I recall trekking through the rainforests of Indonesia on pathways created by fallen trees.
The trees were immense. My hands did not touch as I lay on my stomach, wrapping my arms around their trunks.
To slip from these trees was to sink in mud. Mud so thick it sucked off running shoes.
Shoes were never seen again.
One day the rain forest opened to a postcard picture beach. After a day of body surfing in the turquoise sea, we slept under the stars and woke with very itchy red bites; sand fleas.
Our guide led us back into the forest and the mud. Smearing the thick gooey mud over our bodies brought instant relief.
Elephants have long known the healing power of earth. In Uganda there is an ancient volcanic cave where very special dirt is found. This clay is full of minerals, in particular salt. Elephants require large amounts of salt in their daily diet.
For centuries, elephants have made a nightly trek into the depth of the cave to mine the salty clay with their tusks. The journey into the cave is a narrow path up a steep cliff.
The path creeps through the darkness of the cave weaving between deep underground pools. The journey is so dangerous skeletons of fallen elephants mark the way. Still the elephants seek their medicinal mud.
Elephants also pack wounds with clay.
After a tangle with a tiger which left deep tears in the thick skin of one elephant’s back, biologists observed the rest of the herd patting layers of mud over the deep scratches. Over time the wounds healed without scars.
Some pregnant women experience cravings for dirt.
This too is nothing new. It even has a name, geophagy.
Not only pregnant women seek out dirt, aboriginal cultures in China, Australia and East Africa have been known to ingest earth.
Those who eat dirt report that is “feels good” or it is “tasty and sweet”. All intuitively feel it is good for them.
Again, scientists explain earth eating as a means of receiving high amounts of minerals while detoxifying the body.
But what about the bugs in the soil or the heavy metals, is it not dangerous taking these into the body?
The answer is yes!
Dirt eating can lead to anaemia, parasitic infections and even death. When forging for earth, animals and humans carefully choose specific types of soil.
For example, the Aboriginals of Australia only consumed earth from termite mounds. Analysis of this soil revealed that the termite mounds are made sub-soil. Sub- soil is found under top soil. Sub-soil has greater clay content as well as no bugs.
Some muse that once upon a time humans could sense soil that was appropriate for consumption and could be used as medicine. This ability however has been lost as humans drift further from the dirt and migrate towards pavement.
In herbal medicine, bentonite clay is used internally to draw toxins, in particular heavy metals, from the body.
Bentonite, mined in the States, comes in a fine grey powder.
When mixed with water, the powder swells becoming a thick slimy substance.
As the clay comes into contact with water the powder’s electrical charge changes pulling the metals from the body. Research also shows that Bentonite clay absorbs herbicides and pesticides.
When Bentonite is added to cattle feed, the cattle have a 10 to 20 per cent increase in absorption of nutrients, less diarrhoea and fewer gastro-intestinal complaints.
Take Bentonite about a half hour before or after meals by adding a tablespoon of clay to a glass of juice and drinking it. Some prefer to capsulate their clay.
To use clay externally, mix Bentonite clay with equal parts red clay. The colour in red clay comes from its high iron content, and it tends to be a coarser powder than the Bentonite. Red clay has stronger drawing powers than Bentonite.
It is also very drying to the skin.
Adding some Bentonite to it softens the red clay effects.
These clay packs can be used as masks on the face to relieve acne or to make skin radiant. A friend of mine’s father used clay packs over his liver to help overcome the side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy during intense cancer treatments. My friend reports that this sped his recovery from the treatment.
So the old saying, you have to eat some dirt before you die, has some truth in it.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.