If you have ever driven up Route 83 in Somers heading toward Springfield, you are sure to have noticed a bright pink post and beam barn with a green door and white trim. It was built in 1830, and, like so many Connecticut Tobacco Valley barns, had hinged sideboards originally used for opening the barn to dry the tobacco that hung from its rafters. Today that barn is the home of Kassandra…It’s About Thyme…Herbs Unlimited, a unique shop owned by Katherine Mashiak, who grew up with the nickname Kassandra, or Kassy, for short.
Kassy’s parents were avid gardeners, and after college, she went to work at a flower farm in Enfield. Although she became a social worker by profession, her interest in flowers never waned. As part of her job, she attended a lecture on art therapy by Dr. Bernie Siegel, the American surgeon and writer internationally recognized for his theories on the relationship between the patient and the healing process. She was inspired by his work and began to study the healing power of plants by taking classes, attending workshops and going to conferences with some of the most well-known herbalists in the country.
There was much to learn. In fact, that’s one of the things Kassy says she loves the most about it, remarking, “One can never know everything about plants. There’s always something new to learn.” With a desire to share her knowledge and to help others, she opened her shop in May of 1995, thus beginning a new career as a medicinal herbalist. At the heart of her work are two fundamental beliefs – first, that human bodies are made to ingest plant material, and second, that for every ailment of mankind there is a natural cure.
Kassy takes a holistic approach for every person who comes to her for help. She looks at the person’s lifestyle choices, including diet, exercise and other living habits, and tries to determine the cause of the symptoms rather than treating the symptoms alone. Stating, “my focus is maintaining wellness,” she does this by joining her patients on their health journey in tandem with their traditional physicians. She assists her patients in making gentle changes to their lifestyle, she gradually introduces them to herbal remedies that can alleviate their ailments when needed, but she urges people to continue to work with their doctors as well. She says, “I believe there are times you need pharmaceuticals, but I also believe there can be a complement between them and herbal remedies.”
One of her early teachers once told her that if she was going to recommend herbal remedies to people, they should be able to acquire them easily. For that reason, her shop carries a vast range of supplements, extracts and tinctures which she gets from reputable and sustainable sources that participate in ethical harvesting practices. Some examples of brands she trusts are Nature’s Way and Herb Pharm, both of which are known for their conscientious standards. She cautions people that herbal regimes can take time to get results, and that herbs, like many medicines, can have different results for different people.
Kassy carries the Bach Flower line, which is a system of flower essences known to correct emotional imbalances that was created in the 1930s by Dr. Edward Bach. These are meant to work in conjunction with herbs and other medications. One of their most popular blends is the Rescue Remedy, used to induce calmness during stressful situations. There are also a wide variety of essential oils at the shop. An essential oil is a concentrated, aromatic liquid that is obtained from the various parts of a plant. Most of these need to be diluted, and therefore they are used for aromatherapy or in such products as bath soaps and lotions. If you wanted to use the oils to create your own products, Kassandra’s also carries the supplies you would need to do so.
In addition to medicinal herbs, Kassandra’s also sells nearly every culinary herb and spice one can possibly need for cooking, including many that are not easy to find. You can buy them by partial ounces here, so if you want to try a recipe that calls for an exotic herb or spice, you don’t have to buy a whole bottle that will sit in your cabinet until it goes bad. There are a variety of salts available as well, such as Himalayan pink salt and smoked salt, and a range of black, white and green teas.
Besides keeping people healthy on the inside, Kassy sells products that can keep people healthy on the outside. She has a variety of natural cleaning products that do not contain petroleum or caustic chemicals, and are therefore better for the environment. She carries natural soaps, body lotions, lip balms as well as all the supplies a person might need to make such products. And, she sells an all-natural bug spray that people around town swear by. The shop has an array of gifts including books, jewelry, scarves, stones, crystals, incense, candles and dream-catchers, which occupy the nooks and crannies of the shelves built into the barn. Gift certificates and free gift wrapping are available as well.
Starting around May 1st of every year, Kassandra’s offers plants for sale. Herbs, native plants and heirloom plants are Kassy’s specialties, both for edible and medicinal uses. She gets them from smaller, mostly local growers, and offers a broad selection, focusing on those that tend to grow better in this climate. If there’s something she doesn’t have, Kassy says to call her and she’ll try to get it. She is also a member of the Connecticut Herb Association, an organization of people interested in studying, growing, preparing and using herbs of all kinds, and is available for public speaking on the topic.
Kassy loves her work, mostly because of the people she helps. She says, “I do this because I like it. I love my customers. It’s a small niche, but I get to know them.” And that’s one of the best benefits of shopping local.