With holiday shopping in full swing, and cold and flu season around the corner, Ashevilleans tend to turn toward local, natural options for their own health as well as gifts. And Asheville has an abundance of herb stores to satisfy shoppers’ wish lists.
Bill Cheek and Mike Rogers, co-owners of Nature’s Vitamins & Herbs, knew each other professionally as independent pharmacists at local drugstores. “There was a renaissance of natural health care in the mid-’90s,” says Cheek. “I was working in drugstores and reading about herbal supplements in the paper, like people using St. John’s wort for depression.” Cheek’s customers were also reading about such supplements and asking him if they should take them with their current drugs, he says, so he decided to open a professional supplement shop where he and Rogers could bring their knowledge of pharmacology and physiology to bear on such questions.
“There are excellent practitioners in this town, herbalists or naturopaths, that a lot of people go to, but we were probably the first to bridge the pharmacy world and herb world and meet in the middle. We appealed to doctors and nurses in the medical profession, so they can send their patients to us,” says Cheek. He adds that he and Rogers base their recommendations on solid information and research. In 1997, they opened a pharmacy department in their store, where they filled and compounded prescriptions until 2015, when they sold the compounding part of their business. Now, says Cheek, they devote their time and resources to selling nutritional supplements and preventive remedies.
Many of Nature’s Vitamins’ customers arrive at the store healthy and wanting to stay that way, Cheek notes, so the majority of what the store sells is for overall health, such as multivitamins, fish oil, antioxidants, calcium and magnesium. People also come in for common conditions such as colds, rashes, hemorrhoids and coughs but are looking for natural products. “We treat every common condition you can think of,” says Cheek, who offers the examples of glucosamine for arthritis, echinacea for colds and herbal syrups for coughs. Cheek says many women consult with staff herbalist Amber Myers about issues specific to women.
“In the long run, a chemical is a chemical,” Cheek says. “We embrace the holistic attitude so many Ashevilleans have — if you are healthy, your body is going to heal, and you can either do nothing, or you can do something to support the body in its inner wisdom and healing, or you can go do a drug.”
Nature’s Vitamins sells hemp products in various forms, including vape pens, that contain cannabinoids but only small amounts of THC. “Hemp extracts are very calming to the body and nervous system for anxiety, sleep, pain, inflammation and impossible to get high off of,” says Cheek.
Meanwhile, married couple Andrew Celwyn and Maia Toll, owners of Herbiary in downtown Asheville, offer an array of herbal medicines in their small boutique located in what was originally the New Medical Building, dating from 1925. After opening the first Herbiary 11 years ago in Philadelphia, Celwyn and Toll decided to move to Asheville because it had three herb schools, plus they wanted to be able to source products locally. The couple currently purchase some of their herbs from local producer Pangaea Plants as well as Our Friendly Allies in Marshall. “We source from over 80 different vendors and make sure the [products] are good for your body — pesticide-free, organic, wildcrafted or cultivated without chemicals.”
“The Herbiary was the first dedicated herb shop in Asheville selling bulk herbs,” says Celwyn. While bulk herbs are one of Herbiary’s specialties, the store also sells tinctures, essential oils, organic body care products and books. Toll makes special blends of herbs in the apothecary in the back of the store.
Some products Herbiary offers are Miriam’s Inspired Skin Care, a distinctive line that contains tallow — cow fat that is said to be moisturizing for the skin. A staple at the store is Mental Clarity, an essential oil blend that can be used in a diffuser or dropped on the hand.
At herb shop Alchemy, large glass jars of herbs line the wall behind the counter, and a small yellow tearoom is nested in this light-filled clinic and retail shop. Co-owners Emmy Bethel and Ashley Kuper, who are acupuncturists and Chinese medicine practitioners, share the space with massage therapists to round out the healing environment. The shop offers pain-relief remedies, seasonal herbal tea blends, Chinese medicine throat lozenges, CBD (cannabidiol) gels and educational materials. The shop’s specialty tea, called Yu Ping Feng, contains three herbs said to be good for digestion, fighting colds and increasing energy. The shop also offers herbal consults for customized formulas.
“We like to collaborate with local businesses,” says Bethel. “We have a line of local products another acupuncturist makes called Nourishing Roots Apothecary, [which includes] castor oil, herbal spray for hair products, facial toners and herbal deodorant.” And the store will soon sell its well-loved drink concoctions — turmeric chai, alchemical cocoa and Three Treasures mocha — as hot drinks as well as mixes.
Alchemy is an acupuncture clinic, but part of the vision for the business, says Kuper, is to have an open and inviting space for people to come in and learn about Chinese medicine, nosh on food, sip on bone broth and try out herbal tea blends. “Chinese medicine is a full medical system, and it is basically unknown in the mecca of Asheville,” says Kuper.
“You can come in when you are not feeling well or for chronic conditions. We treat people for anxiety and digestive disorders as well, but a huge portion of Alchemy is education,” says Bethel. “You need to know what medications you’re on, but herbal medicine is in a food form. It does not react in the same way a concentrated chemical does.”
Sift Herbal, the newest herb store in Asheville, opened in the River Arts District in September. Manager Kaylie Moon Dowler, who studied plant medicine for 3 1/2 years at Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine, says, “We opened up as an apothecary, and we have almost 100 different herbs that we carry in bulk and 84 different essential oils.” She sources most of her products locally, including essential oils, incense, skin care products, soaps and candles. Dowler also sells her own herbal smoking blends and will soon carry tinctures and teas. She says she soon plans to offer herbal consultations, make personalized herbal formulas and host workshops.
The store sells kratom, in both powder and capsule form, for pain management, anxiety and insomnia. Some forms of kratom are more like sedatives, says Dowler, and some are more stimulating. “People use it for all sorts of things, but mostly pain reduction and relaxation,” she notes.
The most unusual products Sift Herbal carries, Dowler continues, are several uncommon essential oils typically used by aromatherapists, including chamomile, litsea and blue tansy, as well as blue lotus flower and wild dagga flower in bulk herbs, both hard to find in stock locally.
All the herbalists agree that Western medicine has its place. “If I have a terrible strep throat, I’m not going to an herb shop. I am going to the doctor for an antibiotic,” says Cheek. “I am not sipping herbal tea if I break a bone.” And Celwyn notes, “If you break your leg, you go to the emergency room.” But Celwyn adds that “we look at a lot of our herbs and tinctures as helping people with promoting health or working with chronic conditions. A lot of herbs can treat different body systems very well. … We don’t look at herbs as a one-to-one substitute, but rather we look at them as a supplement to everything else you are doing in your life, your diet and a healthy lifestyle.”
“[Western and herbal medicine] can work really beautifully together” says Dowler. [Both] can assist and support the body through the healing process.”
Nature’s Vitamins & Herbs
Nourishing Roots Apothecary