Geo Derick’s Herbal Apothecary

By JiJi Russell

Visiting herbalist Geo Derick at her rural Clarke County apothecary transports me to the fascination of my childhood, when I spent many open-ended afternoons walking the deep woods discovering tiny flowers, plants, and stones that I suspected had special powers. Derick, a clinical herbalist and organic gardener, believes in that specialness, and brings it right down to earth. She combines a vast knowledge of clinical science with a seemingly keen intuition to do what she does best: “cultivating life.”

Trained to work with the medical community to serve clients’ health goals, Derick has worked with everyone from cancer patients to toddlers with allergies, using a wide variety of customized herb-based therapies. She trained at Tai Sophia Institute, which recently achieved University status, and is now known as Maryland University of Integrative Health. Indeed, the goal of “integration” pervades Derick’s work.

“A basic premise in integrative health is that the symptoms we experience are important signals telling us that something is out of balance or under siege. Paying attention to the symptoms and learning from them—rather than suppressing them—are key points of holistic healing,” Derick said.

She believes that herbal medicines, the core of her practice, help our bodies find a natural balance. One key difference between herbal medicine and pharmaceutical drugs, according to Derick, is that the former is comprised of a whole plant with dozens to hundreds of active, synergistic ingredients, while the latter are comprised of a single constituent or synthetic molecule.

Said Derick: “Herbal medicines will attach to the same receptor sites as a pharmaceutical drug, but will ‘let go’ after a few hours and engage in hundreds of biological reactions before our bodies are done with them. Their side effects are basically nourishing, as they support structural components and functions, as well.”

What is it that renders one little plant so potent? According to Derick, the plant’s own biological need to survive. “The plants have been protecting themselves from predators, bacteria, viruses, and fungi for billions of years. The chemicals that they produce for self-preservation also serve to protect the animals and humans who ingest them,” she said.

Derick does have several favorite go-to herbs, but she cautions that one herb does not fit all. She recommends custom formulas for people with health situations that are chronic or not responding to a particular herbal product that generally is found over the counter.

“People often ask me which herbs they should use for a particular issue, such as chronic migraines or high blood pressure. Have you ever met a migraine or blood pressure reading that does not have a person attached? I find that the most effective strategy for achieving lasting results is to treat each person individually, rather than as a symptom or disease state,” Derick said. “Custom tailored formulas are much more effective. Of the 20 or so clients that I’ve seen for migraines, none have had the same protocol, and only one has gotten ‘the migraine herb’ feverfew included in their formula. Yet, all have enjoyed success in being nearly or completely, migraine-free.”

But most of the time, she said, “A custom formula is not always required for success.”

Derick’s picks for “seven safe medicinal herbs” that people can easily incorporate in their daily lives include the culinary forms cinnamon, ginger, garlic, rosemary, turmeric, thyme, and cacao (chocolate). These kitchen herbs and spices contain nourishing and immune-enhancing anti-oxidants. Many are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory as well. Additionally, all have been shown to interfere with various types of cancer proliferation in many research studies and clinical trials, according to Derick.

Attention gardeners: Of the millions of plants on the planet that are both nourishing and medicinal, here are some valuable local plants that grow wild here, according to Derick. Those she uses clinically include dandelion, chickweed, yarrow, stinging nettles, American ginseng (over harvested), poke (poisonous; must be used in small, controlled doses), and all the clovers. Knowing which parts to use, when to pick them for medicinal value, and how to prepare them are critical to their effectiveness. As a rule of thumb, Derick says the leafy parts are best harvested before flowering; flowers are picked when freshly opened and after the dew has dried in the late morning. The roots are most potent in the late fall as the plant top dies back and their chemical compounds settle downward. She cautions: Always identify your plants positively, prior to harvesting.

When herbs don’t work: If you have tried herbs for your condition and have had no success, (eg., Echinacea for colds), there are generally four reasons for failure, Derick says.

Number one: The product was made using the non-medicinal parts of the plant.

Number two: The product or herb was no longer fresh, and/or out of date.

Number three: Your dose was insufficient. Or,

Number four: It was the wrong herb for you.

If you have a ragweed allergy, for example, you may have a reaction to echinacea and chamomile, along with other plants of the Compositae family. So not only will it not work, but it can make your symptoms worse.

