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Seven Herbalists Speak

  Elisa Adams

  Diane Brigida

  Bill Fage

  Gene Fitzpatrick

  Cheryl Kelly

  Jeanne Polcari

  Joan Reardon


  Muscle Testing



Getting Back to Herbs: Bill Fage

Many people are finding, in herbal remedies, the solution to health-care problems conventional medicine has been unable to address. It’s hard to remember that as recently as a few decades ago, herbs were not generally accepted or available.

Bill Fage, a fit-looking man in his fifties with a ready smile, is one of those who used herbs to resolve serious health problems. The experience led him to a deeper study of herbs, and he is now considered responsible for having reintroduced herbs to New England and for training many of the herbalists practicing here.

Thirty years ago, Fage says, he “had psoriasis from head to foot — I wouldn’t go out in public.” He also suffered from bleeding ulcers and hemorrhoids. Because his parents had used natural remedies, he was receptive to the idea of herbs and had been a distributor for two companies at different times in the sixties. Despite taking their herbs, he had health problems until he came across the Nature’s Sunshine brand, which “cleaned up the skin and got rid of the hemorrhoids.” As a result of the improvements in his own health, people began coming to him and asking about herbs.

“In the course of about six months’ time,” Fage says, “I went from being a little old farm boy, isolated to myself, to being a manager with one of the biggest herb suppliers around — Nature’s Sunshine Products. I went from welfare — food stamps — to being audited by the United States government, because I was making a five-figure income.”

Fage subsequently studied muscle testing, iridology, and foot reflexology, “all of which were completely foreign to me. I thought each one was ridiculous when I heard about it, but after months and, in some cases, years of study, I began to say, ‘Hey, these all sort of tie together.’ ”

Muscle testing allowed Fage to be much more accurate in finding the herbs and nutrients a person needed for a specific condition than merely recommending what typically works. Using muscle testing, Fage says, he “found things that would ordinarily not be found.” Muscle testing, he says, “is a way of using the human body to find out which foods it needs this week as opposed to next week, and even the amounts. You can simply ingest those foods or hold those foods and use some type of muscle as an indicator. It takes some of the guesswork out of ‘What do I need most today, this month, or next month?’ ”

Iridology is a technique of evaluating the condition of the internal organs by examining the irises of the eyes, based on the concept that each part of the iris corresponds to a particular organ or system. Iridology, Fage says, involves “picking up the vibration between glands, organs, and the brain. When those vibrations either become excited or calm down, the fiber in the eye, the ectodermal tissue, will rise or fall according to the amount of signals, and it will look either light or dark in the eye. All an iridologist does is look to see if the fibers are raised up — light — or sunk down — dark. Then they look at a specific area. Each area of the eye — there are hundreds of them — relates to different glands and organs.”

Fage bought a camera made especially for iridology that was developed by Dr. Bernard Jensen, another pioneer American herbalist and iridologist. He no longer interprets the pictures himself but sends them to Dr. Jim Jenks, a holistic practitioner in California. Fage tells the story of a client for whom he suggested an iridology consultation. "She thought it was pretty crazy at first,” he says. He sent the photo to Dr. Jenks, who suggested checking for heart problems. As it happened, the family had a history of heart problems. “They became very intrigued, because here’s a man thousands of miles away with nothing but a photograph, telling them all about themselves.

“Everybody has a weak link,” Fage says. “If we know where our weak link — or, in some cases, links — are, we can strengthen them by our diet and lifestyle. It’s still going to be a weak link, but since you’re aware of it, you can prepare and buffer the body to deal with that. Is the problem totally gone? No. But she’ll probably live a lot longer and healthier life knowing what she knows and cutting out salt and taking HS [an herbal preparation containing hawthorn] and some of these other things.”

Not all herbs are created equal, Fage points out. “Plants can only pick up what’s in the soil, particularly in the case of minerals,” he says. “A lot of herbs are being mass produced to meet demand for herbs now and are being grown with chemical fertilizers instead of organic methods, so you won’t have all the trace elements in there.” Therefore, he says, it’s important to find a company that runs a variety of tests on its herbs, to make sure each batch is organically grown or wildcrafted and that everything is there that should be and nothing is there that shouldn’t be.

Fage deplores the current tendency for herb manufacturers to create what are called “standardized extracts.” The term “standardized” indicates that each package contains a specific quantity of the herb’s “active ingredient.” One problem with this, Fage says, is that an herb can be “standardized” either by concentrating a batch of the raw ingredient or merely by adding an “active ingredient” that has been chemically synthesized. Unless the manufacturer indicates this information on the label, there’s no way to tell which is the case.

Second, Fage asks, what property of the active ingredient has been “standardized”? The product could be “standardized” as to weight or even color. Third, what “standard” is the manufacturer using? Finally, Fage asks, "if an herb has been ‘standardized’ to a certain active ingredient, does that mean all the other ingredients [i.e., trace elements] are there? Not necessarily. So I don’t like standardization. ‘Standardized’ is a very tricky term.” Fage says a label can contain “every buzzword a consumer wants to see” and still be misleading. Therefore, he says, “the integrity of the company is important.”

Fage maintains an herb retail business in Sterling, Massachusetts. His facility also includes practitioners who do consultations using muscle testing, iridology, and other techniques. “Everything I’ve talked about, I’ve practiced — and thought it was the best thing going when I learned it,” Fage says. “Now, after about twenty-five years, I’m back to simply talking about herbs as foods. I grow many types of herbs in my organic garden. Probably ninety-eight percent of what I sell, I purchase from Nature’s Sunshine Products, and I’m right back to ‘Herbs are not alternative medicines.’ That’s the way most people are looking at it — it gives it the completely wrong light. Herbs are foods.

“I’m going back to almost a crusade, trying to drive people away from the idea that herbs are an alternative medical approach. Herbs are just foods — no more, no less — that have been noted over centuries of time for having certain effects on the human body.” Without the nutrients in herbs, Fage says, “certain systems of the body may not work properly.”

Fage warns that “there seems to be a movement to make herbs ‘alternative medicine.’ ” If this happens, he says, “they'll try to take it away from the common person like myself and put it into the hands of the professional medical people or the professional dieticians. They’ll charge all outdoors for it. They’re trying to isolate active ingredients, to standardize to certain active ingredients. That’s not the purpose of herbs. That’s how medicine got away from herbs in the beginning.”


It's surprising to learn that Fage’s many accomplishments do not include attending a traditional college. He is a certified master herbalist through several different schools, the most difficult being Dr. John Christopher’s School of Natural Healing. Fage studied personally with Dr. Christopher, who is considered a pioneer in American herbology. After the latter’s death, Fage finished his master herbalist degree with Christopher’s son, David Christopher.

Early on, Fage was invited to speak about herbs and their properties on radio and TV programs and to lecture all over the world. “It was such an advanced deal back then,” he says. “At that time, they weren't really accepted. Some people considered me a witch; others thought I was going wild.”

Fage is considered by many in the holistic health field to be responsible for having reintroduced herbs to New England and for training many of the herbalists now practicing here. He is also considered the father of the “herbal hour” — a talk he began giving in private homes, schools, and for physicians, which others in the herbal field now do routinely. The herbal hours consists of a series of slides showing what local herbs look like — “I give background information on how the Indians used each herb, how the gypsies used it,” Fage says. He also researched and included information on what conventional medicine recognizes as the “active ingredient” in each herb.

In recent years, the state of Massachusetts created a category called “herb teacher,” specifically to enable Fage to teach classes for which pharmacists and physicians receive continuing-education credit.

Bill Fage

Sunshine Valley Health

1 Williams Street

Sterling, MA 01564