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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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Jack Green and Helen Dentice at The Natural Food Shop.
Jack Green and Helen Dentice at The Natural Food Shop.
The Natural Food Shop, 3048 S. 13th St.
The Natural Food Shop, 3048 S. 13th St.

Herbal medicine on Milwaukee's South Side

I have a health infatuation - herbal remedies. Utilizing herbs as a natural means to treat health issues and ailments is something I’ve been interested in since my first allergic reaction to Western medication in my teens. As someone highly sensitive to both over-the-counter and prescription meds, I find herbs to be less irritating and often more effective than their laboratory-manufactured counterparts that are often inspired by or even derived from plants that are readily available in nature.

Combined with energetic medicine like traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic care and Reiki, I personally choose herbal remedies as my first line of defense/offense to treat a host of both chronic and acute maladies, especially when used under the guidance of an experienced herbalist.

I recently explored herbal shopping options in Milwaukee and was thrilled to discover The Natural Food Shop. Situated on a block of South 13th Street near Oklahoma Avenue that is littered with retail cultural treasures like Indian, Middle Eastern and Latin grocery stores as reported in detail by Molly Snyder in 2011, The Natural Food Shop is a healthy treasure trove in a neighborhood full of unique local commerce. I made a special trek just to explore this hidden gem geared for wellness nuts like me.

The store is small yet inviting with shelves stocked full of teas, foods, supplements, tinctures, salves, oils, balms and flower essences at fair prices. I was especially impressed with their beauty and personal care section that introduced me to an organic, Bulgarian rose-based skin care line called Alteya Organics. I was also made aware of Green Hope Farms Flower Essences, compounds used in vibrational and energetic healing with none of the drawbacks of chemical medicine.

The shop was busy with the bustle of an array of patrons who stop in for specialty items and personalized service. During my visit, I observed a woman picking up a gigantic order of loose, bulk herbs, a father and son shopping for natural toothpaste and deodorant, a young lady picking up raw coconut oil and a young man grabbing an organic, raw food bar for a quick snack. I purchased some gifts for friends, including hibiscus tea, Alteya Organics Baby Massage Oil and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.

During the hour I browsed, chatted and was educated, I kept marveling at how I never knew about this store that has existed in Milwaukee for 53 years! (North Side girl ignorant of South Side world I guess!) Jack Green and Judy Weiss purchased The Natural Food Shop in 2011 and take great pride in maintaining the store as an integral part of the neighborhood.

"We are all about serving the community," says Green "That’s what we are here for."

Now, I’ve already stated my love and respect for herbalists. But, I’m especially enthralled with the ones who realize their craft from being raised in a natural, herbal tradition like Helen Dentice, an indispensably valuable member of the The Natural Food Shop team.

Raised by Sicilian and Ojibwe grandmothers, traditional remedies were a way of life for her family that has translated into a 30-year career helping people find better health through natural, herbal remedies. Helen is overwhelmingly modest and loves to tout the skills of her co-workers who include a physical therapist, a yoga teacher, a hypnotherapist and a massage therapist.

Raised in Milwaukee, Helen says, "I learned at the knees of my grandmothers. My Sicilian grandmother was the ‘Healer of the neighborhood.’" Helen would watch her and absorb the knowledge that she now so generously conveys to her guests at The Natural Food Shop.

A veritable encyclopedia of herbal information, Helen gave me a tour of the over 99 percent organic and wild crafted stock of loose, dried herbs available for purchase at The Natural Food Shop. She kindly and enthusiastically suggested a combination of herbs for me to prepare a homemade salve with, since I disclosed I had just taken a class on this craft. She indulged me in educated conversation about the products and services offered at The Natural Food Shop, which include workshops, yoga classes and mail order.

Gazing at the glass jars in the stock room, I was reminded that there is such beauty in the way herbs look, smell and feel and a simplicity and earthiness in the fact that they naturally grow all around us. Helen revels in this miracle too, remarking that many herbal remedies can even be found growing up from the sidewalk cracks in the alleys surrounding The Natural Food Shop’s neighborhood.

"I would never recommend using those, because they are ‘dirty’ from exhaust and such, but it is a fact that many remedies grow in your backyard!"

Piggybacking on this idea, Helen will be teaching a workshop on July 27 at The Natural Food Shop called "Learn about Herbs Growing in your Neighborhood."

The cost of the class is $10. Sign up by calling (414) 383-4330 and visit The Natural Food Shop website for a complete listing of classes, products and services.

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