Friday, March 4, 2011
WE ARE THE EARTH THAT WE EAT
Many creation stories tell of humans being molded from clay or dirt. It's only fitting, that people all over the world have been known to eat dirt straight from the earth since the beginning of time. It's as natural and essential as drinking water.
Eating dirt, chalk or clay is one of the “old timey ways" that southerners practiced for health maintenance. It was widely practiced among enslaved Africans, mostly pregnant women, who historians say brought the tradition from Africa.
Eating clay is also practiced in Native American and Appalachia communities as well as in India, Haiti, China – all over the globe. Today, the tradition is near forgotten and extinct in many rural southern communities in the U.S. But eating clay is alive and well today among alternative medicine and naturopathic advocates and anyone who takes responsibility for their own good health. If you’ve ever used colon cleansing products, then you’ve probably taken bentonite which is clay. Bentonite pulls toxins and heavy metals from your colon while giving your body much needed minerals.
So, what’s to this eating dirt or clay?
Eating clay is one of the best things humans can do for health maintenance. Its technical term is called Geophagy, and the craving for it is called pica. Clay absorbs toxins and heavy metals from your colon and its mineral content (which varies from region to region) contains high levels of calcium, iron, copper and magnesium, all essential for the human diet and critical during pregnancy. Good stuff! Montmorillonite clay or bentonite is the clay most often ingested and used for health benefits and colon cleansing.
Here’s how it works: “Living clay sweeps away pathogens, heavy metals, and toxins from your colon. The clay first absorbs toxins (heavy metals, free radicals, pesticides), attracting them to its extensive surface area and then taking them in like a sponge. The clay and toxins are removed with each bowel movement. Parasites are unable to reproduce in the presence of clay.” I use bentonite clay along with a bulk fiber like psyllium at least once a month to maintain good colon health. And, you need to drink plenty of water so you don’t get backed up.
Below are three excerpts from the book Working the Roots about eating clay. The first one is from Luisah Teish, born and raised in New Orleans, pictured in the center below. Luisah shared this remedy with Eveline Prayo-Bernard (l) and Bonita Sizemore (r) during a luncheon at the home of Yacine Bell in Oakland, CA, 1997.
“They say as a child I used to eat red brick dust. That’s what scared my father about me. You know, Mississippi clay dirt is medicine when you pregnant. We used to feed women Mississippi clay dirt and I remember folks sendin for dirt from Mississippi and eat starch until they got it. I remember my Aunt Marybelle Reed, bless her heart. She was in that in between place. Because she knows all this root stuff and she’d also gone to nursing school so she had a foot in both worlds. Aunt Marybelle Reed would send for Mississippi clay dirt. And she would put it on a cookie sheet and run it in a slow oven sumtin like 250 degrees. And she would leave it in over night, pull it out and pound it and give pregnant women Mississippi clay dirt. For the mineral content.”
Luisah Teish, author, storyteller, and priestess of the Ifá/Orisha faith, 1997. (www.luisahteish.com)
The second excerpt about eating dirt is from Imani Ajaniku, a priestess in the Lucumi and Voudoun faith. Imani was raised in New York by parents from the south who migrated north for a better life. She is pictured below in her store, Botanica Ellegua, which she operated from 1996-2008 in Oakland, CA.
“The most vivid memory I have about being in the south is my grandfather going outside in the backyard, grabbing a chicken, wringing its neck, plucking it and serving it for dinner. The other thing I remember is the dirt. It is very red, and it’s very rich, and my mom used to eat it all the time. And, later in life, she would eat Argo Starch. I know there’s definitely a correlation between eating, the dirt and the starch.” Imani Ajaniku, 2008
The third and last excerpt about eating dirt is a personal memory that I have from my childhood and also a conversation between me (Michele Lee, aka Red Roots) and Nora Dockery, my former grandmother in-law from Laurel Hill, North Carolina.
As a child, growing up in Oakland, our backyard was literally a hill that lead up to a huge depression in the earth we called Devil’s Punchbowl. Today it is known as Merritt College. Devil’s Punchbowl was a hotspot for riding mini bikes, dirt bikes and pure adventure away from anyone of authority. Whenever it rained, the earth smelled so rich and looked delicious, almost like chunky dark chocolate. I’d put my nose close, inhale deep and then scoop some dirt to nibble on. It tasted so satisfying and primal.
For many years, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that I relished eating dirt, wet dirt, and loved its smell. I never heard mention of it again until I was in my mid-thirties when I visited my former grandmother in-law, Nora Dockery (who everyone called Granny), in Laurel Hill, North Carolina. One afternoon Granny shares her craving for eating clay:
“I gots a hankerin to eat me some chalks from the side of the road.”
“Chalk? Like the kind you use on a blackboard?” I ask bewildered.
“No. Not the kind you use in the school house. . . the kind you gets from the road, down yonder, near Sneeds Grove,” Granny explains.
“Chalk on the road?” I was trying to visualize this place but drew a big blank. By now, Granny was real frustrated with my ignorance and her loss of words to explain to me what was so commonplace to southerners. She continues:
“I used to eat it when I was pregnant; women jus get a taste for it. We calls it chalk, but it’s really just dirt.”
“Oooohhh! I get it.” Finally, someone to share my dirt nibbling secret with, I thought in comfort."
If eating clay is a practice you'd like to include in your health regimen, do your research first. Visit your local health food store and/or consult a naturopathic practitioner before you rekindle what your ancestors have been doing for centuries. And be careful, not all dirt or clay from the earth is good to eat. People who have practiced this tradition go to the same location their ancestors have gone to for decades.
This post written by Michele Elizabeth Lee aka Red Roots for Working the Roots blog