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Diggin’ In: Long History Of Herbs To Spice Up Food, Health

By Kathy Van Mullekom, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) (TNS)

In the 17th- and 18th-century garden, herbs were an important part of the vegetable plot, growing side-by-side with peas, carrots and lettuces, and then harvested and used in cooking, dye and soap making and herbal medicine.

Today those crops are grown in demonstration raised beds at Virginia’s Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center, where historical interpreters do the same as part of the living-history museum experience for visitors.

It goes to show that history often repeats itself — today’s raised-bed vegetable patches are again popular and practical for small-space, easy-access gardening. Even many of the crops are the same.

For home gardens, Jamestown Settlement historical interpreter Pat Leccadito recommends parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, and peppermint, spearmint and lemon balm, which colonists also favored. All of these can be grown indoors in pots as well as outdoors, she adds.

“The majority of vegetables and herbs grown in the 17th century are grown today,” she says.

“Kitchen herbs grown in England were cultivated in Virginia.”

In fact, an advertisement from the Virginia Gazette newspaper dated October 22, 1772, according to interpreters at Yorktown, states, “Imported in the last ships from Britain, and to be sold by the subscriber at Norfolk, a large and complete assortment of garden seeds, also tools; he likewise furnishes plants and herbs of all kinds in their respective seasons.”

Visitors are always welcome to explore the gardens and talk with historical interpreters, according to Debby Padgett, spokeswoman for the two historical sites. Garden-themed private tours are available with reservations.

At the Yorktown Victory Center, this year’s field crops are growing on a limited basis while a huge expansion and transition is underway at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. The entire project, including a reconstructed and enhanced Revolution-period farm, will be complete late 2016, she says.

Useful herbs

Commonly-used herbs and medicinal plants in the 18th-century, according to Jamestown and Yorktown historical interpreters, include:

Rosemary: An ancient medicinal and culinary herb, rosemary is a Mediterranean shrub that found its way to America with early settlers. The plant has long been valued as a stimulant and tonic. It also “quickens a weak memory and the senses,” according to “Culpeper’s Complete Herbal,” originally published in the 17th century.

Cloves: Cloves are the unopened buds of the tropical clove tree, used medicinally and as a spice. The clove bud, when crushed, releases oil that is both anesthetic and antiseptic. It is used for toothaches and indigestion.

Oak gall: Caused by a gall-wasp puncturing the bark of the oak and laying eggs inside, galls are astringent and antiseptic.
“The white gall binds and dries,…yet is good against the dysentery and bloody flux,” also according to “Culpeper’s Complete Herbal.”

Cayenne pepper: Native to tropical America and Africa, it was used medicinally as well as a seasoning. The oil from the peppers was used for salves and to help clear congestion. Modern Capsaicin, which contains capsicum, is from the peppers. It is rubbed on sore joints and muscles.

Tobacco: Grown primarily as a cash crop throughout the 17th and most of the 18th century. Tobacco was also used medicinally. The juice was used as a purgative. The juice was also used on insect stings and bites. The smoke was used for constipation.

Sassafras: This was one of the first native plants to be exported. Sassafras tea was used as a stimulant and antispasmodic; sassafras is the flavoring in root beer.

Mint: There are thought to be at least 30 species of mint, all of which have been highly valued for their medicinal properties since earliest times. By the 18th century, various species were used as a cure for colic and digestive odors.

Willow bark: The bark of the white willow contains salicin, from which acetylsalicylic acid is derived, the main ingredient in aspirin. Needless to say, willow bark was used for headaches or to lower fevers.

Vinegar: Made from apple cider. Many farms had a small apple orchard, and the primary use of the apples was for the making of cider. When the cider turned, it became vinegar, which was used as a preservative as well as medicinally. The benefits of a daily tablespoon of cider vinegar mixed with water are very much in today’s health news.

Herbs 101
_ Herbs need sun and well-drained soil.
_ Regular pruning and good air circulation around plants helps keep them healthy.
_ Herbs are easily dried by cutting and hanging them in bunches to dry in a cool, dark place; when the herbs easily crumble, store them in airtight containers.
_ Foliage on herbs can be cut into small pieces and placed in baggies to freeze for later use in dishes; herbs can also be frozen in ice cube trays and dropped into soups, sauces and stews.
_ Learn more about herbs with the American Herb Society at
(Kathy Van Mullekom is the garden/home columnist for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. Follow her on Facebook@Kathy Hogan Van Mullekom, on Twitter @diggindirt and at Pinterest@digginin. Email her at

Vaccine Success Holds Hope For End To Deadly Scourge Of Ebola

By Kate Kelland and Tom Miles

LONDON/GENEVA (Reuters) — The world is on the verge of being able to protect humans against Ebola, the World Health Organization said on Friday, as a trial in Guinea found a vaccine to have been 100 percent effective.

