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Herbal solutions

New nonprofit in La Plata Canyon promotes skills for alternative living, naturopathic health care

While the rain beat on the canvas of the teepee nestled in La Plata Canyon Saturday, Leah Linder explored some of the many forgotten qualities of herbs.

Herbal solutions to common problems are now much forgotten in western medicine.

It is one of the many alternative-living skill sets that Jesse Hernreich and Melissa DeNardo plan to promote through Oakhaven Permaculture, a recently relaunched nonprofit.

The nonprofit and educational center is a 35-acre-farm where DeNardo, Hernreich and Hernreich’s boyfriend Kevin Joyce maintain a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse, a 1-acre garden and 16 Navajo churro sheep. It’s a challenging climate to garden at about 8,000 feet, but the group produces a bounty of produce despite the hot sun and short season.

With a background in environmental studies and ecological design, Hernreich’s dream was to set up her own permaculture institute near Durango when she bought Oakhaven.

“It was one of those things where magic takes over, the power of manifestation, and it all fell perfectly in line,” she said.

This is the first summer of classes, and the group started with an introduction to permaculture and a medical herbalism class.

“Permaculture is basically a set of principles that get you to a more ecological design – be that on the land, in your home, business models, economic models,” she said.

Linder, a naturopathic medical student at Bastyr University in Seattle, hosted the first two of her workshops on Saturday and Sunday. Naturopathic doctors are certified to provide primary care but naturopathic care lends itself to managing chronic conditions rather than urgent health needs, she said.

“Naturopathic medicine is a lot about enhancing lifestyles, what you do on a daily basis to have really optimal care, really optimal health,” Linder said.

In the kitchen set up inside the teepee Linder energetically explained how to take advantage of the natural qualities in herbs, while she passed around samples to smell and taste.

For example, peppermint candy follows a meal well and aids digestion, while the aromatic lemon balm soothes anxiety and acts as antidepressant, among many other qualities. Each explanation mixed the science of the herbs’ effects and its applications. She also explained how to find the herbs in the wild and treat illness in the field.

Next weekend, the group plans to do hands-on classes in herbalism. Saturday will be focused on making herbal salves, tinctures, lip balm and other applications. On Sunday, the class will focus on companion planting for herb gardens. Classes are held at 4179 La Plata County Road 125 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donations are suggested.

Next summer, the center plans to offer permaculture design certificate classes and medical herbalism, yoga and meditation workshops. They are also open as a facility for those who have ideas for classes that fit into the theme of permaculture.