Busted for blood thinner?
My grandmother was a dumpling of a woman who looked exactly like a grandma should: twinkly blue eyes, generous lap and curly gray hair. She had a deep and abiding interest in cooking huge farmer’s dinners with two roasts, mashed potatoes, and homemade pickles, cha-cha, jams and jellies. She also knew the old-time remedies – blood thinners and medicinal tea.
Summers in St. Louis are scorching. Grandma believed grownups needed to thin their blood to survive the dog days. Why thin blood was better than fat blood, I never understood. I just knew that Grandma swore by her ritual blood thinners, and believed they were necessary in the days before air conditioning.
It was years before I realized that Grandma’s favorite blood thinner could get you busted by the DEA.
When I was a kid, Grandma used to take me on long walks in the Missouri woods near her home. She’d point out various plants, and tell me which ones were dangerous and which ones were good. Pokeweed was something to watch out for. The berries looked tasty as blackberries, but they were pure poison.
Wild mushrooms were too dangerous to mess with, she said. Pick them at the grocery store and play it safe. Blackberries and wild persimmons were great delicacies. So were black walnuts, even if the green covers dyed your hands brown. Dandelion leaves were good in salads.
Sassafras, she insisted, was a fine spring tonic. It was good for cramps and whatever else ailed you. The Native Americans used it, and so did her family in Tennessee. Sassafras also contained a major carcinogen that would later get it banned by the FDA, but we didn’t know that when we were stomping around the woods.
I was also too young to realize there was something funny about Grandma’s other blood thinner, hemp tea.
Hemp grew wild in Missouri, left over from a government campaign in the First World War. In the good old days, the feds encouraged farmers to grow hemp as a cash crop to make rope for the war effort. The feds promised it would be a real money maker.
In 1968, when I was getting my annual spring lecture on blood thinners, things finally clicked.
Hemp tea. Hemp was cannabis. As in weed. As in wasted, buzzed, forty-pound-bag-of- Oreo-cookies-roll-your-own-funny-cigarettes. My law-abiding, church-going grandma had fooled around with wacky tobaccy.
"Grandma," I said. "Hemp is pot. You drank pot tea every spring."
"I guess I did," Grandma said.
"Didn’t it make you high?"
"No," Grandma said. "I didn’t know it was marijuana."
It isn’t quite. Hemp is a kissing cousin, and doesn’t have quite as much THC, the stuff that makes you turn on and tune out. But it’s still illegal in most of the US.
Grandma was better than any federal anti-drug campaign. What kind of thrill was there using something your grandmother thought was healthy: Eat your broccoli. Finish your hemp tea. It’s good for you.
By Elaine Viets
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