When I travel to Lancaster County to research my Amish books, part of it includes slowing down, taking a deep breath scented with grass (and cows!) and appreciating the simple things—like a leisurely walk through a field. But when I wrote Herb of Grace, book four in The Whinburg Township Amish series, which came out yesterday, walking through a field became vitally important to my writing.
Why? Because this is what my heroine, Sarah Yoder, does as part of her calling as a Dokterfraa, or herbal healer.
The Amish have a strong tradition in alternative medicine. While they go to the doctor when it’s necessary, and the church funds their visits, they prefer to look after themselves. This can mean going to the Englisch chiropractor, or it can mean visiting a local Grossmammi who keeps a pharmacy of bottled tablets and capsules in her front room, ordered from an herbal supply warehouse and sold to the community.
Medicinal herbs have lots of folk names. When I was researching this book, I realized that people often summed up some spiritual property in an herb through the name they gave it, and the idea for this trilogy was born. My favorite folk name was Queen of the Meadow, which is Filipendula ulmaria, or meadowsweet. But I couldn’t seem to make that work for a humble Amish woman! In any case, in Herb of Grace, this particular folk name reflects a healing property in the herb that Sarah uses for her cure. But going a little further, God begins a similar healing process in the spirit of Sarah's patient.
To prepare for writing about a Dokterfraa, I took a six-week herbal medicine course and learned the difference between an infusion and a tincture, and between lady’s mantle and nightshade. I learned that elderflowers make a divine tea, and in the autumn, the berries make a good cure for cough and sore throat—just in time for cold season. I read dozens of herbal references, and consulted with my instructors on the best cures for my story people. They got quite used to me sidling up during classes in the garden (below) and saying things like, “How would I treat a teenage boy who is allergic to ibuprofen?” (The answer: Mormon tea, made from the stems of a certain bush that grows in Western deserts.)
I had other help while writing the books, too. My own chiropractor, who is also deeply interested in homeopathic medicine, told me a simple cure for gout. Here’s how the information played out in Herb of Grace:
Oran had stopped now, and was fiddling with the straps on the gray-sided buggy sitting next in line for repairs. “Medication ain’t so strange,” he muttered just loudly enough for [Sarah] to hear. “It’s putting that burden on the church for no reason I can’t abide. Stuff’s expensive.”
“No, it isn’t,” she chirped. “You can find it at the supermarket. Sometimes you can get it on sale for a dollar fifty-nine.” He huffed as if she were babbling nonsense, and turned to make his way through the big sliding door. “Black cherry juice did the trick, didn’t it, Simon?” She raised her voice just enough to carry through the door. “A couple of glasses a day, and Jacob was right as rain in a week. It dissolves what they call uric acid, you see, that forms crystals in the toes.”
Learning how the Amish look after their own has opened my eyes to the simple cures all around me—even in my own backyard.
Want to know more?
“Herb of grace” is the folk name for rue, a bitter and astringent herb used in small quantities for ailments of the digestive system. And as we know, rue is also a verb meaning to be sorry for something one has done … but there is a world of difference between ruing one’s mistake and coming to that place of repentance where God’s grace can begin its healing work…
About Herb of Grace
“Herb of Grace is filled with spiritual insights and multilayered storylines. At times readers will be chuckling and other times, misty eyed as the book unfolds.” —Amish Reader
While a young Dokterfraa learns to heal the body, the Great Physician heals the heart …
Sarah Yoder, an Amish widow in Pennsylvania’s Whinburg Township, is doing her best to provide a home where her family and members of her Old Order Amish church can find fellowship and friendship. But it’s getting more and more difficult to pay the bills—until the local Dokterfraa, or herbal healer, makes a startling suggestion: Could she begin training as a healer? Now Sarah stands where two ways meet. Caring for others could take her away from home. At the same time, she must be willing for the place where God wants her.
But when she does choose, her family seems to splinter. Her stepson Simon wants to move out west to find work. Her youngest, Caleb, is spending too much time over at the tumbledown home of Henry Byler, who left the church long ago. Henry inherited the family farm and has returned—under protest—never suspecting that God has been waiting there for him all this time.
As Sarah compiles her cures, she waits for God to do his healing work. In a man who rues a harsh decision. In a lonely prodigal who has lost everything. And maybe even in a herbalist-in-training who firmly believes she will never love again …
About Adina Senft
Adina Senft grew up in a plain house church, where she was often asked by outsiders if she was Amish (the answer was no). She holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, and is currently at work on a PhD in Creative Writing at Lancaster University in the UK.
Adina was the winner of RWA's RITA Award for Best Inspirational Novel in 2005, a finalist for that award in 2006, and was a Christy Award finalist in 2009. She appeared in the 2016 documentary film Love Between the Covers, is a popular speaker and convention panelist, and has been a guest on many podcasts, including Worldshapers and Realm of Books.
She writes steampunk and contemporary romance as Shelley Adina; and as Charlotte Henry, writes classic Regency romance. When she’s not writing, Adina is usually quilting, sewing historical costumes, or enjoying the garden with her flock of rescued chickens.
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