Herbalist Dean Martens may not have found the elixir of life. But much like a modern-day alchemist, he said he believes he has found the formula for health.
"The body is the only thing that heals the body," said Martens, standing amid bottles of liquid herbal extracts bearing such exotic names as Devil's Claw, Blue Vervain, and Shepherd's Purse. "Once you touch the truth you know it."
The truth, according to Martens, is that herbs can cleanse, purify and balance the body, allowing good health to be restored and then maintained.
As if in testimony to the potent power of herbs, Martens, lithe and lean and nearing 50, bounded on stage recently to talk about herbal remedies to a group gathered at St. Fiacre's, an herb shop in Ybor City.
"To start with, I'm 48," said Martens. "I have a 30-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old grandson."
Martens also is president of his own herbal company that markets liquid herbal extracts under the name Herbs of Light.
Some of Martens' fluid herbal extracts are ordered, in their dry state, from other herbal companies. But in many cases, Martens plucks the herbs himself off the sides of mountains in North Carolina.
But Martens hasn't always pulled his hair back in a pony tail, pitched a tent in the Appalachians, and gone free-crafting for herbs. There was a time when he worked as an electrical engineer in Chicago, and later as a stockbroker in Miami. He moved to the Tampa area several years ago and got into equipment leasing and sales.
"He's the type of guy who left it all behind for all the right reasons," said Teri Bikis, owner of St. Fiacre's.
One of the reasons Martens made the transition nearly 15 years ago from "paper pusher to medicine man" was a health crisis of his own. Martens said he learned he had rheumatoid arthritis and was told by doctors that he would have to learn to live with the disease.
Instead, he decided to learn as much as he could about the human body and ways to keep it healthy. His search, which eventually led him to herbal remedies, started at an herb farm in Washington state and peaked in Albuquerque, N.M., under the discipline of Michael Moore, head of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.
"He's the herbalist's herbalist," Martens said.
Martens spent several months under Moore's tutelage, learning how herbs work on the body and how to make herbal extracts. Then he spent several weeks traveling out West, going from state to state in search of herbs, pitching his tent along the way.
"It was the most wonderful experience of my life," Martens said. "I would walk out of my tent and there would be a deer. The energy is totally different."
Martens' lifestyle, as well, is totally different from what it once was, said David Taylor, owner of Nature's Harvest.
"He's gone from a mega-stockbroker, making mega-bucks with fast cars and fast women," Taylor said. "Now he's more down-to-earth and very spiritual."
Martens keeps his office and lab in his waterfront Baycrest home, near Town 'N Country. There, he concocts liquid herbal extracts, which he sells to health food stores throughout the Southeast. He also lectures on health and herbal remedies.
"I've lived half my life preparing for the second half," Martens said. "I don't care how people look at me as long as they understand and gain back their health."