I can honestly say that I have never tried to find the closest apothecary. Drug stores, supermarkets, yes; apothecaries, not so much. Of course that was before my trip to Marrakech, where seeking out the best apothecary suddenly became a must-do travel experience.
The old medina in Marrakech looks like a movie set for Indiana Jones with its clay walls, bustling people and donkeys everywhere. The traveler is instantly confronted by an endless array of labyrinthine souks selling everything from fresh spices to kids toys. It’s hard to know what to do or where to go in this medieval maze.
That being said, I was armed with a book and a map and was determined to find a few recommended spots, including the Herboristerie Palais El Badia. I’m not sure what first interested me in the herboristerie, perhaps it was the promise of the endless medicinal options or maybe just the concept of visiting an actual apothecary.
Even though natural remedies are slowly becoming more popular in the U.S., it is usually presented to the consumer in a neat pill, barely reminiscent of its original form. I would soon learn that such conveniences were nonexistent in Morocco.
It was remarkable that I found the shop at all. Even though there is no shortage of remedy peddling merchants in the old city, for some reason I just had to visit the one recommended to me. In case you haven’t been there, trying to find street addresses in Marrakech is a little like trying to find your keys, you won’t find them until you stop looking.
After a communications foul up with our cab driver that left us in some sort of restricted zone near the royal palace, we eventually made it to the kasbah area. After about 30 seconds I could see that my map would be of absolutely no use and quickly got rid of it. The fact that any publisher can in good conscience sell street maps of the Marrakech medina seems outlandish and is probably some sort of massive, international travel publisher joke.
Somehow, someway, through no fault of our own we actually made it to the part of town near the El Badi Palace where I knew the phantom store was located. In what was probably a violation of dozens of safety tips, we went down every side street and alleyway we could find until finally, like a beacon in the night, we stood in front of the Herboristerie Palais El Badia.
What confronted us was a small shop with shelves of hundreds upon hundreds of glass jars all containing stuff. Stuff is really the only way to describe it, and I was instantly reminded of novels relating tales of crazy scientists and would-be warlocks. Severus Snape would have been perfectly at home in this North African potions lab.
Obviously, I had chosen an apothecary that gets a lot of Western tourists, since all of the shop assistants were in white lab coats, adding to the ‘we are here to help’ atmosphere. Not surprisingly, the assistants have an agenda. Even though there are thousands of natural remedies for sale, they all steer customers towards the same four or five items.
More than just a shopping experience, the assistants do a great job of showing you how some of the remedies work. They add a few spices together, put them in a muslin cloth and have you sniff to show how they can open up the sinuses. In your obligatory mint tea, they add some crystallized mint that is so powerful your eyes water. Even though they want you to buy certain things, be curious and ask about the canisters on the walls. They will answer any question you have and demonstrate how to use everything.
After a 30 minute whirlwind tour of the small shop, complete with a 20 dirham argon oil shoulder massage, we had a sizeable basket of STUFF. I felt like I was in a daze, hoping that what I had been given wasn’t going to knock me out or that the items I was buying were not actually illegal narcotics, ensuring a long stay in a Moroccan jail.
At the last minute though, I fumbled. I had been doing a great job throughout Marrakech bargaining in pigeon French, collectively knocking off hundreds of dirhams from my purchases. At the apothecary though, I didn’t try to bargain at all. I think it was the fact that it was an actual store and not a souk stall that threw me off my game. I might as well have gone up to the clerk, opened my wallet and said, “Here-take.“ I think they felt bad for my complete lack of bargaining skills since they randomly knocked 10% of the price. As soon as we left, I realized my mistake, but I didn’t care. I had a huge bag of herbly goodness and I was happy.. So what did I end up with?
- Black cumin seed for sinuses
- Sandlewood for the closet
- Argon massage oil
- Orange essential oil as a sleep aid
- Something for my stomach that just says in French that it is distilled from plants
- And a big bag of the crystallized mint, because it really was cool.
Even though the store was entirely devoted to tourists and I did overpay for my goodies, it was a great experience I would gladly repeat.
Herboristerie Palais El Badia
22 bis Arset Lamaach Touareg Jdad