Copyright© Jim Long
The Effects of Herbs on Teenage BoysRecently a friend of mine who’s a psychologist at a treatment facility for juveniles, asked me to speak about being a writer on career day. I didn’t think kids would be very interested in my own life choices, but I agreed to go.
The treatment facility, a kind of hospital, accepts kids from the ages of six to seventeen, who have been abused, most often sexually abused. They also do some treatment of kids with drug problems, but a high percentage of the kids are there for physical abuse.
I went, prepared with some examples of my books, thoughts on how one’s life choices matter, ideas on how when you are young, you can do or be anything you choose, if you only have the information to help you choose. I also took along a few herbs clippings from my garden, tucked away at the bottom of my box, just in case I fell flat with everything else I was going to talk about.
My first group was nine boys, ranging in age from thirteen to sixteen. They had heard all of the life choice stories before, having been in the facility, and in counseling, for many months. One boy folded himself up in his chair with his knees drawn up to his chin, pulled his t-shirt over his head and proceeded to doze off. Another put his head down on his desk, another was drawing. They were polite, a few asked questions, but I was not rapidly winning them over. Most were likely wondering why they’d come to “the writer guy’s class” instead of down the hall, where the uniformed Army fellow, just back from Iraq, was speaking about his life choices.
There were two boys, about fourteen, sitting with their chins on my desk where I was speaking. When I took a breath from a story I was telling, one of them reached into my little box and pointed at the rosemary sprig I’d brought and said, “So why did you bring rosemary?”
He really caught me off guard. I stalled. Why had I brought the rosemary? Did I expect kids who’d been beaten, or kicked around, to know or even care what rosemary was? Before I could answer the boy’s question, he said, “My grandma grows rosemary. We use it to cook with. Can I touch it? I like the smell.”
I handed him the rosemary and he inhaled the fragrance. “Taste it,” I said. “You probably will remember what it tastes like.”
The boy sitting near the end of the desk with his feet drawn up on his chair and his chin on his knees, with the t-shirt pulled up over his head, peeked an eye through the top of the shirt to see if the boy would actually taste the plant.
The boy tasted a leaf, and smiled. “I remember this taste,” he said, obviously remembering something pleasant from home.
From the back of the room, the kid drawing said, “You can actually EAT that? Gimmie. I want to taste it, too!” “ What else is in your box?” someone said across the room.
Within seconds, the tide had turned. The room was mine in a way I couldn’t have imagined minutes earlier. I laid out the herbs I’d brought: rosemary, mint, lavender, some thyme and basil. Immediately one of the boys focused on mint and said his mother grew it. Another said he knew lavender because his mother always put some in a little bag under his pillow so he could sleep at night.
I brought out the dream pillows I’d brought and one of the boys immediately understood how useful they were at helping ease restless sleep. The room was fully awake, each and every boy was asking questions.
I’d not seen the obvious connection between having been abused and being in that treatment center, and not being able to sleep. I thought back to when I was fourteen myself, and was molested by a teacher who I trusted, and how much difficulty I’d had sleeping. I remembered the nightmares, the fear, the inability to tell anyone, or the power to confront the teacher. Yes, back then, a dream pillow that quieted my nightmares would have been profoundly helpful. So I switched gears, and gave a shortened version of the dream pillow program I often give to adults.
The kids responded. They all had sleep problems, they all wanted a dream pillow. I promised I would find a way to get them a dream pillow. For my next session in the afternoon, I gave only a brief nod to the career subject and concentrated instead on herbs and dream pillows. The second group of boys all responded as enthusiastically as the first.
What was amazing to me was that a bunch of teenage boys, all of whom had huge issues in their lives to deal with, knew about, and were strongly interested in herbs. Not only were they interested, many of them could identify one herb from another. The counselors who sat in on the sessions seemed impressed and encouraged me to come back for sessions on just the sleep herbs subject. Some of them asked questions about their own stress-related sleep problems.
I initially had to convince the treatment supervisors of the kids’ interests. I had to show that the herbs I used couldn’t be used “for any other purposes” or had any harmful effects. They weren’t hallucinogens, couldn’t be smoked, weren’t worth trading or selling. And lastly, that they might have some beneficial effect on the kids’ sleeping. With that out of the way, we scheduled a day to come back and talk to the kids in a longer session.
Not only did I go back and give the dream pillow program, I took along the herbs and made dream pillows. The boys chose between a pillow that would ease their nightmares and give them a good night’s sleep, and one which would let them dream and they would remember the dream. The group was about equally divided between the two. One of the boys who’d been in my earlier short class, said he had used the pillow I had given him but he didn’t have any dreams and I reminded him that it was the mix that gives good sleep without any nightmares. He was satisfied that the nightmares had disappeared and asked if he could now have one that let him remember his dreams as he was sleeping much better.
The usefulness of herbs for people in crisis ever cease to amaze me. Sometimes I’m caught off guard, surprised by how far reaching these fascinating plants can be. Who would have imagined that a group of abused teenage boys would respond so excitedly and warmly to a box of assorted herbs? But then, when I was that age, I know I would have, so I guess it shouldn’t be such a surprise to me now.
Questions and comments always welcome through Jim’s website: http://www.Longcreekherbs.com.