If you’ve never paid a visit to Under the Elder Tree, you should know that it is truly a place for everyone. Carrie Eller, the shop’s owner and modern-day apothecary, has created a space for those who are in search of healing, self-discovery, a break from reality, a way back to themselves. She facilitates this physiological journey with the staff, products, and services; it is a quest that is open to everyone, regardless of faith, gender, age, or economic status. The only requirement is that you’re ready for it. And odds are, if you’ve crossed the threshold into Under the Elder Tree, you’re ready!
Then and Now: Wheeling Apothecaries
The Ohio County Public Library has an incredible amount of information about Wheeling. This includes city directories and digitized newspapers dating back to the 1850s. If one were to scour these resources, it would be discovered that, except for the subject of this article, there has only been one apothecary on record in the past 172 years in Wheeling. And he was a real doozy of a man.
Mr. Charles Bingell was listed as the local Druggist and Apothecary in the 1875-1876 Wheeling Directory; after these two years, he dropped the title of ‘Apothecary’, and a decade after that, in 1886, he underwent a rather belligerent and salacious trial, wherein he was stripped of his contract with the city (details of the trial can be found here, conviction can be foundhere).
The current apothecary of Wheeling is Carrie Eller. She has been practicing this line of work for over 20 years, and with no criminal charges pressed against her for her practices, it is safe to say she has solidly blown Mr. Bingell out of the water as far as local apothecaries go.
So. Who is Carrie? What is her shop?
Carrie is a healer, a scientist whose laboratory has a pestle and whose prescriptions are derived from nature. She is an open-minded skeptic, an empowered and sneakily sentimental woman, who has provided services for the young and old, the infirm and the anxious, men and women.
Her shop is Under the Elder Tree. And it is quite a wondrous place.
Under the Elder Tree and Into the Sanctuary
For those who have not yet visited Under the Elder Tree, here is a little background on one of the most curious, unique gems in Wheeling.
The smells, sounds, sights, and general energy of the place come together to loosen the tension in your shoulders. It’s difficult to explain how perfectly balanced nature and science are in this space; among the plants and paintings and gorgeous vintage furniture in the center of the shop are shelves and tables full of pre-made concoctions, soaps, essential oils, fragrances, incense, balms, sage + smudging trays, crystals, and jewelry.
Towards the back there are giant glass display cases and counters which exhibit the raw elements of what goes into each customized mixture. Behind that lay rooms used for massage and oracle readings, respectively.
That is the retail and apothecary space, but the tour is not over. If you go back outside onto the sidewalk and look to your right (past the gorgeous mural done by the wildly talented Mindi Yarbrough Langford), you may notice an unassuming door. Behind the unassuming door lies an unassuming staircase.
On the day I am here to interview Carrie, I do not notice the unassuming door. I had to go back into the shop and ask where I was supposed to be going. A very lovely employee then leads me to the door where Carrie is waiting for me at the top of the steps. I go up. I turn to the left. I am immediately gob-smacked.
“The salt cave!” I casually blurt out.
“The salt sanctuary,” Carrie corrects.
She’s right. It is a sanctuary. A place as breathtaking and lovely and weird and perfect as this could absolutely not ever be called a ‘cave’. That would be madness. In addition to the salt sanctuary, there are even more stunning rooms to explore.
I ask if I can touch the salt bricks and she allows it. They are cold, but I feel a warmth going up my arm and it is the STRANGEST sensation. I say this to her, and this is where my lessons in biology, physiology, botany, and human psychology kicks off.
But First, We Smash Stereotypes
The term ‘apothecary’ tends to conjure images of cloaked individuals hunched over hand-hewn tables, grinding mysterious ingredients in accordance to ancient rituals; this makes sense as the practice dates back to 2600 BC. Dr. Loyd V. Allen, Jr. acknowledges that “the art of the apothecary has always been associated with the mysterious, and its practitioners were believed to have a connection with the world of spirits and thus performed as intermediaries between the seen and the unseen.1 “
Like many subjects considered mystic, taboo, or even occult, the practice of being an apothecary has been subjected to the bubble-gum filter of popular culture over the years; advertisements for cologne in ‘genuine’ apothecary bottles, a wave of apothecary-inspired furniture, as well as highly publicized jokes and salacious short stories overtook magazines in the 1940s and 1950s.
