Sunday 16 December 2018

Country Matters: Boiling up a green, leafy detox

TONIC: Milk Thistle is used as a natural treatment for liver problems and high cholesterol
TONIC: Milk Thistle is used as a natural treatment for liver problems and high cholesterol

Joe Kennedy

At this time of year when that old liverish feeling (or flu, or both) casts heavy drag-lines on post-festive tranquillity with its thoughts of new beginnings, I remember a beer-drinking Belgian named Claude.

I will always remember meeting him outside a building where we both stayed in Portugal removing plastic sacks of greenery from his car boot. He was courteous and in a quiet way reminded me of someone from a clerical background - he said he was saddened many young people were not attending church. Anyway, that afternoon he told me of his foolproof cure for post-festive blues, which for him was a daily remedy.

As he unloaded the green stuff, I enquired: "Foraging?" "Yes," he replied, as he placed bags of leaves on the ground. "This is necessary for the liver. These are olive leaves and these are artichokes. I boil them for a few minutes and then drink the juice - quickly. Nothing is better than the juice from green olives - but it's got an unpleasant taste. I will give you some of my potion. You won't like the taste but it is very good for the liver, and the blood pressure and the cholesterol," he gave added assurance.

Claude liked traditional Irish music which he had heard in Galway. We had met in the foyer of the apartment building, the only wifi hotspot. He offered to lend me a couple of books from his library. "You read French, of course," he said, politely. Little did he realise the limits of my scholarship.

He was a man of knowledge about seasonal detoxing. I had asked him if he had heard of Milk Thistle as a restorative after holiday over-indulgence. Health shops stocked tablets. He surprised me: "Oh yes, I take that every day as well. It is because of all the beer I drink. It is dark beer and brewed by monks," he added with perhaps a little clerical imprimatur.

The ancient herbalists had many potions for health recovery derived from hedgerow plants, some of them, still in print, not very attractive. Take Blessed Thistle: this was claimed to "destroy worms in the stomach, encourages gentle vomiting and is a powerful antidote against poisoning".

Rev John K'Eogh, a Cork vicar, published this and other 'cures' in Botanologia Universalis Hibernica in 1735. Michael Scott, in 1991, brought out an edited edition, An Irish Herbal (Anna Livia Press).

David Hoffman, of the American Herbalist Guild, claimed this thistle was beneficial in treating anorexia, dyspepsia and colic. Marian or Milk Thistle is better known and recommended for liver and gall bladder problems. Dieter Poolech in Herbs and Healing Plants (Collins) writes that silymarin from the plant's seeds protects the liver from alcohol and aids in treating jaundice, cirrhosis and depression.

This would be more attractive than Rev K'Eogh's "boiled worms and powdered hog lice" swallowed to "cure the jaundice wonderfully".

I never took up Claude's offer of the olive leaf juice. He drove back to Belgium and did not return the following year. I made enquiries and was told he was no longer 'in the land of the living'. This was a shock. He was a scholarly man. I trust too much of his leafy liver reviver was not responsible.

Sunday Independent

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