Saturday, June 15, 2019

Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, Gaia Herb farm is a botanical treasure. I have wanted to visit and explore the farm at Gaia Herbs for so many years, and finally got the chance to spend a day touring the entire facility last week! From the laboratory to the greenhouses to the stunning farm fields – this was like a dream come true. I’m so thrilled to be working in partnership with Gaia Herbs this year, and as an herbal brand I’ve admired and used personally and professionally for several years, the opportunity to visit their facility and get an in depth look into their process was incredibly inspiring.

After spending three days in Black Mountain, NC attending the Medicines from the Earth conference with my friend Renee, we took an extra day to visit Gaia Herbs headquarters in Brevard, NC. Greeted with the warmest of welcomes, we were ushered into their greenhouses and cozy offices and given a chance to view some amazing video’s and presentations about all of the changes, advances, and new happenings for this innovative brand. Not only are they rolling out a beautiful educational website, they’re curating new formulas with some of the highest quality herbs grown in the US including their nootropic line, and their full spectrum hemp extract. With a 350 acre farm, multiple greenhouses and a state of the art laboratory, Gaia Herbs is truly leading the way in plant innovation and sustainability, and creating some of the absolute best herbal products on the market today.

The Gaia Herbs Organic Farm

Over 45 different species of herbs are grown on the farm every year, totaling over 5 million individual plants on this 350 acre space. Growing in harmony with the land and fed by nearby clear mountain waters, the farm is absolutely stunning. The land is blanketed in rich alluvial soil, tended through organic methods and time honored traditions. The farm has been certified organic since 1997 by the Oregon Tilth, and enriched with biodynamic compost. Almost all of the herbs are harvested by hand to ensure the highest quality, every season. And if you’ve ever tended a garden, you’ll know the connection hand harvesting infuses into soul. American skullcap, ashwagandha, astragalus, california poppy, chinese skullcap, Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea, feverfew, gotu kola, grindelia, holy basil, lemon balm, nettle oats, parsley, passionflower, valerian, and vervain…all make a home here at Gaia Herb farm, and find their way into your homes and medicine cabinets through what I can only describe as botanical manufacturing/transformation perfection.

I entered the farm down a long path lined with hawthorn and ginkgo trees, intentionally planted to represent the importance of the heart and the mind. Not only are these beautiful trees symbolic of the vision that went into the very roots of the farm, they provide beautiful medicine every year, harvested at the peak of their medicinal potency. The folks at Gaia herbs pay meticulous attention to detail, and when the hawthorn leaves and berries are just about to reach their peak, they are tested every day until they are at the ideal peak of medicinal potency (and the farmers and herbalists there can tell just by looking at them when it’s the perfect time to harvest). They’ll wait until it’s reached perfection, and hand harvest to avoid the thorns on the delicate branches. This attention to detail is one of the many reasons I admire Gaia Herbs. We may feel a little disconnected from our plant allies when we’re taking a pill or a tincture every day – but I know for sure that every single plant harvested here is tenderly observed with that human + plant connection before it ever goes into the bottle. And in a time of mass production and disconnect from our source, that’s a pretty powerful practice.

Hawthorn has always been one of my favorite herbal allies. Growing tall and beautiful, when you get too close you’ll notice a slew of large, sharp thorns protecting the branches, covered in beautiful gentle leaves. This is reflective in hawthorn’s powerful energetic medicine, too. An ally for the heart, it’s a cardiovascular tonic as well as an energetic heart support, while offering permission to set up boundaries and protect your space (and your heart). Hawthorn is a perfect example of a growing, living pant medicine that supports our own species in a similar way of it’s own growth. Every herb has a personality and characteristics that are present in the medicine. I love how the herbalists and farmers at Gaia herbs speak to that, and admire the subtleties in each and every plant they grow.

Strolling further down the gravel drive, we stop at the greenhouses that line the road before we enter the growing fields. Filled with tomatoes, borage and burdock, this is the kind of space that makes my summer heart sing. Teeming with life. Abundant with fragrance and little pollenating bees. It’s impossible to keep my hands off of them.

Crossing the creek, we enter the expanse of the growing fields, and it takes my breath away to see the raw beauty of the soil, the mountains, the lush fields, and those old, old tractors. I feel immediately like things are done slower here. There’s an intentional, and expert energy that surrounds the space. Some fields have been freshly harvested, and we can all smell the aroma of lemon balm wafting through the farm, as this was just recently harvested and is in their drying chambers. The rows and rows of echinacea are lush and green, about to be in a full, glorious, purple bloom in a matter of weeks. As I wander through the rows, the soil underneath my feet is soft and aerated, teeming with little bugs and worms. I spent so much extra time in the blooming fields of valerian, taking it all in, and overwhelmed with a sense of calm and pure gratitude for what Gaia Herbs is doing in the world. The entire expanse of the farm is invigorating with energy and life. It’s a palpable energy, and is a living extension of their laboratory, right up the hill. Everything grown here is quality control tested from start to finish, while still maintaining the purity, potency and integrity of the original plant.

