Outlander Science Club
A Dram of Outlander Voyager Read-Along (Week 16 Listen Here)
Voyager Chapter 43
Anyone who ever leaves their normal dietary habits behind knows, “traveler’s tummy” is a real thing. The Scots out to sea with Claire and Jamie, are no different than the rest of us. This installment of the Outlander Science Club, “Diagnosis Griping Waim,” is set in Voyager, chapter 43. Claire finds Innes behind a hatch cover, doubled over looking distressed, she inquires if he is in pain. He tries to play if off in Scottish fashion, though ultimately unsuccessful at convincing Claire he is fine. She grabs him by the one arm and takes him to her cabin for assessment. She believes he has trapped gas, but wanting to be clinically thorough, she examines him, doing a basic physical of his heart, lungs, and abdominal area.
She indeed concludes, he has trapped gas and constipation. The fellow Scots having been observing from the doorway, tell Claire of their dietary issues, known as the “Oatmeal War,” leading to Innes’ problem. They have been refused their daily parritch and rations of dried peas to keep their systems in check.
Claire goes through her medicine bag and retrieves several herbs (anise, angelica, horehound, and peppermint), she advises Innes to steep them into a tea and to drink a cupful at each watch change, which would be roughly every four hours, until he attains relief. If he doesn’t move his bowels by the next day, much to his horror, she’ll give him a slippery elm enema.
Is it odd that Claire prescribes him these herbs to relieve his gastrointestinal and bowel distress? Not at all, plant based medicinals have been used since the dawn of humankind and are still in wide use today with up to 80% of peoples worldwide using herbs for health-related purposes on a regular basis. With up to 25% of pharmacological drugs being derived from plan based sources. In fact, there are blended teas available at most markets for this exact ailment, as well as, many others.
Claire gives Innes a specific recipe of herbs to be steeped and taken like a tea, but let’s first look at the basics of what herbs are, what herbal medicine is, and what other types of preparations are available.
What is an herb?
Medicinally, an herb is any plant or plant part used for its therapeutic value. Yet, many of the world’s herbal traditions also include mineral and animal substances as “herbal medicines”.
Herbal medicine, also called botanical medicine or phytomedicine, refers to using a plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for medicinal purposes. Herbalism has a long tradition of use outside conventional medicine. It is becoming more mainstream as improvements in analysis and quality control, along with advances in clinical research, show the value of herbal medicine in treating and preventing disease
How does herbal medicine differ from conventional medicine (allopathic)?
The primary focus of herbal medicine the art or practice of using herbs and herbal preparations to maintain health and to prevent, alleviate, or cure disease. The primary focus of conventional medicine is a system of medical practice that aims to combat disease by use of remedies as in drugs or surgery, producing effects different from or incompatible with those produced by the disease being treated. Claire is both convention and traditional in how she treats patients. Of course, in the 18th century there’s little option to use her 20th century conventional skills, but she draws on them in her daily practice nonetheless. She might be the perfect combination of a holistic and allopathic practitioner.
What different herbal preparations are available?
Decoction: A tea made from boiling plant material, usually the bark, rhizomes, roots or other woody parts, in water. May be used therapeutically. Natural dyes are often made this way.
Infusion: A tea made by pouring water over plant material (usually dried flowers, fruit, leaves, and other parts, though fresh plant material may also be used), then allowed to steep. The water is usually boiling, but cold infusions are also an option. May be used therapeutically, as hot tea is an excellent way to administer herbs.
Tincture: An extract of a plant made by soaking herbs in a dark place with a desired amount of either glycerine, alcohol, or vinegar for two to six weeks. The liquid is strained from the plant material and then may be used therapeutically.
Liniment: Extract of a plant added to either alcohol or vinegar and applied topically to employ the therapeutic benefits.
Poultice: A therapeutic topical application of a soft moist mass of plant material (such as bruised fresh herbs), usually wrapped in a fine woven cloth.
Essential Oils: Aromatic volatile oils extracted from the leaves, stems, flowers, and other parts of plants. Therapeutic use generally includes dilution of the highly concentrated oil.
Herbal Infused Oils: A process of extraction in which the volatile oils of a plant substance are obtained by soaking the plant in a carrier oil for approximately two weeks and then straining the oil. The resulting oil is used therapeutically and may contain the plant’s aromatic characteristic.
Percolation: A process to extract the soluble constituents of a plant with the assistance of gravity. The material is moistened and evenly packed into a tall, slightly conical vessel; the liquid (menstruum) is then poured onto the material and allowed to steep for a certain length of time. A small opening is then made in the bottom, which allows the extract to slowly flow out of the vessel. The remaining plant material (the marc) may be discarded. Many tinctures and liquid extracts are prepared this way. (top)
The grouping of herbs Claire gave Innes is technically called an infusion. It is a gentler use of herbs to be taken internally for the desired effect. In this case, relieving trapped gas and constipation. Throughout the Outlander series Claire uses most of the listed preparations at different times.
What exactly are the herbs she chose and what do they do?
Actions are the effects the active components of the herbs have on the body. Claire was looking for herbs that would produce one or more action when taken in tea form. The possible actions she desired could have been:
- antibilious – easing stomach stress
- aperient – a very mild laxative
- carminative – causing the release of stomach or intestinal gas
- cathartic – an active purgative, producing bowel movements
- purgative – laxative, causes the evacuation of intestinal contents
- stomachic – aids the stomach and digestion action
Any of these actions could have the desired outcome for Innes, however, some are stronger than others. In looking at the herbs Claire chose for him, she picked the mildest possible to aide in his relief.
Angelica-The root, leaves, and seeds can be used. Though believed native to Syria, Angelica is found all over Europe and even in Scotland, and places further north. When steeped, it has a carminative and stomachic effect.
Anise-The seeds can be used. It is native to Egypt, Greece, Crete, and Asia Minor. Cultivation spread to Central Europe in the Middle Ages. When steeped, it has a carminative action.
Horehound-It is found all over Europe and is indigenous to Britain. Though normally used for coughs and colds, in large amounts is can have a purgative effect.
Peppermint-It is found throughout Europe, in moist situations, along stream banks and in wste lands, and is not infrequently found in damp places in England, but is not a common native plant. When steeped, is a stomachic and carminative.
Her receipt for the herbal blend, along with the dietary changes made with the end to the “Oatmeal War” with Murphy the ship’s cook, Claire concluded Innes would be back to normal bowel habits in no time.
If you would like to delve deeper into the pros, cons, research, and global harmonization of herbal or traditional medicine, please refer to the resources listed below.
Click on photos for Wiki Common Resources. Featured Image. Anise Seed
- American Herbalists Guild http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/herbal-medicine-fundamentals
- UMMC http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/herbal-medicine
- University of Virginia http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/herbs/brief-history/
- WHO http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/traditional/definitions/en/
- American Botanical Council http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Terminology
- Henriette’s Herbs http://www.henriettes-herb.com/
- NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92773/#
- Voyager by Diana Gabaldon www.dianagabldon.com
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