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   March 27, 2008 Issue                                       

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©2007 The Chestnut Hill Local

After nine months, the ‘new’ Apothecary Garden is born
by PAT STOKES

The rows of large herb-filled jars and bottles thrilled one customer, a former pharmacist , because it reminded him of the days when he actually mixed prescriptions from scratch  for customers in his own drug store.

Apothecary Garden is a longish name for an innovative shop that had its beginnings in what seemed  an impossibly small space. Maia Toll opened the door to her plant-and-nature-based shop at 8640-a Rex Ave. in June, 2006, just a few steps from the top of the Hill, and at the time I wondered how long she could survive in that tiny room.

Maia has survived very well, indeed. After what could be described as a natural gestation period of approximately nine months there, she made a move in February 2007 to the present spot at 7721 Germantown Ave.

Maia is extremely happy to be in the new place, which is one-half of a small twin house across from Staples.The building is owned by long-time Chestnut Hillers George and Lou Filippi, whose company has produced, for many years, commercial and decorative iron works in their company on Winston Road, just to the rear of Apothecary Garden. Maia learned about the  spot from a customer who alerted her that the space was available.She tells me enthusiastically, “Lou is a fabulous landlord. He’s really a wonderful person who helps his tenants and truly supports the fabric of Chestnut Hill. He approved our idea of planting an herb garden in a small space in front of the shop, and the Chestnut Hill  Business Association donated a hawthorne tree.” She explained that the hawthorne “regulates the heart.”

In an earlier article, On the Avenue described Apothecary’s offerings: herbal teas and blends; custom-blended botanicals (Webster: “a vegetable medicine prepared from roots, herbs, barks, etc.), tinctures (a diluted solution of medicine and alcohol in water), and essential oils from the world of plants. There are skin-care preparations, and fragrances as well.

In the front room these  products are presented  effectively on shelving and display cases designed and made by Maia and her husband, Andrew Celwyn, who, she mentioned later, also offers his business training  to the financial workings of the venture.

The second room is principally a workroom where herbs are stored, mixed and blended. The rows of large herb-filled jars and bottles are fascinating to look at. This  is where Maia is happiest, and almost squeals with delight when she tells about “an elderly man, a former pharmacist who, when he walked into that room was all smiles, and told me it reminded him of the days when he mixed prescriptions for customers in his own drug store.In times past, that was actually done.”

Last fall, classes in the shop began, each covering a special area of hebalistic knowledge. The names of some of them are: Teas from the Garden; Lip Balms; Herbal Vinegars; Aphrodite’s Elixers. Tho customers who enroll in these classes like making things for themselves and also for family and friends. By actually being taught the practical skills needed to make their own products, they can use the results of their own work and at the same time learn  the foundation of herbal medicine.

A teaching program, under the name of Community Herbalist Training, is now up and running with an impressive handout available listing class dates and times from March 31 to Nov. 10 of this year. The classes include about eight hours a month in three sessions, covering a great deal of information about herbs and their uses. Maia mentioned that nurses  usually sign up for this course.

In another handout, the events of the past year are listed, and very impressive they are!

Some examples: Maia worked with Dr. Linda Baker, head of pediatrics at Chestnut Hill Hospital, to teach Herbal Health Care for Kids. She assisted Dr. Todd Hoover, Narberth holistic doctor and homeopath, to form Philly Wellness Guide for people working in holistic care. Last winter Maia appeared on Sarah Lomax Reese’s radio “Health Quest Show,” WURD 900AM, and can be heard again on April 7.

Also, Maia was a guest lecturer at an alternative medicine class at Penn, and is working with the Wissahickon Environmental Center to develop a medicine trail in the Andorra Natural Area. “I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about the trail,” she says,”because when you’re an urban herbalist, there are very few chances to  see the herbs actually growing in their natural environment.”

As if she hasn’t enough to do, her busy brain is always thinking about new ways to help spread the word about herbs. At present, however, she has almost more customers and private clients than she can handle. “It’s a hive of activity here” she says. “Once when I stopped in on my (much-needed) day off to pick up a tool from the basement, I walked in to find three people here who wanted to see me.”

I asked Maia if there was anything  she especially wanted to talk about. “This has been a bad winter for the flu,” she answers. “Certain flu remedies gained in importance. The virus in people’s lungs can be treated with medications, but sometimes the virus comes back. A company called ‘Herbalists and Alchemists’ offers  five formulas for flu relief, and these exemplify the way  the Chinese treat illness.”

Five little bottles she showed me contain herbs that address varying symptoms of the flu. “One, called ‘Damp,’ is recommended when mucous is loose and coming up. The second, called ‘Dry,” is used for non-moving mucous, the dry cough. ‘Hot’ treats the infection evident with fever, plus green and yellow mucous. ‘Cold’ is for clear mucous, no fever. An anti-spasmodic is used for a constant cough.”

I found it illuminating, to say the least, to learn something absolutely new as an approach to the treatment of illness.

All-in-all, it is clear that Apothecary Garden brings new knowledge to Chestnut Hill as well as hands-on learning about how living things can affect our health, and about the products to try, with one’s new-found enlightenment.

Visit Apothecary Gardens at 7721 Germantown Ave., Monday to Saturday,11 to 5. Phone 215-247-2110. See you on the Avenue.