The Gaia Herbs Greenhouse

This is where it all begins. Hundreds of thousands of little seeds are planted in starter trays every winter, and sprout into life in this beautiful glass space (it’s no wonder these places are called a “nursery”). In the spring, they’re taken out in to the farm and planted in their beds. The greenhouses are also an experimental space for Gaia’s scientist and farmers to try new things. These rows are all alive with bacopa, which is super amazing! Bacopa monnieri is tricky to grow, and often comes from not so great growing conditions with a lot of environmental pollution, or ditches. When Gaia Herbs decided they wanted to include bacopa in their Nootropic formulas, they figured out a way to grow it organically, off the ground, and in a thriving, healthy environment. Another testament to their dedication to using the highest quality ingredients in every single formula, no matter how much extra effort the process may be.

Read More: Nootropics & the Beauty of Herbal Brain Tonic Support

Herbal Sustainability

Since the beginning of the farm twenty years ago, the folks at Gaia have maintained a commitment to sustainability, regenerative farming practices, and pollinator prosperity. Why is this important? Because as collective stewards of the planet, and providers of botanical medicines internationally, it’s our responsibility to leave the land in better condition than we found it, and provide an environmental prosperity to future generations. Every year, they publish a sustainability report that documents their practices and commitments to encourage biodiversity, agroforestry, watershed health, recycling and waste reduction, and even their purposeful attention to employee wellbeing. They are also a certified B-Corporation, a for-profit company that meets the highest level of third party verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Every decision made at Gaia Herbs is purposeful, and it’s abundantly clear in every seed that’s planted, and every product they create.

I’m so grateful to be working with Gaia Herbs this year, and visiting the farm this week was absolutely amazing. I’m so inspired by all that they’re doing, and will always use and recommend with confidence every product created by the Gaia herbs team. Transparency is so important to me as an herbalist and a nutritionist. I want to see and be assured that what I’m using and recommending is as pure and sustainably made as possible. And there’s no doubts about that with Gaia Herbs’ products. If you haven’t experienced trying the formulas and single herbal extracts or phytocaps from Gaia herbs, hop on over to their website and explore their expansive collection of expertly created herbal products. You’ll feel a special connection right away.

Portrait photos of Lindsay by Renee Byrd

Wandering the fields and prairies of southern Appalachia will bring even the busiest mind into a still and quiet serenity. It is within the endless expanse of prairies that we can connect deeply with traditions, cultures and generations before us in a subtle and profound way, while it brings acutely into our awareness that deep, longing and desperate desire to pay attention. As I roam the prairie lands of Lexington, Virginia, my eyes quickly scan the tall grasses in an excited search for that familiar white flower, much like I was anxiously searching for an old friend in a busy train station crowd. It takes a few minutes of steady wading through the tall brush, gliding past the prickly brambles and deceptively similar Queen Anne’s Lace, but soon it bursts out in front of me as far as my eyes can see. Yarrow – the sweet and steady white flower of late spring and summer greets me with that gentle and intoxicating aroma, flooding my mind with memories of medicine making years before and reminding me that this very smell permeated the medicine collections of generations before me – all close friends with this reliable herbal companion. 

Yarrow Medicinal Uses

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a familiar inhabitant to prairies and pastures all over Europe and North America, and has a rich history of medicinal use in the eastern Appalachian region of the southern states. A perennial herb with a reliably hardy disposition, yarrow grows about three feet tall on a sturdy (and deceptively delicate looking) stem covered in fine, whipsy leaves that spring from the tall stem alternately. The flowering tops crown each stem in a beautiful spread of tiny white clustering flowers that can span almost 12 inches across and posses a fragrance that is so subtle and almost astringent yet pure and pleasant. Yarrow is almost always accompanied by it’s favored prairie neighbors like milkweed, mullein, red clover and their accompanying aerial companions – the monarch butterfly and pollinator bees. This generational plant family has followed and supported countless generations of Appalachian and European families and to this day we remain close to our plant friends in our continued symbiotic relationship.

