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Ancient Wisdom
The Story of Catfish
Catfish was born in 1917 in Jackson County, W.V.

Catfish: Man of The Woods
Occupation: Appalachian Herb Doctor
(1917-March 13, 2002)
Birth name is Clarence Frederick Gray
Born in Glenwood, West Virginia
'Fifth Generation Herb Dr.,' 'Early Mountain Settler,' 'Woods
dweller' and 'Portrayed on Appalshop films'
Died Wednesday, March 13, 2002 in Fairhaven Rest Home,
Huntington. He was an herbalist.

Catfish Story:

Catfish claims that several of his ancestors were practicing
herb doctors. Knowledge about herbs and their curative
value has been in his family for generations:

Catfish: [It was] handed down to me from my
great-great-grandaddy, to my great-grandad, to my
grandad, to my mother and then to me...And my
grandmother (who also taught Catfish much of his lore)
lived to be 99 years old... She died doing house-work when
she was 99, living by herself. At 70 years old, she married
her third husband, and she married another at 98 and wore
him out in half a year.
Catfish on Diagnosis:

As is common with other folk healers, Catfish's diagnostic
techniques are minimal; he recognizes general conditions
rather than specific ailments. He may get information from the
client himself, look for external signs of certain conditions,
and / or use intuition. Catfish identifies conditions such as
bad blood, bad circulation, or "gummed up" kidneys,
conditions he believes lead to a variety of ailments.

Whatever the diagnosis, Catfish usually identifies a single
cause and a single remedy which are interrelated. The
remedy usually involves dietary changes and use of herbal
tonics. People seem to contact Catfish with either
commonplace problems of the sort traditionally treated by
home remedies (warts, obesity, worms) or with chronic or
hard-to-treat problems such as cancer, arthritis, sterility,
impotence, or diabetes. Most of his time was spent treating
degenerative conditions;

Catfish: Pretty near every letter I get from anybody around 40
or 50 years old--rheumatism, arthritis, high blood pressure,
and heart trouble, that's what they got. And some of them
overweight. Right there's your whole thing. Now they're a few
that have warts, but the better part...Listen [they] sent me
about 250 letters a few days after I was on...[the local TV
show]---would you believe that every one of them letters had
overweight in them? Some had arthritis and some had
rheumatism, but every letter that I got had overweight!

A folk theory of astrology helps Catfish understand
certain kinds of illnesses. This comes largely from
oral rather than written sources: one of his
grandfathers taught him about astrology, as have
several local Indians. Basically the astrology theory
tells us that people are susceptible to "two-way
viruses" (colds, flues, measles, mumps,
chickenpox) in cycles. Every 28 days a person's
astrological sign "comes due" and that person will
be particularly susceptible to an infection disease
for a period of about two days. For example, if a
group of people is exposed to measles at the
same time:

Catfish: When the sign is in Aries in the almanac
(the zodiac), Aries breaks out with his measles first.
Later on when Gemini comes around in the
almanac, Gemini people in that family is gonna get
the measles. But you ain't gonna break down with
that thing until your sign comes due.

Moreover, different parts of the body are especially
vulnerable to viruses, depending on one's sign.
Associated with each sign of the zodiac is a
corresponding part of the body which is particularly
susceptible to a two-way virus. For example, a
person born under Aries, which is considered a
head sign, will most likely catch a cold in his head.
A person with a thigh sign (Saggitarius) will catch a
cold in his thighs, and he will feel the symptoms as
"aching, cramps, charley horses...."

Catfish believes diet is a factor in susceptibility and
immunity to infectious diseases. With correct diet,
which for Catfish means avoiding certain
dangerous foods people stand a very good chance
of resisting whatever is going around.

Catfish: You ain't gonna catch a two-way virus from
nobody and you ain't gonna catch it from the
weather. You catch it when a cloud come over...then
everybody in the whole United States gonna get

Catfish observes that peoples health seems to
have declined over the past fifty years. One reason,
he believes, is that people have come to rely too
much on doctors. Another is that in the past baking
soda was used in cooking a wide variety of foods.
And baking soda , he would have told you, can fix
almost anything except cancer:

Catfish: Now back when I was a kid, this was when
I was eight years old, here's what the people did.
They had sodey in beans, sodey in biscuits, sodey
in groundhog, sodey in the chicken; wasn't no
rheumatism, neuritis, arthritis, bursitis, high blood
pressure, dropsy, gall stones, kidney stones, fat,
overweight, any of that stuff--there wasn't none of
that. Just think of it. What people did, just put a little
bit of sodey in everything they cook; sodey take care
of everything you eat.
Catfish on Diet:

Catfish believes there is a direct relationship between
eating tomatoes and getting cancer, therefore tomatoes
top his list of foods to avoid. Catfish believes strict
avoidance of tomatoes for up to six months can, in
conjunction with his herbal tonic (Called Bitters) can help
with cancer. He cites his empirical observations of
common animals to support his ideas: "Cows, horses,
sheep, goats, and deer don't eat tomatoes. They don't get
cancer. Now rats, mice, pigs, and chickens do eat
tomatoes. They get cancer."

Other foods to avoid include pork, cabbage, instant coffee,
soft drinks, "store tea", fish without scales, web-footed
fowel, the flesh of round-hoofed animals, all artificial
sweetners. Catfish justifies inclusion of various foods on
this list either by scriptural reference or by noting some
intrinsic property of the food that "gums up" the kidneys
(pork is "greasy" ; cabbage has "sticky juice").

