Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 3, 2013

Horrid Orange

Filed under: food — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 10:41 am

The other day, I held a beautiful fresh mandarin orange in my hand, purchased from CostCo. Tired of getting orange fibers under my fingernails, I decided to start opening the peel with my teeth. Big mistake! My mouth filled with a cloud of corrosive vapor, burning the back of my throat. I gobbled the orange just to wash my mouth out.

Earlier, I had attempted to shred some orange zest into a gallon of soon-to-be mead, failing on account of the grater not working with the orange. Had I succeeded, I would have destroyed the entire batch (apparently when I bought the oranges I was not paying for the rinds, as it was clearly assumed that no one would ever think to use them.)

Later on, I noticed that the dogs took no interest in the peels laying in the trash. These scavengers will eat orange and banana peels, used snot-rags, and disgusting things you’d never anticipate. Whatever chemical was on these oranges, it is rejected by insects, dogs, and humans alike, and by inference, there is likely no animal on the face of the Earth that would not recognize it as a noxious poison.

Even as much as I cultivate contempt for the government regulation of food and drugs, this event undermined the faith I thought I didn’t have. A simple law that stated “thou shall not poison food” would unambiguously protect from the horrid orange, since even the dogs recognize it as poisonous. Instead, we enjoy a structure of thousands of pages of regulation that somehow enshrine the horrid orange as acceptable food. Forgive me if the thought of hundreds of FDA scientists and bureaucrats working on my behalf does not fill me with warm feelings of security.


March 18, 2013

Frontier Beer

Root Beer:

Simmer 1 oz. sassafras root bark in 2 q water for 25 min.
Remove from heat
Stir in 1¾ cup brown sugar ‘til dissolved (or more, up to about 2½ cups?)
Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 pinch cinnamon
Let cool ½ hour.
Awaken ale yeast (gently mix a packet of yeast into warm water with a little sugar for 15 min.)
Bring sassafras brew to 1 gallon volume w/ cold water
Add awakened ale yeast, mix.
Pour through small, fine sieve and funnel into plastic pop bottles
Cap tightly
Let ferment 16-48 hours, squeezing the bottles to feel the pressure.
When the bottles are almost totally firm to the hand, refrigerate or pasteurize to cut off fermentation.

(adapted from BethTN’s recipe, and Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book “Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers.”)

This is a frontier beer, distinctive of America. You can make it this way to create a soda pop, or you can ferment it fully like beer (for example, ferment for 10 days in a jug under a fermentation lock, then bottle with priming sugar.)

To remind everyone, alcoholic fermentation is what happens when yeast organisms consume the sugar in a watery mixture and convert it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. So, you can ferment for alcohol only and let all of the carbon dioxide escape (to make a non-sparkling wine), or trap some of the carbon dioxide in the bottle for fizziness (champagne or beer), or you can let the yeast just barely get started in a sealed bottle to make carbonated non-alcoholic beverages (the tiny amount of alcohol created compares to the alcohol in “non-alcoholic” juices and pops you would buy at the store, perhaps about 0.5%.) Some people simply mix carbonated water into the recipe, or you could use a whipped cream whipper to crack open a pressurized carbon dioxide cartridge and carbonate the pop mechanically.

Root beer can also include wintergreen or birch sap, sarsaparilla, molasses, spikenard, or whatever you like. (If I were to make one tweak to this recipe I would add wintergreen, perhaps 1 oz. of the fresh green.)

A beer glass full of dark amber rootbeer with a light head.

Here’s to the wilderness and the wild people!

This creative beverage is part of a tradition of herbal beers for fun or medicine, which was almost stamped out in Europe by prohibition laws, but which flourished among free American settlers. Another famous formula is ginger ale, made of ginger, water, and honey. Besides the fun of herbal pop and beer, beer is pretty useful as medicine. Medical plant essences typically dissolve better in water with at least a touch of alcohol in it, and beer keeps for a long time, so herbal beer is an elegant and low-tech drug delivery system (or “dietary supplement” delivery system if you don’t do drugs.) Some beers carried specific remedies but others supported health in a more general way: dandelion greens were brewed to reinvigorate the body in Spring, spruce branch tips were brewed to ward off scurvy in Winter, and sassafras seems to be one of those rare herbs that just makes people feel better, whether they are healthy or ill. Hops is a sedative, makes you pee and blocks male sexual response, and it is a very weird choice of medicine to be included in every standard beer.

