Herbalism is a traditional folk medical practice with a timeless mythology, and Jefferson County is lucky to have one of the few comprehensive, in-person herbalism schools on the east coast within its borders. I spoke with Ashley Davis, clinical herbalist and co-owner of Tonic Therapeutic Herb Shop & Elixir Bar, to learn about the evolution of the store, which has been located on German Street in Shepherdstown for seven years.
At the time of our interview, I sat at the elixir bar gazing at walls of powders, herbs, and roots while Davis concocted a delicious herbal hot toddy for me. I had just come down with a cold — and I couldn’t have gotten through the day without her remedy. Tonic is a rich local resource for quick-fixes and chronic resets, alike. Davis shared with me that Tonic is a space to explore the “mutually-supportive relationship between plants and people [through] high-quality products, medicine-making supplies and ingredients, individual herbal consultations, and educational programs.”
Tonic’s Sacred Garden School (SGS) offers budding herbalists the opportunity to learn the art and science of herbal medicine for themselves. “People drive from four and a half hours away to come to classes,” she says, and one prospective student is even considering the commute all the way from Nashville. The school is a member of the American Herbalist Guild (AHG), which maintains rigorous certification standards for its members — which sets Tonic apart from the practitioners and schools that don’t go through the trouble of striving for such accreditation.
It takes many years of study and apprenticeship to attain the skill and credentials of a reputable herbalist. Now that students of Tonic’s inaugural SGS clinical herbalist program are in their third year, focusing on practicum, the shop recently launched a low-cost herbal clinic under the supervision of senior herbalists such as Davis. The hours attained in the clinical practicum will enable graduates to register with the AHG, which requires a minimum of 400 hours of supervised clinical practice, among other intensive criteria.
The New Community Wellness Council (NCWC) clinic launched in February and was rapidly booked through June, which is a testimony to the resurgence of herbalism as a trusted ally in health and wellness. Davis shares that the clinic has had “a really overwhelming response… everyday that I come into the front of the store I meet someone who’s in so much need of guidance.” One of the greatest hurdles to overcome now is simply getting more herbalists trained to meet the burgeoning demand.
A visit to the NCWC clinic, or with any senior herbalist on the Tonic staff, includes a holistic physical, mental, and emotional assessment via testing and active conversation, which on its own is one of the most appealing aspects of herbalist culture: to simply be heard. Davis explains that her team of herbalists, senior and junior, then “collaborate on recommendations and optimal formulas for the client.” Regular follow-ups are maintained and clients are encouraged to exercise their intuition and autonomy in achieving their health goals. Herbalism is, above all, a participatory path to sustained health and wellness. “We provide a space for people to choose natural solutions, to support ethical companies, local growers, and a space for people to learn how to strengthen their bodies and psyches with plants,” Davis asserts.
All in all, it’s an exciting time for this retail store and educational platform in the heart of Shepherdstown. Davis and her team are offering beginner-level classes, such as Foundational Herbology & Medicine Making Circles, to introduce plant-curious individuals to the art and science of herbalism. Tonic also sells “organic and ethically-sourced and, when possible, locally grown, herbs and herbal products” to support clients seeking anything from improved digestion, deeper sleep, reduced stress, to improved mental focus — or a timeless mountain-medicine remedy to warm the heart through a common cold.
Erin Atticus Mooney is the former owner of a creative events and leadership development company based in Washington, D.C., a creative business coach and consultant, and a lover of nature.By Erin Atticus Mooney