A little Detroit store dispenses the remedies of a fading tradition
Published: October 17, 2012
She's an encyclopedia of herbal cures, like using sassafras bark twice a year to cleanse one's system, cayenne pepper for arthritis, bitterweed for colds. She used dandelions and burdock and red clover to treat her cancer years ago, she says.
But even she learned new things from this old-time medicine man. "The work he does helps heal a lot of people for only a little money," she says. "He's quiet, he's soft, he's gentle like the breeze. He's the last of his kind."
On most days, Wanttaja waits in the quiet shop among the neatly arrayed jars for a phone call or a visitor. There's no music playing, only the sounds of the road outside and the occasional ringing of the phone.
A few thick logs of tree branches, revealing themselves as birch by their peeling white bark, poke out of an opened box. He grows shiitake mushrooms on them for their healing properties. It's one way he's trying to diversify by carrying something else that people can't get online or at the vitamin store at the mall.
Still, he's barely paying the bills. "Some days are better than others, but there's nothing steady anymore," he says. "There are some days when you sit here twiddling your thumbs and you go, 'Jeez, should I go get a job at McDonald's?'" But then where would people get their buckthorn and horsetail and juniper berries?
In a way, his efforts to keep the shop going are part of a larger effort to keep these old traditions alive. Trends and fads may turn people from the old ways, but eventually, he says, they wind up coming back.
"There's a reason why old-school works," he says. "There's no substitute for water, right? There's certain things your body functions on and there's no way around it, and this is part of it. And eventually you figure it out."
Faith agrees. These remedies have been around this long for a reason, she says. They simply work.
"God was not stupid when he made us. God made some herbs to heal these things, and he prepared everything for us and he gave somebody the knowledge to process it. Do you want to take those gifts?"
Detroitblogger John is John Carlisle. He scours the Motor City for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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