Incense, cookery, medicine, bug chasing, caffein-free tea – whatever your use for herbs, you can find what you need in San Diego. In a society where knowledge of herbs now hibernates on the far side of nostalgia, San Diego is myrrhvelously herbous both in human and vegetable resources. You have probably already noticed the cilantro sold at supermarkets, the ginseng available at health food stores, and the oil of clove bottled by the ounce at apothecaries. This guide will point out more specialized sources, people and places, of local herbal culture.
In England, nowadays, those who can, do pronounce the “h" of “herb." Our dictionaries, however, list the aspirate as second choice, with a definition much narrower than that in practice, “... any seed plant whose stern withers away to the ground after each season's growth, as distinguished from a tree or shrub whose woody stem lives from year to year. "Garlic, for instance. Local herbologists, though, who do not pronounce the “h", define herb as “any plant." Slippery elm bark, too.
“Any plant” you might itch for (try grindelia for poison ivy, etc.) is probably in stock at The Herb Store, 1876 Bacon, near Newport, in Ocean Beach, 224-6929. If it isn't, Rita, the proprietress, will note it on her “want list” eventually to add to her inventory of nearly 500 herbs. The Herb Store, opened in 1971, is the oldest and simplest (a simple is a medicinal herb) store in town — and even out of town, for some distance. It is the only store that sells herbs only. “Smelling is free", say the signs. Biblical quotations spell out Rita's fundamental support of herbs as original medicines, godgiven. Unlike manufactured miracle drugs, herbs “work directly on the organ, not masking the symptom”. Rita attributes the general loss of herbal knowledge in the U.S. to the incompatibility of herbs and big business. Herbs, after all, grow free for the finding.
Shopping is semi-self-service. Look alphabetically for the herb you want. The price per ounce is marked on each glass container. Bring the jar to Rita for weighing and bagging and any special instructions about the use of your herb. Her own reference books are shelved above her seat: others are for sale to the rear of the store. Although not allowed to diagnose ailments or prescribe simples, Rita shares her personal experiences with the healing power of herbs. She told me of golden seal, the native herb named not for its price, though it is one the costliest herbs, but for the way it grows. The top of the plant breaks off leaving a yellow' mark on the stem. Rita has used it externally as an instant coagulant for severe bleeding and internally to clear infection. Pregnant women drink golden seal tea for morning sickness. She told me of pennyroyal. Her construction worker customers carry pennyroyal tea in their thermoses — a potable insect repellant. Pennyroyal oil can be applied to the skin for the same purpose.
Witches shop at The Herb Store, too, but Rita is strict about not supplying poisonous plants.
Herbs are easy to grow indoors and out, if you can find the seeds. Since none of Rita's herbs is treated, those in seed form (cardamom, for example) can be expected to sprout. I am experimenting with caraway.
Like the oldest herb store, the youngest also carries herbs primarily for medicinal use. At The House of Herbs & Nostalgia, 4035 University, near Central, 284-7636, however, the musky aroma of herbs is touched with the musty odour of antiques. The objets d'art for sale blend in as background for the herby part of the shop. Behind the counter are the dried herbs, ordered one pound at a thyme, for freshness, and sold by the ounce. On the counter are curiosities: tomatoes from the sea, a stoney looking pair of herbs. In water, the male sinks: the female floats. Soak overnight and drink the liquid for varicose veins. And neither herbaceous nor nostalgic, but definitely worth sampling are the sea shells that produce lemon skin cream forever. Just add lemon juice.
Have you heard of St. John’s Wort? “It has a reputation, that's the way I have to put it, of stopping coughs and bedwetting. If it doesn't stop the cough, at least you don't wet the bed.” Jane had herbal affinities before opening the shop. Her partner, Loretta, who lives in the back, their books, and their customers have made Jane an archive of anecdotes after only five months of business. Ask her to tell the one about the aphrodisiac, damiana, and the Mike Douglas Show. It's too spicy to print.
Can you judge a store by its name? The House of Herbs & Nostalgia indeed sells herbs and “antiques”. A few blocks east, at 4573 University, 280-1919, Coffees of the World, is plainly not an herb shop. But as an accompaniment to their program of coffees and gifts, Maurice and Helen Mizrahi have selected 60-70 variations on herbal teas, for pleasure and health, including unforgettable sarsaparilla. Herbs are sold prepackaged or by the ounce. But save your nose for the sarsaparilla. If you sample the coffee beans on the way to the herb teas, you won't be able to tell comfrey from lotus root.
How about a blend of roasted almond, sesame, sumac, and thyme? Maurice calls it zaatar and will give you enthusiastic eating instructions. A small assortment of herb books is also available here.
Continuing our herbography east of Middle Eastern Maurice, we arrive at Far Eastern 4461 University, 283-7448. The Prophet Vegetarian Restaurant and Book Store. About twenty-five jars of herbal teas, one of them their own delicious blend, are on display at the cashier. Several herb books loiter in the waiting area, for browsing or buying. Or, you may order cabbage soup to go, wait for it to evaporate, and sample the herbs therein. I count two dozen, at least.
West to the Middle East again takes us to The Middle East Gourmet, 1901 El Cajon Blvd., 295-1466. In this combination gourmet grocery, deli, and restaurant, you can buy about 50 varieties of cookery and tea herbs, by the ounce.
In La Jolla, the Pannikin at 1296 Prospect, 459-7956 carries a small selection of the usual cookery herbs, sold by the ounce.
Remember that fresh and dried herbs are sold at supermarkets, drug stores, plant shops, health food stores, food coops. The small specialty stores listed in this guide, however, are particularly handy for special ordering of an unusual herb and for buying exactly the amount you need.
Another source of herbs are those in the wild — in your yard or somebody else’s. The Medicine Wheel, 224-4422, a circle of herbologists, will help you identify local herbs. They organize herb walks and talks, publish a newsletter, and plant the seeds of medicinal herbal knowledge in the community.
Rita of The Herb Store spoke of certain San Diego doctors who send their patients to her with herbal prescriptions. One doctor who has his own sources of herbs is Dr. Hee of The Eastern Herb Company, 1053 Tenth Avenue, 234-4555. Dr. Hee advertises free consultation for his services as Chinese herbalist.
For further spicy tips, consult neighbors and relatives. Everyone seems to contain a pinch of the herbalist. It's only natural. If, after you have made your herbaceous purchase, you do not know whether to eat it. drink it. or wash your hair with it, this brief herbliography, compiled from recommendations from local herbalists, may be your guide:
Back to Eden, Jethro Kloss My Water-cure, Sebastian Kneipp The Healing Power of Herbs, Mary Bethel.
Indian Herbology of North America, Alma R. Hutchens The Herbalist, Joseph E. Meyer Herbs & Things, Jeanne Roe Nature's Healing Agents, R. Swinburne Clymer, M.D.
How to Grow Herbs for Gourmet Cooking, Frederick O. Anderson Potter’s New Encyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, R.C. Wren, F.L.S.