A feel­good field


The Simple Things - - NEST | CREATIVITY - Words & pho­tog­ra­phy: MA­RINA KESSO

The story so far

The land was very ne­glected when we ar­rived, so we be­gan dig­ging out the rushes by hand. Unit­ing our herbs and trans­form­ing our plot was a labour of love, but it was a mas­sive turn­ing point in our lives. It also meant that my clin­i­cal prac­tice Iona herbal (ion­a­herbal.ie) could be based on the farm. One of the most im­por­tant parts of our work as clin­i­cal herbal­ists and herb grow­ers is con­nect­ing peo­ple with the plants, whether it’s by pro­vid­ing oth­ers with the knowhow to get them started with their own gar­dens or through help­ing them to take con­trol of their own health and well­be­ing in the clinic. We now train other herbal­ists and herbal medicine stu­dents to grow and make medicines for their clin­i­cal prac­tices. It was at their re­quest that we set up a herb dis­pen­sary.

More than a nurs­ery

In Ire­land, many of our most useful heal­ing plants are weeds and wild plants. It’s so ex­cit­ing for us when we in­spire some­one to stop and ap­pre­ci­ate the health ben­e­fits of the hum­ble dan­de­lion or net­tle. Or, even bet­ter, in­spire them to go out and har­vest and make a rem­edy from a plant they have wild har­vested or grown them­selves.

Since we be­gan work­ing in herbal medicine we have seen a mas­sive resur­gence in nat­u­ral health and nu­tri­tion. Peo­ple come to our clinic with quite se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tions. The con­ven­tional route hasn’t worked for them and they are seek­ing an al­ter­na­tive. They are of­ten amazed at how ef­fec­tive herbal medicine can be. This grow­ing in­ter­est is re­flected the num­ber of peo­ple *Tinc­tures are made by soak­ing herbs in al­co­hol to ex­tract their ac­tive in­gre­di­ents. Ma­rina mixes five to eight dif­fer­ent herbs to make a for­mula which is dis­pensed by the tea­spoon.

in our cour­ses , want­ing to know how to look af­ter their own health needs nat­u­rally.

We run day and week­end cour­ses on the farm in nu­tri­tion, herbal-medicine-rem­edy-mak­ing, nat­u­ral health­care for chil­dren, mak­ing nat­u­ral skin­care prod­ucts, grow­ing your own medic­i­nal herb gar­den and con­nect­ing with heal­ing plants. We also love to feed peo­ple good food! On our cour­ses, we cook up a big veg­e­tar­ian lunch from our gar­den veg.

Sim­ple plea­sures

The nurs­ery and farm bring us bal­ance in our work – be­tween a busy clinic and the joy of work­ing out­side with the plants. We see the pos­i­tive ef­fects it has on our two chil­dren and our an­i­mals, too. It’s a beau­ti­ful environment to be in. Be­ing able to look af­ter the health of oth­ers, our own heath and the health of our kids and an­i­mals from the plants we grow our­selves is price­less.

Our great­est suc­cesses

Es­tab­lish­ing our tinc­tur­ing com­pany has been our big­gest chal­lenge so far. Giv­ing a new busi­ness time to take off can be a big les­son in pa­tience. It took three years of in­vest­ing in and work­ing on the tinc­tur­ing com­pany be­fore we could launch it. Herbal­ists were slow to change from over­seas sup­pli­ers and com­mit to us fully, which was dis­ap­point­ing at first. It seemed like a long time be­fore we reaped any

re­wards from all the hard graft, and self-doubt crept in. We re­ally had to stick to our vi­sion and be­lieve in our­selves.

Iona Herbal and Bare­root Botan­i­cals went from strength to strength eas­ily, but begin­ning some­thing that we had never ever been done be­fore was a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing. Hap­pily, it ended up be­ing re­ward­ing work.

When it goes wrong

On the north-west coast of Ire­land, hail­stone storms can some­times oc­cur with very lit­tle warn­ing. We had just moved all the nurs­ery plants out of the poly­tun­nels for our an­nual farm and nurs­ery open day at the end of May when the plants got hit by hail­stones. Work­ing around the un­pre­dictable weather here is al­ways a mas­sive chal­lenge for us. Some years, we lose crops due to a rainy sum­mer but we’ve learnt to re­main light-hearted about it.

What we’ve learned

We have grown so much, as herbal­ists, hor­ti­cul­tur­ists, part­ners and par­ents. It’s been, and con­tin­ues to be, a won­der­ful and hum­bling ad­ven­ture. I would say the big­gest learn­ing curve was re­al­is­ing we could no longer be worka­holics once we be­came par­ents. Find­ing the bal­ance be­tween our work – our ab­so­lute pas­sion – and our babies, and learn­ing how to bet­ter man­age our time has come slowly. We now make a lot more time to just hang out on the farm with our kids and pets.

Our best advice

Just go for it! Be­ing a herbal­ist and grower is so re­ward­ing. Start small and let things grow in their own time. In sum­mer, when the main har­vest is on, don’t for­get to take a day off now and then. It’s im­por­tant to take time to stop and smell the le­mon balm.

“Be­ing able to look af­ter the health of oth­ers, and that of our­selves, our kids and an­i­mals, from the plants we grow is price­less”

From op­po­site: a grass path winds through the flow­ers, shrubs and herbs; a tray of camomile ready for dry­ing; the Iona Herbal build­ing, painted green and be­decked with hang­ing bas­kets and pots, is at the heart of the gar­den

Clock­wise from above: Ross har­vest­ing flow­ers as a chicken looks on; plants grow­ing in a poly­tun­nel, shel­tered from the un­pre­dictable Ir­ish weather; a very young har­vester

Some of Ma­rina’s stu­dents (above) learn­ing to make herbal reme­dies. Chick­ens among the wild flow­ers in the gar­den (right)

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