Monday, December 12, 2011

Then again on second thought…

So, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was something of an herbalist. By which I mean, my pre-parental-phase apartment was like a medieval apothecary’s lair. Dark bottles full of mysterious liquids, some sweet and airy like fairy kisses, some unctuous and reeking of…urine of night mare or something.

But once the husband moved in with me, I got rid of most of it; while I didn’t have anything eye-of-newt or “two drops of this will KILL YOU” lying around, I did have things that could cause…ahem…intestinal distress or other unpleasantness if taken incorrectly.

And there’s this thing people do with herbal stuff, where they assume herbal = 100% safe and/or “I can go ahead and take fifty-seven cups of this, it can’t hurt me because after all, it’s just herbal.”

And I wasn’t comfortable with having the herbal-rookie boyfriend crashing around deciding to try something labeled “headache – six drops in tea” with some weird bunch of letters on it that was actually my code for “go light on the drops and use a tea with ginger in it, otherwise your stomach will go bat-poop crazy on your poor backside” and then put a SQUIRT of it into his COFFEE or something because if six drops is good, well hell’s bells, a DOLLOP must be better.

So recently, I’ve started adding some herbal goodies back into my life; still no eye of newt or Deathly White Mushroom Spore or anything like that, but some powdered mixes and stuff to work on joint inflammation, appetite issues (I ain’t got none) and (ahem) aging female stuff; between the cost of supplements and my hippie tendencies, I’d just kind of like…things I understand. Things I could, in a pinch, grow, dry, powder, and blend myself. Without a prescription, without having to go through the “Oh, is this for female troubles? Because ya, {long involved story in front of God and everybody about her own female troubles} and I was wondering about this stuff…” conversation at the register.

It’s awesome living in a smallish town, you know? We do that stuff, chat at the registers and lots of folks have no problem at all digging right on into yer personal beeswax and sometimes, I find myself thinking, YA KNOW… back in Da City, ain’t nobody woulda said nothin’ about nothin’ and yet here I am, discussing whether or not comfry is good for irregular periods right in front of this poor, squirming, oh so very male truck driver.

ANYWAY. So I’ve been ordering my herbs from a favorite old source, Rosemary’s Garden, with a few fill-ins on the side from here and there. (The one problem with getting more and more and more “into” this kind of thing is, you find yourself going, “Yes, but, do you have the kind that is grown on this particular slope at such and so a time of year?” – which is ludicrous in some ways but, possibly due to the power of suggestion, you are nevertheless convinced that ONLY this very-specific thing will do. I can’t justify this in the slightest. Really. I just can’t.)

Now, at first I said, bravely, “Don’t bother with all that capsule-this and dissolve-powder that, I’m used to herbal teas and rather enjoy them even when they’re a tad different or bitter or what-have-you, I’ll just brew it. That would be simplest. And cheapest. Yes. Let’s do that.”

Yeah. Um. Some of this stuff tastes like…well, night mare piss. And sometimes they’re…stinky.

As in, if I tried to quietly make myself a cup or small pot of this at work, I would clear the whole building out. All thirty-three floors of it.

AND, the one blend I use most smells perfectly pleasant (whew!), but sets off my gag reflex big time when in tea form. I’m not kidding, even though it smells fine or even pleasant, and doesn’t exactly hit the tongue badly, I get about two swallows in and I’m gagging.

But, it works pretty darned well. So I said, said I, “OK, well, fine. I’ll just switch to capsules, whatever.”

And then I went looking for empty capsules…because of course I'm too damned cheap thrifty to discard what I have and just buy pre-filled capsules, are you crazy? AND FURTHERMORE, I have no intention of doing that going forward because price-per-dose of the raw materials is, like, less than a nickel BUT the price-per-dose is damn near a dollar if it is pre-capsuled.

Pffft. Like I can’t handle filling my own capsules…used to do it all the time, back in the day, yessir, and that was after I walked five miles in the snow uphill both ways barefoot, with nothing but a baked potato in my pocket to warm my hands…




Empty gel capsules aren’t exactly hard to get (my local health food store had them, bless their hearts), but, you will get some mighty odd looks if you walk into your neighborhood pharmacy asking for them. And this is where Tama once again demonstrates that her familiarity with the drug cultures is somewhere between ‘none’ and ‘what are we talking about again?’ – I’m all, “Oh hai, ya, do you have, you know, empty capsules? That I could fill with herb powder?”

And the pharmacist is all, {eyebrows crawling clear to the back of her head}, “Nooooooo, we don’t…carry…anything like that.”

Took me three failed attempts and three rounds of wondering why they were looking at me like I had sprouted five heads to realize that waitasecond…California… “herbal powder”…ooooooooooh, they think I’m using…ooooooooooooh!!!!

I live a very sheltered life, really, you know?!

