There are things about living in a small French town that I occasionally take for granted.
One of these is our town herbalist. I know. It is crazy to take such a treasure for granted, because Julie Raod, our herbalist, and her store, La Maison des Simples, are the beating heart of our region, where herbs, tinctures, oils, and advice flow in a continual stream. We are very lucky to have them, because they are few and far between.
The Only Law That Remains from the Vichy Government
There used to be many herbalists in France. The metier was first recognized in the 14th century, though it wasn’t until 1778 that the first school of herbalism was created, at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. Herbalists always practiced in the shadow of the stronger collective of pharmacists which lobbied for its demise, and in 1941 they succeeded. Then, the Vichy government abolished the profession of herbalist.
It was reestablished in 1945, sort of. Then, anyone who had obtained an herbalist degree before 1941 could practice legally. The last person who fit that criteria is gone, but not the French herbalist. And, as befits a certain Gallic contrariness, it is legal to own an herboristerie like Julie’s, but not really legal to practice herbalism. Again, as befits a country where the art of the sous-entendu, or innuendo, is paramount, what happens within the walls of an herboristerie, as long as no one suffers irreparable damage, is tolerated. The pharmaceutical lobby still works to hoard plant supplies, but thus far, herbalists like Julie get most of what they need.
When you open the door to La Maison des Simples you enter a calm, quiet, church-like atmosphere that smells like herbal heaven. Julie receives a stream of visitors all day long.
When they need an herbal tea cure, she grabs handfuls of herbs from the bank of drawers along one wall of her shop, blends them in a large, shallow wooden bowl, weighs them on an old fashioned brass herbalist’s scale, then pours the mixture into a plain brown bag to weigh, writes down the name and the dosage, and hands it over.
Julie might also suggest an essential oil or two, a tincture of berries, or one of tree bark. Whatever she suggests, clients listen, for her combination of training, instinct and experience has made her an effective expert. She also has a selection of organic produce, honeys and jams, flours, grains, and dairy products.
She works within a tolerant environment, for many of the French have an innate knowledge of how to use herbs and tinctures. They grew up drinking thyme tea after dinner as an aid to digestion, watching their mothers’ burn papier d’armenie, a funny paper incense, to clear the air, and rubbing sore joints with gaultherie or (wintergreen) oil. When they have a problem, it seems normal to go to a store like Julie’s to ask for advice, or a treatment. As my children grew I did the same and learned to use a clay paste for bug bites and acne, rub essential oils into wrists and feet for efficacy, put lavender on temples for a headache, or administer a few drops of mint oil to cure laryngitis. I have a drawer in my home filled with essential oils and tinctures that are indispensable remedies, and one where herbal teas with Julie’s instructions on them have pride of place.
So, I say I take Julie and La Maison des Simples for granted, but it isn’t true. They’re just such a part of the fabric of life that I forget to remember how special they are!
La Maison des Simples, 14 Place de la Republique, 27400 Louviers. +33 (0)2 32 40 12 56