Hillary Banachowski, founder and owner of Sacred Roots in Shepherdstown, welcomes me to the land with bare feet and open arms. “This spring has been so weird!” she muses as sparse rain falls from a sunny sky. Banachowski has been an herb grower, educator, and steward on these beautiful 30-plus acres for seven years.
In November 2022 Banachowski launched her inaugural Full Circle Herb Grower’s School, a “ten month intensive with a focus, specifically, on growing and selling medicinal herbs — from seed to harvest,” she explains. Banachowski shares that her joy in life is to empower people and that the school is a potent way to impart valuable skills to people from all walks of life.
“I’m connecting with all kinds of people over the herbs now,” she beams. It used to be that a small number of people would flock to the land for herbal education, but now Banachowski is thrilled to be sharing herbalism with a much wider array of individuals. She’s effectively witnessing a real-time evolution in acceptance of what was once considered woo-woo and fringe. Already, the Full Circle Herbal School is halfway through its first year and has a waitlist for six of the 15 available spots for fall 2023.
We Need More Local Herb Growers
“I’d been going to herbal conferences for years and I kept hearing, ‘we need more local herb growers’ — there just isn’t enough,” Banachowski explains. There still aren’t enough growers over a decade later and it’s for this reason that she’s educating others. When she began growing herbs wholesale she found that there was a major disconnect between the reality of production and the demand of consumers who wanted to place an order for several pounds of any given herb and expect to receive it within a couple of days. “It just doesn’t work that way,” Banachowski laughs.
This disconnect has its roots in society’s rather recently developed expectation that anything can be bought at will and at any time of year – be it fruits, vegetables or herbs. Even just two or three generations ago, this was not the way people related to plants. The local food movement, Banachowski points out, has begun to shift that mentality for consumers, but it remains pervasive overall. As the enthusiasm for herbal medicine continues to increase, there will be an even greater need for more local growers.
According to Ann Armbrecht in her book, The Business of Botanicals, “$37 billion in herbal supplement sales [were made] in the US in 2019.” Both Armbrecht and Banachowski alike are asking the question: “how has herbal medicine become ‘transformed from the traditional practices of kitchen medicine… to an incredibly complex, mechanized, sanitized global supply chain?’”
Currently, an astonishing amount of dried herbs, roots, berries, and other raw components used in the making of herbal medicine and teas come from outside the US, requiring a huge amount of energy to transport and store. These herbs, now the product of a full-blown industrialized process, may arrive in a domestic storehouse and sit for months to well over a year, but there’s little transparency on that timeline for consumers.
“Herbs lose their potency as soon as you [process] them… the longer they sit, the less vitality they will have,” Banachowski continues, “I sell my herbs by the ounce and usually sell out within 3 weeks.” For individuals eager to work with herbal medicine, potency and thereby effectiveness, is, of course, the entire point.
The return to traditional kitchen medicine is embodied in the work of Banachowski at Sacred Roots and her Full Circle Herb Grower’s School, which reconnects individuals to the source of their herbal medicine at a pace in alignment with Nature, not Walmart. And it’s more than just improving the quality of products in bottles and tea bags — the very act of growing contributes positively to the local economy and the ecosystem.
Sacred Roots is a proud member of United Plant Savers, which fulfills its mission “to protect native medicinal plants, fungi, and their habitats while ensuring renewable populations for use by generations to come.” These plants attract pollinators, heal the soil and restore a harmonious buzz of inter-connected life, which stimulate a cascade of long-lasting, positive benefits.
To learn more and register for classes and programs or to purchase locally grown herbs visit the Sacred Roots website at SacredRootsWV.com.
Erin Atticus Mooney is the former owner of a creative events and leadership development company based in Washington, D.C., a creative business coach and consultant, and a lover of nature.By Erin Atticus Mooney