, parsnip, carrot, celery, celeriac and smallage.  Parsley in particular is a useful medical herb and dietary supplement, being high in vitamin C and iron, a good combination.

I've mentioned a few of the oestrogenic herbs used as galactogogues previously, so I won't cover them again, but all of those fall into the non-volatile category along with the ones I'm about to mention.  These include goat's rue, Galego officinalis, which however has a poor reputation as a galatogogue, and the rather wonderful Urtica dioica and Urtica urens, the common stinging and small stinging nettles respectively.  The small nettle tends to be better at everything than the common one, and the roots also have the rather useful property of reducing the tendency of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, the plasma protein which carries testosterone, to do that thing, rendering it useful for benign prostate enlargement.  Whenever I make the association between nettles and milk, I think of the pointiness of the hollow stings and their tendency to have liquid come out of their ends.

Then there's the herb which dries milk up, Salvia officinalis.  When we used this, it took less than a day to stop the flow.

Probably should mention one more thing, for mastitis.  If you iron a cabbage leaf and put it next to your breast when it's just cool enough to bear, the mustard oil generated should penetrate the breast and kill off any nasties swimming about in the stagnant milk inside the breast.