I think blending teas or herbs is your greatest opportunity for custom health care," says Clara Paulson, owner of Organica Herb & Tea Co.
The woman who describes herself as both an educator and a formulator speaks professionally and from personal experience. "As a young person in my teens, I had acne. I went to a dermatologist for six years," Paulson remembers. "They gave me every drug and every treatment, every cream. Electrocuting me. Everything they could do, and nothing. It made no difference whatsoever.
"I started doing some research and decided to start doing detox dieting, and within one year, I never had it again."
Later, at 22, Paulson faced different health issues. "When you grow up in North Dakota," she explains, "everything was high-fat, like gravy, butter, just Crisco — that's the way you ate."
As a result, doctors wanted to remove her gallbladder. She understood why, but didn't agree with their opinion. Research and herbs saved her again, she says, and set her on the path she's now been on for more than 35 years, helping others manage their own health.
Strength in numbers
The shelves in Paulson's recently expanded west-side shop (2215 W. Colorado Ave., travelingleaf.com) are stocked from floor to ceiling. As the name suggests, all of the 2,000-some perishable items are certified organic. And they come in a variety of forms: medicinal, floral, green, red and black tea leaves; single-cut and blended herbs; roots and barks; super-food concentrates; protein and supplement powders. Among other items, she also carries seaweeds, local pollens and essential oils.
While there are other herbalists in town, Paulson is unique in the sheer number and range of products she carries, and the way in which you can purchase those products. For one, you can enjoy a cup of tea outside by her fish pond, or while you shop. And you can mix and buy exactly what you need, often at a lower cost than possible elsewhere.
Got a cold and want just seven days of Vitamin C capsules, versus a bottle of 100? Done. Allergic to lavender and tired of finding it in every chain-store hair product? Pick up a 30-drop vial of your own essential-oil blend, guaranteed lavender-free, to add to unscented shampoo.
If you've got chronic medical issues and don't know what you need, you can start with one of Paulson's 50 pre-blended teas — formulas that she says help with everything from autoimmune disorders to blood pressure issues to maladies of any organ.
And if you do want to get more specific, Paulson will help you as much as she can. As the National Institutes of Health notes, dietary supplements and herbal products are not required by law to be tested for effectiveness or safety before they are marketed, and scientific research varies widely on individual ingredients.
But even the NIH recognizes that more people are seeking traditional alternatives: The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics study reports that approximately 38 percent of adults and 12 percent of children use some form of complementary and alternative medicine, which includes herbal supplementation.
As such, the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has been studying these types of products and putting them up against "rigorous science," and "disseminating authoritative information" since 1998 — and reporting the results at nccam.nih.gov. (Of course, the NIH does recommend that people always talk with their health care providers when considering use of any supplements, particularly if other medications are involved.)
Paulson is self-taught, and she states clearly that she "cannot prescribe, diagnose, or treat you, but what I can do is I can point out to you all the different herbs, which ones are known for which benefits. ... I can also guide you to doing searches, so you can do research at home." (See "Supplement yourself" for more.)
Keep a lid on it
Paulson emphasizes the importance of custom formulation. For example, she says, if people come in wanting to take something for high blood pressure, she'll make sure first that they can define why they have that condition.
"Is it because they have plaque in their arteries and it's slowing down blood flow? Or is it because their kidneys are bad and they need help to support the kidneys?" she asks. "You have to try and steer them to which herbs might be the most beneficial so they don't waste their money."
And she adds, people who have a problem, never have just one problem. "It's a compound of many problems, and so you try to get the most out of the herbs, to blend them together so they can address more than one issue at the same time."
Paulson will customize the way you ingest your supplements, too: Capsules, powders, liquids, infusions and more are available. If you want to do an inexpensive tea, you can make your own extract at home following directions that Paulson will give you — and with whatever base you want.
"We can teach you how to do it with anything from water to vinegar to vegetable glycerin, even honey. Oil. We can extract it into anything that is suitable to you or for your personal need."
Perhaps the only thing Paulson won't help you with (or do for you) is open up her jars before purchase.
"We have a policy that we only open jars to package tea, and so we'll open a jar 16 times to a pound, maximum — it averages about nine or 10 — and it's the only amount of time it's exposed to air. Air degrades it.
"We don't let people smell our teas. That's real important. None of our products, you cannot put your nose in them because there'll be a nose hair or a booger or other stuff. [And by letting] people breathe in these things, the volatile flavors all disappear."
Clara Paulson references multiple websites and books any time she researches natural health material, and recommends individuals do the same for their particular conditions. (Though maybe not to the same extent — she's read somewhere between 500 and 1,000 related titles.)
Here are a few of her go-to resources.
Books: School of Natural Healing, by Dr. John Christopher;
Essential Oils Desk Reference, by Life Science Publishing