Minutes from missing my flight, I snuck into my seat just in time. The airport-dash adrenalin transformed into giddy excitement. Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy sent me to tour Gaia Herbs’ Farm, to sit in fields of flowers in the heaven-on-earth that is Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Gaia Farm is nestled in Transylvania County, affectionately known as the Land of Waterfalls. It’s hard to imagine a better place to grow medicinal herbs than that rich, mineral-soaked soil, nourished by endless water. I couldn’t wait.
The Mountain Way
Generosity, integrity, and grit are an integral part of mountain culture. The feeling spills over into Gaia’s farming philosophy. This farm doesn’t just produce herbs en masse, but participates in an intricate dance between plants, rain, earth, and sky. In return for being tended with such care, the plants grow strong and vibrant, offering powerful polysaccharides for immunity, adaptogenic abilities for fatigue, and emotional lift for heartache.
On The Farm
After a long breakfast our group followed Gaia’s founder, herbalist Ric Scalzo and master herbalist Mary Bove, ND down into the farm to “meet the herbs.” An interweaving of knowledge and experience took place as each herb was described in detail. Bioscience intertwining with Ayurvedic philosophy, Dr. Bove’s experience as a midwife with Scalzo’s rich understanding of plant medicine. No detail left unturned, herbs that act together in formulas have been intentionally planted side by side. Here are some gems from those walks.
Ginkgo Biloba & Hawthorn Berry
Gathering under thickly leaved trees, we are reminded of Gingko’s memory stimulating effects. Neighbor to ginkgo grows hawthorn, the well known heart tonic. Their placement honors the symbiotic relationship created by ginkgo and hawthorn when put together in a heart-mind formula.
Gotu Kola leaves are the shape of a brain! This Ayurvedic herb’s function as a nervine tonic comes as no surprise. Gotu kola is one of the strongest herbs for improving memory and focus without overstimulating hot Pitta constitutions.
Passion Flower & Ashwagandha
Enormous, dewey purple flowers with curling petals nestle sleepily in their vines. Passion flower is wonderful herb for those who can’t sleep, or suffer from anxiety. Coupled with ashwagandha, the famous Ayurvedic adaptogen, this duo replenishes an exhausted adrenal system with an excellent night sleep.
Echinacea is Gaia’s claim to fame. Pink flowers dotted with hundreds of buzzing bees stretch into the distance. No one in our crew of herbalists was nervous of getting stung- It was clear they were here to feast on pollen! Echinacea, when prepared properly, is a powerful immune tonic. If you need an emergency “I can’t get sick!” remedy this cold and flu season, echinacea is your best bet.
Lemon Balm & Holy Basil
Lemon balm and holy basil make up another symbiotic pair. Lemon balm brings happiness, while holy basil helps you feel calm in the eye of the storm. This centered, grounded contentedness is the place from which we all make our best decisions, where creativity blooms, and connect deeply with our needs. In this mad world, lemon balm and holy basil are truly our allies.
On our final evening at the Farm, we gathered around in a half circle to listen to the stories of Doug Elliot. In this interweaving of tales with songs, we learned how to make a berry basket from spring poplar bark, that blackberries won’t sweeten without a late frost, and a tale all about three generations of chicken-egg-stealing snakes. Mr. Elliot jokingly incorporated his Parkinson’s tremor, then gracefully let his shaking left hand mold a mournful vibrato on the harmonica. That moment in particular speaks volumes about mountain culture. Hardship comes and goes, and sometimes stays around a long time. There’s no need to worry much- just accept and simply go on living. In my dreams that night, I heard folk tunes and stories as old as the mountains themselves.
The next morning, I boarded a plane bound for Santa Fe. New Mexico’s beauty is different- stark and wild in contrast to lush green. Dry air and big skies overhead, replaces humidity and a near canopy of trees. While it’s good to be home, a little part of my heart remains in the Land of Waterfalls.
P.S. If you are as heart-struck as I am about Appalachian Storytelling, take a peek at the North Carolina Storytelling Guild.