Walking Her Talk, Growing Her Medicine: Professor Jenn Dazey’s Home Clinic

Thursday, October 2, 2014

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Students train together across programs at the garden and clinic of Jenn Dazey.
Dazey in front of shed

It’s a short path from the clinic to the garden at the home of Jenn Dazey, ND (‘08), BS (’02). That’s important, because it’s a well-traveled path.

Herbal medicine students from Bastyr University tread that path, harvesting plants to make teas, tinctures and salves. Naturopathic medicine students from Bastyr tread the path, studying the plants they will use as medicine. Patients tread the path, perhaps collecting a lemon balm or motherwort starter plant to grow at home.

Most of all, Dr. Dazey treads the path, treating her patients, teaching her students and tending her garden, uniting those three roles in her work as a community-minded naturopathic doctor (ND).

That work comes together at her home in Monroe, Washington, a rural community where the Skykomish River tumbles out of the mountains east of Seattle. Truth be told, there are many pathways, beginning at the steps of her purple 1889 farmhouse, winding past her chickens and turkeys, and branching out toward hundreds of medicinal and edible plants. Her garden and clinic provide a powerful example to her students from Bastyr, some of whom train with her.

“She knows so much about each of these patients, it’s phenomenal,” says Dana Mockenhaupt, a 2014 graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Herbal Sciences program who completed her practicum at Dr. Dazey’s clinic, Green Bean Natural Health.

“She’s very much a community doctor. She’s known some of her patients since she was a child. A lot of them watched her grow up.”

Life-Giving Power of Plants

Dazey in kitchenAs a core faculty member at Bastyr, Dr. Dazey teaches in three programs – the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, Bachelor of Science in Herbal Sciences and Certificate in Holistic Landscape Design. In all of them, she helps students discover the life-giving power of plants. She helps students understand plants as medicine, food and creatures that shape the world around us. It’s something she learned growing up on a subsistence farm with cows, pigs, ducks, horses and her mother’s herb garden. It’s something she continued learning as a Bastyr student, first as an undergraduate studying herbal sciences, then as an ND student.

She demonstrates her expertise at her clinic, inviting students to observe and help out. On Saturday mornings, her patients arrive, signing in at the clinic on the first floor of an 1889 farmhouse. The clinic is donation-based. Some patients offer cash; others trade alpaca meat or other farm-raised goods. Some patients are lifelong neighbors. Others are migrants from Latin America, giving Dr. Dazey a chance to maintain her Spanish-speaking skills.

Dr. Dazey performs an assessment while her students observe. She may ask their opinion or give them a chance to suggest a remedy. In the afternoons, students work with her in the garden, planting, harvesting, or processing plants into medicine.

For Dr. Dazey, treating patients is a response to the confidence she gained growing up with handy parents – her father is a bow-crafter and her mother has a lifelong interest in medicinal plants.

“I want people to feel like they have everything they need in their immediate surroundings,” she says. “Food, shelter, medicine. It’s all there.”

As the Kentucky farmer and writer Wendell Berry puts it, “What we need is here.”

“It’s very empowering to get off a prescription drug you thought you’d be on for the rest of your life, like a treatment for type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Dazey says. “Or to be in control of whether or not you develop a chronic illness that you watched your parents die from.”

Garden as Body

Pear trees in sunlightDr. Dazey planned on conventional medical school before discovering Bastyr’s programs. Based on her home gardening experience, she taught the University’s Organic Gardening elective as a student, presenting the health of the human body as an extended metaphor for plants: Low soil nitrogen is like a protein deficiency. Managing garden pests is like strengthening the immune system. Worm composting functions like the digestive system. She turned her class lectures into a book, Naturopathic Gardening.

At her home, where she moved in 2000, plants rise and tangle in all directions, garden pathways giving way to chicken and turkey coops, a gray-water bog and a half-covered reflexology path. There are towering cedars, fruit trees, vegetable beds and an ever-growing collection of medicinal plants.

The past year’s project has been building a soaring, light-filled solarium that houses Dr. Dazey’s kitchen. Around large glass tables — former light-boxes from a photo studio — she teaches farm-to-table classes open to the public. One recent class learned to use wild medicinal greens. They made nettle pesto and nipplewort fritters.

Dedication to place is important to Dr. Dazey, who runs her home clinic one Saturday each month. New patients must live within 15 miles, must get a referral from another patient and must be willing to take herbs.

“I don’t need new patients,” says Dr. Dazey. “I need fewer patients. I like to help them get better and no longer need appointments. So it’s kind of reverse marketing.”

Doctor, Gardener, Teacher

Dazey in gardenFor her students, working at the clinic is a way to learn from someone immersed in botanical medicine. Natasha Badois, a naturopathic medicine student, began working as a preceptee this fall. She watched Dr. Dazey prepare a respiratory tincture for a woman with chronic bronchitis.

Classroom learning is important, says Badois, but “when you see a doctor make a custom preparation for an actual person who’s sick, you really start to understand.”

Mockenhaupt, who began the naturopathic medicine program this fall, said Dr. Dazey’s method teaching patients inspired her.

“One of my favorite things that Jenn did was the way she broke things down for patients,” Mockenhaupt says. “She would draw the simplest picture of cell membranes and explain cholesterol to them in clear terms and help them understand the therapeutic goal. It was really helpful for me to understand how important it is to teach patients, rather than just knowing something myself and saying, ‘Take this plant.’”

For her part, Dr. Dazey enjoys bringing together students from different programs. Naturopathic medicine students can teach undergraduates about relating to patients and how to ask the right questions. Herbal sciences students can share their expertise in identifying plants and their properties.

“It’s really satisfying seeing them learn from each other and coming to rely on each other,” she says.

While NDs develop a range of specialties, Badois knew she wanted to strengthen her knowledge of botanical medicine. And she knew where she wanted to train.

“I just felt like I needed to learn a lot more about herbs,” she says. “They’re such a big part of naturopathic medicine. There’s no better way to learn about herbs than from someone who’s so knowledgeable and passionate about them.”