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By Karen Carr Keefe
Erie County Editor
Longtime Grand Island resident and retired nurse Sophie Hodorowicz Knab is going strong in her second career as the author of a series of books on Polish history and customs.
She recently updated and rereleased her book, “Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine,” which takes the reader on a historical tour of herbs and flowers used in Poland throughout the centuries.
The book captures the unique history and role of plant life once essential to the people of Poland, according Hippocrene Books Inc., which published the book earlier this year.
Knab emigrated with her family from Poland as a child in 1954, speaks Polish fluently and loves to share her native country’s culture with others. She has made numerous trips to Poland and still has family there. “It’s such a friendly country to visit,” she said.
“Quite a few years ago, I was looking for information about some Polish traditions and I realized that there wasn’t anything written very much in English, but that there was in Polish,” she said. So she began reading the books about it in her native language, then writing about what she learned.
She started writing for a small monthly newspaper called the Polish American Journal.
“A woman sent me a check – a blank check – and she said, ‘Please send me all copies of your books,’ ” Knab laughed. “I hadn’t written a book. But it got me to thinking maybe people are really interested in this,” she said.
“So I compiled the things I had written and added to it and then was fortunate enough in finding a publisher,” she said. Her first book came out in 1993. “The response was so positive … and then there were things I just kept wanting to write about,” she said.
In addition to her research, Knab also brought in first-hand experience of the subject material.
“My mom was someone who practiced folk medicine. I watched her gather herbs and grow her own herbs and she sort of invented that interest in me as well.”
The newly released, updated version of her book about Polish herbs and flowers includes new information and research as well as new illustrations and color photographs, many taken by her and her husband, Edward, a retired social worker. Previously, Knab worked with illustrators, the first of whom was her sister-in-law, Mary Knab. Most recently, her illustrator has been Elliott Hutten, who worked with her on a country kitchen cookbook.
Knab’s publisher describes the book as one that “contains cautionary tales, love potions, as well as a chapter devoted to wedding plants and herbs. There are home remedies for everything that ailed the people of Poland, from acne to arthritis, relaxants to rejuvenators, and heartache to heartburn.”
History buffs, gardeners, and anyone interested in the lives of their Polish ancestors will find much to explore, according to Hippocrene Books.
“I had a whole lot of fun updating it, finding new material,” Knab said. She updated every chapter and added a new chapter on birds and flowers used in weddings.
There are recipes for balms to treat ailments such as stress, insomnia, and slow metabolism. Also included are recipes for homemade herbal vinegars, soups, syrups, and liqueurs, including elderberry syrup, homemade Benedictine, and a healing vodka drink from Gdansk. With the internet, research is made much easier than the first time around, she said. Also, there’s a whole new audience.
“I think it’s a time when people are recognizing their ethnic identities – and people are just interested in their heritage. Genealogy is so huge now. People are looking for ways to connect to their ancestors,” she said. The book is making those connections for people, and they are enjoying it, Knab said.
Knab had a 40-year nursing career, working in hospitals, outpatient clinics and teaching for 22 years at Niagara County Community College, from which she retired. “I loved my career – it was wonderful, but people have side interests, and I’ve always liked writing,” she explained. So she combined nursing and writing. “You know, herbs and flowers, it’s a lot about folk medicine. It was a really good tie-in for me.”
“I hope that anybody who’s interested in gardening or connecting with their ancestry in any way might find some joy in the book.”
Other books by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab include “Polish Customs, Traditions & Folklore,” “Polish Country Kitchen Cookbook” and “Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945,” all published by Hippocrene Books. All are available through your favorite bookstore.