All beer must start from sugar. Apples were an option on the frontier, having enough sugar and flavor in them to make hard cider with no additions, although that’s more of a wine than beer. Perhaps you have heard of making beer from malted barley, but that was no option on the fringe. The pioneers came from Europe’s brewing tradition, where “maltsters” developed sprouting, drying and roasting barley into an intricate art form. Americans were generally intimidated away from the specialty. Malt also requires long soaking in hot water (for an enzyme in the sprouted barley grains to finish its job of converting seed starch into fermentable sugar), a “required” step that intimidates some away from brewing.

Root beer generally starts with brown sugar, and sometimes molasses, as its yeast-feeding sugars. Brown sugar and molasses were fairly cheap commodities across much of frontier America, or a family could make their own from sorghum, a sugary cane that grows in the temperate zone. White sugar is not recommended for brewing beer, but it’s probably fine if you are just brewing pop. Birch or maple sap is acceptable — apparently, wintergreen in modern root beers is sort of a substitute for the flavor of birch sap. Birch sap was convenient to people who were “handy” and lived in the woods, but if you are purchasing ingredients in today’s marketplace, wintergreen is going to be a lot easier to come by. Honey is a good source of sugar, with its own distinctive flavor and medicinal action, too. A certain Roger Beverly described America’s home-cobbled beer scene circa 1700: “The richer sort of Americans generally brew their small beer with malt, which they have from England, though they have as good a barley of their own as any in the world, but for want of convenience of malt-houses the inhabitants take no care to sow it. The poorer sort brew their beer with molasses and bran, with Indian corn malted by drying in a stove, with persimmons dried in cakes and baked, with potatoes, with the green stalks of Indian corn cut small and bruised…”

My pop-style root beer is good, but not as sweet as commercial pop. It is frothy and sweet with candy and clove herbal flavors, but on the other hand, it’s not that sweet, lacks body, and it’s a little bit astringent. It tastes like… it tastes like… it tastes like freedom!

Once, America banned all brewing, and the result was a terrible degradation of our brewing culture. Hucksters sold inferior homebrew malt that resulted in a mud-like product, the OTC “bath salts” of beer. Underground brewers stretched their product to the thinnest and cheapest possible, counting on steady black market profits, thus creating America’s anomalously thin style of commercial beer. Many herbal beers were forgotten or survived only as pop. Due to “clerical error,” homebrewing remained illegal from the beginning of Prohibition all the way up until 1978. Since then — since people were once again allowed to develop their brewing skills independently and cheaply at home — our brewing culture has much recovered, and even Coors and Budweiser are selling richer beers these days.

Still, sassafras is illegal to sell as food or drink in its natural form. In 1960, FDA found that the sassafras oil content in root beer is carcinogenic — almost as carcinogenic as the alcohol content in any beer. Genuine root beer is a sort of gray-market thing, something you can pass around at family gatherings but never sell at the farmer’s market. Your average corporate root beer would be artificially flavored for cheapness anyways, so the regulators have no concern about the liberty lost by restricting sassafras. They can’t hear any money complaining at all.

It’s sad that the root beer at the store is sassafras-free or chemically stripped of its best molecule (safrole), but the silver lining is that this restrictive FDA policy inspires some productive explorations by those skirting the law. Reed’s, a California company, makes “Virgil’s Rootbeer” organically, approximating the flavor of sassafras root beer with a combination of many herbs including sarsaparilla and wintergreen. Another response to FDA is seen in the conscientiously patriotic American exploring herbs, pop and beer at home. One can legally homebrew beer containing wormwood, the infamous absinthe ingredient, or medical marijuana (if you are duly licensed), and fall outside of the jurisdiction of the FDA and its various superstitious anti-witchcraft regulations. You don’t even need to know how to make proper beer, if you are willing to experiment with pioneer-style sugar-and-syrup-based hooch. Hazards of crafting your own pioneer beer may include a hypomanic state characterized by euphoria, brief moments of ego inflation and a sudden undue interest in aspects of science, culture and history one had been ignoring until now…

January 7, 2013

Anarchist, be kind to the new lamb.

