Joe’s Herb Cabinet in Oklahoma City is a throwback to the early 1900s, selling traditional herbs alongside medicinal cannabis
Stepping into Joe’s Herb Cabinet in Oklahoma City is to step back in time.
From the vintage décor to the bell jar displays to the pestle and mortar to the shelves filled with dried herbs and tinctures, it’s all designed to evoke a time before the pharmaceutical industry changed America’s idea of what medicine means.
“A lot of changes happened in the U.S. medicine around 1905, where plants were really started to be turned into tinctures, drugs, purified more,” says store owner Joe Blaha. “We feel the prime time for herbal medicine here in Oklahoma was about 1900 to 1905 so we like to keep the décor and the music from that time period. It even helps us when we are choosing new processed products; would this have been an option in 1900?”
For most people at that time, herbal medicine was the best option to treat their ailments, and the plants that helped people then haven’t changed much, though some may have gone out of fashion, or legality, for a while.
“We opened with about 30 herbs, medicinal herbs like lavender, chamomile, things like this. Then we applied at the same time for a dispensary license,” Blaha says of his old-school shop in a new-school industry. “Our goal was to bring the two products together and increase the healing of each.”
It’s a major break from Blaha’s pre-cannabis life, where he worked in the pharmaceutical industry, working mainly with investigational cancer drugs.
“I left that field after about 17 years and started on this venture because I just felt so cold to it,” he says. “My real passion growing up and through my family’s background has been big in natural medicine, gardening, things like this, so I just took the opportunity to use that background.”
Blaha says he also felt the current dispensary options were lacking, not providing the full picture of what he calls “the people’s medicine” could really do for patients seeking a medical product. And in the crowded Oklahoma City market, the combination of cannabis with other medicinal herbs, mushrooms and teas makes Joe’s Herb Cabinet a one-of-a-kind throwback in a thoroughly modern marketplace.
“Half of our customers come in for medical cannabis, and they have a card. Half of the customers come in for herbs, or CBD — hemp flower for instance,” Blaha says.
Tea and Toke
Because so many people are new to either herb or medicinal herbs, Joe’s Herb Cabinet prides itself on educating the consumer, but not leading them in any particular direction.
“We like to allow the customer to be drawn to the plant they are naturally drawn to, rather than helping them diagnose or treat anything,” Blaha says. “The education part is a big part of it for us, and we like to let the customer lead in those exchanges.”
The shop is also known for its “Tea and Toke” recommendations, pairing cannabis strains with blends of tea that share similar terpenes to create a synergistic experience. For example, if the test results from a favorite or effective strain show it to be high in the terpene myrcene, Blaha likes to mix up a lemongrass tea to help boost that even further in something of an entourage effect between the tea and the smoke.
He also likes to pair strains that tend to cause the age-old problem of dry mouth with a tea that “has a little bit of mucilage in it to ease and coat that process.”
“Because if someone is suffering with cancer and that strain is the only thing that’s going to help them eat, then we want them to keep smoking it, and we want to make them a tea that will allow them to do that,” he says.
Blaha says the pairings also helps educate consumers about why and how the natural chemicals in plants work together and interact, helping bridge the two sides of the shop and further the mission of promoting plant medicine in general.
“We look at terpenes and herbs in this way: from herbs to cannabis and then back from cannabis to the herbs in sort of an educational cycle,” he says. “We encourage all of our patients to journal their experience.”
Blaha comes from a large family that “uses cooking as medicine,” but his own journey to plant medicine truly began during his time in the pharmaceutical industry.
During his lunch breaks, Blaha would visit shops in the Oklahoma City Asian District and buy bundles of plants and herbs and research their historical uses in hopes of finding ways to address more modern problems.
“I think there’s a bridge that can be built there,” he says.
As for cannabis, Blaha first tried it around 18 and though it made him feel good, he didn’t really think about it as having medicinal value until studying the drug Marinol, made with a synthetic cannabinoid.
“And I started to realize cannabis is a good source of medicine, and they’re using it to turn it into a drug,” he says. “That sort of opened my eyes to the difference between drugs and medicine, and I do think there is a distinction.”
To Blaha, the more a plant is processed or purified, the less it is “medicine” and the more it becomes a “drug.” It’s one of the reasons Joe’s Herb Cabinet is what Blaha calls a “distillate-free zone.” The shop does sell edibles, but only those infused with cannabutter or single-batch CO2 extraction. Each product label includes the strain used and the farm at which it was produced.
All the herbs sold in the shop are wildcrafted or certified organic, and Blaha seeks out cannabis grown using organic principles as well. When Joe’s Herb Cabinet first opened, he would just try to find flower with a good terpene content, but after meeting a grower from Native Veteran, a water-only grow operation, the shop began to narrow down its offerings.
“That’s when we realized our focus is living soil cannabis, and we prefer not to have things that have been sprayed with any pest-management sprays,” Blaha says. “We feel as long as each herb is the highest quality and if (customers) are happy with it, they will be back.”
And if customers are not happy with the product — or if the product doesn’t work for them — the shop offers a money-back guarantee.
“We really want to encourage people to experiment with these plants in a risk-free way so they feel comfortable,” Blaha says.
The store also stays eco-friendly by only dispensing its herbs, including cannabis, in glass jars, with a discount if you bring your own container.
It’s another full-circle choice for the former cancer researcher who is much happier in his new life dispensing “the people’s medicine” instead of the processed, industrial drugs of his former life. He sees his role today as putting the power back into the hands of the patients, much like it was more than 100 years ago.
“In my time in our medical system, I saw some people who felt like they didn’t have the power to choose their own path, and they felt almost victimized by the medical system, so it is very encouraging to tell people, ‘This is your decision,’” Blaha says. “When it comes down to it, we only have one life to live, and we have to make decisions based on that knowledge.”