Syracuse herbalist concocts tonics to prep bodies for winter

Central New York herbalist Deb Thorna makes natural products to lessen the chances of getting sick during cold weather.

Winter will blow in soon, which could mean being surrounded by people coughing, sneezing and sniffling. Although there are prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbal tonics may be an alternative addition or solution to lessen the chances of getting sick. Herbalist Deb Thorna, 59, recently hosted a Winter Health with Herbs event as part of her Herb Academy program.

Thorna, a Petit Branch Library clerk, said she has studied herbalism for more than 15 years.

“Primarily what my programs concentrate on are growing, preserving and cooking with herbs,” she said. She makes herbal products such as hand sanitizer, salves and syrups.

Thorna, who makes her recipes at home, got her start as an apprentice with herbalist Tinna Finneyfrock of Mountain Spring Herbals in Earlville.

Finneyfrock, 59, the founder of Mountain Spring Herbals, a school of herbalism and seasonal living, has run it for about 26 years.

“I’m very much against, ‘What herbs can I take that’ll keep me from getting sick?’ That’s totally unrealistic,” she said. “But what you can do is eat foods and take some herbs to make (preventing sickness) much easier.”

Finneyfrock said Central New York is a good area to find herbs that grow wild, such as cherry bark, mullein, coltsfoot and goldenrod.

Thorna said she refers to books for herbal recipes, but also creates a lot of them. “We haven’t (bought) a bottled salad dressing for almost 12 years because I make them all with fresh and dried herbs, lemon or lime and various vinegars,” Thorna said. She also makes natural cleaning products and skincare products from herbs.

Thorna said she doesn’t give medical consultations because she prefers to teach people by hosting educational programs.

However, there’s controversy as to whether or not taking herbal tonics or alternative medication is safe. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s website, cardiologists warn cardiac patients to not take herbal remedies. There are also certain ingredients in herbal supplements that cardiac patients should ask doctors about before consuming. According to an article on MedPage Today, some supplements that include aloe, ginseng or green tea can react poorly with “conventional cardiovascular drugs.”

In contrast, Thorna said she thinks people are interested in alternative ways of staying healthy. She said “regular” medication wasn’t helping her and sometimes made her worse, which was when she started looking for alternative medication.

Finneyfrock said she felt that herbalists and doctors could work together.  “I am not against medical treatment at all,” she said. “There are some things that herbs and food are superior for and you don’t really need drugs for, and there are some drugs that you absolutely need but work better if someone’s nutrition was better.”

Registered dietitian Laurel Sterling, 46, said she has been providing one-on-one wellness counseling at health food store Natur-Tyme for 13 years. “We have a lot of doctors who refer people to see us here,” she said. 

Sterling said she looks at a person’s health history and the medication they’re currently taking to give advice on any alternative medication they could take.

Thorna said the people who attend her programs want to learn about herbs, although she may have met a few skeptics. She said her main goal is to schedule more programs to let community members discover new or alternative things.

“Last winter was so brutal," she said. “I just want to be able to help people bulk up their winter arsenal.”

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