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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Degrees of Freshness – Or what I learned from an Alpine Meadow

July 28, 2013

Tags: food, water, air, alpine, animals, aroma, Austria, basil, bell flower, biodiversity, bulbs, burdock, bush, buttercup, cilantro, coltsfoot, cranesbill, crocus, dandelion, diversity, Earth, Europe, eyebright, farm, fresh, heal-all, garden, Germany, Good King Henry, grazing, Great Britain, Grimming Mountain, growth, Hamburg, harvest, healing power, health, hedge, herbal, humans, kitchen, limestone, lovage, meadow, meadowsweet, mowing, nutrients, ocean, oregano, parsley, plant, plantain - broad-leafed, plantain - narrow-leafed, poisonous, pollution, polyphenol, primal, processed, red clover, rosemary, Russia, scilla, silverweed, skiing, soil, species, stinging nettle, storage, Styria, sub-alpine, sun, supermarket, sweet Annie, tea, thyme, travel, tree, underground, vital, yarrow, hiking, vacation

People vacation in Austria – skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer. I never considered summer vacations in a land-locked country like Austria, because, originally from Hamburg/Germany, I am a child of the ocean – of all the oceans. But I am just back from one of the high meadows in Styria, smack in the middle of Austria. And what I found: a primal meadow.

The alpine meadows high up there, facing the Grimming Mountain, have been mowed twice a year, for hundreds of years, probably thousands of years. The plant diversity is unimaginable. In an article I read some years ago that in Great Britain the age of a hedge can be estimated by how many different tree and bush species grow there; roughly one species is added per decade. I imagine it must be similar with these ancient meadows, mowed over year after year, different plants moving in all the time, enhancing biodiversity over time. The converse is also true: If we abandon regular mowing and/or grazing – as often now is the case on the steep and hard-to-reach meadows, and in light of shortage of labor when the young people move into the cities for a “better” life – we will lose this biodiversity. And might regret it too late.

Because I was exhausted from my Europe travels through Russia, Germany, Austria, I brewed myself an herbal tea from the plants of the meadow right after arrival. The underground is limestone that let so many plants thrive: yarrow, meadowsweet, narrow-leafed plantain, stinging nettle, heal-all, broad-leafed plantain, red clover, eyebright, silverweed, Good King Henry, dandelion, sweet Annie. To which I added herbs from the kitchen garden: parsley, cilantro, rosemary, lovage, basil, oregano, thyme. Of course, other plants grew there that where not useful for my tea as they are poisonous, like cranesbill, coltsfoot, bell flower, buttercup, and a variety of spring-flowering bulbs like crocus and scilla that were now out of bloom. The tea had a gorgeous aroma, and I felt better and stronger immediately. Wish I could take such a meadow home!

My garden at home, lovely as it is, does not come close. Its plant variety is not as great, the individual plants are not as sturdy, their green is not as deep, their aroma is not as overpowering. From this exceptional plant health we can assume that their polyphenol content is higher, and that their healing power is greater. Mostly, it is the strong sun out there that enables such a lush growth. But also the absence of pollution of air, soil and water so prevalent where we live. Earth just isn’t that primal anymore as it is high in the alpine and sub-alpine meadows. I am coming home with a new yearning, namely to preserve what we have, and perhaps even return our planet to more health. Because, the life of plants, and animals, and humans are closely interwoven here on Earth, none can survive alone.

In my books, and here on the blog, I am touting fresh foods over processed foods. Fresh does not only mean harvested recently and stored for not too long, but also containing a high amount of vital nutrients. Up there, in the mountain meadow, I learned that degrees of freshness exist: Fresh from the supermarket: good. Fresh from your garden or directly from the farm: better. Fresh from an alpine meadow: best.

A Last Look At The Body

June 7, 2012

Tags: order, autopsy, A Last Look At The Body, Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien, alma mater, Austria, body, Braunschweig, Brunswick, cadaver, case load, clinician, cost-effective, death, disease, Europe, Hamburg, hospital, imaging procedures, Kiel, mathematics, medical knowledge, medical mistake, medical skill, medicine, Morbidity/Mortality Conference, nineteenth century, Nuremberg, Nürnberg, pathologist, philosophy, physician, Rokitansky - Carl von (1804 to 1878), school, social sciences, teaching hospital, USA, Vienna

Vienna, in the nineteenth century: At his teaching hospital – the Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien – a pathologist named Karl von Rokitansky institutes an autopsy on every single patient who dies there. After the autopsy, clinicians and pathologists sit down together to compare notes: The Morbidity/Mortality Conference is born.

