Health and Well Being in Paris


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Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2007

Apart from La Boheme, there is nothing romantic about ill health. That being said, if you’re going to be sick, Paris is a better place than many cities to get back on the road to recovery.

A good place to begin your quest for well-being might include a visit to your local Herboriste. The ‘herboriste’ is where you’ll find freshly prepared herbal infusions. Keep in mind that herbal remedies are not necessarily less expensive than pharmaceuticals. Antibiotics can be purchased with a physician’s prescription at your local pharmacy for less than 10 Euros, whereas a prepared infusion might cost you quite a bit more.

If you look under ‘herboristes’ in the Paris ‘Yellow Pages’, you’ll find listings for herbalists and homeopathic pharmacies according to arrondissement. ‘Phytotherapy’ refers to treatments using plants, often administered in the form of teas or infusions.

Having just returned from China and the ‘stans’i.e. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, both Chris and I are in serious need of as many plants, infusions, and remedies available for our travel-weary bodies. A full round of antibiotics (Cipro) the indispensable friend of all world travelers) has protected us from full-blown pneumonia, but we still need help to get back to a place resembling ‘normal’.

While in the U.S., holistic health providers might cringe at the mere mention of antibiotics, and conventional doctors tend to pooh–pooh ‘new age quackery’, Paris is one of those places in the world where herbalists and certified doctors appear to coexist in peace. I have yet to hear a French MD dismiss herbal remedies as nonsense. More often they’ll say, ‘If it makes you feel better, why not?”

I decide to brave the chill autumn day to visit a local herbalist, L’Herboristerie de Montparnasse at 38, rue Montparnasse (just beyond the intersection with Boulevard Montarnasse) headed in the direction of the Luxembourg Gardens. Metro: Montparnasse.
The difference between a Parisian herboristerie and many of the pseudo ‘new age’ health food stores you’re likely to find in the US and elsewhere can be narrowed down to two important qualifications:
1. The herbs.
2. The person who has the know-how (or savoir faire) to blend the herbs. At the Herboristerie de Montparnasse which has been in business since 1927, there is nothing ‘New Age’ about this business. Laure Molard, the practitioner who helps me has received two levels of certification here in Paris, one in the field of homeopathic medicine and also in phytotherapy.

I haven’t been exploring phytotherapy long enough to know the difference between good herbalists and mediocre ones, but today I feel pretty luck to have stumbled into the Herboristerie de Montparnasse. My gut instinct tells me this is the right place. Fresh herbs are arranged in a dark corner of the shop, as far away from the light of day as possible. The herbalist on duty takes plenty of time to ask about the ailment (which in this case is a chest cold). She says, “Has your husband done a ‘drainage’ yet for the liver?” I’m not quite sure what a ‘drainage’ is, but considering the amount of wine and vodka we’ve consumed in the past few weeks, anything for the liver has to be worthwhile. (The combination infusion and liver ‘drainage’ has set us back approximately 40 Euros which compared to conventional French medicine is VERY expensive).

I sit in an armchair, inhaling the aroma of fresh herbs while the herbalist mixes the appropriate formula. She returns with the leaves wrapped in a brown paper bag on which she writes the ‘prescription’: Two tablespoons of herbs per half liter of boiling water, three times a day. Add to that a teaspoon of liver enhancing tincture and I’m ready to re-energize.

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Aside from infusions, books, lotions, and a variety of holistic products, the herbalist also keeps a list of ‘phytotherapists’ working in Paris. A number of our Parisian friends use homeopathic practitioners to resolve specific health problems. In one case, a friend used a homeopathic remedy to quit smoking.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, if you’re sick in Paris, your first stop should always be your local pharmacy (or if you are of the homeopathic persuasion), a homeopathic pharmacy (which usually carries both pharmaceuticals and homeopathic remedies).

Most pharmacies will gladly provide you with a listing of general practitioners in the neighborhood. When you call a doctor, be sure to mention that you were referred by the local pharmacy. Generally speaking, a doctor will be able to see you in quick order. In some cases, he or she will even be able to come to your apartment or hotel.

Here are several samples of herbalist listings you can find in the Paris Yellow Pages:
To date, I’ve visited only one in Montparnasse, but you can also find herbalists in the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th 12th, 13th, and 15th arrondissements:

1ere. Herboristerie du Palais Royal
11, Rue des Petits Champs
Tel. 01 42 97 54 68

6eme, Autissier Pharmacie
56 Rue Cherche Midi
Tel 01 42 22 26 39
contact@pharmacie-autissier.com

6eme. Herbes du Luxembourg
3 Rue de Medicis
Tel. 01 43 26 91 53
herbes-du-luxembourg@wanadoo.fr

6eme, Herboristerie de Montparnasse
38, Rue de Montaparnasse
Tel. 01 45 48 34 81

6eme. Herboristerie D’Hippocrate
42, Rue St. Andre-des-Arts
Tel. 01 40 51 87 03

8eme Grande Herboristerie Parisienne Place Clichy
87 Rue Amsterdam
Tel. 01 48 74 83 32

Here are Christina’s temporary relief suggestions until you find the right professional help:

Sore throat:
Take a raw egg, mix it in milk with a dash of sugar.
Gargling with salt water.

Head cold. Plenty of hot liquids. Hot tea. Chicken soup. Vicks Vapo Rub – and if you don’t have any Vicks available, any menthol product, even mouthwash splashed on a washcloth. Inhale the menthol, wipe it across your forehead, being careful to keep out of contact with the eyes or the skin around your eyes.
Nasal irrigation with saline solution (see neti pots)
Sleep, abundant sleep.

Headache: Drink lots of water. Sleep. Be sure to get fresh air. For some people, caffeine helps.

Further Reading: Of Plants and Men