Feature: Vibrant Health

Conversation with a clinical herbalist

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San Rafael's Gathering Thyme, an inviting wellness shrine, is devoted to matching remedies to customers. Photo courtesy of Gathering Thyme.

By Flora Tsapovsky

Located on a busy corner in downtown San Rafael, Gathering Thyme has been a local wellness shrine for almost a decade. With a nutritionist, herbalist, chiropractor and holistic psychotherapist on staff, the clinic and store, owned by clinical herbalist Cheryl Fromholzer, is a welcoming introduction to what may seem like a daunting, complex world of herbs, seeds and unfamiliar terms.  Since opening at the very visible location, Fromholzer, who has confident yet reserved energy, has been championing the herbal scene in Marin with classes, events, seasonal offerings and above all—plenty of patience.

Our customers tend to come in two flavors,” Fromholzer says. “Those who are educated in herbal and nutritional supplements and know exactly what it is they want, and those who have a health concern and are looking for advice.” And for those who put ‘getting healthier’ on their 2017 bucket list, who could be a better fit to lead the unaware and the curious into the world of herbal medicine?

Flora Tsapovsky: Why is herbal medicine important today?

Cheryl Fromholzer: “Herbal medicine is a journey in self-care which is a very different paradigm than our current medical model of healthcare. It was not that long ago when every family had an elder, usually grandma, who understood how to use herbs growing in the garden, and even everyday foods, to help with common ailments. These “folk” remedies included things like drinking cabbage juice for stomach ulcers, or applying raw grated potatoes on the skin for drawing out infection.

In many cultures this tradition of using plants for medicine is still very much alive, but has largely been forgotten in American culture with the advent of “modern” medicine. Now, we look to someone outside the family, who may or may not have our long-term best interests at heart, to help us with our ills. With rising healthcare costs and astronomical pharmaceutical drug prices, many people are coming back to the

Women at Gathering Thyme prepare medicine made from nature. Photo courtesy of Gathering Thyme.
Women at Gathering Thyme prepare medicine made from nature. Photo courtesy of Gathering Thyme.

traditional ways of health and healing, and for good reason—with a little knowledge and training, herbal medicine can be very effective both as a preventive measure, as well as to help with many modern-day physical, mental and emotional ailments.”

F.T: What would you advise a brand-new customer in terms of getting to know the field?

C.F.: “If you are unfamiliar with herbal medicine and would like to get to know the field, start by getting a good book on the topic. I highly recommend Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar. This book is a practical primer on herbal medicine and includes everything from growing to using herbs in your everyday life. Another excellent way to get introduced to herbal medicine is by taking classes. I am offering a free workshop at the Mill Valley Library next Saturday the 14th from 11am-12:30pm on “Congestion and Sinus Relief using Herbal Medicine.”  In addition, Gathering Thyme offers many short- and long-term classes on herbal medicine, nutrition, natural cosmetics and aromatherapy. A word of caution—while the internet can be a great vehicle for disseminating information, not all of it is credible. There are a lot of marketing websites, as well as sites that will tell you that ‘herbs don’t work’ or ‘herbs are dangerous.’ Avoid all of them and go straight to the source—sites written by practicing professional herbalists who know first-hand the safety and efficacy of herbs. Learningherbs.com is a great place for beginners to learn about Western Herbalism.”

F.T.: Why ‘Western Herbalism?’ What sets it apart?

C.F.: “Western herbalism draws from herbal traditions of Europe and the Americas, and emphasizes the study and use of herbs used in these traditions in the treatment and prevention of illness. For me, the most important aspect of being a Western Herbalist is the sense of wholeness it brings, of connectedness, of belonging. I think it’s important that we learn to use the plants that are native to our bioregion, as well as those wonderful wild ‘weeds’ that pop up in the cracks of our sidewalks and lawns.”

F.T: What is the ‘starter kit’ for getting familiar with herbal products and the right approach to gathering it?

C.F.: “I would recommend for every household to develop an herbal first-aid kit for common complaints. It really depends on the makeup of your household and what kinds of issues arise most frequently. For households with children, I would recommend an ointment for bumps, bruises, burns, scrapes and rashes, peppermint or chamomile tea for tummy upsets and perhaps garlic/mullein oil for ear infections. In addition, the general health issues we are asked to help with the most are insomnia, stress, reproductive health issues and digestive complaints.  We sell a wide variety of remedies in those categories and it all boils down to matching a remedy to a person.”

F.T.: What are some of your best-selling products and why?

C.F.: Among our bestsellers are herbal honeys, a delicious way to incorporate herbs into your diet, and elderberry syrup. This is a traditional remedy for colds and flus. Studies have shown that taking elderberry can be helpful as preventive medicine during cold and flu season, protecting your cells from viral penetration, and if you do get sick, illness tends to be shorter lived and less intense.”

F.T.: Are you aware of health trends and ‘buzz’ products? What’s your relationship with them?

C.F.: “While we are always analyzing the latest health trends, and will bring in new products that are of value to our customers, we steer far away from many of the trendy, ‘buzz’ products, as we find that they just don’t hold up to the claims made. We are passionate about the sustainability of ethically sourced products and refuse to carry some things that may be linked to the destruction of our rainforests or the demise of the herb itself through overharvesting in the wild. Our goal is always helping our customers achieve vibrant health. While many would like to believe it, there is no ‘magic bullet.’ Achieving your health goals doesn’t come in a bottle but requires a multi-faceted approach including diet and lifestyle changes. We can help on all fronts.”

F.T.: Are there ‘must-have’ herbs or spices for everyday well-being?

C.F.: “There is no ‘must-have’ herb or spice that would be beneficial for everyday well-being for every person. Many people indeed come into the shop asking for ‘the sleep herb’ or ‘the stress herb’—but herbal medicine is best applied when you dig a little deeper and can best match a remedy to the person. We take the time to ask questions to get a better idea of what may be the most beneficial for our customers. Herbs have energetic qualities, as do people. By ‘energetics,’ we mean herbs can be warming or cooling, drying or moistening to differing degrees. We look at balancing the constitution of a person with the energetics of herbs we dispense.”

Gathering Thyme, 1447 Fourth Street, Suite B, San Rafael; 415/524-8693; gatheringthyme.com.

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