Health May 13, 2015

Stillroom Secrets

A Modern Slant on Healing with Herbs

In the days before you could pick up a prescription at the nearest drugstore, people relied on the healing power of herbs. Cultivated herbs and wild botanicals were a staple of every kitchen, and the knowledge of how to use them was an important housewifely skill. Colonial kitchens boasted a separate small room known as a stillroom in which herbs were stored and treatments prepared.

In the last century, with the advent of modern medicine, the need for herbal remedies faded as we reveled in the “power of the pill” to fix whatever ailed us. However, in recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in herbs. The Wood River Valley is home to a variety of wild herbs, as well as people who practice herbal healing and are versed in the mysteries of the mind-body-spirit connection.

“The principle behind the use of herbs is to respect the body’s whole system,” said Julie Johnson, NTP, owner of NourishMe in downtown Ketchum. “When you isolate a body part, you lose sight of the complete working body. An herbal practice is devoted to regulating the body’s vital energies and refining the mind.”

A certified nutritional therapist practitioner, Johnson handcrafts healthy brews onsite: elderberry syrup for coughs and colds, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha for digestive health.

“My biggest seller during the winter months is bone broth,” Johnson said. Broth from large animals such as cows, elk and buffalo that get their nutrients from plant-based foods is especially potent for humans, Johnson said.

A variety of wild herbs grow in the Wood River Valley: stinging nettle that clears toxins; rose hips that are chock full of vitamin C; arnica to heal bruises; fennel to reduce intestinal pain; white pine needles to boost the immune system; horsetail to heal wounds, improve memory loss and increase bone density; and burdock root, a member of the daisy family, to heal skin ailments such as eczema when applied as a topical treatment.

Medical practitioners such as Heidi Woog, DVM, of the Sun Valley Animal Clinic, and Nanette Ford, PA-C, of Family Medicine and Wellness in Ketchum, integrate a traditional Western approach with what is known as complementary or functional medicine, which often involves Chinese herbal remedies and other “non-traditional” means of healing.

Ford sees herself as a “bridge” between Western and complementary medicine. “I take the best of both worlds,” she said. “I provide information and options to my patients. Their job is to take that information and integrate it into their beliefs so we can create their treatment plan as a team.” Among the options Ford offers are a natural statin called red yeast rice for high cholesterol and a line of organic mushroom compounds from the Olympic Peninsula to boost the immune system.

Woog combines her Western veterinary training with traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, acupuncture, nutrition and chiropractic modalities. “I work in pattern-based medicine—recognizing patterns that I overlay on my Western training. You notice subtle changes in an animal’s stool, movement, digestive or urinary pattern,” she said. “The best treatments come out of an integrated approach.”

Woog said her 13-year-old Lab, Yaquina, is a testament to the efficacies of integrated medicine: “What’s kept her strong—covering rough terrain as a search and rescue dog—is her raw diet, glucosamine, fish oil, routine acupuncture and the attention I give to her balance of movement.”

Chinese medicine is based on the belief that when the body’s vital energy (chi or qi) that flows to internal organs is blocked or out of balance, disease occurs. It’s as important to keep the energy moving as it is to keep it in balance. Acupuncture and cupping can unblock energy that is stuck. 

Joan Scheingraber, L.Ac., practices Chinese medicine in both Ketchum and Hailey. “Chinese herbs are given in formulas comprising four to 20 herbs,” she said. “Each herb has its function, so when you choose a formula for a patient, you have to ask: ‘Do I need to increase the yin or yang, drain the phlegm or tonify the chi?’” 

In a modality called moxibustion, Scheingraber burns the herb moxa—or mugwort—above acupuncture points on the patient’s body so the heat warms the qi in the blood. Native American shamans used the herb for lucid dreaming and to increase psychic powers. 

In the Wood River Valley, gardeners will find that drought-tolerant herbs do well:  tarragon, thyme, sage, hyssop, lobelia, evening primrose, mullein, lady’s mantle, chervil, basil, anise, dill, parsley, chamomile, chives, mint, oregano and lavender will brighten up a sunny spot in addition to serving a practical healing function.

Maybe it’s time to bring back the stillroom!

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.