This, combined with the questionable and publicized practices of shady druggists-cum-apothecaries, like Mr. Charles Bingell, of course, lead to society disregarding the actual science of the trade. Instead, the mainstream view was, and still is, that apothecaries are practitioners of supernatural practices. And while some of the ideological items and services offered in Under the Elder Tree do have an air of mysticism about them, the remedies Carrie creates are very much rooted in practical study.
Over the course of our two-hour conversation, we plunged below the surface understanding of healing and holistic medicine, acknowledging the effects of pop culture and stereotypical interpretations of her business, and got down to the brass tacks of it all. One should note that Carrie is excellent at brass tacks.
Carrie combines her knowledge of botany and biology to create her remedies. Most importantly, she listens to her customer, some of whom were referred to her by a physician or specialist.
“When someone comes in and asks for help, I take them through an entire process to make sure what I give them is beneficial to them as an individual. We talk about their specific ailments, their lifestyle, what medications they are currently taking, and their general health history,” Carrie says. “I take every aspect of their life into account, because that helps me to create the most effective combination of ingredients.”
The remedies Carrie and her staff compound act as an excellent complementary treatment to a variety of ailments; they do not act as replacement therapies prescribed by doctors or physicians.
“What are the most common things people come in here for?,” I ask.
“Oh, just about everything. Arthritis, headaches, digestive problems, a lot of anxiety and depression… almost all of these symptoms can be tied back to stress. But not all of them, that’s why we ask questions.” She elaborates, “What works for one person with anxiety will not necessarily work for another person with anxiety; and that can be due to what medications they’re on, what their preferences are in regards to taste, what type of lifestyle they live.”
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Stress is an underlying factor in many of our ailments, and one which does not have a one-size-fits-all solution for those suffering from it. Luckily, the staff at Under the Elder Tree are purveyors of items that can provide both physical and psychological relief to those battling symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
In addition to the teas, elixirs, and ointments Carrie creates and prescribes, Under the Elder Tree also offers massage services. Every massage performed takes place atop a 24-lb. amethyst crystal mat that conducts the far-infrared heat source; this type of heat can help the body produce more white blood cells to fight off oncoming colds or viruses, in addition to reducing inflammation and granting pain relief. The amethyst is covered with a biomat, a result of the crystals and heat being woven together into a mat, and it is insanely comfortable.
Himalayan salt stones are also a key player in the massage, whether you get one in a room or in the salt sanctuary.
In the salt rooms, the bricks not only provide ambiance, but they also provide purported physiological benefits. In the salt sanctuary, the halogenerator grinds dry salt and pumps out particles into the air, a practice that is referred to as halotherapy. The salt is believed to help with asthma, allergies, COPD, sleep regulation, mood regulation, and acts as a natural air purifier; the negative ions change the particle charge of dust and dander in the air, causing it to fall to the ground.
According to multiple sources, positive health associations with salt exposure were first noticed in the 1800s, when there was a stark difference between Polish salt miners had little to no respiratory problems, which were common amongst other miners, and even managed to avoid the colds and coughs that were common in society in general.(2,3,4)
Salt is awesome. Experts say so. But they are also careful to point out that while salt is effective for minor afflictions and can be an effective relief to symptoms when done in conjunction with prescribed treatment from your doctor or specialist, it should not be used as replacement treatment.5
The Psychology of the Occult
After we talk about the scientific applications of Carrie’s practices, the talk inevitably shifts towards the holistic elements found at Under the Elder Tree: aura and oracle readings, reiki, crystals and talismans. The occult, mystical elements that capture the imagination, calling forth ideations of the supernatural.
Spoiler: the results of these applications are not rooted in the supernatural, but the psychological. This does not make it any less than profound. After all, many physical ailments can be drawn back to psychological turmoil, which is arguably one of the most difficult things to mend. So how does it work?
