Divergent film star, Shailene Woodley, has received more attention in the press for her alternative lifestyle than for her acting chops. From gathering medicinal plants to making her own natural toothpaste and deodorant, the media (and Woodley’s publicist) loves to flaunt how kooky the girl is. Case-in-point: Woodley recently appeared on The David Letterman Show to promote her latest movie, The Fault in Our Stars, and the majority of the segment focused on Woodley and her daily intake of clay.
But it’s really not that weird. Clay-eating, or geophagia, has a very long, very global, history. In ancient Greece and Rome clay tablets were traded as medicine and cures against poison and, later, the plague. Indigenous cultures the world over, including our own here in North America, have been eating clay for around two million years. Though we’ve been eating clay since we were primates, in this day-and-age geophagia is often viewed as a symptom of a mental illness.
Although clay-eaters have been shunned or deemed insane by the modern world,
Clay actually has many beneficial properties. In this industrial food age we are eating foods that are grown in soils depleted of many beneficial vitamins and minerals. In turn, our food becomes less nutritional and our bodies begin to crave these trace minerals. Many of these minerals our bodies need are, in essence, dirt and rock. Ingesting small amounts of clay on a regular basis can help our bodies function optimally.
Eating clay has another function as well: detoxification. Many animals and primates have been noted to eat clay in order to free themselves of the side effects of eating slightly toxic foods and leaves. The clay binds to the toxins and allows the body to eliminate them with little side effect on the body and can even prevent diarrhea and stomach cramps.
But worldwide, do you know who craves and eats the most amount of clay? Pregnant women. Whether it’s the minerals, the elimination of toxins or the anti-nausea properties of some clays, pregnant women often report cravings for dirt. In fact, during my first pregnancy I was warned by my doctor to let him know if I began to crave dirt. Since pregnancy is very demanding on the body he wanted to know if I had any cravings so that he could look into any mineral deficiencies that might be causing the desire to eat dirt. Though I never craved any dirt during my first pregnancy I have found it to be very beneficial during my second pregnancy and in an usual form: toothpaste.
You see, during both pregnancies my teeth became/have become extremely sensitive. Tooth and gum problems are not unusual during pregnancy due to our high level of hormones, but my teeth had reached a level of ridiculous sensitivity. I could scarcely touch a toothbrush to my teeth without whimpering in shocking and searing, pain. I tried many commercial and natural toothpastes and found no relief. A few times during my first pregnancy I had to settle for a quick mouthwash, sans brushing, because the pain was unbearable. I began brushing with as little toothpaste as possible. But all of that changed when I half-heartedly picked up a tube of toothpaste called “Earthpaste.” I was more curious about a clay-based toothpaste than I was about any benefits it might have in store for me as a pregnant woman. The toothpaste, made by a company called Redmond Trading Company, boasts that it contains no glycerin, fluoride, artificial coloring or foaming agents. All that it does contain is water, food grade clay, sweetener, salt and natural oils.
When I squeezed the toothpaste out for the first time I wrinkled up my nose as a brown paste squiggled across my toothbrush. Prepared for the worst I began to brush my teeth but found myself pleasantly surprised. The toothpaste was not gritty or chalky. It had a mild minty flavor and—here’s the best part—my teeth weren’t pulsing with pain! I’ve been using the toothpaste for almost a month now and in that time I haven’t experienced tooth sensitivity once. And, though this is subjective, I do believe my teeth are whiter since I began using the toothpaste (the toothpaste doesn’t make any whitening claims). You can learn more about this toothpaste at www.earthpaste.com and there are many simple recipes for making your own clay-based toothpastes online.
If you’re interested in adding clay to your diet I highly recommend you find a reputable source. Search online for food grade clay or talk to someone at your nearest health food store. And if ingesting clay is still too kooky for you, never underestimate the power of a good mud mask. You can wear it all over your face or spot treat pimples with it. Just mix the clay with a little water or apple cider vinegar (which has great anti-bacterial properties) until you achieve your desired consistency. Rub it on your face, let it dry, and wash it off. As the clay dries it will pull out the toxins in your skin and as you wash the clay off you will also wash the toxins off, which reduces the redness and swelling of pimples and helps heal them faster while also preventing future breakouts. Win-win!
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.