A New Hope

On a lovely summer’s day last week, my son and his girlfriend finally graduated from university. I say ‘finally’ because, like all paths undertaken during the last few years, their journey has not been an easy one. Confused, distraught, and occasionally boxed in, they’ve persevered regardless.

Like all students during the pandemic, their classes were up-ended, changing overnight from in-person to on-line. Discussions with their teachers, once so easy to initiate, suddenly became obstacle courses of frustration. Everyone had questions and concerns, and email inboxes were quickly overrun. Opportunities that had taken months to set up, were washed by the wayside, possibly never to return. It was easy to become discouraged.

In the midst of all that, we were also dealing with big familial stresses. Julia had been moved into a nursing home less than two years before, and although she had been in excellent health for years, she was starting to decline. Just when she needed us, it was virtually impossible to visit with her. Relatives from far away were confused about what was going on, and needed to be assuaged. Supports that we thought would hold firm, swayed and then broke.

Work was also difficult. No one knew how well Julia’s business would fare during the pandemic, and it was already reeling from the loss of her. Her self, her voice, her story. She had always been the heart and soul of our business, and now, in addition to that uncertainty, we were now dealing with the world shifting beneath our feet. We had no reassurances. We had no idea what might happen.

There were days when it was extremely difficult to get out of bed. I would try to think of something good to look forward to, anything positive to propel me forward. On many days, food felt like the only thing good in my life – the possibility of a nice grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. That first cup of hot coffee. On other days, it was the serenity of the park as I walked my dog, watching the trees gently shifting above me.

We pulled together as a family. We put one foot in front of the other, and just kept going. Sometimes soft encouragement did the trick. Sometimes active pulling was required. Every once in awhile, someone would break down and need extra emotional support. We did the best we could to attend to everyone’s needs. I’m immensely proud of the way we’ve held each other together and supported one another through this extended series of challenges.

My sons learned valuable lessons along the way. Don’t give up. Keep focused on the job before you. Try not to become distracted by worries and fears that may not come true. Look out for one another. Be kind. Always be mindful of how someone else might be struggling. Don’t judge. Listen closely and show compassion.

And now, after such a long journey through a world fraught with darkness, it feels good to finally celebrate a clear win. I have nothing but hope for these two. I fervently wish that their next few steps will be easier. It is my hope that they continue to walk with confidence towards their future, in a world that is still quaking with change.

The last few years have been so difficult for so many of us. More than anything, I wish the same things to all of you. May your hopes be fulfilled and your future bright. May challenges that once seemed impossible be suddenly swept away. Thank you to everyone who has supported, and continues to support us throughout these challenging times. You mean the world to us.

Chinese Gentian

Our herbal monograph of the month is Chinese gentian, the main ingredient in our Chinese Bitters tincture.

There are many herbs in the gentian family, used all over the world. All are valued for their positive effect on liver health and liver functioning. However, the particular form of gentian that we use, with the Latin name of gentian scabra, came to Julia’s attention many years ago when one of her uncles was told he had not long to live by a Western doctor.

According to the family, he was 67 years old and his liver was failing, causing him to feel tired and weak. His hands became dark in colour due to poor blood supply. A Chinese doctor prescribed Chinese gentian to him, and after using this herb for a number of months, his situation was completely reversed. His liver was returned to health and he ended up living to the ripe old age of 90.

This family story made quite an impression on Julia, so when she was told that her own liver was weak and congested, there was no question that she would take Chinese gentian herself. Before creating her own unique tincture containing Chinese gentian, she read many classic Chinese herbal texts, searching out as many different formulas as she could, before coming up with her own. She knew that her own formula would need to be special – it would have to be free of estrogenic activity. Otherwise, it risked flaring her symptoms of endometriosis.

According to Chinese medicine, Chinese gentian is known to clear damp-heat from the liver area. In Western terms, this means it reduces inflammation in the liver, and also helps to release excess fluids from the body. Oral ingestion of Chinese gentian has been shown to increase the production and excretion of bile in dogs[1]. It also has hepato-protective (liver protective) effects in mice[2], and has had good results in treating high liver enzyme levels and chronic hepatitis[3]. It has strong anti-bacterial properties, protecting against salmonella, and staphylococcus infections, among other types of bacteria[4].

Our Chinese Bitters tincture is one of our most popular tinctures. Customers use it for several weeks to prepare for a liver and gallbladder flush, and then, even after their flushing is done, they continue to take Chinese Bitters regularly for years because they find it so helpful. If you are interested in learning more about Chinese gentian, or our Chinese Bitters tincture, give us a call, or send us an email.