Most retail brands under dose their product on the directions for use, according to Derick. Many herbs need to be dosed more heavily and more frequently than people realize for a therapeutic effect. Echinacea is most effective at preventing colds and flu if taken in doses of 2,000 mg every two hours, up to seven times a day. However, Derick cautions, it is important to know the safe limits before assuming more is better.

Safety Concerns: As a clinician in a rural area, Geo believes it is critical that her work is both safe and effective—if she hopes to continue a successful career. Occasionally someone has an unfavorable reaction to a plant, or just can’t manage their protocol. This happens when using pharmaceutical drugs, as well. But the non-poisonous herbs rarely present a life-threatening danger, she said.

As far as safety is concerned, herbal medicine has a pretty good record. According to Dr. James Duke of the USDA, statistics on the likelihood of death from various sources places herbs and supplements as the safest (1 in 1,000,000).

As for drug-herb interactions, “We are in a continual learning state on this subject,” Derick said. “Most often, the herbs enhance the drugs, as they nourish the cells and support intercellular communication. However, people on blood thinners must be most careful. Since certain herbs are also blood thinners, bleeding episodes can occur when combined. Herbs like St. John’s wort activate the excretion of toxins and medications, so they are rarely compatible with pharmaceutical drugs. Certain foods are actually more of a concern than herbs, as they are taken in much higher doses and share many of the same actions,” Derick said.

“The plants have been on the planet for billions of years. We humans have been here for a few million years,” Derick said. “We rely on plants for life itself: oxygen, water, soil, food, energy, shelter, medicine. As for medicine, they are all we ever had until we began using heavy metals, single constituents (since 1802) and synthetic pharmaceuticals (since 1945). I call herbal medicine, original medicine. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be here as a species!”

Geo Derick offers office consultations, phone and Skype consultations, and has a booth at the Clarke County Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings from 8am till noon, May through October. Visit or contact her at or 540-955-4769.


JiJi Russell, a writer, yoga instructor, and Integrative Nutrition practitioner, serves as the wellness coordinator for American Public University in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at

Geo’s Triumverate

Schisandra: low thyroid, weight loss, energy and liver/gallbladder support that strengthens four body systems: immune, nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular.

Usnea: a broad spectrum anti-biotic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic that does not kill friendly gut flora. Geo uses it in cold and flu formulas for children and adults, and has found it effective on strep, staph, mono, MRSA, even herpes. And there are no reported drug-herb interactions with it.

Turmeric: her favorite herb for the cardiovascular system, as it “goes to the source of cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol to reduce vascular inflammation.” She believes it is a wonderful analgesic for arthritis, joint and tooth pain, a natural Cox-2 inhibitor, and a powerful anti-cancer herb.

Experiencing a Health Set-Back?

Experiencing a Health Set-Back?

Experts Say Remain Practical, Yet Open

By JiJi Russell

Most of us have experienced a health setback at some point in our lives. Maybe a recurring back injury limited your activity level more and for longer than you had hoped; or perhaps one of those recent tenacious flu strains snagged you and subsided only to give way to a sinus infection. Or maybe you’ve experienced a more grave situation, like a cancer diagnosis that required aggressive therapy. Whatever the details, a setback in health can prove challenging on many levels, and can put you through your paces both physically and emotionally.

I thought I’d put the question of health setbacks to four area health and wellness practitioners to see what insights they can to offer on how to move through those times when your health falls below par.

A common theme that emerged was the importance of self-education, which is to say learning as much as you can about your condition so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed. Another theme relates to exploring your options. There are many therapies and modalities available in our times. One person’s path to wellness might look very different from the person next to him, even if they share a similar condition.

Let’s see what the experts have to say.

Madhur D. Solanki, DO; Family Physician, Valley Hospitalists, PC (Winchester, Va.).

“Knowledge is an indispensable tool in dealing with a setback in health. Taking the extra step from having access to information to actually educating oneself about a particular condition is key. This education process can have the effect of reducing anxiety, creating realistic expectations, and allowing planning for the near or distant future. A commonly rushed 10–15 minute office interaction with a physician will likely be inadequate, but at least can be the start of the process of obtaining resources in the pursuit of gaining knowledge.”

Geo Derick, M.S.; Registered Herbalist, Nutrition and Health Coach,, (Berryville, Va.).

