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Tending Herbs

Uncle Jed is 80 years old. I went to see him about some herbs.

His recorded name is Roger L. Jenkins, born near Barefoot, close by the point where Harrison, Nicholas, and Robertson counties come together. He attended eight grades in the one-room schoolhouse there, now vanished.

“It’s along Crooked Creek about five miles downriver from Blue Licks, but it could be farther because I never measured it,” says Uncle Jed, who likes to be precise about important matters.

Especially herbs.

Actually, he doesn’t think of herbs as a business—he calls it his lifelong hobby. “My grandmother on my father’s side, Mary Goddard—she was part Indian—she taught me about herbs from the time I was 4 years old.”

So there you have the seed sown, which would grow up to become “Uncle Jed.” I located him in Cynthiana in his second-floor, one-room apartment—total living and working space of about 300 square feet. Plenty of room for bed, refrigerator, microwave, copy machine, containers of dried herbs, and ointments stacked to the ceiling, and shelves filled with herbal books.

“Uncle Jed, I’ve had radiation treatments for prostate cancer, now I’m taking hormonal therapy for the rest of my life, do you have anything for me?”

He went to the northwest corner of the room, took down a plastic jug with a mixture of herbs and said, “Take a teaspoon of this, morning and night.” Made no claims, gave no guarantees. I asked for none.

I accepted the gift with gratitude, but wondered what the medical profession would say, or the Food and Drug Administration, or the pharmaceutical industry.

“I don’t prescribe,” he said, “I recommend.”

From his grandmother to a worn and tattered copy of Christopher’s School of Natural Healing, Uncle Jed has taught himself to be an herbalist—“one who grows, collects, or specializes in the use of herbs, especially medicinal herbs.”

We walk outside to the parking lot. Near the railroad tracks between the concrete auto bumpers and the fence, Uncle Jed has planted some of his herbs—mint, catnip, sorrel, garlic, cinnamon yam, parsley, anise, and bloodroot.

The uninitiated might think somebody had neglected to annihilate the weeds, but the herbalist knows better.

Uncle Jed says it’s been 30 years since he visited a doctor. Once was when a tire he was changing blew up, breaking three fingers and a bone in his face. He doesn’t criticize conventional medicine, he just believes folks ought to take more personal responsibility for their health.

Some recommendations from Uncle Jed: watch out for sugar and fat, go real light on “heavy” meat, more fish, fresh fruit—apple a day keeps the you-know-who away—raw vegetables, whole-wheat bread, little vinegar in your purified water, be careful about soft drinks, alcohol is out, so is smoking.

“Try to keep your body in balance,” says Uncle Jed.

One of his remedies for what ails a body is laughter. Another thing, “Money don’t bother me,” he says, looking back on a long life of being a mechanic for things run by motors fed by just the right mixture of fuel. He sees a parallel with the human body, its heart and moving parts.

“Don’t overeat,” he smiles, recalling the day he said to a farmer, “You feed minerals to your cattle, don’t you?”

“Of course, whenever I run out, I go and buy more.”

“Well, then,” said Uncle Jed, “why wouldn’t you take just as good care of yourself?” The farmer shook his head in disbelief.

When I asked Uncle Jed how long he thought he might live, he had a soft-spoken answer: “As long as I’m supposed to live.”

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