Initial results from the trial, which tested Merck (MRK.N) and NewLink Genetics’ (NLNK.O) VSV-ZEBOV vaccine on some 4,000 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed Ebola case, showed complete protection after 10 days.

The results were described as “remarkable” and “game changing” by global health specialists.

“We believe that the world is on the verge of an efficacious Ebola vaccine,” WHO vaccine expert Marie Paule Kieny told reporters in a briefing from Geneva.

The vaccine could now be used to help end the worst recorded outbreak of Ebola, which has killed more than 11,200 people in West Africa since it began in December 2013.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the results, published online in the medical journal The Lancet, would “change the management of the current Ebola outbreak and future outbreaks.”

The Gavi Alliance, which buys vaccines in bulk for poor countries who struggle to afford them, immediately said it would back an Ebola shot once it is approved.

“These communities need an effective vaccine sooner rather than later,” Gavi’s chief executive Seth Berkley said. “We need to be ready to act wherever the virus is a threat.”

This and other vaccine trials were fast-tracked with huge international effort as researchers raced to test potential therapies and vaccines while the virus was still circulating.

“It was a race against time and the trial had to be implemented under the most challenging circumstances,” said John-Arne Røttingen of Norway’s Institute of Public Health, chair of the trial’s steering group.

“Ring Vaccination”

The Guinea trial began on March 23 to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of a single dose of VSV-ZEBOV using a so-called “ring vaccination” strategy, where close contacts of a person diagnosed with Ebola are immunized — either immediately, or at a later date.

As data began to emerge showing the very high protection rates in those vaccinated immediately, however, researchers decided on July 26 that they would no longer use the “delayed” strategy, since it was becoming clear that making people wait involved unethical and unnecessary risk.

The trial is now being continued, with all participants receiving the vaccine immediately, and will be extended to include 13- to 17-year-olds and possibly also 6- to 12-year-old children, the WHO said.

Jeremy Farrar, a leading infectious disease specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust, said the trial “dared to use a highly innovative and pragmatic design, which allowed the team in Guinea to assess this vaccine in the middle of an epidemic.”

“Our hope is that this vaccine will now help bring this epidemic to an end and be available for the inevitable future Ebola epidemics,” his statement said.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has led the fight against Ebola in West Africa, called for VSV-ZEBOV to be rolled out to the other centers of the outbreak, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where it says it could break chains of transmission and protect front-line health workers.

VSV-ZEBOV was originally developed by Canada’s public health agency before being licensed to NewLink Genetics, which then signed a deal handing Merck the responsibility to research, develop, manufacture, and distribute it.

The success of the Guinea trial is a big relief for researchers, many of whom feared a sharp decline in cases this year would scupper their hopes of proving a vaccine could work.

Another major trial in Liberia, which had aimed to recruit some 28,000 subjects, had to stop enrolling after only reaching its mid-stage target of 1,500 participants. Plans for testing in Sierra Leone were also scaled back. That left the study in Guinea, where Ebola is still infecting new victims, as the only real hope for demonstrating the efficacy of a vaccine.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Ben Hirschler in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Photo: A member of the French Red Cross disinfects the area around a motionless person suspected of carrying the Ebola virus as a crowd gathers in Forecariah, Guinea, January 30, 2015. REUTERS/Misha Hussain 

Studies Find Exercise Is The Best Medicine For Many Ills

By Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

The next time you visit your doctor’s office, don’t be surprised if you get a “prescription” to walk a mile each day or take the stairs instead of the elevator in your office building.

More and more studies are demonstrating the benefits of exercise. And as awareness grows, more doctors are urging patients to incorporate exercise in their daily routines as a cheap and effective treatment for a wide assortment of ailments and diseases.

“Exercise is one of the most effective, accessible and affordable medicines we can use,” said obstetrician/gynecologist Beth Prairie of Midlife Women’s Associates, an Allegheny Health Network practice — with offices in Bethel Park, McMurray and Cranberry — dedicated to helping women transition through menopause.

These days, she directs patients at least 50 percent of the time to pursue exercise as part of their treatment.

Vonda Wright, director of PRIMA (Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes) for UPMC Sports Medicine, agrees. “There are 33 chronic diseases that are modified by the medicine of motion,” she said. “Mobility as medicine changes us right down to our stem cells.”