Yarrow has a traditional use as a gastrointestinal supportive herb for it’s astringent and tonifying qualities on the stomach, while also possessing a prized antiseptic power when used topically on wounds and infections. Native American cultures would harvest the entire plant and macerate it into a thick poultice for any topical inflamed condition including rashes, bites, wounds and sores. The leaves and flowers were often made into an infusion for internal conditions ranging from indigestion to internal bleeding, as the powerful astringent and purifying quality of the herb acts quickly on acute conditions. Yarrow has a rather famous history of use spanning back to Achilles (yarrow’s namesake) who, legend has it, was bathed in a yarrow bath as a baby to promote strength and vitality, but while his mother was bathing him she forgot to cover his heel in the healing yarrow infusion – hence his heel was forever his weakness. Not surprisingly, yarrow is used even to this day as a strengthening tonic for those recovering illness or depletion. I often always include yarrow tea or tincture in my remedies for recovery from everything to cold and flu to folks going through extreme and debilitating treatments of any kind. This tonic herb is gentle and powerful (much like it’s appearance), and lends itself to be used for countless healing remedies…likely used by your own ancestors generations before. 

How to Harvest and Tincture Yarrow

When I spot yarrow for the first time each year, I always acknowledge this deep generational connection, and give thanks for this herbs yearly return to my medicine chest before harvesting a fresh bouquet of  this joyous herbal ally. I harvest in the summer, collecting the entire plant (stem, leaves and flowers) and either hang to dry for use in later tea formulas, or infuse in a fresh plant tincture to store for many months thereafter, preserving the powerful summer prairie medicine well into the winter and following spring. Making fresh plant tinctures is perhaps an herbalists’ favorite activity (or at least it’s certainly mine), and the simplicity of tincturing is ideal for anyone who has access to fresh herbal medicines. When tincturing fresh plants, there is already internal water within the plant, so often no added water is necessary in the tincturing process – only 100 proof alcohol, a large glass container and a tight fitting lid. 

Fresh Yarrow Tincture – Folk Method

Collect yarrow in the early summer – stems, leaves and flowers. 

Strip the leaves and flower from the stems and check for insects. 

Discard the stems. 

Smash the leaves and flowers a bit so that it is very aromatic and in fine pieces. 

Stuff into a large glass mason jar until it tightly fills the jar almost to the brim.

Pour 100 proof alcohol (vodka works well) over the plant material until it completely covers the leaves an flowers. 

Seal with a high fitting lid and shake well.

Let sit for 6 weeks, shaking often. 

Remove the lid and pour off the liquid through a fine cloth and strainer, squeezing out all of the liquid into another bowl or container. 

Store this liquid in amber glass bottles or jars and label with the plant name (Yarrow, Achillea millefolium), where it was harvested, and the date of harvest + date of tincturing. 

Store in your medicine chest for up to 3 years. 

Plant the seeds, and grow a thriving business that you love | Three Things to do First

Your mind may be full of creative ideas. You’ve dabbled in the fascinating world of herbal medicine or taken courses in holistic nutrition and it totally makes your heart sing. You know this is your calling, but don’t know where to start, or how to turn this passion into a full time career. You’ve seen some clients on the side (probably for free), or you’re the person always having side conversations with friends and family about how to incorporate herbs and nutrition into their lives. You love having these conversations, and connecting with people in a deeply personal and therapeutic way. And something in you wants to take this passion further.

You can, and you should.

I’m so passionate about helping budding herbalist and nutritionist turn their passion into a career that supports them financially, mentally and spiritually. This line of work definitely doesn’t have to be just a side hustle. I work with dozens of people to help them turn their passion for herbal medicine and/or holistic nutrition into a thriving career that they love. Getting a business up and running can be an overwhelming task, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and legalities of it all (there’s a lot!). Taking a mindful and conscious approach to laying the foundations of your business can be one of the most rewarding things you can do. If you’re just beginning to brainstorm your future herbal medicine or nutrition business, start with these three steps.

Three things to do first:

  1. Get specific with your services and offerings. Be very clear about what you’re offering, and what your expertise is for the ideal clients you’d like to work with. Do you have a niche expertise for a specific population of people? Do you love working with kids, folks with eating disorders, sleep imbalances, or digestive issues? It’s OK to get really niche and specific with your offerings (this is how most people will seek you out!).
  2. Who is your ideal client, and where can you find them? Sometimes casting your net too wide misses the people who are a perfect fit for your services and expertise. Really take time to write down the specific person you’d like to work with, including their gender, age, demographic, job, where they hang out, and what their health goals are. Keep your eyes open for where your ideal clients spend their time, and focus your networking and marketing efforts in these areas.
  3. Research your local networking community. Some may call this your “competition”, but I find that other practitioners in your area are really your support network. Get to know them, reach out and be curious about what their area of expertise is, and how they can serve your clients as expert referrals. Get a sense of what they’re charging for services to help loosely guide your rates as well. Let them know that you’re here, and what you offer and how you can help them. Your local network can be a huge asset to the success of your business.

Want to dive deeper? Let’s work together to help your business grow into a thriving career, step by step, with my Three Month Business Mentorship & Guidance Package.

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