“Take simple steps forward. Choose ones that you can manage in your particular situation that will allow your body to heal, such as nourishing and hydrating yourself. Allow yourself time to rest. Ask for and accept support from others around you. It often takes focus and intention to heal, which can require great patience. Healing takes time. We often discover habits or behavioral traits that led us to a health crisis. This discovery can prove an essential part of healing our mind-body-spirit. It can be transformational.”

Kathy Stewart, M.D. Oncologist with Shenandoah Oncology Associates (Winchester, Va.).

“Compromised health, major or minor, can be among the most stressful challenges we face. After many years in medical practice, and witnessing thousands of patients and their families travel through health crises, I am convinced that the most healthy approach is the pragmatic one, especially in the initial stages. You must first clearly define the health issue that faces you and understand it as much as you can by speaking with your healthcare professionals and reading reputable sources of information.

Once you have a handle on the diagnosis and accept it, the next question is, What can I do about it? You need to determine a plan of action, put one foot in front of the other, and start walking. As human beings, most of us who face these kinds of situations simply do what we have to do to get through them. The last piece of advice is to treat yourself with the same empathy that you would someone else in your shoes. Don’t be afraid of asking for and accepting help from family and friends. In the end, it really does take a village.”

Celeste Krawchuck, D.C. D.I.C.C.P. Doctor of chiropractic with Berryville Family Chiropractic,

“Learn what all of your options are so that you can determine what is best for you. Keep a positive attitude, as your state of mind ultimately will affect your outcome. Chiropractic adjustments help not only with your physical level of comfort, but with your overall health and emotional state as well.”

My own personal recommendation is to try to incorporate deep breathing and meditation into your day, even if only for five minutes. Both practices can help provide a calming effect to your nervous system and can help you gain clarity when you most need it. “

Stay tuned for an upcoming overview of healing arts modalities and practitioners available in and around Clarke County. 

Before things start getting crazy around here

By JiJi Russell

As the holiday season picks up momentum, I have been pondering many topics of health and wellness to find a nugget of advice that might help people find balance and ease during the “season of joy.” When I consider the landscape of copious social interactions, abundant food, busy shopping—and keeping pace with an unusually packed calendar—one idea rises to the top: over- stimulation.

If your tendency during the last push of the year is to over obligate yourself, this one’s for you. I suggest you figure out ways to select and filter the stimuli you take in, rather than simply diving in, then cleaning up the mess (you!) afterwards. The more-of-everything norm that often characterizes this time of year (social engagements; packed schedules; shopping, etc.) can cause a hyper-stimulated state, amounting to an affront to your nervous system.

If you continuously tell yourself that you need to go faster, do better, and accomplish more, you might be setting yourself up for elevated stress. When our bodies perceive stress, our nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. This “signals a cascade of events to help us survive a life-threatening situation,” says Geo Derick, MSc, a registered herbalist, who teaches workshops on dealing with stress naturally. So, what happens when the “fun” we think we’re trying to have overwhelms us and our nervous system? “Our heart rate and blood pressure rise; our vessels constrict; we become hyper alert,” Derick says.

Ok, so maybe we’re a little amped up. Any harm in that? According to Derick, yes, because in this state, “Our adrenal glands produce adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol & aldosterone, all of which allow us to respond to emergencies swiftly, to maintain homeostasis of our critical body functions, and to perform in a crisis, Derick says. “In small doses it is good and necessary as a survival tool and learning mechanism. In continual excess, it can be damaging, causing chronic and acute health issues ranging from heart disease to cancer.”

The decibel level of parties, musical events, and kid-related activities; the visual stimuli that we take in when we shop or attend social events; the pressure to entertain; socialize; or eat—it can quickly add up.

If you’re tired just from reading this, take heart. There is good news: You still have time to take a step back and create the season you want. Here are some ideas to consider before saying “yes to everything.”

Parties: Give yourself permission to say no. I pick no more than one large social event a week during this season. Ask yourself if the proposed party will provide both strength (cohesion with your colleagues, for example) and levity. Ideally, it should be both fun and meaningful.

Shopping: Limit the to and fro. Choose to shop locally, in your own town or nearby, where you can walk outdoors from store to store. Fill in the gaps with online purchases. Forget the shopping malls. They can be highly overstimulating for the eyes, ears, nose (that perfume lady will get you!),  all the while challenging you to be meek and mild as someone steals your parking space.

Cooking: Ask for collaboration. If everyone brings a dish, no one person gets stuck in the kitchen.

