BY LADAWN SMITH
Trilby Sedlacek of Green Angels Herbs in Cedar Rapids believes in the power of herbs to heal.
You wouldn’t expect to find Iowa’s foremost expert on the medicinal properties of plants running her business in a strip mall in southeast Cedar Rapids. But right there, next to True Value Hardware and up a flight of concrete steps from a hair salon, you find Trilby Sedlacek, Registered Herbalist, AHG, and her fascinating shop, Green Angels Herbs & Healing Arts.
At the jingling of the door she hollers a welcoming, “I’ll be out in a minute. Just look around,” which gives you time to examine the shelves full of mismatched jars that hold her herbs, roots, and powders, wondering which of them might help with the chronic health problem that’s brought you to her door.
Before you’ve formulated your first question, the tie-dyed curtain gets flung aside and Trilby appears—petite, plump, and pretty powerful. If you’re searching for a product, like unheated honey or Real Salt, the transaction is simple. But if you arrive with larger questions, like “Why do I feel tired all the time?” or “How can I get through menopause without relying on artificial hormones?” she will schedule a private consultation. And that generally begins a long-term relationship of health education and support.
“I encourage everyone to take responsibility for their health,” Trilby explains. But this California-raised, Colorado-educated wife and mother of two keeps her expectations realistic. “Not all aspects of natural health are for everyone, but you have to take care of your body. Where else are you going to live?”
Twenty years ago, as an adaptive physical education dance student in Boulder, Colorado, Trilby faced down her own lifestyle dilemma when she realized she wanted a baby: “That means I’m going to have to grow him in my body,” she thought. In that hippie college town she easily found herbalists and nutritional counselors. They successfully reversed the damage she’d done with food and her dance-’til-dawn approach to fun.
After son Zach was born, she followed husband Tom back to Iowa and worked as a mental health counselor, continuing to read herb books and use that knowledge to improve her family’s health. (Now 20, Zack has only been to a medical doctor once.) But when she decided to have another baby, she couldn’t find that herbal assistance in Cedar Rapids. In fact, when she called a local hospital to inquire about complementary herbal treatments, the volunteer who answered the phone replied, “Honey, I think what you’re looking for is illegal.” As it turned out, that was technically correct.
A few months later, Trilby was making some herbal suggestions for a coworker’s cold and suggested “it would be nice if you had somebody to teach you about herbs.” Her coworker replied, “You know more about herbs than anybody around here. Why don’t you do it?” which sparked the idea to become the herbalist for her community.
As a teenage gymnast and dancer, Trilby had acquired a foundation of nutrition knowledge. She added in her counseling skills to 12 years of herbal studies and applied this rule to seeing clients: “It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know.’ But I found that there was always something I could offer,” she said. Even if she didn’t need to prepare a specific herbal tincture for them, she could offer a book, suggest a change in diet or tonic teas. When Trilby’s clients got better, they enthusiastically told their friends about the lady who heals with herbs.
She sees herself as a guide to expanding other people’s relationships with herbs. Trilby refers to the healing powers of the plants as “green angels.” Sometimes advising a client to take a cup of herbal tea before bed is effective not just because of the herbal benefits but because it allows for a moment of peace and quiet as well.
While her daughter Tori was a baby, Trilby found traveling to herbal conferences unrealistic, but she would buy the lecture tapes to continue her education on the healing powers of plants. In 1996 she began her five-year quest to join the American Herbalists Guild. This group has less than 200 professional members who have performed the necessary internships, completed case studies, and demonstrated a mastery of specific areas of herbal healing. Trilby is the only registered herbalist in Iowa, with one colleague practicing in Nebraska and two in Missouri.
Trilby prefers the peer-review procedure of her guild to the government licensure that now affects both chiropractors and massage therapists. “We believe licensing is unnecessary because there is so little risk for harm. However, Iowa’s medical practice acts legislation is written so narrowly that even recommending a cup of chamomile tea is breaking them. So Peter Rabbit’s mother would go to jail,” she commented with a sardonic grin.
Herbalists “were afraid to say ‘herbal medicine’ back then.” So she consulted with clients in her basement office, didn’t advertise, and believed that as long as she did not harm a patient, nobody would bother her. “But I found the implied illegality to be very repressive,” Trilby said, which finally drove her into the limelight—onto the board of Iowa Health Freedom Coalition and testifying at the State Capitol on the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines and healing arts.
Every year this group of herbalists, Ayur-Vedic vaijas, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, and Reiki masters attempts to persuade Iowa legislators that alternative medicine should not be illegal. And every year the response is “There hasn’t been a problem and nobody’s been arrested, so don’t rock the boat.” Despite the hearings, glowing letters from satisfied clients, and repeated petitions from happy customers, alternative healers remain in the shadows—tolerated, but not completely legitimate.
“There are certainly occasions when you need to see a doctor for broken bones or other traumas,” Trilby said. “But unfortunately, modern medicine has put blinders on people. That paradigm treats their bodies like machines—fueled with any food and abused by chemical environments and lack of rest. When the body breaks down, they expect that a doctor will give them a pill to fix it. People should know that they may have have other options that are less expensive and without harmful side effects. Holistic medicine is all about strengthening the body so it has the building blocks to heal itself.” Most Americans have handed all responsibility for their health over to the doctors and hospitals. Trilby explains that an herbal treatment may take longer, but building a stronger immune system always pays off long term.
This is a major reason why she has begun teaching—not just basic herbalism classes and speaking at grade schools, but courses at the health sciences department of Kirkwood Community College—to help nursing students understand the interaction of herbs and prescription drugs. You might say she’s creating ambassadors to spread the word about herbs from hamlet to hospital.
LaDawn Edwards is an English instructor at Kirkwood Community College. She is currently researching a book of morel mushrooms recipes and lore for Quixote Press in Ft. Madison. Contact her at email@example.com if you have a morel story to share.