Dr. Jamie Weary’s office in Penn West California is a quiet place, with the scent of lemongrass wafting from a diffuser, plants and succulents lined along a windowsill, and essential oils on display .
Aloe plants and essential oils are not only decorative, however.
Weary, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Science, a licensed physical therapist with a doctorate in physical therapy, and an athletic trainer, uses plants, herbs, and common natural elements in the holistic and alternative medicine course she teaches at the university.
Weary’s class explores alternative methods for the treatment and prevention of ailments, injuries and illnesses – how plants like aloe, comfrey, burdock, jewelry weed and plantain leaves can be used to heal conditions such as minor burns, insect bites, poison ivy, blisters, sores, and headaches.
Weary, who trained in traditional Western medicine, learned about the “backyard pharmacy” from the Amish of Mercer County, where she grew up.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Weary has provided medical care to Amish families, many of whom distrust traditional medicine and technology, and whose trust she has earned over the years.
“When COVID hit they couldn’t get into a doctor’s office and they didn’t have a phone so they couldn’t do telemedicine. They don’t do vaccines or boosters, so they couldn’t go anywhere, so I was taking care of the Amish in their home,” Weary said. “Normally they wouldn’t ask the ‘English’ to come into their home to look after their children or family, but they knew me as ‘just Jamie’ growing up, so they invited me in.”
For the past few years, Weary was “on call” for Amish families, who contacted her to check for broken wrists and legs, burns, injuries and other ailments.
Weary accommodates the beliefs of Amish patients, viewing them as the ultimate decision maker, while offering his best medical advice.
“I can give them as much information as possible and it’s up to them to make the decision. I talk to them, and I explain to them if I saw any signs of infection or signs that it was getting worse, and I will do my best to educate them on what I was seeing, and what I would think is best thing, and they have to make that call,” Weary said.
In one case, a man who fell 20 feet from a hunting stand contacted Weary and said he believed he had dislocated his shoulder. Weary believed it was broken, so the man went to hospital for x-rays to confirm the break. But, he refused any further treatment, “so we had to come up with a plan for him to heal and then work, get as much range of motion as possible,” Weary said.
In turn, the Amish educated her.
“There’s so much they taught me. They’re very holistic, they have a completely different perspective. They don’t go to the pharmacy and get medicine off the shelf. It’s all natural remedies herbal.
Its “go-tos” include helichrysum, hyssop, and frankincense for wounds and wound care.
On a recent trip to New York with an Amish family, a little boy stepped on a piece of glass. Weary cleaned the puncture wound, used a few drops of helichrysum, a vasoconstrictor, to stop the bleeding, then applied tea tree and lavender as an antibacterial.
She also discovered comfrey, whose large hairy leaves contain an oil used as an anti-inflammatory to help heal open wounds, sprains and other injuries.
In Weary’s classroom, students are introduced to other holistic wellness pathways such as reflexology, traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic Indian medicine.
They make essential oils, soaps, balms and tinctures. A Weary favorite is a combination of rogues, crows and peppermint which is used for bruises and other soft tissue injuries.
Weary has been teaching the class for four years, and its popularity continues to grow — especially among psychology students, she said — doubling from 14 students to 30 each semester.
Weary’s exploration into holistic medicine began about four years ago, after she suffered from kinesigenic dyskinesia (a movement disorder) while on medication. She was forced to take a half-year sick leave and could not serve as an athletic trainer for the football team. Currently, she is a patient at the Cleveland Clinic for the treatment of Chronic Migraine, Chronic Pain, and Fibromyalgia.
There is little published research on herbs, essential oils, and other natural remedies, and they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Weary encourages more research into alternative medicine to prove its benefits.
“From what I’ve seen firsthand, I can’t argue that this drug has any benefits. I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen it work,” Weary said. “A big problem with insurance companies is that they don’t want to reimburse unless there is research. Because there’s no research, insurance doesn’t pay for it, so people are paying out of pocket, and they’re willing to do that because they’re so tired of options with just drugs .
She advocates a “balanced” approach to medicine that incorporates conventional and alternative medicine, and said it is valuable for people to know about complementary and alternative medicine in addition to conventional medicine.
“I see the relevance and purpose of traditional western medicine, and I believe there are times when you need a little more intervention than throwing oils on (a health condition). There are times when you have to go to the doctor, you have to go to the emergency room. If things aren’t right, you have to deal with them. But is this the role of everything?
“There’s a holistic side to it,” Weary said. “It’s good to know as much as possible about as many options as possible. If you’re open to lots of new ideas and perspectives, there’s so much you can learn. Whether it’s holistic, alternative, traditional, western, there’s a balance between it all.
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