In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine teamed with the American Medical Association to launch the Exercise Is Medicine initiative, which urges health care providers to include physical activity when creating treatment programs.

A third of adults who saw a doctor in the previous year were told to exercise, according to a 2010 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 23 percent in 2000.

While researchers believe an active lifestyle contributes to long-term health, most people still get little to no exercise. Fifty-six percent of American adults — including 40 percent of primary care physicians and 36 percent of medical students — don’t meet American Heart Association physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

If doctors “medicalized” physical inactivity, exercise could be the prescription of choice for heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers, wrote Michael Joyner, professor of anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic, in a commentary in the Journal of Physiology in 2012.

Historic Views

The benefits of exercise were recognized in the ancient world. “Walking is man’s best medicine,” said Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), the ancient Greek physician considered the father of medicine.
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it,” said the philosopher Plato (427-327 B.C.).

But “exercise was not considered part of medicine” in the 1950s when Kenneth Cooper went to medical school.

“If you had a heart attack, you were told to lie flat on your back in bed for six weeks,” said Cooper, who at 83 is still very active. “If you lived in a two-story house, you were told to move to a one-story house because you should no longer walk up and down a flight of stairs.”

There’s been a “tremendous” change in physician attitudes and awareness since then, said Cooper, who helped shape the new understanding with his groundbreaking 1968 book Aerobics. He founded the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, beginning with its research arm, The Cooper Institute, in 1970.

In Pittsburgh recently, Michelle Coleman of Penn Hills was surprised when Wright prescribed exercise for treatment of a dislocated kneecap and a strained anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for her daughter Aaliyah, 16, a sophomore at Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport. She suffered the injury while playing basketball on the school team.

“Dr. Wright had been talking about surgery, but after the MRI came back, she prescribed exercise instead,” Coleman said.

Aaliyah said she enjoys her workouts with Ron DeAngelo, director of sports performance training at UPMC Sports Medicine.

That wasn’t always the case.

“The first day she came home exhausted,” said her father, Adrian Coleman. “She went right to bed — no texting, no talking on the phone with friends. Her mother wondered if something was wrong.”

“We do a lot of functional movements to gain strength in every way possible,” DeAngelo said.

Aaliyah and her parents are now thrilled with the progress she’s made since the workouts began last September.

“It would have taken her twice as long to recover from surgery,” Coleman said. “She’s already played in five games this season. The coach was surprised to see her back.”

Changing Habits

Getting patients to embrace exercise can be a challenge.

“When I use the word ‘exercise,’ patients’ eyes glaze over,” said Wright. Many “are looking for a quicker fix.”

To reduce resistance, Dr. Wright no longer uses the word. She talks instead about “working mobility into every part of your life.”

“It all counts — even fidgeting in your desk chair,” she said.

As part of the Exercise Is Medicine initiative, the American College of Sports Medicine has prepared an action plan and conducts workshops for physicians. It also has created an Exercise Is Medicine credential for fitness professionals, so doctors who prescribe exercise will have somewhere to send patients.

“If we are going to improve world health, we must begin to merge the fitness industry with the healthcare industry,” said Robert Sallis, a family physician and former ACSM president who started the initiative.

“Why can I refer my patient to a bariatric surgeon and have insurance cover the cost of stomach stapling, yet the same insurance plan will not pay for an appointment with a fitness professional?” Sallis wrote in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “This simply makes no sense and has to change.”

The IRS permits deduction of health club dues only if exercise is prescribed for a specific condition, such as cardiac rehab. Tax credits for health club dues and expenditures for home exercise equipment or other tax breaks would make them more affordable.

It’s easier to get a patient to take a pill than to work out, so it’s important for physicians who prescribe exercise to be specific and start small, family physician Christopher Bunt told the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians in San Diego last September.

“When we prescribe medication … we tell (patients) what dose to take. We tell them often to take it,” said Dr. Bunt, who promotes exercise in his Bethesda, Md., practice. “Too often, with exercise, we say something like ‘You need to exercise more.'”

To make prescribing exercise easier, the medical society in British Columbia designed a special prescription pad for physical activity.

Prairie, the local ob/gyn, said her most important task is “to help people recognize — and overcome — barriers to exercise.” Lack of time is the most common excuse she hears from patients.

“Take a walk at lunch, take the stairs,” she counsels them. “You don’t need special clothes, you don’t need special shoes, you don’t need a specific place to exercise to make movement part of your daily life.”

Photo: Aaliyah Coleman does a set of sideways lunges — a prescribed exercise. (John Heller/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)