Barbara and The Women Who Inspire Her

Our founder, Barbara Close, reflects on the women who first introduced her to the transformative benefits of holistic healing.

I am often asked how I became interested in holistic health and natural skin care. I don’t think I realized it until after she was gone, but my great Aunt Eleanor, an ex-pat who lived outside of Paris, offered me my first vision of the benefits of natural health. People thought she was a bit of an eccentric because she eschewed prescription drugs, preferring to visit the herboristerie, where they would prepare a Verveine tea to assist with sleep or recommend a Chamomile and Yarrow salve to help with dry skin.

Europe has a strong ancestral knowledge of herbal medicine which, sadly, we have lost in America with the rise of the pharmaceutical industry. My aunt loved to visit mineral spas regularly to “take the waters,” and I enjoyed accompanying her to some of the legendary thermal spa towns to experience the mineral pools and mud baths. Above all, Aunt Eleanor thought that food was the best medicine and primarily ate fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market, along with protein like chicken or fish from the local butcher or poissonnier. She steadfastly avoided all processed foods.

A passion for natural health has always been in my family. My mother was the youngest twin of six children and was raised on a farm below Mount Hood in Oregon. My Grandfather used to ride his horse into town once a week to get the only foods he could not hunt or raise on his farm—staples like coffee or flour. My grandmother was a staunch advocate of healthy living and another eccentric who believed in the healing power of whole grains, fiber-rich foods, exercise and fresh air. She insisted that the kids spend time outside on the porch in the dead of winter even though it was well below freezing, for the benefits of the “restorative air.” (On a side note, eccentricities were the fodder of much laughter for the whole family. A practical woman, granny wore curlers in her hair and chose to secure them with a pair of underwear on her head as she felt the elastic was just the right fit. Sadly, for the girls of the family, it made quite an impression when their dates arrived at the door).

Both Granny and my mother were avid gardeners and great lovers of the outdoors. I spent my formative years on 500 acres of rolling farmland in Virginia where my mother grew all kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs, and raised livestock long before the Slow Food movement became popular. She taught me how empowering natural health is, how creating a simple recipe for a fortifying herbal tea brings the pleasure, warmth and simplicity of caring for ourselves back into our lives.

Years later, after graduating from massage school and apprenticing with herbalists in Santa Fe, New Mexico, my formative years with my grandmother, mother and aunt were put to intensive use when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I witnessed firsthand the inability of Western medicine to offer anything in the way of comfort to help her cope with her illness. I was awakened to the healing potential of Lemon Balm tea to ease her anxiety, homemade Calendula salve to help with radiation burns and dry skin, Peppermint inhalations to quell nausea, and weekly aromatherapy massages to soothe her muscle pains and stave off headaches.

As I witnessed the effectiveness of these traditional healing arts, I became determined to create a place where other people could learn about self-care rituals to improve and empower their own well-being, which is why I founded the first Naturopathica Healing Arts Center & Spa over 20 years ago.

I often reflect on how life comes to us in chapters. I am grateful for these strong, eccentric women, my elders, with a penchant for pragmatism and armed with a sense of humor. They were women who defied the conventions of their day—processed foods and prescription drugs—and chose instead to trust their instincts that nature could provide for them. They laid the groundwork for me.