When Natalie Hajdu's mother, Laila Breitler, was 16 years old and living in Switzerland, she was diagnosed with leukemia and given six months to live.
Breitler's grandmother promptly removed her from the hospital and took the girl to a herbal doctor.
Not only was she cured within 12 months, she gained a whole new direction for her life.
Today, 36 years later, Breitler is the founder of Herb Stop, a botanical-medicines franchise she launched in the Valley in 1992. And her daughter is the owner of the mini-chain's fourth storefront which opened for Payson's business early this month at the south end of the Beeline Highway.
"I learned this business from my Mom," Hajdu said. "Herbs have been her way of life, and that's how she raised my brother and I. And because my father happens to be a doctor, we got to see both sides of the story."
Taking herbs, she pointed out, is one of the oldest and most enduring ways of treating human maladies learned by ancient folks who watched what animals ate when they got sick. By one World Health Organization estimate, nearly 80 percent of the world's population, or about 4 billion people, now use herbal medicine for some aspect of their primary health care often at the urging of their conventional medicine physicians. Some Ayurvedic herbs, for example, have been found to be very useful for reducing cholesterol and easing the symptoms of diabetes. Similarly, the popularity of Ginseng and Ginkgo biloba is rising due to their ability to enhance mental acuity.
"Herbs are medicine, and they've been used as medicine since the beginning of time," Hajdu said. "It's just a botanical form of medicine."
The pharmaceutical companies agree. U.S. drug manufacturers produce 119 plant-derived medicines about 74 percent of which are used in modern medicine in ways that correlate directly with their centuries-old traditional uses by native cultures.
Still, those who operate stores like Herb Stop must exercise caution when promoting the medicinal value of products which do not bear the Food and Drug Administration's official seal of approval.
"We can't say, for example, 'Goldenseal is an antibiotic and it will get rid of your cold,'" Hajdu said. "But we can say, 'This is goldenseal; I've used it before when I had a cold and it got rid of it. I hope it works the same for you.'"
Although Herb Stop is housed in a log cabin and is loaded with country-store atmosphere, everything on the shelves is as up-to-the-minute as herbal products can get.
"We carry about 400 different bulk herbs, which are all organic or wildcrafted, which means they were picked in the wild and obviously aren't pesticided," Hajdu said. "We also have natural henna dyes, different clays for facials, natural and bulk incense, homemade soap and soap-making products, Chinese medicine, essential oils, bulk and custom-made capsules ..."
The list goes on but products are not all Herb Stop has to offer. It is also, Hajdu said, a center of education and healing resources that provides an opportunity for visitors to acquaint themselves with the rich variety of botanical medicines and their many facets. Hajdu, a trained herbalist and experienced instructor, is planning to initiate herb-education classes right in the store.
In the meantime, Hajdu is more than happy to share her knowledge and the knowledge contained in a number of reference books she always keeps on hand with anybody who makes a Herb Stop visit.
"This is my way of life, just like it is my mother's way of life," she said. "And sharing it is a big part of that life."
The Herb Stop is located at 1103 S. Beeline Highway, just north of Macky's Grill. Hours of operation are "9-ish to 5-ish, Mondays through Saturdays, and 11-ish to 4-ish Sundays."
For more information, call 468-0900.