As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Alexis Chapman combined berries, leaves and twigs with water in a plastic toy pot and imagined she was brewing potions.

Today, the 26-year-old Mount Holyoke College grad cooks up real medicinal elixirs in her East End home in Portland. Chapman is the owner of Worts & Cunning Apothecary, which sells herbal teas and herbal powders online.

“The plant world has always been very alive and wild to me,” Chapman said. “But it wasn’t until after college that I realized I could be a herbalist.”

Her interest in the ancient field of herbalism was stirred when a college friend invited her home to Maine and introduced her to renowned herbalist Deb Soule, who runs Avena Botanicals in Rockport.

“I met her and helped paint the floor of her house bright yellow,” Chapman recalled. Her socks, which ended up with traces of that vibrant paint, became a treasured keepsake.

More recently, Chapman apprenticed with a number of herbalists in L.A.

When she moved to Portland a little more than a year ago, Chapman decided to launch her business using an online Etsy storefront, and occasionally sets up a table at the Wednesday farmers market in Monument Square.

“This is such a vibrant community for herbalism,” Chapman said. “It’s definitely a place where if someone is making a good product, people want to support it.”

Like many college-educated 20-somethings, Chapman lacks health insurance, and said using herbs as preventive medicine is one of the ways she copes with the high price of health care.

Eventually, Chapman hopes to join with friends to open a holistic health collaborative that would offer midwife services, acupuncture, massage therapy and herbal medicine on a sliding scale depending on the patient’s income. She envisions that the business would include a small cafe as well.

“You can’t separate food and medicine,” she said.

A case in point is nettles, one of Chapman’s favorite herbs. Nettles encompass a whole genus of plants, with stinging nettles being the common variety found growing wild in Maine.

The plant can be prepared in food just as you would any leafy green, and makes a flavorful addition to stir fries and soups.

Medicinally, nettles have been used to treat everything from arthritis to congestive heart failure. Chapman particularly values nettles for their general health-boosting qualities and their power to improve the growth of hair, skin and nails.

“They’re a gentle but powerful medicine,” Chapman said.

You’ll find nettles paired with chamomile and oats in her General Sense of Wellbeing tea blend and with raspberry leaf, oats and sacred basil in her Moon River tea blend, used to relieve menstrual cramps, headaches and mood swings.

The herb also shows up in the Super! Rainbows! Love! Go! herbal powder, along with spirulina, kelp, he shou wu, eleuthero, astragalus, gotu kola and sacred basil.

The Worts & Cunning line includes a trio of teas specifically blended for the three trimesters of pregnancy and a mixture called Witch’s Delight, which is composed of herbs historically associated with witchcraft.

The Witch’s Delight tea is an excellent choice for cold and flu season because it contains elderberry, an herb Chapman cherishes because it “protects you against up to 10 strains of the flu virus.”

“It actually strengthens cell membranes and it prevents the virus from entering your cells,” she said.

Chapman is encouraged by the renewed interest in herbs as medicine. She enjoys learning about particular plants’ historical uses and sharing this lore with her customers.

“Herbalism is all about telling the stories of these plants and how they can make you whole again,” she said. “What herbalism is about is finding what the community needs and not just forcing your ideas on someone.”

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]