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:31 am

After 10+ years of calling myself an anarchist, I am sure that that is what I am and what I will die being. I promise that this has relevance to all people with strong beliefs…

I believe in human freedom and self-determination, noncoercion, and voluntary association. Now, most people only come halfway to this philosophy: they figure that it sounds nice, but in fact we need forceful government (aka “the State”) to a) take money from the wealthy for the feeding of poor folks, b) keep guns away from our mentally ill halfwit neighbors, c) protect us from the Russians and Chinese, or d), e), f) or g).

When I started down the anarchy path, I still supported FDA. Sure, FDA had neglected herbal medicine, practically causing it to fade from the nation, and they approved dangerous and/or useless Big Pharma drugs and suspicious food additives… but, we need FDA to keep Big Pharma from blatantly poisoning us! Look at all the shady pills Big Pharma is pushing! (The Zoloft and Ritalin I feared back then sound nice and mellow compared to the statin drugs and atypical antipsychotics of today.)

Today I hold Big Pharma and FDA in equal contempt: they are one and the same. Big Pharma is Big Pharma because FDA leases them a concession to fulfill that role. The mist has fallen from my eyes, and I have more consistent anarchist views.

In conversation with anarchists online, someone might raise the point, for instance, that taxation is equivalent to theft. A less faithful anarchist replies, “but taxes support food stamps and winter heating programs. Do you want to freeze and starve people?” Now, ideally, according to our group beliefs, we would look for ways to muster the power to feed and warm everybody through voluntary means. We could have all kinds of conversations about how to accomplish that.

Instead, the anarchist masses turn on the pro-tax anarchist with the charge: “You aren’t a real anarchist! You don’t know anything about anarchy!” They are trying to turn away the young me, to make sure he develops into a Democrat or something equally drab. Because, if you still believe in taxes or FDA, you can’t be an anarchist. According to other people, if you aren’t a vegan, or if you wear suits, you can’t be an anarchist. Coming from a group of people known for questioning the rules, such behavior is particularly lame.

I imagine that this is a universal group behavior: “She can’t be a Christian, she smokes meth / has premarital sex / does something fun” or “He’s not a real patriot, he only owns one gun” or “She’s no Marxist, look at the size of her house.”

Well, guess what. If you know some people who are even close to being on the same page as you, you are pretty lucky. Appreciate them. Welcome them in. Speak to them as if you think they know what they are talking about.

If your ways are just and right and worthy of spreading like Good News over the face of the Earth… you are going to have to bring people into the fold from where they really are, right now. Calling someone a hypocrite for only coming halfway over is the best way to exclude people from a shrinking circle.

If it’s not a matter of life and death, you’re better off sharing beers with someone than driving them from the temple. Relax, tilt your glass again…

December 18, 2011

Flogging FDA

Filed under: gardening, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 6:29 pm

Almost a year in, how has the Food Safety Modernization Act been affecting your food? Well, it didn’t prevent an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe, which killed thirty people, the worst listeria outbreak of decades. When FDA inspectors arrived at the Jensen Farms facility that was sending out contaminated melons, they found water pooled on the floor, dirt on the machinery and a truck parked outside with cow manure all over the tires — conditions that were substandard under the old laws, too.

Small farmers were supposed to be exempted from newly excruciating Good Agricultural Practices requirements imposed by the Act. However, the exemption was written so narrowly that experts at the Michigan State Extension Service say it “creates confusion and false hope among small growers that expect to sell their crop without requiring attending or implementing a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program in their farms.”

A farm-to-fork dinner for a Community Supported Agriculture project straddling Utah and Nevada was raided and all of the food destroyed, largely because the food was approved in Utah but was to be eaten in Nevada. We’re talking about local farmers using organic technique and working with a certified chef, here. Who does the local health department think they saved? However, it doesn’t look like the Food Safety Modernization act was invoked. It wasn’t needed, since (I’m not making this up), sliced vegetables may be seized as biohazard material.

