Undaunted by first-year sales of just $1,200, Ann let patience and care do the rest.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
The Natural Remedies column this month shares information on store owner Ann Marie Wishard and her herbal remedies. (See the herb illustrations in the image gallery.)
Homemade Natural Remedies
Women stand mixing dried roots, barks, berries, and flowers
in washtub-sized crates, their dust masks caked with herb
dust, bags crunching as they pour more ingredients into the
crates and restock. Whatever the season, Sweet Annie's Herb
Store smells of drying plants, reminiscent of fall.
Once a mere hobby, growing, preparing, and storing herbal
medicines has become a booming business for Ann Marie
Wishard. She turned a sizable profit in her second year of
selling herbs, and every year it got better. A two-woman
operation in 1976, the herb store now employs 15. More than
half her business is mail-order, though plenty of curious
people stop by to browse at Sweet Annie's and to see the
A middle-aged, fairly tall woman with dark hair and eyes
and a penchant for black clothing and digging around in the
dirt, Ann Marie Wishard is used to being considered an
"Everyone calls me a witch," she says. "You must have heard
I was a witch from someone. Any time a woman uses her gift
to heal another person, is seen digging in the dirt, or
collecting herbs, people immediately think that she's a
Although she doesn't in fact practice witchcraft, she does
believe that if people take responsibility for the health
of their minds and bodies, there are few things that cannot
be alleviated by herbal medications. "Herbs and modern
medicines can be combined with very few side effects to the
patient when compared to modern medicines alone."
"And preventative medicine is the way of the
future," she adds from her office at Sweet Annie's, where
hanging and potted plants absorb each available ray of
sunlight. Drying flowers swing from the ceiling, and a cup
of herbal tea steams next to the computer on her desk. One
of her well-behaved muts lounges on the hardwood floor next
to the piles of papers and books she referred to while
writing her now completed book, Herb Talk (Sweet
Annie's Herbs, Inc., 1995).
It all began—the book, and the now booming home
business—some time ago when Ann Marie lived in
Tussyville, Pennsylvania. Wild plants surrounded her farm
house and she began reading all she could about
them—from their nutritional value to their vitamin
content and healing properties. She remembers looking out a
window into the meadow and thinking to herself, "We will
never go hungry here." But when the weeds in the pastures
began to appear on the dinner table, company became scarce.
In 1976, Ann realized that her fascination with herbs was
so all-encompassing that making it her business seemed the
logical next step. The world wasn't quite ready for the
herb business, though. With an initial investment of $100
between her and her sister, they opened the garage door to
their new herb store, and posted the name on an old piece
of wood: "Tussyville Trading Post and Herb Farm."
"I was surprised at people's reaction to the store," Ann
says. "They were scared to drink the teas I had made." The
first year their gross income was a very modest $1,200.
Over the next few years, though, word got around and
curiosity brought more and more visitors to the store. By
the third year, they grossed $45,000. The business was fun
for her, but always just an elaborate excuse to go around
"digging in the dirt and running amok."
Business reached a peak in the late 70s and has held fairly
steady. Since then, Ann has moved to Centre Hall,
Pennsylvania, where she kept the simple lifestyle and the
store but changed its name to Sweet Annie's Herbs. "Some
people think that I am calling myself sweet," Ann says,
"but really the name came from an herb that we planted the
first year. It's taking over the town; people just don't
know it yet." And it is. When people mow their lawns, there
is no longer a freshcut-grass smell but something more like
parfume de camphor—the pervasive aroma of Sweet Annie.
It's hard to make a living at this business, but I love it.
Nothing but the love of herbs and people would keep me in
this." The business used to keep track of mail-order
customers on card files, but with a current active
mail-order list of over 14,000 people, they were forced to
use computers. "I hate to change," Ann said. "If it wasn't
for my son, I wouldn't have spent so much on a 1-800 line
and these computers. I wanted to keep my card files and my
little black rotary phone:"
She believes radio shows have given her the edge she needed
to get the business going, particularly the mail-order
business. "It's the best advertising I have ever
experienced," she says. "We used to have one or two a week,
but sometimes now we are doing five or six, and all over
the United States as well as Canada:"
People call up and ask questions, while Ann gives advice.
"When I say that red clover does something, every store in
the range of broadcast sells out of it. I have even had
people tell me that they have pulled their cars to the side
of the road while listening to me on the radio and begin to
write down what I was saying on the show."
Here are a few of Ann's favorite herbs, their uses, and
some methods for storing and preparing them. The uses of
herbs are plentiful and varied. Some plants have many
healing properties and Ann has covered many of them in her
detailed books, including discussions of their recommended
dosages. The following herbs and their uses can also be
found in Herb Talk.
Annie's Herb Storage and Preparation Tips
Drying has the virtue of being not only the most common
method of storing herbs but also the easiest. Once they are
completely dried, you can store them in a container,
preferably an airtight one, for up to one year. Some herbs
store better than others, but most can be safely stored
dry. When drying herbs, you should keep them out of the
sunlight, as this has a tendency to deplete their medicinal
value. Keep them free of dust and dirt as well.
Tinctures and extracts are another way of storing herbs.
They have an almost indefinite shelf life, mostly because
of the alcohol. Start by putting the herb in some brandy
and placing it in a warm place for about three weeks. Once
that is completed you can stop there or give the mixture a
higher medicinal value by removing the original herb from
the brandy and replacing it with fresh. This can be
repeated as many times as you wish, and each time the
medicinal value of the tincture strengthens. You can do
this with witch hazel or vinegar as well, and the herbs can
be dried or fresh, though dried herbs allow you to place a
larger quantity in at one time.
