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Deb Swanson, owner/founder of Dancing Willow Herbs, pours a tincture of Holy Basil into glass bottles inside the familiar Main Ave store. Dancing Willow Herbs is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this month./Photo by Steve Eginoire

Two decades of Dancing Willow

‘Pioneer of Herbalism’ marks 20 years of local business

by Jen Reeder

A Durango institution celebrates a major milestone this month: September marks the 20th anniversary of Dancing Willow Herbs.
“I can’t believe it,” says owner Debra Swanson. “It was a dream.”
Swanson, a clinical herbalist, started studying herbs in her teens “and loved everything to do with plants and gathering and understanding how to help people.” She experimented on friends and family before continuing her studies with a correspondence course and then at the Southwest
School of Botanical Medicine in Silver City, N.M. She’d lived in Durango for 10 years when she decided to take the plunge and open an herb shop, Dancing Willow Herbs.
“I started on 10th Street in the basement of the Ponder Pocket Bookstore,” she says. “I just had a little herb shop as big as a closet.”
But as Durango grew, so did an appreciation for herbs in the community.
“When I first started, there wasn’t really anything like what I did,” Swanson recalls. “I used to call myself ‘The Pioneer of Herbalism’ here in Durango. The people who found me were people who wanted to use herbs and to explore alternative medicine.”
Deb Swanson holds a batch of freshly dried white sage leaves. The clinical herbalist has been studying herbs since her teenage years./Photo by Steve Eginoire
After stints at the back of Maria’s Bookshop (two different locations), Swanson moved Dancing Willow Herbs to its current location at 1018 Main Ave. The store offers a range of herbs, tinctures, salves, teas, lotions and other natural and organic health products, as well as classes and several herb walks throughout the year.
“The reception in the town has been phenomenal, to where I feel really well connected with traditional medicine,” Swanson says. “I get a lot of referrals from doctors, pediatricians, OB/GYNs and naturopaths.”
Swanson’s passion for herbs and their healing powers is evident. She uses herbs every day and treats her 8-year-old daughter, Gracie May, with them.
“I’m so psyched about herbs, I can’t help but want to offer up some information and to help folks because I so believe in what they do,” Swanson says. “I’ve seen such dramatic results, especially for things that are just sort of puzzling – chronic skin conditions, digestive problems, sleep disorders, all those things.”
Some of her most popular products boost the immune system – cold and flu season is a busy time for Dancing Willow Herbs – and the “Healing Soothing Salve” is a perennial favorite.
“It’s a miracle salve, so you can put it on a cut or a scrape or chapped lips or cracked heels and the next morning, it’s healed. It accelerates the healing process tremendously,” Swanson says.
One fan of the salve, Durango resident Pat Lougee, has been a patron of Dancing Willow Herbs for 17 years.
“She never steers me wrong,” Lougee says. “It doesn’t matter what my problem is, I get the right thing from her.”
When Lougee had total knee replacement in May of 2010, she turned to Swanson for help.
“She gave me the protocol for surgery and it made a big, big difference for me with my recovery,” Lougee says.
All of the protocol elements, including teas, tinctures and homeopathic pills, were cleared by her surgeon.
“She’s just so knowledgeable. She’s done wonders for me,” Lougee says.
Anna Rockhold is another long-time patron (“at least 15 years”) who credits Dancing Willow Herbs with keeping her healthy. She takes seven to eight tinctures each morning to boost her immune system, liver and joints, among others.
“I’m not sick very often,” Rockhold says. “And when things are going around, I don’t get it as bad as other people do.”
Rockhold used to suffer from migraine headaches at least twice a month, but with the help of chiropractic treatments and the “Fever Few” tincture from Dancing Willow Herbs, she only has migraines about twice a year.
“It’s a world of difference in my life,” she says.
Dancing Willow Herbs continues to attract new customers like Katie Morrissey-Luse, who first visited a year ago at the suggestion of her doctor. Morrissey-Luse, a breast cancer survivor who suffers from chronic fatigue from adrenal insufficiency due to an autoimmune disease, has taken steroids for eight years.
“I went to her to try to get off steroids, and I’m down to half of what I was taking back in December,” she says. “I couldn’t do it without those herbs. The herbs are part of what’s rebuilding my adrenal glands.”
She says she’s also had a positive experience at Dancing Willow Herbs because the staff is so knowledgeable “and the store smells so good.”
She’s tried and enjoyed products like the bath salts and body scrub, and bought a “love potion” when she got married last year.
“I’m 56 and he’s 62 – we can use all the help we can get!” she laughs.
Despite such accolades and loyal customers, Swanson acknowledges there are still people skeptical of the healing powers of herbs.
“Using an herb is different than taking a pill,” she explains. “With a pill you have a really defined quantitative peak in terms of how quick that drug is going to work in your system. Herbs, their assimilation and the way they work in the body is slower progress so there’s not as much of a risk of having some toxicity or an adverse reaction. Then once it’s reached its peak, the body has made its adjustments.”
In gratitude for 20 years of support from the community, Swanson will be offering a variety of 20 percent discounts through October at Dancing Willow Herbs.
“Durango’s been great – I feel really fortunate that I’ve had this opportunity to do what I love,” Swanson says.
“We do live in such an incredible area where people are really concerned about their health and their well-being. That’s why we choose to live here.”

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