Women focus on medicinal herbs to promote wellness
By ANN WILMER
TYASKIN, Md. — A hurricane prevented Henriette den Ouden from sailing to Whitehaven, Md., then only a blurb in her sailing guide. Later, she and her business partner Chris Himmel, whom she met while they were graduate students, came to spend a few days at the Whitehaven Hotel.
Looking to begin new careers, they saw Whitehaven through different eyes. Both had been studying at Tai Sophia, an accredited graduate school in Laurel, Md., offering master’s degrees in a variety of alternative medicine approaches to health and wellness. Den Ouden earned her credentials as a medicinal herbalist and Himmel in applied healing arts.
They were living in Beltsville, Md., when crises in their personal or professional lives begged a major change. Not that mid-life career changes are all that unusual, but their life journeys lead both of them to look for, and find, a way to harness the healing power of nature and share that healing with others.
For quality control, they wanted to grow the herbs they would use in their practice. But, as Himmel pointed out, Greenbelt, Md., once a patchwork of farms outside of Washington, D.C., is now a highly urbanized area that is no longer farm friendly.
Despite the challenges, Den Ouden and Himmel now have a healing and wellness practice complete with an herbal “pharmacy,” or at least the plant materials for one, in their backyard.
Den Ouden had just begun a clinical practicum when they found their future home. They moved to the former Dolby Farm near Whitehaven in December 2005 and set about incorporating their new enterprise, Habenera Farm, LLC, in 2006. By midyear they had begun to establish their herb farm. Much of their time has been spent discovering what would grow and thrive here. Rather than try to force herbs that are not suited to the climate and soil, she has worked to find herbs and wild plants that are native to the Shore and that has brought success.
They grow 30 varieties of medicinal plants and have also created a retreat center and an anti-oxidant orchard that features Aronia melanocarpa, commonly called black chokeberry. Woodland edges and understory are the preferred habitats for Aronia. The shrub is drought resistant and resistant to insects, pollution and disease. Although these can be found in ornamental gardens, their medicinal properties are what make them valuable.
The berries yield a highly astringent juice, normally mixed with other fruit juices. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, the fruit is generally eaten after being made into wine, jam, syrup, juice or tea, but never as the solo ingredient. At Habenera Farm, the fruit is dried and combined with other ingredients to make an herbal tea. Herbal teas are the most popular items they make at the farm.
The partners grow crops that are ideal for small farms that don’t have enough land to make more familiar cash crops, such as corn or soybeans, profitable. Aronia is one crop that doesn’t require a lot of space. In fact, these can be grown on parts of larger farms that aren’t profitable for most commodity agriculture. A few years back, researchers at the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center were charged with identifying crops that could make small farms more profitable and Aronia was the winner, hands down.
Now they sell the teas at the farmer’s market held every Tuesday at the Asbury Methodist Church in Salisbury. In addition to the farm and retreat in Maryland, they also opened a store in Lewes, Del., to sell herbs, hold classes, workshops and consultations.
Himmel said that her specialty is sometimes called “acupuncture without needles” because her wellness approach helps clients to achieve balance by assessing what is missing in their lives or what needs to be missing, but isn’t. She is also a certified grief counselor.
Den Ouden’s complimentary practice also offers a natural approach to healing by supplying medicinal herbs via a palatable delivery. She makes a tea from skullcap that helps clients to find balance. When dried, she said it can be brewed into a tea that has a calming effect. Unlike a sedative that might calm you but also leave you sleepy, skullcap provides the same benefits without undesirable side effects.