THE WISDOM OF NATURE: LEARNING FROM THE NOMADS AND JULIETTE DE BAIRACLI LEVY
I woke up yesterday and saw the sunlight filtering through the window on these and lined them up and just thought “wow, Nature is such a great designer, all green, all so different”. I’d picked them the night before.
One of my favourite books, which I’m still reading, is Traveller’s Joy by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Juliette came from a wealthy family and frankly didn’t have to work at all, but when she was given a puppy as a gift, and it died, she vowed then and there to become a holistic vet.
“The garden is your teacher and your friend”
– Juliette de Baraicli Levy
Juliette’ veterinary herbal books were the first ever published as before then the ancient arts and secrets of the farrier and the gypsy, had only been passed on verbally.
She ended up living a fascinating nomadic life, dwelling in ruins in the countryside before moving on, always with her faithful Afghan Hounds (which she discovered on a trip to Afghanistan) as company and security. She married a Spanish journalist, lived with the gypsies in Granada, Spain – who accepted her like family, as she did them, exchanging peasant herbal lore and the healing secrets of plants.
She wandered, wandered and wandered, highly unusual in her time (even today, you could argue) wandering alone. Her hounds saved her life on more than one occasion, sensing danger before she did.
Her life took her from wanderings with gypsies in Spain, Berbers and nomads in Morocco, sultans in Tunisia, to Greece, where she spent ten years living on the Greek island of Kythira in the simplest dwelling with a bed, a sherry barrel as a table for her rickety typewriter, swimming in the sea, walking in nature and living off goat’s cheese and wild herbs and leaves which were her free lunches in the sunshine.
“The element of beauty is the most important. There is an expression – walking with beauty. And I believe that this endless search for beauty in surroundings, in people and one’s personal life, is the headstone of travel”
In the 1950s, Juliette spent a lot of time with the gypsies in France and southern Spain. She particularly loved Granada, where the gypsies have the blood of the Moors in their veins, for Juliette these people were very special.
There’s a brilliant documentary about her called Juliette of the Herbs which was available in its entirety but sadly it’s been taken off the website although you can watch it broken up into many parts on YouTube (last time I looked).
She was quite a character, never afraid to experiment with the healing power of plants. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but each time it did work, was a breakthrough, something she could repeat again, with success.
One of the most dramatic examples was a woman who had a gangrene-infested leg and was supposed to have it amputated after a bad car accident…she’d heard about Juliette and came to see her, pleading with her to have a go – at something, anything – to help save her leg, even though she’d accepted the worst case scenario already. Knowing it was likely that the leg would have to go anyway, Juliette was her last chance saloon.
So Juliette wrapped this woman’s leg in leaves (geranium was one of them, or all of them, I can’t quite remember!) put her on a macrobiotic diet (Juliette had suggested fasting but the woman didn’t want to do that) and re-wrapped the leg again…it was so gangrene-filled the stench was almost unbearable. The leaves turned black, almost sucking out the gangrene. As the days passed, the woman’s leg got better and soon felt well enough to leave and return to her home in Jerusalem.
Juliette wondered whether the leaf healing had really worked or not – she had no way of really knowing – until one day her daughter came with the news: “You’re the talk of Jerusalem, you’ve cured Ada’s leg!”
My own mini herbal success stories…
I have cured earaches with a little oregano oil (warning – it’s incredibly potent and burns like h-ll, so always mix it with olive or coconut oil) rubbed around the back of my ear – NEVER put this oil in the ear!! I usually wake up and the earache has gone.
I had an alarming ant infestation in the flat on Friday, I had to go out for two hours and came back and there must have been 1,000 ants or more in the flat, crawling in every room – it was like something out of a weird horror movie. There had been a few ants, but I hadn’t really taken much notice. Suddenly, they were like an army – I woke up early on Saturday morning with two ants crawling over my face!
I got out my essential oils and Googled “clove and ants” – ants hate it, and washed the floors with a mix of clove oil and very hot water. It worked 70%-ish,but the ants came back.
