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Nature’s pharmacy


Nature’s pharmacy


Take a moment and imagine being in the woods. Close your eyes and breathe in the floral scent of lavender or earthy aroma of mint or the funky smell of St. John’s Wort. Each plant growing in the wild offers healing properties, and herbal remedies have been used for healing for centuries.


The first written record of medicinal plants dates back 5,000 years. The clay tablets written by the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia described herbal recipes and listed 250 plants. Forty percent of modern pharmaceutical drugs are also derived from plants, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Getting back to using plants is what many herbalists believe help the body heal naturally. Tahoe is rich with herbalists that forage for medicinal plants and herbs and prepare herbal remedies, salves, tinctures and teas with common plants that grow wild in the region.

The Woods Apothecary Herbalist Gina Woods forages for herbs, prepares herbal remedies and tinctures, and offers classes to learn the art of making herbal medicinals and foraging. She’s been working with herbs for more than 25 years. The Woods Apothecary of Healing Arts in South Lake Tahoe embraces the healing arts and Woods’s love of nature, healing and teaching. Woods says that the Botanical Studies Center is where people can connect with plants, learn medicine making, learn about medicinal plants and herbs, get hands-on experience and take foraging classes.

“I believe everyone is an herbalist at heart; it’s in our ancestral DNA. Learning to incorporate herbs into our lives is one of the best things we can do for our health.” –Mary McCallum

Woods recommends harvesting dandelion and using the leaves in a salad or to make tea. It grows everywhere.

“Dandelion helps to detoxify the liver, boost our digestive fires and helps clear the mind,” explains Woods, who also points out that plants that grow wild in wild soil are more nutritious and better for us. For Woods, it is about simplicity and returning to herbalism’s roots.

She also suggests foraging for mint, “Wild mint grows in Tahoe and helps to calm digestion and calms our nervous system.” | woodsapothecary.org

Aja Herbals Marissa Bulris, Megan Hixon and Jill Callaco are the founders of the women-owned company Aja Herbals. The three friends worked in the cannabis industry when they created their first herbal salve. Initially making the topical salve for gifts, people loved the healing qualities and asked to buy their product.

“The salve has arnica, willow bark and other herbs that are healing and anti-inflammatory,” says Bulris. She points out that willow bark is a natural pain reliever and is also used in Tylenol. Aja Herbals has a line of tinctures, topical salves, bath soaps and a pet line.


“We prepare tinctures that are full spectrum which means they have all of the cannabinoids in it,” explains Bulris. Their herbal CBD products are available online and in shops throughout Tahoe. The company sources its herbs locally and consciously. | ajaherbals.com

Sierra Roots Wellness Mary McCallum of Sierra Roots Wellness began working with herbs after a chronic illness in her 20s. She went to school and studied herbalism. A clinical herbalist, McCallum works with clients with acute and chronic illnesses. She also focuses on how stress impacts the body and uses herbs, minerals and nutrition to support people. McCallum forages for the herbal remedies and tinctures she prepares and each season she makes an allergy formula.

Sierra Roots Wellness has an herbal skincare line. McCallum makes herbal tallow from rendered animal fat, beeswax, honey and herbs, which she says helps hydrate skin and is excellent for healing skin issues like eczema. McCallum also makes herbal culinary products including salts, vinegars, shrubs and syrups. Her products also include a seasonal herbal box with various herbal remedies.

“I am currently working with goldenrod, yarrow, elderflower, sage and St. John’s wort,” says McCallum. In addition to making herbal products, McCallum teaches herbal wellness classes and offers consultations.

“I believe everyone is an herbalist at heart; it’s in our ancestral DNA. Learning to incorporate herbs into our lives is one of the best things we can do for our health,” says McCallum. | sierrarootswellness.com

Soothing End of Summer Switchel From the kitchen of Gina Woods

Switchel is a hydrating, nerve-soothing, cooling beverage full of nutrients to help frazzled end-of-summer nerves recover and get through the changing season. It is rich in nervine (nerve tonic) herbs with deep nutrition, minerals and vitamins.

2 T oat straw ½ C apple cider vinegar ¼ local honey or 4 T raw sugar 1T mint 1T hibiscus

Simmer oat straw in 1 cup of water covered on low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients to a jar. Add oat straw tea while hot and stir well to dissolve sweetener. Steep 2 to 8 hours or overnight. Strain, bottle and refrigerate (lasts one month).

Put 2 tablespoons of switchel in a glass of cold water, juice, carbonated water or tea for a refreshing, nourishing, energizing, nerve tonic to get you through the harvest season.

*Oat straw and hibiscus are generally available at stores that carry a variety of herbs like natural goods stores or Mexican markets.

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