ANYWAY. When I finally hit the health food store looking for capsules – where they immediately knew what I was talking about and that I meant no really, pleasant-smelling-but-somehow-still-nasty-tasting herbal powder I can’t get past my gag reflex, instead of nudge-nudge-wink-wink-herb-powder-heh-heh-heh – she immediately handed me an enormous bag of maybe 200 capsules, each approximately the size of the Chrysler building.

I set them down disdainfully.

“Don’t you have anything in more of a, say, 00?” I asked with the air of someone who knows what the @*^&@ they’re talking about – which, thanks to Wikipedia, I sort of did. But not really. Because she immediately fired back.

“Wellllllllllllllllll…what are you filling them with again? Umhmmm…{knowledgeable pause, setting a long-fingered hand gently on the discarded product with the air of a wise woman} You may find you prefer these in the long run, because the standard dose for that in powdered form is roughly a tablespoon, is it not? The 00 will require between ten and twelve pills for a single dose, whereas these would be only three to four…”

Now friends. It has been many, many years since I messed with any of this, you know, myself. And I happen to know she’s right: The single dose is going to be roughly a tablespoon of the fine powder version - which is a lot to be cramming into capsules at one time.

But. Do I take the nice lady’s advice and tell myself that, after all, it would be four pills versus a dozen and I would probably be happier overall with filling four (4) capsules, not twelve (12), two to maybe three times a day? And that on the whole, I'd rather have to grimace down four super-sized pills (which would be exactly like taking two large vitamins at once, four times) than repeat the two-large-vitamin swallowing thing SIX times? Practice a little humility and try what somebody who actually deals with this stuff about every day recommends?

Shoot no.

Of course not.

That would have been intelligent.

Instead, for some bizarre reason, I decided I had to act like I No Really knew what I was doing. So I politely insisted that nooooo, I would really rather something more in the 00-size.

She smiled pleasantly, took back the Chrysler-building-in-gel-capsule-form, and handed me a nice bag of 750 00-sized capsules. (For point of reference, these are about the size of a ‘large-side-but-still-standard’ vitamin pill.) (The other ones are, like, something you would use to medicate your horse. Swear.)

And I went on my smug way, confident that I had shown my clear empty-gel-capsule-filling and self-knowledge superiority.


A couple hours go, I filled a dozen of the damned things for my pre-dinner dose of digestive + nervous system + joint tonic.

I am having second (third) (fifth) (thirtieth) thoughts about those super-sized gel caps. These 00’s are much smaller than they seem in the bag. My fingers have grown somehow larger. Plus I can’t see what I’m doing. AND YES, I’M WEARING MY GLASSES.

…or would be, if my Gran hadn’t thought they were hers and taken them home with her at Thanksgiving I DON’T WANNA TALK ABOUT IT, OK?!...

{sob} My life, I could almost hate it sometimes…

(But I’m still not buying pre-filled capsules. Because cost savings, people, EXTREME cost savings…)


Karen S said...

Tama, I am a frequent lurker on your site, but I don't think I've ever commented. I read your blog from work and it never fails to amuse:-) Anyhoo...(not to sound like an advertisement) I know that you are, say, cost concious, and my now be in need of another new pair of glasses. There are some great eyeglass companies online that make super cheap glasses that work perfectly & are really cute. I use, but there's also, and to name a few. Check it out.

PBear said...

Oh dear... :-) I can so relate to the not backing down on the capsules thing... :-) Is there another store in town you can sneak back and get the larger ones from?

The glasses though... see, that's the one advantage of being truly blind as a bat - no one could ever walk off with mine because the only time they're not on my face is when I'm asleep or in the shower... :-)

PipneyJane said...

You're bringing back memories of something that smells of stinky socks, could cause migraines but was meant to be wonderful for muscle spasms ...<< wracks brain >>... Valerian tea! Failed to relax my irritable bowel syndrome spasms and stank out the house. (What can I say? I was desperate and it was 3 in the morning.)

I have my herbal books somewhere but my knowledge level is far below yours. However, I agree with you re the idiots who say "all herbs are good for you", which is blatantly untrue. And very dangerous. Over 99% of all pharmaceuticals are derived from herbs. So what makes one thing "safe" and something else "evil"? As far as I can see, for scientists the main drivers behind the development of modern pharmaceuticals are a) to stabilise the medicine/medical properties of something, b) to make it easier and cheaper to source, probably by synthesising it instead of growing the original plant, and c) to extract the medicinal properties from the plant whilst leaving behind something that may cause harmful side-effects.

On the capsules front, it might be worth investing in a tool too fill them. There must be something low-tec from the early/mid 20th century that won't cost too much.

geekette said...

Yes, there are some "Capsule Filler Machines" which should make it easier (Amazon, for $15 and up). I've never used one, but remember seeing the pharmacist at a compounding pharmacy prepare stuff in one like it.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard of "CapMQuik? It is a capsule filling machine and sure beats the heck out of scooping little bits of powder into two sides of the capsule, then trying to fit those darned opened ends together. A real time saver, and over the long run, will pay for itself in quicker filling times and less frustration.
Nancy FP in Ferndale