Don't Apothecary Yourself

Some things should not be tried at home without a pre-funk with an expert.

Over its three decades of existence, Tenzing Momo, in the Pike Place Market, has become a one-stop shop for the alterna-minded, with tarot cards, incense, magical oils, all-natural remedies, and bath products. But it can function as more than just a pit-stop for vacationing hippies or angst-ridden teen witches if you let it—the store's staff are herbal sommeliers. Normally the sight of prayer flags and the smell of incense repel me, but the store's herbs and other products, along with the knowledgeable service, have made Tenzing Momo part of my regular routine. I first frequented Tenzing Momo for custom herbal tea—which the staff gladly helps customers devise—and I became hooked on the store once I began to rely on it for all the awesomely named supplies I need for my homemade bitters. The shop has herbs that very few spice markets carry, like horehound and orris root, and comes off as far less intimidating than an apothecary who specializes in Chinese herbs, if only for the fact that you can pronounce all the words on the jars. In the do-it-yourself world in which we live, a little bit of knowledge can be revolutionary—or dangerous. Some things should not be tried at home without a pre-funk with an expert. No matter what I've consulted the staff about, the helpful, serene counter people have never balked at even my most bizarre request, and have been far more reliable than any of the conflicting information sources on the Internet. For example, I brew my own bitters all the time, for use in cocktails and as an aid for tummy-aches. For a particularly esoteric batch I was recently concocting, I went to Tenzing Momo to pick out some of the bitter herbs, which, I'm not embarrassed to say, I chose based on their names. Good thing I checked myself before I wrecked myself. Just because herbs are natural doesn't mean they can't mess up your innards. Concentrating those herbs into a homemade bitters increases the chance of discovering their side effects. Turns out that the ladies' mantle I wanted to use, already an ingredient in my root beer, aids in conception (cripes!), and also isn't recommended for people taking iron supplements because it interferes with absorption (double cripes!). Scullcap, reputedly a tranquilizing herb, apparently can cause liver toxicity and shouldn't be used as casually or as regularly as I use bitters. Though the staff are advocates of herbs for medicinal use, they're not naturopaths, and no one will presume to diagnose or prescribe. And because they have no vested interest in any one herb or supplement, they'll frankly tell you that no particular herb works all the time for all people. Chamomile, the primary ingredient in Celestial Seasonings' Sleepytime Tea, doesn't do a thing for me, so Tenzing Momo helped me narrow down the blend of herbs I use for my very own version. On the advice of employee Erik, I now steep together lime flowers, bergamot, hibiscus, and licorice root. With a few drops of a valerian-root tincture as a chaser, I am gone-zo. Just as a great wine shop will help you more and more as they get to know your tastes, so will Tenzing Momo with what ails or occupies you. All you have to do is brave the market horde to their quiet corner and shed all preconceived notions. I hear sweet-orange incense is great for that. mdutton@seattleweekly.com Tenzing Momo, 93 Pike Street (inside the Economy Market building), 623-9837, www.tenzingmomo.com.

 
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