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Falls City's 'Herb Lady'

Polk County resident has used herbal remedies for more than 40 years.

Susan Behling pours Calendula flowers into a jar to start infusing oil for a salve. The Falls City resident has been studying and using herbal formulas for their medicinal properties for more than 40 years.

Photo by Pete Strong

Susan Behling pours Calendula flowers into a jar to start infusing oil for a salve. The Falls City resident has been studying and using herbal formulas for their medicinal properties for more than 40 years.

April 10, 2013

FALLS CITY -- Have dandelions in your yard? Before you treat them as unsightly weeds, talk to Susan Behling.

A Falls City resident, Behling, 67, has been studying and using herbs for their medicinal properties for more than 40 years.

Her repertoire includes the lowly dandelion, which she said every part of can be used in salads or vinegars.

"It has lots of vitamins in it," Behling said. "You can use the leaves, the flowers, the stems and roots ... and most people want them out of their yard."

Behling, who has lived in Falls City for more than 30 years, said her exploration of herbs began by reading a single book: "Back to Eden," by Jethro Kloss.

"It opened up a whole world of herbs to me," she said.

Not just for simply adding flavor to food, she was astonished to find common herbs have little-known properties and healthful benefits.

Behling never turned back. She continued to read books and take from them recipes for teas, salves, oils and vinegars to alleviate symptoms and illness for her family to use. She has formulas for headaches, stomach aches, pain, minor illnesses, cuts and scrapes, insect bites and likely much more.

"So far, we've done OK," she said with a laugh. "All of my family is still upright."

Forty years ago, the study of herbal treatments was less common, but that never deterred Behling. She read more books, took classes, attended conferences, and more recently has turned to the Web for additional research and classes.

"It pays to have a lot of different teachers because they each have their own perspective," she said. "You always learn something. You are never too old to learn. I'm 67 and I'm still going."

Now, after decades in the practice, Behling has turned from student to teacher as more and more people seek her advice.

She has been asked to speak to the Falls City Garden Club three times and has taken questions from people in the community.

She is delighted in the trend.

"It's become more accepted," she said. "We are not those crazy old ladies in the woods. The more people find out about them (herbs), they really aren't mysterious. They are just plants, but they are edible, more than people realize."

And they are all around us.

Herb plant starters

Photo by Pete Strong

Herb plant starters

On Behling's property in Falls City, she has plantain, stinging nettles, rosemary, chickweed, horsetail grass, red clover, several varieties of mint, slippery elm, black walnut, ginkgo, sage and much more growing -- some she has planted, others grow wild. What she can't find in her backyard she orders in bulk from companies within the state.

"You don't have to send to the other side of the world for an herb," she said. "There is usually something in your area that will do the same thing."

Behling doesn't sell her formulas -- only making them for family and close friends -- but she is more than generous with information.

"I like to talk to people -- encourage people to grow their own," she said. "It's easy to do. I can give them the information and let them go from there."

Behling believes possessing the knowledge of how to grow and use herbs is empowering and practical.

"If you learn to incorporate them into your cooking, you enhance the flavor and you are getting the vitamins and minerals that you need," she said. "All in all, it can be very cost effective. You are healthy and you are getting them in the right proportions."

Behling acknowledges the rift between those who use natural remedies and traditional medicine, but is hopeful that it will subside in favor of a system in which people will use both where they are best suited.

Herb-infused honey

Photo by Pete Strong

Herb-infused honey

She cautions that people need to not rely solely on herbs and to research to clearly understand when to seek medical attention.

"I'm not against doctors at all," she said. "I think they do a great job, but I am for people helping themselves as best they can. ... We are not out to take over. We just want to see people healthy."

Learn More

For a true beginner, herbalist Susan Behling suggests starting with and then move on to books and other classes, including her original inspiration, "Back to Eden," and the writings of John R. Christopher, or "Dr. Christopher" as Behling refers to him.

Advice from herbalist Susan Behling:

* Start with making herbal teas. They are the easiest to use for a beginner.

* Try, try again. Behling said she's had many successes and mishaps and failures along the way. That shouldn't stop anyone with an interest in herbs.

* Don't expect immediate results. Herbs are meant to be used in the long term. That is, in fact, one of Behling's favorite attributes of herbs. Whether you are growing them, mixing them into formulas or taking them for their medicinal properties, they make you slow down.

* Find local herbs. Most of the time you can find something growing locally that has the same properties of an exotic -- and most likely expensive -- herb.

* Know your herbs' limitations. Behling said, "Know when you need to go to the doctor and when you can take care of it yourself."

* Keep searching for new information. "There is always something to learn," Behling said.

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