New diseases were found, old diseases became better known, medicine improved greatly, and Vienna became a magnet for physicians who wanted to learn there - it still is Europe's biggest hospital. My father spend some semesters studying medicine in Vienna. In Europe, one is not as wedded to one's alma mater as one is in the USA; in Europe, it behooves everybody to seek out good schools and good teachers to learn as much as possible. For instance, I studied in Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Brunswick (Braunschweig), Kiel and Hamburg, and finished degrees in mathematics, philosophy, social sciences and medicine. Here, if you change schools, you are frowned upon. – Both methods seem useful in their own way – I am not sure which one I prefer.

Back to pathologist Rokitansky. For about a century after he made them mandatory, autopsies were the norm, especially at teaching hospitals. Now they are the exception: Barely one in a hundred dead bodies get a second look, to find out what the cause of their demise was. Autopsies are not “cost-effective”, and different imaging procedures, done when the patient is still alive give the patient a better chance to stay alive.

But medical knowledge and skills are in decline – and patients complain. It seems as if physicians don’t want to be confronted anymore with their mistakes. Before, a physician learned from every case. Now the physician just tries to handle the case load.

This time it seems it is up the patient to demand an autopsy …

Summer Reading 2011

August 26, 2011

Tags: order, A Sentimental Education, art, Austria, Balzac - Honoré de (1799-1850), books, Comédie Humaine, Cousin Bette, Dickens - Charles (1821-1870), education, Flaubert - Gustave (1821-1880), gardening, Hard Times, idealsism, Indian Summer, Madame Bovary, Maine, minerals, music, Nachsommer, Nietzsche - Friedrich (1844-1900), nineteenth century, painting, realism, rocks, sculpture, Stifter - Adalbert (1805-1868), Summer Reading 2011, The Maine Woods, Thoreau - Henry David (1817-1862)

You are asking what I am reading this year in Maine.

As we are staying here much shorter than usual, I did not bring too many books. I wanted to read some French classics which mostly eluded me so far: Balzac and Flaubert.

But I had been "working" a German novel on and off for a year, in turn fascinated and repelled at the same time, and had difficulties making up my mind what to think about it. The novel wasn't translated into English until recently. Its English title is "Indian Summer", which is not totally getting the meaning of the German "Nachsommer", which means a summer after the summer. It was first published in 1857.

The author Adalbert Stifter hardly recommends himself - he slit his throat later, and seemed to have been a petty Austrian school superintendent, exactly the kind of guy young people would abhor, who thought that everything old is better than everything new, and that young people should learn from the older generation, without asking and without arguing - not exactly my ideal of education.

But then again, so much could be said for the fields he educates his young hero Heinrich in: gardening, rocks and minerals, art, music, sculpture and painting, and so on.

This is heavy fare, but worthwhile if you have time and want to think deeply about what matters. Friedrich Nietzsche counted it among the only four books he let stand of the nineteenth century.

I began reading "Cousin Bette" by Honoré de Balzac. For two nights it gave me nightmares - so I avoid now reading it at night. The people are so incredibly mean to each other! I haven't finished, and this is only a tiny puzzle piece of Balzac's huge oeuvre "Comédie Humaine" - I should defer judgement. But I was close to throwing it away. I expect books to show me the good in people, and like to think that the good will prevail in life - as idealistic that is. - Balzac and Flaubert are not called "realists" for no reason.

From that summer I was reading all Dickens, I still have left over "Hard Times". Not sure if I will not elope with Dickens soon ...

The two books by Gustave Flaubert I brought with me are "Madame Bovary" and "A Sentimental Education". - You will hear about them from me - probably later in the fall because there is no way that I finish reading them here.

And, I forgot: In the bathroom we always have lying open Henry David Thoreau's "The Maine Woods".

Tell me what you are reading!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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