My relationship with plants began as a small child. I would forage for vegetation in our backyard and create "stews" from what I gathered. I just loved to pop the little pink "petals" from lady's thumb (aka pinkweed or smartweed). I experienced great joy in stripping the leaves from the mimosa stems and slipping the seed husks from the stalks of plantain; grinding them between two rocks. I am not sure where this mode of play originated from, I grew up in Delaware County, Pa without an herbalist in sight. I am curious if this innate style of working with plant medicine is something all children explore.
It wasn't until I was 18 and had my own child that I turned back to the plants for healing. I decided that I did not want to give my daughter, Mareena, antibiotics and unnecessary over-the-counter drugs. I wanted to work with her body's natural defenses; supporting rather than suppressing them. As this was a time before the internet was at my fingertips, I bought a few books by mail order and dove head first into the world of using plants as medicine. My very first reference book in 1996, The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevalier, is still on my shelf to this day. Even now I consider it a valuable resource, loaded with relevant material 25 years later. I used this book to start making my first homemade, plant-based remedies. There was one shop about 45 minutes from my house that I could purchase some of the herbs called for in the book. Granted there could have been more places in my area, but this kind of information was not readily available to me back then.
As I continued to create herbal remedies for me and my daughter, I decided to try to grow some of the more common herbs that were native to my area. Once I bought my house I went a little crazy and planted 1300 medicinal natives and my first herbal apothecary was born. No matter how much I read about harvesting and drying my plants to create remedies, I was still shy about actually taking a knife to the greenery. Then I found a local medicinal herb farm, Lancaster Farmacy, was accepting interns for their upcoming season. I signed up immediately and took part in their process from seed to shelf. This hands on time at the farm gave me the confidence to feel comfortable harvesting my own plants and utilizing them for my family's herbal needs. After my initial season working with Eli, the owner of the farm, I learned how to create their products on a large scale. By the following year I was making all of their herbal offerings, and remained with them for 5 more years. I connected with this work so deeply that two years after my job ended there, I created My Herbal Apothecary to continue with my passion.
Somewhere along the way on this journey I bought a book on essential oils and took a nose dive into that world. Down this rabbit hole I discovered hydrosols, and a new fascination was born. I eventually bought a small home still and began experimenting. I created my own hydrosols and essential oils for my family for years with my small glass still before investing in my granddaddy 50L still that I currently use. This giant contraption performs in the same manner as my small glass still, but now I am able to distill larger amounts of plant material at one time; making the process more efficient and enjoyable.
My love for learning has never stopped and fortunately I can always find classes that spark my interest. Over the past decade I have taken many hands-on courses. Soap making with Donna Winston opened up a whole new world for me; complete with the freedom to explore and experiment without the fear of being scarred for life by lye. I learned to work with cannabis from Tammi Sweet, which led to all kinds of experimentation with a local organic grower. We have created some pretty potent laboratory tested products that I am very proud of. I have worked with Maia Toll for the past eight years; learning to work with the phases of the sun and moon. Noticing the rhythms of nature and how I interact with them; observing and soaking up their never ending lessons. This continued path has changed every fiber of my being.
Every year I travel to herbal conferences on the East Coast, one of which is where I originally encountered Maia. I have been fortunate enough to take classes from some of the world's leading herbalists; learning, laughing and crying with groups of women that I just met but feel a deep connection with through this shared intimacy. I cherish everyone of these experiences with all my heart. I have learned so many different aspects not just of the plant world, but also about myself and how I want move in this world. With the onset of COVID I feared my exploration would be curbed, but truthfully it opened up so many new online learning opportunities it was hard to know when to stop. I learned to make safe and effective herbal lotions and creams using natural preservatives from Rachael Pontillo. I took a three day online conference that featured some mind-blowing information from some of the nation's leaders in their field of the herbal world. It took me a few months to digest all of those courses, honestly I could probably watch them again and again and learn something new every time!
When I google topics of interest I am able to find pages and pages of various websites and YouTube videos. I COULD learn this way, but for me it is not just about the knowledge itself, but the manner in which I learn it that has the deepest impact on me. I just signed up for a three week fully immersive, sun up to sun down permaculture course that begins at the end of July. Enrolling in this class was a commitment I did not take lightly. I will be leaving my home during peak weeding time, taking a leave of absence from my other two jobs (without pay) and leaving my husband and dogs behind to fend for themselves. But the promise of community shared knowledge, natural building, agroforestry, creating regenerative water and energy systems was enough to make the sacrifices seem worth it.
Every ounce of wisdom I glean from all of these amazing sources is brought back into this business and our herbal products. Constantly pushing myself to always learn more and realizing that stepping out of my comfort zone only broadens my horizons has made me a perpetual student. Is there something in your life that gives you childlike excitement? Do you allow yourself the time to indulge in it?