Having grown up a firm believer in the powers of western science and technology to save us all, I always viewed with incredulity the mysterious bottles of herbs and tonics on the shelf of the local health-food store. St. John's Wort? Fuck that noise, give me some Prozac! But then I went to college and watched my roommate bring home Ziploc bags full of what looked like yard scraps, boil them on the stove and then drink down the result, swearing the foul-tasting tonic would cure her earaches. And it did! Or at least she believed it did. And when it comes down to it, what's the difference, really? While my experience with herbal medicines remains primarily limited to some brief experimentation in college (not sure if the Native Americans ever tried to watch The Wizard of Oz with Dark Side of the Moon as the backing soundtrack, but man, they sure should have—blew my mind, dude!), I have a much more open mind about herbal medicine now. For example, for sleeplessness, I take some valerian root. And then drink a bottle of wine. And I'm out like a light in no time.
I kid, I kid! I have the utmost respect for natural medicines but would probably have even more if I attend the Native Uses of Native Plants hike at the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park this Saturday. The hike winds through three and a half miles of Laurel Canyon and is designed to teach hikers what plants Native Americans used and how they used them. And in this age of increasing health-care costs, shouldn't we all be informed about what health care we might be able to find for free in our back yards? Take it from me, and stay away from the mushrooms until you know what you're doing, though. It's no fun having your own hand talk to you for four hours when all you're trying to do is ease a toothache.
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Native Uses of Native Plants Hike at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, 20101 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 923-2235. Sast., 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Parking, $3.