Neither was the FSMA needed to enable FDA raids on the Rawesome raw milk collective (crime: live food), or Maxam Nutraceuticals (crime: posted customer testimonials to their website). The Food Safety Modernization Act may not be relevant because the food and medical regulatory system has been tooled to go after small guys since an early time, when agents closed down all of Dr. Hoxsey’s cancer treatment clinics and smashed all of Dr. Reich’s orgone accumulator boxes. The worst scenarios of FSMA-empowered FDA agents raiding kitchen gardens have not come to pass, but look forward to government authorities continually leaning on the alternatives to Hot Pockets and McDonald’s. It’s what they do.

December 10, 2011

Who the Hell was Wilhelm Reich?

Filed under: science — Tags: , , , , — paragardener @ 3:46 pm

Whilst surfing the ‘Net for herbalist purposes the other day, I happened upon the name “Wilhelm Reich.” “Who is that?,” I thought, and then answered myself, “Crackpot scientist. Weird cultlike followers.”

My sketchy memory didn’t seem very fair, so I decided to Wikipedia the guy. It turns out that he started out as a psychiatrist, working within Germany’s Communist Party to support sexual freedom in the hopefully soon-arriving Communist utopia. He believed that sexual repression underlay problems like neurosis and sadism, and that freedom in matters like birth control and divorce could reduce the need for psychotherapy. His freedom-loving ways soon pissed off Communists and Nazis alike. Comintern and the Nazi party banned his books, burned them, and put out warrants for his death. Reich had to flee, first to Oslo, and years later to America.

While in Sweden, Wilhelm had moved his theory of sexual repression into a physical framework. He studied a mysterious substance or energy called “orgone,” which is the stuff of life and orgasm. It’s blue, it makes the sky blue, and it holds the galaxy together. If your personal orgone is blocked, it makes you cranky and physically weak. Reich constructed boxes of metal and wood layers which attracted and concentrated orgone, and patients sat inside to get revitalized. This must be the part that had me thinking “crackpot”… the orgone accumulator smells like a big steaming pile of horseshit, if you ask me.

So once in America, Reich published several journals regarding orgone, and operated a laboratory on his estate, “Orgonon,” in Maine, where he and his students could run experiments about orgone. Everyone enjoyed total freedom, and eventually the scientific method repeatedly demonstrated the falsehood of orgone, which is why you don’t hear about it anymore. Oh, if only.

In fact, the news media jumped into the game and infused a lot of politics and sex phobia into the discussion on Reich and his work. At first, a few (pro-Communist?) writers slammed Reich, especially in New Republic  magazine. According to Reich’s followers, these writers didn’t like his critique of Communist totalitarianism, and they found it easy to slide into mockery of the unlikely orgone accumulator, now dubbed the “sex box.” The story of Reich’s anarchical sex cult up on the Orgonon compound was too good not to repeat, so uncritical newswriters passed the tale around until it might as well have been true.

The medical establishment eagerly jumped on board, as they were in the process of purging all “natural” healing methods from practice in favor of an all-powerful MD-Big Pharma axis. In their eyes, the sex box was not merely funny or ineffective, but it was an attempt to defraud  patients. Mind you, the orgone accumulator was at the center of all Reich’s research from this period. Studying the box’s effects intently would seem to run counter to the idea of fraudulently fobbing it off on idiots, but perhaps research conducted outside of the academic Establishment simply doesn’t count.

FDA Inspector Charles A. Wood was soon on the case, snooping about Orgonon with Reich’s permission. Early in the investigation, he told one of Reich’s employees that (I paraphrase) “The accumulator is a fake and Reich is fooling the public with it. He will soon go to jail.” No complaints from patients could be produced, but plenty of experts could  be found to dismiss the accumulator on the basis of its weirdness. For instance, the son of FDA physicist Kurt Lion remembers his father being asked to prove that the box was just a box and that Dr. Reich was a fraud — not  to evaluate the box and find out whether or not it might really do anything, or to review Dr. Reich’s work.

