Medicinal-herbs class looks at plants in different light

Medicinal-herbs class looks at plants in different light

URBANA – Catherine Novak believes in the power of herbs – and not just because they're tasty.

In her herbal medicine chest classes – taught at Novak's store, Beads N Botanicals, in Urbana – the Hoopeston woman teaches students how to look at the plants for healing and health properties as well.

Like peppermint for a stomach ache: "If your stomach ache is from being gassy, a nice cup of peppermint tea may settle your stomach," Novak said. "Take one teaspoon of dried peppermint, pour about eight ounces of boiling water over it and let it steep about 15 minutes. Strain, then drink."

Or basil and garlic for immune support: "Traditional Italian pesto sauce, using lots of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts (or sunflower seeds or pecans) ground together and mixed in with pasta makes a good immune system support, as well as being extremely tasty," she said.

At a Thursday evening class, Minon Smith of Hume talks about finding dandelions and using it in a salad (she mixed 1/2 cup dandelion greens, 2 cups of lettuce or spinach, 1/2 cup alfalfa and 1/4 cup bean sprout and added vinaigrette). She's taking Novak's class because "I don't really like to have chemicals in my body," she said.

Katie Dahlaw of Bloomington came to the class to learn more about herbs before her new baby arrives.

Teaching about herbs, Novak uses at least 25 years of experience, including medicinal herbalist in traditional Chinese medicine, Western herbalism and Cherokee medicine, to talk to the students about herbs' availability, how to use them and how to make sure that use is safe.

One week, she took the students on a walk a couple blocks from her 117 N. Broadway Ave., U, store. "Within two blocks, we found 10 different herbs," she said.

If she's not positive what a plant is or thinks it might have been exposed to chemicals, she won't pluck it. She also warns her students to make sure they don't have allergies to specific herbs.

"You have to be sure you're identifying them properly," she said. "You have to be careful about where you're gathering from." But, she cautions, "I'm not a medical person. I am an herbal educator."

Novak also likes dandelion, found locally, to use in teas and foods. "They're a wonderful source of beta carotene," she said.

She finds ways to use the flower, leaf and root of the plant. With the flower, "You dip it in tempura batter, (cook it) and then serve it over brown rice with maybe a little soy sauce," she said. "It's tasty, it's good, it's nutritious and best of all, it's free."

For Novak, medicine and diet aren't separate.

"Spend a week eating just packaged food and then spend a week eating wild greens as a large portion of your diet. See which is tastier," she said. "Food is medicine. A lot of times having healthier foods is healthy in itself."

More on herbs

Want to learn more about using herbs medicinally and in foods and drinks? Contact Catherine Novak at Beads N Botanicals, 365-9355, or see her blog at

Novak also recommends "Wildman" Steve Brill, who writes about herbs like chickweed – which he calls "a nutritional powerhouse" – and includes uses and recipes for several herbs on his Web site,