Eating the wrong foods leads to the presence of waste
material ("corruption") in the body, according to Catfish.
These waste materials "gun up your kidneys" and this
leads to waste building up in the joints of the body,
resulting in "rheumatism, arthritis, sugar diabetes,
gall-stones, kidney stones, cataracts, gas, everything."
Almost any condition of the body can be eliminated by
"ungumming" the kidneys and allowing the body to
eliminate its waste. This is done by avoiding the foods
listed above and taking the baking soda cure.

On the positive side, Catfish recommends fresh goats
milk, honey, rice, fresh-squeezed lemonade, carrots,
celery, beets, peas, green beans, asparagus, leaf lettuce,
dill (not sweet) pickles, olives, olive oil (cold pressed),
apples, and applesauce. Fresh orange juice is beneficial if
it is diluted to make orangeade. Actually, almost any food
not listed as a bad food is considered all right.
Catfish: The Herb Collector:

Catfish collected all of the herbs he used, mostly in the
woods near his home. He was regarded by many as a
master of plant lore. For example, he knew where he would
find particular herbs growing in an area where he had never
been before, and he knew exactly the best time of the year
and month to collect different herbs. He would explain that
plants growing on one side of a hill will have more potent
properties than those growing on another side of the hill.
After collecting and drying the herbs for his bitters, he
prepared the herbs by boiling one bag of bitters in two
quarts of water until evaporation has left only one quart. He
then would strain the solution while it's still hot and
refrigerates it in a quart bottle. As a general rule, he
recommends one teaspoon of bitters three times a day,
and for serious conditions, three tablespoons three times a
day. However, the tonic is strong and because people react
differently to the herbs contained in it, Catfish notes:"What
you should do with the bitters is take them until your bowel
is workin' just perfect. Then if your bowels get a little
constipated take a little more bitters; if they get runny, take a
little less." Catfish himself took his bitters for years and his
strength and stamina seem remarkable for a man his age;
men in their twenties had found it difficult or impossible to
keep up with Catfish on herb-collecting jaunts in the woods.
Catfish on Bitters and Soda:

Bitters Formula
Catfish "Man Of The Woods: (Bitters Formula) is
back! This is Catfish's formula that he used for
many years of his healing: The formula has 18
powerful healing herbs. (6) Blood Tonics: (4)
Digestive & Colon Tonics: (3) Lung Tonics: (3)
Nerve Tonics: (1) Heart Tonic: (1) Kidney &
Bladder Tonic: It comes ready to use mix the
formula in 2 quarts of water and boil down to 1
quart strain and refrig....Dosage 1 teaspoon 3
times a day, or for terminal illness 1 tablespoon 3
times a day.
Write me at: for price


Catfish's Baking Soda Formula:
Take 1/4 teaspoon (Arm & Hammer) baking soda,
mix in 8 oz glass of water after each meal (for
remainder of your life). To treat a illness Catfish
recommends increasing the soda level to one
teaspoon, taken with eight ounces of water three
times a day for one week, then reducing this to
once a day at bedtime for two weeks.

*Note: This is only information and is not to treat
or cure:
"Strong Bear"
Master Herbalist
Master Healer
Medicine Man

Of  the
Healing Arts
Catfish relates that his ancestors learned much of their herbal medicine from local
Indians. And it was an Indian from North Carolina that gave Catfish real faith in the
curative value of herbs when Catfish was seriously ill in the 1950s. He was not
careful about his health until he was in middle-age; although knowledgeable about
herbs and disease prevention, he was very careless about his diet. Between
1954-1961, he had a series of heart attacks and was "told by doctors" that he was
"near death." Then one day:

Catfish: Here come an Indian walkin' out of the woods...carryin' green things in his
hand. Had a feather in his hat... brand new moccasins, ole deerskin coat...So he
come over to me and said, "You sick, you get well. Friends send me. You sick. You
get well in six months. Mind me." (He then gave Catfish some herbs and told him
the name of one: pipsissewa.) He told me to boil the herbs down in two quarts of
water until it's one quart and take a teaspoon three times a day. "Keep in the ice
box," he said. "You'll be in the woods huntin' for it soon." I said, "Now, where you
from?" He said, "Durham, North Carolina, in a reservation," and then he said, I go."

So he went and never came back. And I can feel blessing! I was in the woods five
months later gettin' pipsissewa. Never had no more heart trouble, in fact wasn't
anything wrong with me after that.

This experience set the stage for Catfish's career as a healer. He believes that the
Indian was an angel sent by Yahweh to save and restore him to Yahweh's service.

It was also during this period that while helping install an elevator at a construction
site he injured both his arms in an accident. Unable to work or to get welfare, he
supported his family by selling wildflowers at the farmers' market in Huntington,
West Virginia. Catfish looks back on the accident as Yahweh's way of forcing him to
carry on his family's herbal tradition. Catfish relates that when he first started
selling wildflowers, he had no intention of "doctoring" people; he was simply
providing flowers for people's gardens or for their dining room tables. However, his
experience with the Indian/angel made him want to help others. Moreover, fellow
vendors at the farmers market began to ask Catfish for herbs to treat their various
conditions and they discovered that he was very knowledgeable about herbal
medicine. His reputation began to spread by word of mouth and requests for herbs
and for advice on health matters soon multiplied. Then the media began to
discover Catfish: he made an appearance on local television; and there have been
several newspaper articles about him. Catfish got to visit schools, colleges,
museums, and various types of civic groups to give talks on herbs and health.
Ancient Wisdom
Catfish on
Astrology and Immunity:
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