January Featured Vendor – Samhain Herbs

Samhain Herbs elderberry syrup

How did you get into herbalism? 
I was squatting on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1990s. I fell down some stairs and broke my foot one night, at a show in Philly. When I got back to NYC, I had a cast up to my knee. A friend of mine suggested I go check out this new herb store on 1st Ave. I thought the place would be swarming with microwaved moon biscuits and Birkenstocks… But when I arrived, the woman behind the counter had a sleeve of tattoos and fire engine red hair. Her name was Penny. She let me copy (by hand into a notebook) anything I wanted from all the herb books in her store. She also gave me half used bottles of tinctures and showed me how to make a poultice, for when the cast came off. I hung out there for weeks. Penny was my first teacher, she and New York City.

What traditions inspire you?
I practice Traditional Western Herbalism, peppered with Five Element theory from Chinese Medicine, and common sense based on what plants are growing nearby.

Who were your teachers?
My greatest teachers have always been the plants. When I left NYC in 1997 I enrolled in my first formal herbal apprenticeship, out in the swamps of South Carolina. I did a work trade, for free herb school. I remember feeling so out of place on my first day. I was a crusty punk rocker and everyone else was a middle-aged housewife! Times have certainly changed.

Rosemary Gladstar led the first circle I sat in as an herb student. She was visiting the owners of the herb school and teaching there that weekend. She blew my mind. Next, I moved to Asheville, NC to continue my studies. By 2004, I had done eight nine-month herbal apprenticeships, studied a little midwifery and became an Ayurvedic postpartum doula. All but one of my apprenticeships were work trade. That’s how it was done back in the day. Field experience was literally harvesting plants for medicine with your teacher after class and on weekends. I was very lucky.

Oh, and I had two babies! Raising children without pharmaceuticals and healing my own chronic illnesses has taught me a lot.

In the spring of 2004, I loaded my 3-year-old, 5-year-old, and their dad family into a pick-up truck and we drove to Vermont. We lived in a tiny cabin by a waterfall in the most beautiful place on the planet. I did my final Internship in this amazing, majestic landscape, with my hero, Rosemary Gladstar. Through Rosemary, I met many herb nerd rock stars and spent a lot of time learning and teaching with some of the most important people in western herbalism today. I have been blessed with tons of awesome teachers in my life, but I consider Rosemary to be my true mentor. She is seriously my hero.

When did you start making herbal products?
My first line of herbal products hit the shelves of Asheville, NC in 1999. The name of the company was Mama Groove Herbs, and my best seller was Happy Heiny Herbal Ointment for diaper rash. When we moved to Plainfield, in 2005 we rented a barn that had been renovated into an apartment. In the old barnyard, there were tons of elder trees. I asked our landlord if I could harvest the berries and she said yes. The rest is history. I still gather from that stand every year.

What made you decide to turn the interest into a business?
I am a serial entrepreneur. When I was a stay at home mom, I made baby products. When my kids got older, I made elderberry syrup. They are the reason it tastes so good. My whole point was to make a quality elderberry syrup that everyone would love to take. My desire to stay at home with my kids, be in the woods or the garden and an innate obstinance allowed me to hold onto the idea that if I craft quality medicine, my kids will be the guinea pigs and the community will support my efforts! So far, it’s worked.

Samhain Herbs owner Jill Fink

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
Samhain (October 31) is actually the Witch’s New Year! This is because it is the beginning of the dark half of the year and all dreams are born out of darkness. In the cold, dark winter, traditional people died without the hunt. It is from the end that beginnings are born. On Yule, the wintered sun goes to sleep in the black arms of mother night. He is reborn the next day, refueled and recharged. We can harness this solar newness by letting go of what no longer grows us. New Year’s Resolutions definitely make a lot of sense to me.

A lot of folk’s vow to get healthy this time of year – how can herbs support this intention?
Herbs are great for immune health, but they build on the foundation of self-care. Washing your hands often is a good place to start. Eating soups from local meat broths and root vegetables nourishes us deeply this time of year. Rest. Lots of rest. Yoga and meditation are great tools for good health all year long but committing to a practice could be a great New Year’s resolution. If everyone around you is sick, take elderberry syrup. Then give it to all the sick people around you! Elderberry is great for warding off colds and flus, but also helps sick people get well faster.

Describe your relationship to plants. 
When I am in the woods, I have come home. To feel the dirt below my feet is food for my soul. This relationship is a kinship, a blessing. I am in awe of the plants. I will forever be their student.

How can one get the most out of herbal medicine? 
Lifestyle changes often accompany deep healing. These may include, but are not limited to counseling/therapy, increased exercise, dietary additions/omissions, practicing mindfulness and following the quality guidance of a professional practitioner. Become dedicated to your own healing and that commitment pays you back with good health.