Herbal awareness is on the rise, as exhibited at this year’s farmer’s market.
by Merry Lycett Harrison
Six years ago, when I first took my handcrafted, herbal products to the Downtown Farmer’s Market, people would glance into my booth and say, "Herbs, I love herbs" and walk on by. Aside from a few tiny pots of the familiar parsley, chives and oregano, I did not sell a thing. Salves and oils to heal injuries and ease pain, and tinctures of herbs to do everything from clear sinuses, relieve insomnia and anxiety and even cut the craving for cigarettes were not even lifted for perusal from the shelves of my little, wood display cabinet.
So certain am I of the therapeutic value and cost-effectiveness of herbal medicine, I decided to try the market again this summer, and the difference was remarkable. Every Saturday since June, people steered their way into my temporary, herb shop to show me or explain their health concerns.
A man came in the first week and took off his shoe and asked, "Do you have anything for this?" His foot was covered in a rash and scabs. "What is it?" I asked. No answer. Trying again… "Is it athlete’s foot?" He did not know. As so often happens, I said, "Well, if it were me, this is what I would use," and I handed him my Skin Toner with Echinacea and yarrow that is good for diminishing inflammations of the skin. The next week he came before the market opened to show me that his foot problem had completely cleared up. Did I have any saw palmetto for his minor prostate issues? No, but I can bring it next week, I told him. It became his habit to visit me every week and bring me a little treat before the market opened at 8 a.m.
The cab driver with hemorrhoids was satisfied with the relief he got from Vasosalve, as was the woman with varicose veins. A woman with an incessant, lingering cough from a cold was desperate for a good night’s sleep. Cough Formula with osha, pleurisy root and elecampane did the trick. A stressed out insomniac wanting to avoid using Ambien was happy to try Rest Formula which has soothing muscle relaxers like passionflower and elephanthead and the stress-relieving herbs lemon balm and anemone. A woman with MS who loved to garden was covered in scratches. She went home with pinyon salve to heal them and use often. Women needing relief from hotflashes were happy to try Flashbegone with chaste tree berry and black cohosh. A man who had recently had a knee replaced complained of his limited range of motion. I suggested he rub on a combination of arnica and St. Johns Wort oils before and after physical therapy so he could work more deeply with a little less pain.
A young Hispanic woman bought arnica salve for her grandmother to use for the arthritis in her hands. People from her culture are so much more familiar with herbal medicine because it is an integral part of their healthcare. Just the sight of the label for Acid Reflux Tea sold that product to those who needed it. I was especially pleased that there was so much interest in the Thrive Tonic, a blend of 18 different herbs for nutrition and relief from stress to be taken daily. Herbal tonics fell out of favor in the 1940s when pharmaceuticals became popular. I hope their popularity will grow once again to help keep us healthy, as opposed to fixing us once we get sick.
Of course there were situations well beyond my scope of practice, qualifications or experience. I had only gentle lemon balm to recommend to the mother of a hyperactive three year old who did not speak, along with the name of the Children’s Center as a resource. For the man newly diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s I could only offer a conversation about the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric and wished him well.
The Downtown Farmer’s Market was a happy place to be this summer and my booth was, too. Two women, Shelly Braun and Sarah Sifers, chose to sit with me every Saturday, and I was happy to have their company, support and help for herb work I always brought with me like stripping lavender blossoms from their dried stems. I always had an extra folding chair for the friend who stopped by or the stranger who just wanted to tell me about their problem.
Certainly awareness about the benefits of botanical medicine has grown as has my skill and knowledge by being in practice for over a decade, but I really attribute the resurgence in interest to something else. Herbal medicine is only unfamiliar because of inaccessibility to the knowledge and experience of it, but our innate, human wisdom recognizes and is drawn to its healing potential. Nowadays, we need as much relief from financial strain as we do from health concerns, and botanical medicine certainly fits the bill.
Merry currently offers free walk-in clinic times, Tuesdays from 4-7 p.m. Sign up for the Herb Tip of the Week: www.millcreekherbs.com.