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Herbs for Healing

As soon as you walk into the Mission district's Scarlet Sage Herb Co, you're met with a torrent of aromas, colors, and other curiosities that trigger the senses and provide a pleasant stopover for unsuspecting window shoppers. A veritable mecca of alternative healing, Scarlet Sage is crammed with books, aromatherapy tools, oils, talismans, trinkets, and herbs. It's a treasure trove of holistic knowledge containing everything a homeopathic enthusiast would ever want--without the hollow new age trappings.

But don't be sidetracked by the tarot decks and scented candles-Scarlet Sage is, first and foremost, a retail herb store specializing in medicinal herbs from Native American and Western European traditions of healing. It's a store with a passion for the healing properties of herbs, and a desire to educate people through an impressive array of products and a slew of class offerings.

Founded by herbalists Lisa Kellman and Dino Lucas, Scarlet Sage has been around for the past eight years, existing five years at its current location on Valencia Street. The philosophy behind the place is unique in its combination of high quality herbs and its investment in empowering people around their own health with affordable seminars and products. Everyone who works here is a trained herbalist and it's a welcoming environment for both novices and seasoned practitioners alike.

According to store herbalist Jen Bredesen, most herb stores in the city don't carry bulk herbs, only supplements and tinctures. With a focus on North American herbs, Scarlet Sage carries over 300 single herbs and over 100 combination remedies in their tinctures (extracts in alcohol or glycerin). The tinctures range from the ubiquitous Echinacea and St. John's Wort to the more obscure Osha, Coptis, and Indian Snakeroot. High quality organic and wildcrafted bulk herbs also abound-including Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs, culinary spices, herbs for spiritual use, and organic black and green teas.

There's also a sizeable aromatherapy section that includes candles made with pure essential oils as well as vital supplies for creating your own products, including clays, dyes, and oils.

Flower essence oils are some of the most popular products among customers. "These are usually for emotional/spiritual purposes," says Bredesen. While essential oils are very concentrated and contain the aromatic portion of the flowers they're taken from, flower essences are unscented and come in singles or blends, with names like "abundance," "life purpose," "self-empowerment," and "steady studies." If you're at a loss as to what oil you should get for your respective predicament, not to worry--there's a huge information book in the section that profiles each flower essence and its properties.

The natural medicine section is bursting with Chinese formulas and nutritional supplements. According to Bredesen, some of the most popular supplements include liquid chlorophyll, MSM, and glucosamine, which is invaluable for joint problems.

There's a slew of intriguing products that are huge in the flu season as well. "Acidopholus is another popular one," Bredesen asserts. "It's good to take after antibiotics, because they deteriorate the gut floor, and this helps restore that." Colloidal silver, which is made up of microscopic particles of silver, acts as an antibiotic, as do grapefruit seed extract and the root, golden seal. "I wouldn't necessarily encourage the use of golden seal because it's an endangered item, so we use cultivated varieties rather than the wild ones, which are being depleted in our environment," Bredesen explains.

The homeopathy section presents yet another approach for health nuts. The idea is that you utilize trace amounts of a product to get your body to produce a natural healing reaction, says Bredesen. "Since you're taking something in really small amounts, it's safe to experiment with different items." Products range from first aid kits to natural salves, children's travel kits, and combination remedies. Arnica is a popular remedy among customers and tends to sprains and bruises. "It's an internal remedy, but it's a good rule of thumb to take it along with a topical solution, so you're healing from both the inside and outside."

When it comes to all-purpose healing products, lavender essential oil is definitely tops among customers. It's great for first aid, is antibacterial, and is often used in teas and bath blends. The Wellness Formula, which comes in capsule form, is another popular product that safeguards against most illnesses. "We have a pretty big contingent of pregnant moms who come in for different medicines, books, belly butters. Overall, there's been a big build-up of interest among different kinds of customers over the years we've been around," Bredesen says.

Of course, there's a colossal selection of books on all aspects of alternative healing, with a focus on herbs. Books run the gamut from plant identification guidse to traditional Chinese medicine to tomes by master Western herbalists like Rosemary Gladstar.

Dizzied by the offerings, I admit to Bredesen that while herbal studies has always been an interest of mine, the sheer extent of information and the fact that new products are constantly coming out on the alternative market has made me shy away from learning more. Bredesen nods with understanding and proceeds to tell me about their class offerings, which present perhaps the biggest deal at Scarlet Sage. At $10 per two-hour seminar, trained herbalists from around the area teach interested pupils in a plethora of areas, including homeopathy, aromatheraphy, herbal tarot, the spiritual properties of herbs, and how to deal with stress through natural medicine. Bredesen recognizes that "there's all this information out there, and this is a great way for people to access their areas of interest for practical use."

When I spot some of the exquisite hand-crafted pieces on display at the cash register, I take to the idea of herbal gift-making (one of Scarlet Sage's class offerings) and add my name to the store mailing list. Despite my curiosity, I really wasn't kidding when I expressed a feeling of wariness around the idea of venturing into the voluminous world of alternative healing. But when I breathe in the pleasantly unrecognizable scents and look around at the friendly faces and colorful arrangements, the prospect is becoming increasingly appealing.