(Originally published in Pickens Progress newspaper 2/4/2016 by Dan Pool. Click link to view on Pickens Progress site. )
Written by Dan Pool, Editor, Pickens Progress
My tongue looks pretty healthy, a little shiny in a few spots which means its dry and could be a clue to a deeper condition if other symptoms were present.
But, all-in-all, Pickens County herbalist Crystal Merrell says medically speaking my tongue is fairly unremarkable.
Merrell also checked the shape of my wrist and ankles to determine that I was a “water” person – again nothing requiring action but something to note in case I had issues with my constitution.
I approached my January appointment with Merrell, a Pickens native, by letting her know that I was skeptical of herbalism, but it might make a good article. She works out of the Ball Ground office of Bruce Chiropractic.
She said my skepticism was fine as she had been a skeptic prior to 2006. She recalled going to a health food store in 2006 for recommended pre-natal vitamins while carrying her second child. Regarding some helpful advice at the health food place, Merrell recalled thinking to herself, “I don’t speak herb.”
Merrell said she didn’t come from a hippie background. She holds a degree with honors from Reinhardt in natural science and a mechanical engineering degree from Southern Tech and had worked for 10 years as an engineer.
“With my first child I was the type that went to the doctor for every sniffle but I would walk away feeling they didn’t have the answer [for minor problems],” she said. “I wanted something that would comfort and help somewhere between a doctor with antibiotics and doing nothing.”
Merrell said her herbalist practice is about finding the “in between,” which is the province formerly held by grandmothers who had folk remedies to make someone feel better, even if they weren’t a doctor and didn’t have a true cure.
At her practice, Crystal Dawn Herbs, Merrell makes it clear she is not a doctor and is not opposed to doctors.
“I am very thankful for doctors,” she said. “I use doctors.”
But Merrell also believes that more can be done to make people generally more healthy by a combination of healthy lifestyle with the use of herbs in teas, tinctures and pill form to build up immunity and address some conditions.
Merrell’s transition from skeptic to herbalist was one step at a time. Back with her second child, she was given some herbs by a midwife for a condition with her following the birth and had to call someone to ask what to do with a bunch of dried leaves.
From there, she found a book, Naturally Healthy Babies and Children by Aviva Romm, which moved her further along the path.
Realizing she wanted to move deeper with her studies of traditional herbal medicine, Merrell took a year-long class in Rabun County with Patricia Kyritsi Howell, the author of Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians.
Merrell holds a certification from the Rabun County studies, but there is no registration for herbalists. She has attended numerous conferences to glean new information on old remedies.
While China is well known for ancient herbal practices, Merrell’s studies showed her a rich Appalachian folklore tradition of herbalism. Coincidentally, the Appalachians and China see many of the same plants pop up in their age-old prescriptions.
Merrell actually uses both styles of medicine - her tongue gauging skills follow mostly Chinese style diagnosis, as opposed to the Appalachian style of reading the tongue, which really does exist.
At present Merrell is keeping the bills paid through work at her family’s Mountain View Pet Lodge, but believes 2016 is the year for her to push into a regular practice that supports itself. She felt that the timing is going to be right this year.
But, establishing enough paying clientele (she charges on a sliding scale) to support a full-time herbalist is not going to be any easier than bringing back a component of healthcare not seen in the Appalachians for several generations.
“It’s hard to become a community herbalist,” she said. You can’t follow the path of someone else and I have to validate myself at every meeting.”
Merrell began officially seeing people and charging for consultations a year ago and it has built slowly as she spread awareness. Good word of mouth is the best thing to encourage people to try it, she said.
“This is my passion,” she said. “But I need enough [clients] to make it viable.”
Merrell states clearly that she does not claim to be a doctor. She said her disclaimer says that she does not treat, diagnose or cure disease.
What she does do is make recommendations for people who are also being seen by doctors or who are looking for that “in between” - something less than a full blown doctor’s visit but more than doing nothing.
She will offer herbalist remedies for afflictions such as colds, coughs, indigestion and other common ailments.
“From teenage acne to depression to PMS to feeling disconnected to digestive problems to forgetfulness to menopause and everything in between and out of between,” she wrote in a follow up e-mail.
However, she does not hesitate to recommend a doctor’s visit when the symptoms call for it. Nor does she claim to have any miracle cures.
“We can’t cure cancer,” she said, and wants it known that herbalism’s effects are typically “slower but deeper” than traditional medicine. She notes that her goal is leave someone “built up” overall, pointing out several herbs that may improve the immune system.
Merrell’s initial consultation with me lasted about two hours and she made various observations on diet, exercise, sleep, spiritual practices - in addition to surveying my tongue, wrists and ankles.
As I told her when I set up the interview/appointment, I wasn’t really sick so I didn’t give her much to work with.
That being said I do believe she provided practical health advice that was pretty obvious when looking over everything but also a few ideas that were a little unusual. She quickly picked up on the food log I was told to bring that I didn’t have a single fresh vegetable on it – I had already suspected that was a bad sign.
But she went on to recommend I add some ground up dandelion root to my daily cups of coffee – which was a simple suggestion that I fully intend to try. She also advised that I drink hot herbal teas or something else in place of diet sodas.
Merrell can be contacted at 678-654-6449 or at her website, www.crystaldawnherbs.com.