Devon Muhlert: Andrea Schulte, Viriditas
Andrea Schulte seems to have a knack for delving into the arcane. Having been predisposed to food preparation all her life, she now parlays it into a career whose outcome is unforeseen.
Food, for Schulte, is more about the inner life than the showmanship we expect from high-end restaurants. She has given workshops with her sister Iris on the medicinal foods and spices championed by 12th century mystic Hildegard von Bingen.
"Food is the vehicle I've chosen to be in touch with our senses," says Schulte. "Food brings joy to the senses, restoring the heart and mind at every meal."
Schulte first made contact with the Hildegard teachings through her sister Iris. An actress in Berlin, Iris had been seeking a more secure living and began to study alternative health. She introduced Andrea to the idea that many medicinal needs can be addressed by food. As Hippocrates said, 'Let your foods be your medicine.'
Hildegard von Bingen was a Mother Superior who had visions that she believed came directly from God. She wrote them down and became a 12th Century celebrity by advising many people who sought her out at the convent.
It wasn't until last century that a European doctor, Dr. Gottfried Herzka, rediscovered the Hildegard teachings and devoted his life to furthering them. Born in 1913, he fostered enthusiasm and caused societies like Friends of Hildegard to flourish, starting a European movement. The spices are now produced in Italy and France.
Herzka died in 1997, but influenced others like Dr. Louis von Hecten, who treated AIDS and malaria using the Hildegard principles. The ideas are gradualy being accepted in North America.
Schulte enjoys being creative with practical applications. She reads cookbooks as if they were novels, finding she assimilates information that way.
It all started with rumballs, which she loves. Not surprising, because many of German extraction love their pastries and Torten. She and her then boyfriend would drive from Vernon to the Armstrong Bakery just to savour their rumballs. In an ironic twist, she is now an apprentice baker there.
That's how Schulte's life seems to work. She is in the unique position of being able to compare three cultures firsthand. Her family immigrated to Canada from Germany, then returned there when Schulte was 14. Finishing high school there, she then traveled to Japan on a scholarship and later earned a degree in Japanese culture.
Enthralled with Japan, she worked for a corporate video production company for seven years. Already fluent in Japanese, her language skills improved so much that people with whom she'd spoken on the phone were shocked to meet this tall blonde, saying "You can't be the girl answering the phone!"
She found that her stint in Japan allowed her to look at life differently. "Japan was such a training ground for me. Things I took for granted became obvious in such a different setting, a jolt out of my comfort zone. The food tasted bland, mostly white rice in tiny portions. Imagine! no bread, no dairy, no meat and potatoes, no ovens. There was no need for ovensfood was mostly rice and fish; you could boil it or fry it. For flavouring there was soy sauce, sweet cooking wine, seaweed-flavoured broth or fish stock. It was all fish-based. Good thing I liked fish."
Reduced rations and different choices cleansed her palate from western over- indulgence. "Here, in the West, we fill up on hamburgers and then pop pills to alleviate the after-effects."
Viriditas was Hildegard's name in Latin for the 'greening power' of food, and the energy each food contains. Advocating subtlety, Hildegard saw everything as an energy carrier and God as that energy.
The Hildegard recommendations are intended to minimize digestive strain so that food is easily assimilated into the bloodstream. Wheat is hard on the body, she believed, and she recommended avoiding all grains except spelt. She also believed that if your ancestors were from northern Europe, or India, your body would most easily absorb the ancestral food. Of importance also was how and when the food and spices were grown. Different levels of organic purity have been achieved in Europe far ahead of North American standards.
The way North Americans tend to eat, empty calories fill the stomach but starve the body. Obesity, says Schulte, is a sign of starvationof not assimilating the right nutrients, then having cravings that restart the cycle. If the system was properly fed, cravings for those empty calories would cease.
A common misunderstanding is that Hildegard's is a vegetarian diet. When mentioning meat, she indicated that game and lamb contained the cleanest energy.
A main spice recommended by Hildegard is galingale. A member of the ginger family, its scientific name is alpina officinalis and it comes from China. It 'warms' the intestines and helps the chemical process of digestion. Some of the Hildegard language harks back to 'humours' that described patients in the Middle Ages, and parallels the five Chinese elements and the healthful Ayurvedic cooking of India.
Pellitory is another root (anacyclus pyrthrum) which acts as a stimulant and is warming. It can strengthen the immune system and help re-absorb nutrients and purify blood. It has been associated with assisting in digestive problems and diabetes.
Sometimes foods are chosen for benefits to mental well-being besides
the physical. Fennel seeds can make
you happy and are good for the eyes. They can also lower acidity in the stomach,
Almonds clear your head and were known as an anti-depressants. Thus a case can be made that marzipan is good for you. (The same case may not necessarily be made for rumballs.)
Chestnuts are known to strengthen the entire being mentally and physically, as brain food. In Europe they are ground into flour.
Other Hildegard principles involve discernment, answeringt questions like what is healthful, what subtle food-energies are present, and how can reason and moderation be utilized. If health issues are present, a complete change of diet isn't recommended because it would create shocks to the system and minimize benefits. Hippocrates also said 'Respect your diet, but a bad diet is preferable to a good one adopted suddenly'.
Schulte encourages diet changes over two to three years. Spelt being an important food, it can replace potatoes. Hildegard said that spelt can prevent many diseases as it contains complex carbo-hydrates, minerals and vitamins.
The initial bland quality of food allowed Schulte to develop taste discernment. She hadn't believed those claiming to taste differences in rice, but after five years she surprised herself by also being able to.
Japanese families invited her to dinner, so she tried different specialties, including squid in its own ink and small sparrows, which were very crispy.
She discovered many small shops with specialty dishes. "Ingredients were from all over the world, top quality. Food is an art, even coffee. One little shop had a woman brewing it in a specific way, like a ritual. It could take 15 minutes. But I'd sure enjoy that small cup an espresso cup of really good coffee for a long time, even if it cost $10."
From rumballs to footfalls, Schulte extends her alternative health orientation to the soles, knitting socks and sweaters with love in colourful, artistic patterns. Custom- designed for each client, she works off designs identified by each client.
Food remains her priority. "I'm still chasing the ultimate rumball!" she laughs. It appears it will take more than three years to wean herself off rumballs and onto their healthy alternative.
Hildegard spices aren't readily available in Canada, but Schulte offered to provide small samples for cost. On the lookout for like-minded people, she'd gladly dialogue by email at email@example.com.
Devon Muhlert is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared internationally. Also a song-writer and poet, she is polishinga novel and writes a weekly column.