On summer weekends, Merry Lycett Harrison can be found at the downtown farmers market, surrounded by bottles of her Thrive Tonic and prospective customers.
Maybe there will be someone who has trouble sleeping or a man with something unpleasant and strange on his foot.
Almost always, Harrison, a longtime herbalist, has a remedy she thinks might help.
"The people who come to me are usually people who have tried everything. They've been to doctors, and they usually just feel crummy," Harrison said Saturday as she prepared to teach a course on herbs and botanical medicine at her Salt Lake County business, Millcreek Herbs.
For Harrison, who has been studying and helping people through herbs since 1998, recent years have brought more and more clients as people become more accepting of the practice.
"I think people have been frightened to death of it," she says. "But the only reason to be frightened of it is when you're using an herb improperly."
Harrison herself felt overwhelmed by the complexity of herbs when she made her first foray into the world of botanical medicine.
When her son was 4, he suffered from acute bouts of asthma and his pediatrician wanted to try steroids.
"That pushed me into this," Harrison says.
She bought used books, attended university courses and studied with other herbalists.
She gave her son licorice to help with his dry throat and marshmallow to soothe it. She gave him other herbs until the bouts seemed to lessen before stopping altogether.
Harrison took a similar approach years later when she worked for months to concoct a balance of herbs for what she calls Thrive Tonic, a formula of 16 herbs Harrison says helps with stress, energy and other common complaints she hears from clients.
In the classes she teaches, Harrison approaches herbal medicine as a way to enhance traditional Western medicine rather than simply an alternative. There's a place for both, she says.
"It can kind of be your first line of defense at home" for minor injuries and ailments, such as cuts, colds, coughs and fevers, she says. "It's wonderful to have something at your fingertips. If you need to go to a doctor, go."
Saturday, a group of about 10 people sat in Harrison's office as she walked them through herbal basics.
Some had doctors and scientists in their families and were looking "for balance." Some just wanted to know more.
"I'm concerned about a dependency on prescription drugs and the overuse of antibiotics," said Kathleen McMasters, who attended the class with her two daughters.
O For more information about Merry Harrison's business, Millcreek Herbs, visit http://www.millcreekherbs.com/
Common herbs and their uses
Ginkgo • Used to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory.
Kava kava • Believed to improve mood.
St. John's wort • Said to have antidepressant qualities for those with mild depression.
Valerian • A root known to help with sleep problems.
Echinacea • May improve immunity.
Source: The University of Maryland Medical Center