by Grant Moser
“We try to help educate people about herbs. There’s a lot of bad information out there because people don’t have the knowledge anymore. It’s something our forefathers had much more of, and it’s something we’ve lost,” said Andrew Celwyn, 43, co-owner of The Herbiary at 7721 Germantown Ave., in a conversation with this reporter last week.
People should consider “complementary” (his word) medicines like herbs for several reasons, explained Celwyn. First, safety. Herbs have been used for thousands of years in every civilization on the planet, and they do not harm your liver the way that many drugs can. Secondly, using herbs can be much less expensive than prescriptions. Third, environmental concerns. When drugs pass through our system, they end up in our waterways, and then in animals, and then often back in us. Finally, for better health. Herbs can prevent things from going wrong as well as helping when they are off-balance.
The Herbiary carries bulk medicinal herbs, tinctures (extracts from herbs made with alcohol), essential oils, flower essences, nutritional supplements and body care products. “While some people use the oils and essences to simply make their homes smell better, they also have therapeutic uses. If I burn myself on the stove, I’ll run it under cold water and then put lavender essential oil on it. It’s one of the best things for healing the skin. There are others that can help with opening your sinuses or with asthma.
“We’re very fortunate with the standards my wife has set for the products we carry and the vendors we work with. I’ve taken most of the stuff that’s in here. It’s stuff that we feel really comfortable with and that we feel comfortable having other people take. We are sticklers for knowing where our products come from.
“However, it’s important to note that herbs are not for everyone. It’s not a simple one-to-one transfer to take an herb instead of a pharmaceutical drug. With herbs, many times it’s about following a process. The herbs here don’t come in pill form. They come in teas or tinctures. You might have to take something several times a day. We like to work with people on their diet and lifestyle as well as look for ways to improve health with herbs. When someone comes into the store with a specific condition, say a cold or allergies, I’m happy to work with them and talk about what might help them. But for people with more serious or chronic conditions, I’ll encourage them to have a consultation with Maia.”
Maia Toll, the other co-owner of the store and Celwyn’s wife, started studying herbalism in her 20s. She had contracted Lyme disease, and there weren’t a lot of options that Western medicine offered to help with it. She learned about herbs to heal herself. Then her friends began asking her advice, and she began to learn more. That led her to study in Ireland with herbalist Gina McGarry. “She lived in the middle of nowhere and would go out and gather the herbs herself, bring them home and make tinctures. She really learned how to work with herbs there,” Celwyn said.
When Maia returned to the U.S., she studied herbs further at Sage Mountain in Vermont, Integrative Nutrition in New York and with Cherokee herbalist David Winston in New Jersey. But her goal wasn’t to open a store. “She wanted to teach about herbs and consult with clients,” said Andrew. “I was the one who said we really needed a presence to do that, so let’s start a store.”
Their first store opened in 2006 in the basement of a store at the corner of Rex Avenue and Germantown Avenue, which fittingly used to be an apothecary that stood there many years ago. But that space proved too small, and The Herbiary moved a year later to its present location at 7721 Germantown Ave., tucked in right next to The Night Kitchen.
This bigger space has allowed Toll to teach classes and offer consultations on-site with clients. She also is a professor of botanical medicine at West Chester University. Celwyn runs the Germantown Avenue store as well as a store in Reading Terminal they opened last year.
They chose to open a second store downtown because of the growing acceptance in society of alternative medicine in recent years, coupled with the exposure to millions of people who pass through Reading Terminal each year. “We’ve grown slowly, and our success is due to us not biting off more than we could chew.
“There’s more opening of minds than there was 10 years ago [to alternative medicine]. Maia recently gave a lecture at Pennsylvania Hospital on botanical medicine, and Jefferson Hospital has an integrative medicine department, and has referred clients to Maia,” Celwyn explained.
In the private consultations that Toll offers to clients, she is able to talk with them about the issues they are experiencing, as well as how herbs might interact with medications they are already taking.
But most often, Maia is able to work with dietary and lifestyle changes before using the herbs. “While seeing people go out the door without any of our products is not great for us as a business, we get happy clients in return,” said Andrew. “We don’t want anyone leaving with something they don’t want.”
Toll also offers classes on herbs at The Herbiary location in Chestnut Hill, including a 10-month introductory community herbalist training course, which examines a different body system every month and discusses the herbs that work with and affect those systems. There is also an every-day herbalism class which is less intense where students can learn how to incorporate herbs into their everyday life, including how to brew tea, make a salve and make their own tinctures.
“There’s a lot to be gained from reclaiming that knowledge [about herbs]. There is a relationship we have with the plant world that is different than you’re going to have with the pharmaceutical world,” said Celwyn.
For more information on the products or classes at The Herbiary, visit their stores or http://www.herbiary.com/.
(Ed. Note: Self-diagnosis can be a risky business. While alternative medicine can complement traditional medicine, one should consult one’s physician, of course, when a serious medical condition is involved.)