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Baba's Kitchen Medicines

Folk Remedies of Ukrainian Settlers in Western Canada

Michael Mucz

Award Winner
Published: May 2012
ISBN: 9780888645142
Pages: 296 Size: 9x6

Michael Mucz's prolonged primary research into Ukrainian-Canadian folk history culminates in Baba's Kitchen Medicines. This book bursts with the cultural memory of pioneering folk from Canada's prairieland. From fever to frostbite, this incomparable compendium of tinctures, poultices, salves, decoctions, infusions, plasters, and tonics will fascinate and often mortify readers from all walks of life. The comprehensiveness of Mucz's research and interviews framed with deftly painted historical, cultural, and botanical backgrounds guarantee that this chapter of the Canadian story will continue to be told for generations to come. It is a deep, charming, and often moving work of intricate anthropology that will stir scholar and non-specialist alike.

Michael Mucz teaches in the areas of botany and ecology at the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus in Camrose. His research interests include ethnobotany and herbal medicine.

Early Ukrainian settlers didn't have the luxury of running to the doctor for every cut or sniffle. Instead, they looked in their gardens for their own medicinal remedies to cure infection, fevers and hangovers. Those kitchen remedies from early Ukrainian pioneers are captured in University of Alberta professor Michael Mucz's new book, Baba's Kitchen Medicines: Folk Remedies of Ukrainian Settlers in Western Canada. Many of the home remedies are from the late 1800s to early 1900s when modern medicine was still in its infancy and pioneers had little money and almost no access to doctors. Puffball spores kept in a bag year round were used as a simple antibiotic. More serious infections would be treated with fresh cow manure. Both puffballs and cow manure contain natural antibiotics. Simple garden plants and weeds were an important part of the home remedies, said Mucz, who included several interview transcripts in the book to give a sense of the illness and remedies... Eighty-five percent of the world's population still uses home remedies. Mucz said the early pioneers knew that the body has a tremendous healing capacity.

– Mary MacArthur, The Western Producer [Full article at http://bit.ly/GVeKDV]

Mucz, thankfully, begins his book with a strongly worded disclaimer. This is not a medical or herbalist text by any stretch; he aims to document the lives of those early settlers. The book focuses on medical treatments, but the milieu in which they were practised looms large.... The list of treatments is varied and fascinating; one imagines the babas springing into action to sooth aching muscles, to calm a cough with honey or to deliver babies. The liberal use of homebrewed alcohol, pickle juice and garlic evoke powerful scents.

– Mari Sasano, Alberta Views

An unusual gem, this scholarly volume is one of the few works in English on traditional healing practices of Ukrainian immigrants.... Detailed information on wild and cultivated plants used in healing includes their preparation and administration. A section on common ailments lists traditional treatments used for each. Squeamish readers should be warned that remedies include the use of cow manure, leeches, dog saliva, and other unsavory substances.... This work can also serve as a model of ethnomedical research methodology. Appendixes contain interview forms, a glossary of botanical terms, and transliterations from Ukrainian to English. For libraries supporting research in ethnobotany, pharmacy, North American history, or Slavic studies. Recommended.

– J. S. Whelan, Harvard Medical School, Choice Magazine

When he set out to research and document uses of plants by early Ukrainian settlers in western Canada, Michael Mucz had no idea just how much his project would blossom and bear fruit. But Mucz's resulting book-20 years in the making-is a lovingly detailed chronicle that wraps science, Ukrainian culture and western Canadian history into one quirky package and flexes the boundaries of traditional scientific research.... Mucz's newly released Baba's Kitchen Medicines is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of western Canada's Ukrainian settlers, who used what was at hand to deal with just about every ailment, including frostbite, diaper rash, anxiety, kidney stones and infected limbs.... A hybrid mix of botany, history and anthropology, Mucz's research is as much a story about hardship and endurance as it is a scientific record...

– Bev Betkowski, University of Alberta News

History is full of examples of civilization passing traditions down from generation to generation, and for one Camrose man that tradition was a calling that he pursued for more than 20 years.... [Michael Mucz ] is the author of Baba's Kitchen Medicines: Folk Remedies of Ukrainian Settlers in Western Canada, a book that is receiving high accolades for its exploration of home remedies in the Ukrainian culture.... The book was published earlier this month and is very practical in nature. Mucz wanted it to bring back memories as people read it. 'I didn't want it to be a cerebral thing,' he said. 'I wanted it to be a heart thing.' And since his book was published at the start of April, the feedback he is receiving has convinced Mucz that he has achieved that goal.

– Mark Crown, Wetaskiwin Times Advertiser [Full article at http://bit.ly/JAb5T1]

Using a tape recorder and a notebook, Mucz personally conducted 200 interviews in Alberta's east-central communities, visiting seniors in their own homes as well as in lodges of nursing homes. He painstakingly gathered one-on-one remembrances of healing remedies and treatments used on isolated homesteads and farms.

– Bev Betkowski, Folio

#5 in the Edmonton Non-Fiction bestsellers

– Edmonton Journal

[Michael Mucz's] research, which began in 1992, was conducted by speaking to more than 200 children of Ukrainian settlers. It unearthed the practical use of plants and household items as the cure to everyday ailments. The result was Baba's Kitchen Medicines ... equal parts history, anthropology and botany.... The settler population may not have known medically why the remedies worked, but they knew there was value in the traditions passed down to them.... The average age of the people Mucz interviewed was 81. Today, few of them are living to see the completed work. Readers have said to him the book let them reconnect with their families' pasts.

– Shaamini Yogaretnam, Edmonton Journal [Full article at http://bit.ly/IEbvqr]

  • 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award - Result: Finalist in the Regional category.