Alternative Roots Health, Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine sits next to the Battle Creek YMCA, just off Division Street. It’s a small, one-story building tucked in an unkempt ring of wild greenery.
For years it was a lawyer’s office. In January, it became home to a new acupuncture and herbal medicine business run by Ian Dandenault.
“I think there was a need for this,” Dandenault said. “I can go to Chicago and find acupuncture and herbalism, but here it’s not as well represented.”
For Dandenault, the path that led him there began with his mother, who prompted his interest in holistic medicine.
In the two years after graduating from Grand Valley State University, he came across two books— the Tao Te Ching, a Taoist text, and “The Web That Has No Weaver,” a book explaining Chinese medicine— that would guide him further. He tried acupuncture, and he ended up going to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine – Chicago for graduate school in 2012.
He practiced in Chicago for two years. Then his father, Bryan Dandenault, who had been a lawyer in Battle Creek, retired, and Ian Dandenault returned to Battle Creek to turn his father’s old office into his own acupuncture and herbalism practice.
His career path ties in well with something he enjoys doing in his spare time: foraging. Dandenault often grabs his copy of “Medicinal Plants of North America: A Field Guide” before he picks a direction and just wanders.
“I think there’s something to be said about being able to look to the plants around you for healing.”
Even in downtown Battle Creek, there’s a treasure trove of greenery and plants to harvest, he said. Lamb’s ear, common mallow and viola all sit in the green space around Alternative Roots. Purslane and chicory grow on the curb by the road. Wood sorrel and sumac grow in the more forested areas, and by the river, wapato, cattails and duckweed.
“In herbalism, wild herbs are always more prized because they live in nature, so they have wind and fresh rain and they tend to be more potent,” he said.
Most of the herbs Dandenault uses are actually ordered online or from Pacific College’s dispensary, but he’s used the viola growing around the office in an ointment he makes and has made lemonade from sumac.
“Sometimes I’ll go out and try to make a salad from what I find,” he said. “It’s just nice to put them in your diet because it’s a good way to keep your microbiome healthy. And bitter isn’t a flavor often found in the American diet.”
Dandenault has embraced unfamiliar flavors. It’s necessary when so many of the herbs he uses for medicine aren’t native to the area or typically consumed in America, but it also means that not all his patients are immediately receptive to trying the medicinal teas.
“At first some people aren’t used to the earthy bitter taste in the teas, but a lot of times people know medicine doesn’t necessarily taste great,” Dandenault said. “I just find that, when people are taking herbal medicine along with acupuncture, it works better. Once in a while I get someone who says ‘No, absolutely not.’”
Georgann Reppert, a patient of Dandenault’s, was not one of them, but she did need a bit of convincing.
“It took me awhile thinking about the Chinese herbs, and he started me out real gently,” Reppert said. “It’s not horrible, but it’s not always delicious, so I kind of just have to bite the bullet and drink it down.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by other patients.
“Oh yeah, there was, I think, the second formula that was honestly kind of gross,” said Laura Otte, who Dandenault is treating for chronic pain from an injury. “But there are some indicators that have improved, and I’m willing to go through maybe a minute or two of not the greatest tasting drink to improve my health.”
“Actually, when you’re making it at home, I always feel like I’m making a witch’s brew,” she added. “It’s kind of cool.”
Acupuncture can make many people apprehensive as well, even if the needles are about as thin as a strand of hair.
“I have had a long standing issue with needles to where, a horror movie, someone’s head could get chopped off, that’s fine, but if they’re getting a shot, I just can’t watch it,” Otte said.
Confronting that fear was one of the reasons she decided to try acupuncture.
“I’d done some research beforehand, so I knew it wasn’t this giant needle on a syringe,” Otte said. “It’s definitely not anywhere in the same category. One of my early sessions there were over 30-some needles, and it was kind of cool. If I hadn’t done that research, if you’d asked me year ago if I’d do acupuncture, I would’ve been, ‘Oh, no, needles.’”
But if drinking the herbs and trying acupuncture require a leap of faith, Dandenault’s patients say it’s dissatisfaction with what they’re getting from Western medicine that is driving them to look for alternatives.
“One of my best friends was an acupuncturist, so I finally gave in after talking to her about it,” said Kirby Lee. “I was getting frustrated with traditional Western care and how I feel it wasn’t really looking at the full overall picture, how they would just try to treat symptoms, not look at what the actual cause. And so I like how Ian’s not just looking at symptoms but the root of the cause.”
While traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture treats a variety of issues, the main ones that Dandenault tend to see coming through his office are people dealing with back pain, depression and fertility issues.
“I would really encourage anybody who’s curious about acupuncture to really do some research and try it out,” Otte said. “Like anything, it might not be for some people, but I really think it’s one of those things you have to experience yourself.”
Contact reporter Natasha Blakely at (269) 223-0114 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @blakelynat.