Salves are useful for external applications and you can
make them from lard, glycerin, or just about any oil,
including olive. Simply add the herbs to the base and warm
it for an hour or so, allowing the oils in the plant to be
released into the base. Once the extraction is completed,
just add bee's wax to solidify the mixture and store in a
Summer savory, a common garden herb and
sometimes weed, has many times proven its worth to the tea
cabinet. Ann recommends three to four cups a day to help
decrease the blood cholesterol level.
Red clover is one of Ann's favorite herbs.
Red clover is good for any ailment that would benefit from
purifying the blood, and is one of the main ingredients in
Sweet Annie's Herb Store's Cancer Therapy Tea. Ann says
some of her customers who are cancer patients drink three
cups of red clover tea every day to help purify their
blood, and have discovered that the clover may also be
helpful in counteracting the nausea that usually
accompanies chemotherapy treatment.
Mullein is used for respiratory ailments. Placing an
infusion of mullein leaves in a vaporizer can provide
children and adults temporary relief of their coughing and
wheezing. Coltsfoot tea can also relieve some respiratory
Berry leaves are especially useful herbs.
Blueberry leaves regulate blood sugar and can be beneficial
for those with fluctuating blood sugar. Ann says raspberry
leaves are great for pregnant women in their last
trimester, and are also useful for ailments related to
mucous membranes, including sore throats. Blackberry leaves
are also effective for soothing the intestines during a
bout of diarrhea.
Plantain has been used in poultices
(mashed up) to soothe boils and other skin irritations.
Alfalfa, a common crop to many farmers,
when taken as a tea, is cleansing of the liver and is
beneficial when used for such problems as allergies,
diabetes, and arthritis.
Anise seed and the herb Queen Anne's lace
provide relief from gas and digestive problems.
Burdock root is one of the most annoying
herbs to pet owners. The burs always seem to find a way
onto livestock and pets, but the root of the plant is one
of nature's own most powerful blood purifiers aside from
red clover. It stabilizes normal body functions and aids in
the urinary tract and prostate roles.
Catnip and white willow have similar qualities. They calm
and relax, relieve headaches, and can also relieve fever
and upset stomach. Something to keep in mind when collecting these and other
herbs on your own is that many of them have similar
physical characteristics to other separate and similar
species which may be potentially toxic. Be sure of the
herb you are collecting and never harvest more than
you may need. Also, you may want to leave a few plants
remaining after your harvest to ensure future crops.
A bit of judiciously selected herbs slipped into your
morning's tea may seem like too modest a step toward better
health, but the fact is that many ailments that are
considered unavoidable, such as stomachaches and headaches,
can be effectively treated and/or prevented with herbal
medications. Herbs are best regarded not as magical cures
but rather as natural tools, as old as civilization itself,
which help our systems work more efficiently.
When taking herbs as supplements or medication, be sure to
consult your physician before changing your regular regime.
After that, a trip to the library will yield not only field
guides to help in herb identification but also brochures
from the local agricultural extension service to help in
growing and harvest.
Dr. Dickson's Herbal Foot Care
The pharmacies are littered with 'em. Foot powders and
athlete's foot treatments and ointments and creams and
sprays ... all very attractive but expensive avenues towards
healthier feet. Those readers who have become familiar with
my herbal remedies won't be surprised when I suggest that
there are natural treatments capable of replacing virtually
all of the tubes and canisters lining your medicine
cabinet. Here goes.
Let's start with just plain tired feet. You can start by
placing some cayenne pepper inside your socks prior to
putting them on your feet. Cayenne can be purchased in the
spice department of most grocery stores where it is
sometimes called red or hot pepper. The botanical name for
it is capsicum and it forms the basis of numerous
prescription ointments. In pharmaceutical terms, cayenne
acts as a rubefacient (stimulates blood circulation) and
draws blood toward the surface of the skin. This results in
your feet simply feeling much less tired. Be careful,
however, when using it so you do not get it near your mouth
Once you get home, you can make a terrific foot bath by
pouring one quart of boiling water over 5 handfuls of
silver birch bark and steeping for 20 minutes. Strain off
the bark and pour into a container large enough to
accommodate both feet. You should begin to experience
immediate relief. An optional bath remedy can be made by
placing a cup each of mint, lavender, and calendula leaves
in a pan of boiling water. As soon as it has cooled down
sufficiently you are ready to soak your feet. The lavender
not only helps to make for an effective remedy but also
adds a very soothing fragrance in the bargain.
Victims of foot odor are usually the brunt of jokes, unless
you happen to live with a few. Proximity tends to make foot
odor measurably less funny, and there's something you can
do about it without spending $10 on charcoal shoe inserts.
Just soak your feet in a hot pan of water to which has been
added some baking soda and vinegar. Of course, you will
want to put on some socks and shoes once you have dried
your feet so no one will accuse you of smelling like
granny's kitchen during pickle season. This remedy is
effective because foot odors are the result of simple
bacteria accumulating on the surface of the skin. These
bacteria are put out of their misery in short order by the
baking soda-vinegar combination.
Finally, for those miserable little corns that can quickly
take the dance out of your step, don't forget our old
friend the onion. While a large slice of fresh onion can do
wonders to enhance the taste of a hamburger, it also has
numerous medicinal qualities, one of which is in the
treatment of corns. Place a slice of raw onion over the
corn each night, bandage, and tape. In about two weeks it
should be gone. — Dr. Charles Dickson, Ph.D.