Apart from limiting stimuli, Derick suggests, “Maintaining good blood sugar regulation by eating a good breakfast with protein, good fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables goes a long way to stabilizing our stress response.” She suggests centering practices like meditation, yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi to keep calm.

Derick also says using adaptogenic herbs like ginsengs, rehmannia, holy basil, schisandra, ashwaganda and licorice root help modulate our internal stress response and strengthen our adrenal glands.”

Awareness is a good first step. Become aware of your schedule and to-do list, and the demands each could place on your senses and your energy level. If you know, for example, that you will be in a louder-than-usual environment—think musical events, restaurants, parades, or exercise classes at a gym—consider wearing earplugs. Take the standard foam ones from a drug store, and break one in half. The half-plug will barely be visible, and will muffle sound rather than block it out. The noise at such places is typically loud enough to hear through the “muffs,” so you won’t be cut you off from the fun.

The main idea is to think of ways to limit the stimuli in your surroundings. There is so much extra “stuff” out there demanding your attention this time of year. You don’t have to let it saturate you.

This holiday season, choose your interactions consciously and judiciously. You can have the energy and attentiveness to enjoy the people and events that make for joyful moments.

In The Saddle

by JiJi Russell

Once Christy Dunkle sets her sights on a priority, chances are she will move it forward. Berryville’s town planner, who believes strongly in community involvement on issues of health and wellbeing, has lately focused considerable attention on several efforts that could positively alter the landscape and fitness culture of Berryville. The efforts center around infrastructure changes designed to encourage more pedestrian and cycling activity in town and around the county.

“Berryville is a great town to walk and ride,” Dunkle said. Indeed, many townsfolk have probably spotted Dunkle power walking through Rose Hill Park during a lunch break, or saddled up on the Bike Share Bicycle that the Town and County received last June through a grant from Bike Virgina.

Dunkle, who serves on the board of Bike Virginia, believes it will take a village of cyclists to effect real change in our driving-dominated culture. “In order for safety issues to become more highlighted, we need to have more people out there on bicycles,” Dunkle said. She believes, however, that “we are definitely on the way” to a more viable cycling and pedestrian community.

According to Dunkle, the Virginia Department of Transportation and their consultant coordinated a pilot program to develop a concept design along Route 340, which would enhance cycling and bicycle facilities along the corridor from Berryville to Luray. Dunkle’s office worked on a number of items, primarily safety and aesthetics, along the corridor, she said.

Also on the horizon, and perhaps even more meaningful to local families, a federally funded revenue-sharing project with VDOT could produce better sidewalks and other infrastructure elements in key pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares as part of the “Safe Routes to School” program (SRTS). According to the VDOT web site, the SRTS “assists interested localities and schools in the development of plans, activities, and infrastructure improvements to make bicycling and walking to school a safe and appealing transportation option for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.”

Berryville’s SRTS team is hoping to secure a grant to fix one stretch of sidewalk on Swan Avenue next to Johnson-Williams Middle School. According to Dunkle, a public meeting will take place November 26 with the middle school’s Health Advisory Committee in an attempt to gain public input on the proposed project. The meeting will be held in the AB Meeting Room of the Government Center at 2 p.m.

One motivating force behind Dunkle’s personal commitment to health and fitness lies in her love of travel. She stays fit so that she can enjoy yearly international adventures, which have included much hiking, walking, and cycling in Europe over the years.

The small-town planner loves the energy of urban environments. “Outdoor public spaces in these cities are so vibrant and fun,” she said. “My current favorite city is Glasgow, Scotland, and Buchanan Street is one of the best public spaces I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. [There is] so much going on: music varying from a grandmother playing the accordion, to big hairy shirtless guys playing the bagpipes, to one guy playing acoustic White Stripes,” she said.

Dunkle, who holds a Master’s degree in landscape architecture, appreciates the “amazing architecture and history in those [urban] walls,” she said. “It’s a little edgy, a little grungy, but you can feel the creativity there.”

Her passion for travel, coupled with the early death of her parents at age 56 (both died of cancer), keeps Dunkle honest about staying well. “Wellness to me definitely encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual . . . including diet, exercise, and lifestyle,” she said.

If, or perhaps better stated, when Dunkle’s civic priorities for Berryville come to fruition, perhaps the town’s landscape will more closely resemble those of the European towns and cities, where citizens would rather walk and ride than drive.