Looking back ... and forward, at Natural Products Expo East

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In 2008, Planetary Formulas (now renamed "Planetary Herbals" to account for many of the single herbs that have been incorporated into the line) turned 25 years old. In honor of this occasion, Lesley and I were sponsored by the company to attend the country's largest natural products exposition shows, Natural Products Expo West and and Natural Products Expo East. Planetary's owner, Ira Goldberg, generously arranged to send us out to both shows with all expenses paid. All we had to do was spend time at the Planetary Herbals booth; I autographed and gave away copies of my book Planetary Herbology and Lesley did the same with her outstanding book, Healing with the Herbs of Life.

The Expo West is always held in March in Anaheim, California, and Expo East is held in Boston in October. While I've been to many of the ones held on the West coast, last weekend was the first time I've ever attended the one in Boston.

A much younger me!As you can imagine it's a delight but still somewhat intimidating to have a man walk up to the booth and say how 30 years ago (by the way, check out the photo at left of a much younger me -- probably closer in appearance to how this man remembered me), when I was still using iridology as my diagnostic modality, I read his eyes and gave him an herbal and dietary program that changed his life, ultimately leading him to work in the industry ever since.

(While today I decry such ambiguous healing methods as iridology and kinesiology especially for my own students, I also believe that somehow if we are doing our work with the right intention to assist others on their path, whatever methods that are or were available seem to be just perfect and right for that moment.)

Then there was a woman who said she met me when she was 17 and I was teaching herbology at Heartwood College (now closed) in Santa Cruz. She told me that I somehow motivated her to pursue natural healing and nutrition as a career ... and she is now 55!

It's like a vague dream, that parade of people, faces and personalities that have passed by and through my sphere and claim to have been influenced by me. I act delighted and astonished, but the reality for me is that I was only me then, since, and now, nothing more nor less. Certainly I feel blessed to be told periodically how I have been the instrument for another's advancement and well-being, but from my point of view, there really was nothing else for me to do. I was always only doing my thing, and part of my thing is learning and sharing whatever I have gleaned with others.

Then lo and behold, there was the macrobiotic guru Michio Kushi, walking along with his wife and another Japanese friend, perusing the circus of natural products at the expo. Counting macrobiotics as one of the major past influences of my career, steeped in the teachings of George Ohsawa, Michio Kushi and a few others whom I consider as heroes, I found myself like one of my own admirers mentioned above, walking up to the gaunt, mid-80s Kushi, shaking his hand and thanking him for the powerful influence he has had on my life.

I remembered how many questions I had always wanted to ask him, such as "Why did Ohsawa reverse the definition of Yin and Yang, making macrobiotics obsolete for Chinese acupuncturists?" But realizing that I had already answered those questions satisfactorily for myself, I let it pass, just grateful for shaking his warm hand and thanking him for his brilliant teachings.

In the old days when I was a beatnik and later living as a hippie in Haight Ashbury, we had a name for people who frequented the places where we congregated and lived on the weekends or evenings after a "straight" job: we called them "weekend warriors." At the Natural Food Expos it seems the reverse; the liberals and ex-hippies who attend the events donning suits and ties, fancy and straight garb, are like weekend warriors in reverse, so to speak. They really are a dizzying array of contenders in the industry who are vying for greater credibility and respectability as they try to make a buck for what are essentially the simplest things: good quality, wholesome, organic foods and products.

But like any other commercial enterprise, it is nothing short of astounding to see what some people are willing and trying to do to make money - better paper, better water, better whole grains, better bags to carry the stuff around in, questionable overpriced homeopathic products -- the emperor parading in the booths up and down the isle indeed wearing no clothes, but no one dares to say so (after all, they paid their several thousand dollars to be there, and they have as much a right as anyone to their B.S.).

So the shows are actually fun for two to a maximum of four hours ... and then, as your gut feels a little queasy from the mixture of who knows what you ate as you were grazing from the thousands of free samples, which you begin to realize that like other such things were there may be inevitably more sham than virtue, it becomes tiresome and you'd really like to leave.

As one booth operator said as I walked past his flavored water booth, "I've got another three days to put up with this bullshit!"

Thankfully, I missed the usual bellyache described above because I decided not to sample everything or anything that struck my fancy, realizing that some of this stuff alone or in combination is probably not without some minor health risk. So, while it may not be the most glamorous fare, I managed to be sure to have whatever fermented foods I could find. This turned out to be some prepackaged miso soup and macrobiotic sauerkraut. That really helped.

I couldn't help feeling some pity for the few vendors who scraped their last few thousand together to purchase a booth space and didn't have enough to even have a real display, and only managed a lone person. It's a matter of too little too late and you're out.

But back to herbs and therapies that work. I'm teaching a class on herbal baths and soaks at the American Herbalists Guild Annual Symposium this weekend, so allow me to tip my hat to Michio Kushi by providing you the recipe for the following wonderful bath from the Japanese macrobiotic tradition, of which Kushi has been the leading exponent for at least 40 or more years.

Ginger Hip Bath: This bath is very helpful in case of serious dysentery. For less severe diarrhea, you can make the ginger water less concentrated: use about 1/2 pound of ginger for 8 quarts of water.

  • Grate 1 pound of fresh ginger and put it in a cotton bag.
  • Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil.
  • Prepare ginger water by squeezing out the ginger juice into the pot of boiling water.
  • Pour the ginger water in a tub, add more water and take the bath as hot as you can stand it.
  • To take a hip bath, ideally only have the sex organs and the lower abdomen immersed in the water. If you cannot find a small tub for this purpose, use an ordinary tub and sit in it with your knees pulled up and the feet resting on the bottom of the tub.

Ginger bath taken as a whole bath: Add ordinary ginger water to a whole body bath. This is very stimulating and yet relaxing.

Ginger bath taken as a footbath and/or hand bath: Use ordinary ginger water. This bath is good in cases of rheumatism, arthritis or gout.

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