The FDA asked a court for an injunction to shut down Reich’s trade in orgone accumulators. The judge ignored Reich’s response to the FDA (a Motion to Dismiss), and awarded the FDA their injunction by technical default. The full scope of the injunction was utterly villainous, and included the following:

Case #1056, March 19, 1954, US District Court,
Portland, Maine, Judge John D. Clifford, Jr.

“BANNED, until expunged of all references
to the orgone energy:

The Discovery of the Orgone
Vol.I, The Function of the Orgasm
Vol.II, The Cancer Biopathy
The Sexual Revolution
Ether, God and Devil
Cosmic Superimposition
Listen, Little Man
The Mass Psychology of Fascism
Character Analysis
The Murder of Christ
People in Trouble


The Orgone Energy Accumulator: Its Scientific and Medical Use
The Oranur Experiment
The Orgone Energy Bulletin
The Orgone Energy Emergency Bulletin
International Journal of Sex-Economy and Orgone Research
Internationale Zeitschrift fur Orgonomie
Annals of the Orgone Institute”

Reich must have done something right, to get Communists and  Nazis and  the good ole US of A all  excited enough to burn his books! Instead of scientifically picking apart the suspected quackery, FDA went into full-on, cartoonish witch-hunter mode and tried to literally burn out the heresy, sending books and journals to incinerators in Maine and New York. The de facto  function of the FDA seems to be shutting down all alternatives to mainstream, Establishment-operated food and medical options. They always seem to have the authority and resources to crack down on experimenters and raw milk collectives, but they can’t do anything to remedy the chemical soup that lately passes for food.

Eventually, FDA men destroyed the orgone accumulators at Orgonon by hacking them apart with axes. Wilhelm Reich was sent to prison after an assistant broke the judge’s injunction and smuggled some orgone accumulators across state lines. Reich died two weeks before becoming eligible for parole.

In the age of cheap books and photocopying, not all of Reich’s work could be destroyed. Reich’s students and Reich study groups continued to develop his ideas, and he had a following through networks of psychotherapists and psychiatrists. As well, Reich sealed some of his papers and ordered them to remain sealed until 50 years after his death, to protect them from the modern inquisition (thus, they only became available in 2007). Nowadays, with the Internets, elites have pretty sloppy control over the flow of information, and heretical ideas like orgone can really take on new life. It’s a crisis (for some), that ideas can be built on by anyone and published to the ‘Net, cutting out the publishing house or peer reviewers or government committee that ought to be predetermining the truth for everybody.

Some of the Reich wackiness has actually been replicated and peer-reviewed. James DeMeo replicated Reich’s technology for cloudbusting,  drawing down rain with the power of orgone, as a graduate thesis at the University of Kansas in 1977. Researchers Stefan Müschenich and Rainer Gebauer at the University of Marburg demonstrated some of the effects of the orgone accumulator in 1987, and Günter Hebenstreit at the University of Vienna replicated their findings in 1995. Very strange!

It strikes me that the accumulator could work through other means than actually accumulating orgone. For one, an orgone accumulator will function like a Farraday cage, shielding the inside from electrical field and some types of electromagnetic radiation (a car is a type of Farraday cage; the body will carry a lightning charge around the very outside of the vehicle, leaving the passengers safe inside). We live in an “enriched” electromagnetic environment lately, with cell phone signals and wireless networks constantly permeating us and probably contributing to cancer. Perhaps it’s a good idea to go hide in a Farraday cage for a half an hour a day, and let your body recover. Also, many people are under so much stress, maybe they just need to get away and sit quietly in a box!

I thought about putting in some links to the contemporary orgone science scene, but really you’ll do fine searching for “Wilhelm Reich.” Normally, I would not waste my time studying something that’s already tripped my bullshit detector, but I’m really impressed by the threat Reich apparently posed to the Powers That Be — Nazi, Communist, or All-American — so I think I’ll revisit this from time to time. There seems to be a little evidence for orgone, so it’s probably not an untestable dead-end idea like Intelligent Design (a good idea isn’t one that’s true, it’s one that leads to good questions). Anyway, this guy’s ideas just deserve a second chance after how people treated him!

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