Plan B – rosemary stems and peppermint. I Googled more and found that peppermint had worked for a lot of people. Luckily I had some peppermint capsules in the bathroom, mixed them with about three cups of boiling hot water – you want a steamy, potent, cures-all-colds sort of inhalation thing going on! – as concentrated as possible – and then mopped the floors with the minty potion (at 5am on Saturday morning – ugh!!) But. The ants absolutely hated it and have not been back since! As an extra precaution I put a few sprigs of rosemary in corners where they were getting in, and between the peppermint and the rosemary, it seems to have done the trick. Not a single ant – cross fingers – since Sunday morning!
And the “Leaf Design” award goes to….
Juliette, who passed away some years ago now, has written quite a few books but – rather devastatingly – they’re not available as Kindle editions and my book, which I ordered from Amazon (it wasn’t cheap!) is falling apart, it’s not bound very well and the cover was hideous (so I cut the cover off – weird, I know…it was just so ugly).
If you’re fascinated by plants, Juliette’s words are a treasure trove of herbal lore, gypsy secrets and how, if we respect nature, she really can do an amazing job to comfort and cure us. I rarely see doctors – I remember meeting a guy on a plane who’d just come back from the Channel Islands where he studied flower essences and he said it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, look around you, get to know the local plants and herbs, berries and flowers, and use them. So – blackberries in England, wild anise in Portugal, oregano in Greece (there’s hardly anything Greek oregano cannot cure – it’s my go-to health oil), thistles in Scotland…keeping it local! Juliette has a line in her book about that, where she says that the best place to go when you travel are the markets, where you can buy fresh produce and flowers and that nearly every region of the world has its secret, special flowers as she puts it.
Juliette’s life was far from luxurious despite the fact that her family was very well off, but for her, travel and the nomad’s life was far more fascinating. Needless to say, she lived to a very ripe old age (96 or 97, she died on 28 May, 2009, just before I started The Beauty Shortlist, in fact), and her legacy lives on in her books. I just hope someone sorts out the issues with the documentary – I shared with so many friends who loved it, but it doesn’t seem to be available any more except sliced up into YouTube segments…you can watch a snippet HERE and then it should automatically show the rest of the parts of the documentary sequentially.
I’ve really been getting the feeling recently that the world is pretty much splitting into two:
- A – those for whom nature is so important and precious, those who’ve had enough of man messing around with nature – and that, in a sense, includes technology (I have a real LOVE/HATE relationship with digital, I’m free to work wherever I want yet I’m tied to the laptop and my iPad practically all the time) – those of us who are starting to opt out of the stress, find a better way to live, find greener pastures, who can no longer tolerate the incessant buzz and electricity of modern day life
- B – those who are excited about artificial intelligence, robots, the virtual world, those who are drawn to the city, and are losing their connection with nature and their real human roots
I’m 100% in Group A. There are solutions to a lot of medical issues but the big pharma co’s don’t want us to learn about them, if we find cures they wouldn’t sell the drugs they pump out every day. I think medical drugs have a place when things are particularly dire but I’d always try herbs and natural remedies before trundling up to the doctor’s office. I cannot believe how many mums take their toddlers to doctors for ear infection antibiotics when garlic in olive oil or the oregano/olive oil cure I use, could work instead.
Juliette learned about health and hardiness, how to live rough and be happy every day with simple living. Much as I love my new mattress, I can’t help but agree with her that nature and the beauty of simple living is both the answer and the healer…
“I will make a palace fit for you and me,
Of green days in forest and blue days at sea”
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Juliette de Baïracli Levy (11 November 1912 – 28 May 2009) was an English herbalist and author noted for her pioneering work in holistic veterinary medicine. After studying veterinary medicine at the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool for two years, Bairacli Levy left England to study herbal medicine in Europe, Turkey, North Africa, Israel and Greece, living with gypsies, farmers and livestock breeders, acquiring a fund of herbal lore from them in the process, most notably from the Gypsies. She has written several well-known books on herbalism and nomadic living in harmony with nature, in addition to fiction and poetry illustrated by Olga Lehmann. After living for some time on the Greek island Kythira, de Bairacli Levy resided in an old age home in Burgdorf, Switzerland.