A feelgood field
LOOKING FOR A SPOT TO GROW MEDICINAL HERBS, THIS COUPLE TURNED A ROUGH PATCH OF LAND INTO A FIELD OF FLOWERS – THE INGREDIENTS FOR THEIR NURSERY AND HERBAL CLINIC
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.
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)