Could the Best Medicine Be Growing in Your Backyard?
A local herbalist on plants grown in southeast Michigan and their health benefits
Heather Mourer’s gateway into herbalism was honey. “I had an upper respiratory infection in high school that lasted for months,” she says. “My mom gave me over-the-counter cough medicine — it sent me to the emergency room with a seizure and hallucinations.” Mourer quickly searched for alternative ways to treat her symptoms, and learned honey could alleviate many minor ailments, including coughs.
It snowballed from there. She researched natural solutions for allergies, started taking herbs, and learned about Indian Ayurvedic medicine. She turned her passion into a profession. In 2014, she earned a certificate in holistic nutrition therapy at Portland Community College in Oregon.
Today, clients consult with Mourer for everything from healthy meal planning to alternative health treatments. She combines the natural with the spiritual — hence the name of her practice, Hedgewitch Holistics — and makes all of her own products. At her Etsy apothecary, you can find concoctions like “Sweet Dreams (are made of this),” an elixir to encourage restful sleep and lucid dreaming; “Heads Will Roll,” a tincture to ease headaches; and custom tea blends. She rarely uses herbs that are expensive and inaccessible.
“I recommend herbs we can find in southeast Michigan,” says the Indiana native. “I want to educate so everyone feels empowered to be their own health advocate.”
Mourer teaches workshops in Detroit at Eastern Market Wellness Center and Détroit is the New Black, and in Birmingham at Supernatural Lingerie. She’s also started a discussion series at her home in Highland Park called “Herbs for the End of the World” that’s geared toward people who might have limited access to health care resources.
“There isn’t easy access to public transportation in the Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck areas, and there are many people in those areas who may not have a good doctor close to them,” she says. “But there are plants growing all around us.”
Mourer prices workshops on a sliding scale — $10 to $30, or you can barter. Her motto: If you can’t pay full price, pay what you can. Clients can even help in her backyard medicinal garden in exchange for services. “My dream is to have a home where people can get the products they need, where they can garden with me or make medicine with me and learn how it’s done — or teach me a thing or two, too.”
“Most of the plants I use are free for the taking all around us in southeast Michigan —it's just about knowing how and when to use them,” Mourer says. Here, she shares three she can't live without.
“This is probably my favorite springtime plant to harvest, which you can often find in untreated lawns or vacant lots. (If you volunteer at an organization called Keep Growing Detroit, their Garden Resource Program can test the soil for you, for free.) The leaves and flowers are lymphatic, meaning they help filter out toxins and maintain a healthy immune system. I love making tea with the flowers and squeezing just enough lemon juice [into] it to watch [the tea] change [its] color.”
“This is a weed that grows in the cracks of sidewalks. It’s beneficial for burns, rashes, bug bites — things that are itchy on the skin. Like comfrey, plantain can be used fresh or dried, as a poultice [a medicated ointment], or infused in oil, and made into a soak. It’s great for drawing venom from spider bites. I’ve also used it for deep splinters and it has helped bring them closer to the surface for removal.”
“Most people have this growing in their backyard, which you can use if you don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. If you get a break or a sprain, putting comfrey on it can support bones and connective tissue as they heal. I use it fresh, as a poultice, or infused in oil and make into a salve.”
Consult an herbalist before consuming or applying any herbal substance. For more about Mourer, visit hedgewitchholistics.com.