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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Take 2 Plants, Call Me in Morning

Whether you suffer from ulcers, diabetes, or good old-fashioned insomnia, Anna Roschupkina has the cure.


Better known as Tyotya Anna, or Aunt Anna, on the stretch near Park Kultury where she peddles her wares, this 64-year-old grandmother of four has been collecting medicinal herbs for the past 50 years.


For 5,000 rubles ($1.05) you can buy a packet of herbs and some home-brewed advice on how to flush out the liver, cleanse the blood, or titillate the appetite. She even has a remedy to combat menstrual cramps. Just take a handful of tysechilisnik, or milfoil, brew it in boiling water and drink.


"I'm not making this up -- this all comes from my herbal books," said Roschupkina, who started teaching herself about medicinal plants at age 13. "In Russia, life teaches us to be resourceful."


A year-round herbalist, Roschupkina starts gathering herbs in April when she takes her 10-year-old grandson to her dacha 270 kilometers south of Moscow. Until October she collects, washes and dries dozens of plants that she then brings back to Moscow to sell until the following spring.


Included in her stash are some 50 varieties of herbs -- everything from baby pine cones, which are known to soothe a cough, to bilberry leaves, which lower blood-sugar levels. Dried raspberry leaves, said Roschupkina, can lower a temperature, and milisa, a flowery mint plant, is a soothing brew -- recommended for people with heart conditions or insomniacs.


On a recent sunny afternoon, Roschupkina arrived later than usual with her cardboard box full of folkloric medicine, but her regular customers were already waiting.


"Tyotya Anna," said one young man, rushing up and giving her a hug. He immediately grabbed her heavy bag and starting hunting around for cardboard boxes upon which she could display her herbs.


Within a few minutes Roschupkina's makeshift shop was open for business, and she rewarded her loyal customer with khvoshch, or horsetail, a wiry green plant that is known to clean out the liver.


"Be sure to drink it at home," Roschupkina warned. "As soon as you drink it you'll need to pee."


In a country where drinking to excess is often mandatory, there are -- not surprisingly -- a number of folk remedies to heal an ailing liver.


Cornsilk may not be as tasty as horsetail, but it is just as effective in cleansing that overburdened organ. Roschupkina's magic box also contains a number of plants that heal multiple ailments. Birch leaves, it seems, are not just handy for beating the skin, but they also can heal everything from ulcers to hemorrhoids when brewed in tea.


And the unfortunately named St. John's wort, or zveroboi, can cure up to 40 illnesses, said Roschupkina. No wonder she ran out of it a few months ago. "People tend to buy that up quickly."


Indeed, Russians have a great respect for herbal remedies, said Roschupkina, a former seamstress for apparatchiki who now sews each packet. Several physicians have her home number, and they call whenever they are looking for a particular plant to help a patient.


"One doctor called me the other day looking for wild strawberry leaves," said Roschupkina, who, alas, had just sold her last packet of the coveted berry.


"If we're all still alive next spring, I'll collect them and bring them back," said Roschupkina.


Born in Ukraine, Roschupkina lived through the brutal years of collectivization. Her father, a farmer, was arrested by the authorities and she, her mother and her six siblings came to Russia. By the age of 13, she found her first job, and she has been working ever since.


"I've lived through hunger, my father's arrest, the war. To be honest, I never thought I would live this way," said Roschupkina, from one of her coveted spots near Park Kultury metro station next to the outdoor bublik merchant. Standing outdoors for five afternoons a week, Roschupkina earns an average of 50,000 rubles a day.


But she insists she has very little to complain about.


"I may never have gotten an education, but I turned out fine without it," said Roschupkina, who left school after the fourth grade. "After all, a man with three degrees can still be an idiot."