She tells me that most of the people who come into her shop have already decided, before they come in the doors, that they are ready to experience a change. And she is here to provide them with items that can help them on their journey to healing and self-improvement.
“Each person has the innate capacity to heal and make changes,” Carrie says. “My staff and I are just the facilitators to help them realize that. We help them by gathering pieces that represent the change they want to make.”
“What do you mean?”
“Take crystals, for example. Carnelian is the crystal for a strong, confident woman. Does this mean when you put it on you are all of a sudden strong and confident? No. But when you look down at it, it is a reminder of who you want to be, and more importantly, who you CAN be,” she tells me. “This reminder reinforces that desire to be stronger and more confident. And it can help people turn that desire into a reality.”
The psychological process can also be applied to oracle readings. Card readings were historically tied to occult practices; I ask Carrie what she thinks about this (I also ask what ‘oracle cards’ are).
“Oracle cards are open to interpretation, their meaning are not as strictly defined as tarot cards… it’s kind of like a Rorschach test, the meaning of the cards are what you attach to it,” she says. “As for the occult, I guess these are ‘occult’, but in the truest sense of the word. Occult means ‘hidden’, and what we’re trying to do here is bring the occult out of people, to encourage them to come out of their own being and address their own existence and growth and potential.”
Bringing the Healing Arts to Wheeling
After two hours of sitting across from each other in the salt sanctuary (me: barefoot and criss-cross-applesauce on an insanely comfortable couch; Carrie in a wingback chair with her feet propped up), talking about different iterations of a higher power, energy, the connection between spiritual healing and physical well-being, general acceptance of yourself and others. It has been a beautiful afternoon. The salt sanctuary has me relaxed in a way I haven’t been in years. The conversation was honest and philosophical and everything you’d want out of an interaction with another human. Which lead me to ask the obvious question that was burning in my mind.
“Why did you decide to open this business in Wheeling?”
In true Carrie fashion, she flashes a smile and proceeds to hit me with the unflinching truth, “You know what? It took me leaving this place to value what I have here. As soon as I graduated I moved to Denmark, then moved to Virginia and lived on the beach,” she said. “But I had kids, and I needed help with them. So I moved home. And I realized when I got back here I have the capability to impact a community, I can really be part of something here. Wheeling is a great place to facilitate change. And I know that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. One person at a time.”
If you are ready to experience the magic of Under the Elder Tree for yourself, Carrie regularly hosts events in both the retail space as well as in the upper level (that’s right, WHERE THE SALT SANCTUARY IS!), and they also book private events in those rooms as well. Follow Under the Elder Tree on Facebook or visit undertheeldertree.com for more information on events and other happenings.
• Haley Steed has lived in Wheeling for the past 9 years. Before moving to Wheeling, she lived in Columbus, OH where she graduated with a BA in Comparative Cultural Studies from Ohio State University. Haley also earned an MS in Marketing and Communications from Franklin University. She has held multiple marketing positions for 10+ years, with experience in PR/media relations, internal communications, marketing campaign strategy + execution, SEO, branding, content creation, digital analytics, and graphic design. Haley currently serves as an AmeriCorp member at Wheeling Heritage. Haley has one human named Vida, two cats named Hank and Squigs McAllister, and is currently manifesting that her one-day husband’s name will be Jeffrey Goldblum.
1 Allen, Lloyd V. “A History of Pharmaceutical Compounding.” Secundum Artem: Current & Practical Compounding Information for the Pharmacist 11, no. 3 (January 28, 2013).
2 “Halotherapy: What It Is and How It Can Help.” WebMD. WebMD. Accessed January 9, 2023. https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-halotherapy.
3 “The Sweet (and Therapeutic) Truth about Salt Caves – US News & World Report.” Accessed January 9, 2023. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2017-09-13/the-sweet-and-therapeutic-truth-about-salt-caves.
4 “Do Salt Rooms Work?” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, May 23, 2022. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/salt-cave-benefits/.
5 Association, American Lung. “Promising or Placebo? Halo Salt Therapy: Resurgence of a Salt Cave Spa Treatment.” American Lung Association. Accessed January 9, 2023. https://www.lung.org/blog/promising-placebo-salt-halotherapy.