By Zuri Sabir
Walking into Apothekara, our new local place of herbal healing and education located on South Cayuga Street, you are greeted with a warmth that invites you to stay and ask as many questions as you want. It has a familiarity to it, evoking a memory of old-time healing not shared by many in these modern times, but truly felt and valued. Apothekara is minimally and purposefully furnished: beautiful wooden floors guide you in toward a long and sturdy hand-tiled counter flanked by stools on your left. Behind it is a wall patterned with tinctures and to your right is an impressive collection of dried herbs that unfailingly beckons your interest. And then there is Kara, with her wealth of knowledge, who patiently awaits your statement of need.
Adjacent to the main room of the apothecary is a simple lounge. We sit there now as Kara Timmons, Medical Herbalist and owner of Apothekara, tells me her journey. Kara has been learning and educating about herb-based medicine for over 15 years. She was originally introduced to the idea of wild foods and foods for health in the mountains of New Mexico, living in Carson National Forest. There, Kara and a group of friends camped for two months foraging and gathering plants to eat and use for their medicinal properties alongside a larger community of like-minded people.
With her interest piqued, she pursued internships and worked on farms. Kara apprenticed for a year with Tina Finnyfrock, a master herbalist and midwife. From there she travelled to Maine and southern Virginia and apprenticed in the woods of Ohio with the National Center for the Preservation of Native Medicinal Herbs, which was supported by Frontier Herbals. With them she grew native herbs that had become endangered. Her next step was through British herbalist Chanchal Cabrera who guided her toward Dominion Herbal College in Canada. During a four-year program, she completed 500 hours of clinical herbal therapy, seeing patients and helping to heal them through herbal education, recommendations and assessments. "There were two types of clients who came to an herbalist while I was in Canada," say Kara. "There were those that never went to a doctor and those who had been to every doctor, had been on medications, had had procedures done and still could not gain control of their health. I felt that I wouldn't do them justice if I didn't understand more about conventional Western medicines. And that's when I decided to become a Physician's Assistant." Since receiving her master's degree as a Physician's Assistant (PA), Kara has worked in surgery. In addition, she has partnered with a psychiatrist doing integrative psychology.
"While working in Syracuse as a PA, I wanted to be in a community of many herbalists, which is what brought me to Ithaca," says Kara. "I'm a part of the Finger Lakes Herbal Network, which works to help local people become acclimated to plant medicines. To be in an area that is forward-thinking is great. Ithaca has done well in terms of preserving local foods and promoting natural health. I look forward to learning from this community."
The shop found its home in the former Petrune location because Kara recognized the manifestation of her healing shop immediately. When asked about the process, she mentions working hard to bring Apothekara into being, but also that there were no obstacles, "which is pretty remarkable," says Kara. "There was a lot of 'elbow equity' involved, as well. Since September, family members and some good friends have helped in different avenues to get the space ready."
Kara has many plans for Apothekara's future, with intentions to expand people's knowledge about and comfort with herbal medicines. She is interested in Apothekara becoming a part of the Ithaca Freeskool, a local learning collective, and is also teaming up with Heartstone Herbal School to offer an advanced herbal therapeutics series for people who have done previous training in another arena. Kara does counter consultations on site with considerations for people's medical history, prescribed medications and allergies — the client fills out a form on-site and they discuss the issues at the counter. For more complex health concerns, clients can do a complete interview with education and recommendations. Follow-ups are available as well. Kara's aim is to keep herbal knowledge affordable for anyone who uses herbs to maintain health. When it comes to herbal philosophy, Kara is not an extremist. "My training as both Physician's Assistant and Herbalist provides a balanced view of people's healing options. While herbal medicines are effective as something our bodies recognize as food, pharmaceuticals are effective as well. They can work well together in a synergy that avoids side effects and enables medications to work more effectively," says Kara.
So, with the intention of expanding our community's herbal understanding, head down to Apothekara, try some tea, and stay for a while. The folks there can't wait to see you.
Amanda David of Rootwork Herbals is a collaborator with Apothekara and is often behind the counter. She provides numerous tinctures and care products for the apothecary. Her website is www.rootworkherbals.com. For more information on the advanced herbal therapeutics course, visit www.heart-stone.com. Keep an eye out for Apothekara's tea preparation lounge. Look for Apothekara's campaign at www.kickstarter.com this month to donate toward this unique addition to Ithaca's lounge scene.