Manna from hell

Photographs by Mirko Beović/ 1 "This so-called Chinese-herb nephropathy is characterized by a pattern of interstitial fibrosis similar to that of Balkan endemic nephropathy," the authors wrote.

Pavo Lukšić (above) and his horse (below) in front of his uncle's house.

Grollman, a pharmacologist who has pushed for stricter regulation of herbal supplements, says he immediately phoned a Croatian colleague. Grollman was soon on a plane, expecting to learn that patients in Croatia had ingested Aristolochia-based decoctions. Instead, he learned something entirely different, and spent the next few years pulling together a binational, multidisciplinary research team that not only tracked the pathway of exposure, but also eyeballed the compounds that form when Aristolochia couples with DNA, thus enabling the identification of the mutational fingerprint of endemic nephropathy.

In the process, his team developed a hypothesis for ongoing work: Black houses, those desolate symbols of families dispersed by...

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