Dr. Edith, Medicine Woman

Some people have Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Some have Grey’s Anatomy. I have Edith.

She is elder, nurse, sage, our own medicine woman, out here, on the remote Zambezi riverbank, offering healing in a mix of potions and poultices.

In the same way that spending time watching McDreamy and McSteamy turns us into doctors in our own right, or at least in theory, kind of… filling us with knowledge that will (might) come in handy one day, the days and nights we have spent with Edith have given us an intimate understanding of the workings of another kind of hospital. That of nature. And the medicine of the earth.

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Edith’s knowledge of the environment that we share here, her home in the Mushekwa village beside ours at Royal Chundu, is not something acquired through books. It’s learned, first-hand, over many, many years, while living and loving and losing and gaining in one place.

Today, when Renzi broke out in chicken pox, it wasn’t a doctor I called first, but Edith. Immediately she sent us one of her potions – bark from the Mululwe tree, also known as the Sjambok pod (Cassia abbreviata), to brew and apply to Renzi’s spotty skin. We spent the morning steeping the bark in boiled water. Another friend, in a town far away, suggested applying oats. So Renzi ran himself a “porridge” bath (his words) and followed it with Edith’s remedy, applying the cooled mixture to his skin.

Not one to wallow, Renzi soon announced, loudly and proudly, that the muti had worked, because the spots on his balls were gone. His priorities are clearly defined.


While the oats might have helped, I’m certain it was the bark that did the trick. It has seen us through many upset tummies – simply boil the bark with water and drink it up – and is said to cure malaria. It’s Zambia’s cure-all elixir, much like Zam-Buk, according to the elders in my family.

Over the years, Edith has introduced us to all kinds of strange and wonderful plants – trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, fruits, nuts and the like that are always so much more than they appear. For instance, the sausage tree. To cure anemia (or as our locals say, “when your blood is gone”), she slices the dried sausage pod of the tree and boils it. Drink the tea and your iron is restored, your blood returns.

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As mysterious as it may seem, the remedies always work – enough for me to have faith in Edith to take care of my youngest son. Mothers stick together out here. It takes a village, but more than that, it takes remembering that Mother Nature should never be considered separate to the village. Her plants and rivers and rocks are as much of a support system as the hands of friends and family.

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Discover more about Edith in, “In the Comapny of Cheerful Ladies,” a blog by Relais & Châteaux about the Mushekwa village at Royal Chundu.