  1. Yun Nan Yi Yao (Yunan Medicine and Herbology), 1991; 12(5):304
  2. Ibid.
  3. Shang Hai Zhong Yi Yao Za Zhi (Shanghai Journal of Chinese Medicine and Herbology), 1965; 4:4
  4. Zhong Yao Yao Li Yu Ying Yong (Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Herbs), 1983; 295

Remembering Julia

It’s been difficult for me to talk about Julia’s decline and death. For the last few months, I have felt simultaneously wrenched and yet also numb. Silenced. Muted. It’s been too much to process. Too much to feel. Julia was such a large presence in my life. When I look around at her home, at her business, at all the things she left behind, I still can’t believe that she’s gone.

We didn’t exactly get on right away, Julia and I. When I first met her back in the year 1990, she was aloof, suspicious, and distrustful. I had just started dating her son and she wasn’t inclined to like me. I can still remember how she looked then. The skin on her face still had a dark-ish tinge about the sides, and she looked tired. She hadn’t yet learned how to heal herself, and so her demeanour was bitter and weary. When I said ‘hello’, she looked down at the ground and self-consciously patted her hair into place. I wondered how I, a young 20 year old girl, could possibly make her nervous.

As I look back now, I don’t think I made her nervous at all. Those gestures were merely a way for Julia to examine me more closely without appearing too obvious about it. In truth, she had most likely already made a judgment about me. Julia lived her life by following her gut instincts, and she trusted those explicitly. If she got a negative feeling about you, from something you said or did, that feeling would be exceptionally hard to shift. I don’t think I passed her test on that first day we met, but somehow, over the next three years, I did.

I knew that I had passed her test because, suddenly, out of the blue, she asked me to come help her at her health food store. She didn’t have to do that. By that time, I had been married to her son for almost a year and had just graduated from university. I was looking for work, and Julia said she could use some help. We figured we could help each other out. And so our humble journey together began.

If you worked for Julia at that time, you couldn’t help but respect her. Deep respect. Customers would come for miles to get her advice, and this was before she started selling her own Chinese herbal tinctures. They would ask her advice about which supplements to take, which foods to eat, which foods not to eat. She spoke with such intelligence and knowledge. I was in awe of her. One night, I sat at the dinner table with her, long after everyone else had left, and listened to her personal story. She was incredible. So smart, and yet so humble. A vulnerable little bird who hadn’t yet come into her power. I will always remember that special time.

In the years that followed, Julia and I worked more closely together. I became her right-hand man. I helped her manufacture her products. I answered email for her for years. We consulted with one another about her customers late at night, bouncing ideas off of one another. But make no mistake, it was always Julia who was in charge. It was she who made the decisions, and they were usually bang on.

And so it was very difficult for me, for all of us, when Julia began to decline. When her decisions stopped making sense. She would forget things, and Julia never forgot things. She, who had always been so sharp, began to do and say things that were definitely off. She forgot the names of common objects. She couldn’t tell what time of day it was. Long-time customers that had come to see her for years were suddenly forgotten. We would confer with one another. Is this normal? Should we be concerned?

It turns out, we needed to be concerned. The last five or six years have been tumultuous, to say the least. For, even as her memory slip-ups and judgment errors increased in number and severity, Julia never would accept that she had a problem. Up until the very end, she still believed that she was fully in control of herself. That she alone knew all the answers. She’d been deeply independent and distrustful of other people her entire life, so when we tried to place limits on her freedom, she could only ever see it as a personal attack. It was a very painful and difficult time.

Even when she was finally confined to a nursing home, she found a way to stay in charge. In her own mind, she was still going to work each day, and doing important things. She would tell the other patients that they needed to cleanse their liver. She would continually harass them for payment. “Where is your receipt?” she would demand. It was kind of funny, but it was also incredibly sad.

We finally lost Julia this past February. Although, in truth, we had already lost her years before. During our last visits with her in the nursing home, before the pandemic, I would watch her face, ask her questions. It was difficult to get her to sit still. She continued to believe she had work to do. That she was far too busy to sit and talk. And then, when the pandemic happened, visiting with her became almost impossible. During her last weeks, we had to watch her slowly decline over Zoom calls. She had lost the ability to swallow, and just withered away.

I feel privileged to have known, and been close to, such an incredible woman. I learned so much from her over the years. Many of her thousands of customers have told me the same. She inspired people. She changed lives. There are many pictures of her around our house, so I still ‘see’ her every day. I think of her often. I know that I will never forget her. She has left her mark on me, so she now comes along with me wherever I go, living through my eyes, and feeling through my heart.

If it is at all possible, I know she’s still having an impact, wherever she is. That’s just the kind of person that Julia was. Original. Exceptional. Unforgettable. I hope you rest peacefully, Julia.