Annie is the botanist behind all our blends. She specially formulated each product and ethically wildcrafted, locally sourced, and personally grew all the ingredients herself, right here in Colorado. Annie spent years traveling through Central and South America, studying the healing power of plants. She’s an expert in all things homesteading thanks to her residency at Hidden Villa, a farm and wilderness reserve nestled in Los Altos Hills that once housed Cesar Chavez during the United Farm Workers movement. Since becoming a mother, Annie has really stepped into her healing power, armed with ancestral wisdom passed down through generations. We sit down with Annie to hear her incredible story. Read the interview.
Ned: How did you get to where you are today?
Annie: It’s been a long journey . . . it’s been a journey I’ve been on probably since the beginning . . . It started with just a love of being in nature. For many years I lead camping and experiential education trips for young people. This love of the natural world and this desire to have more of a deeper understanding of what my place is and what my relationship is to it just got me into learning more about plants. That knowledge just started to grow and develop. It was very experiential learning, very much from just being in nature and being with lots of people who had similar interests as me, sharing their knowledge and wisdom.
I moved to California and lived on a farm and wilderness reserve. My schooling is in everything homesteading. I learned how to milk goats and to make cheese and yogurt and harvest lavender flowers and learn about wild foods and all kinds of cool stuff on the West Coast. It’s called Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills. This really really special place. They provided a safe place for Cesar Chavez during the United Farm Workers union strikes and for Japanese people who were trying to escape from internment camps. It’s 4000 acres surrounded by multi-million dollar mansions. That's where I got into learning how to make tinctures and lip balms and salves.
From there I took herbalism courses, permaculture, agroecology courses, the integration of all of it. My interest is in herbalism and growing food and making medicine and making dishes from what I grow and more of the wild harvesting stuff. That’s the journey.
The last two years of trip leading brought me to Peru, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The students would get sick all the time because of eating new foods and water. And it was like every host mama had a remedy either growing in their yard or they could walk up to the hills and pick guava leaves or yerba growing in the mountains that would make the student’s stomach feel better or take away whatever gross fungus they had growing on their feet. So I was really inspired by all those women and that deep ancestral knowledge that women carry for healing and making medicine and that empowerment of being able to both have the knowledge and wisdom and the competence to use the plants and make medicine for your family and provide in those ways. It’s really something that’s in our DNA as people. Having the medicine in our hands is really inspirational to me and powerful and something I’m really passionate about.
Mother nature taught me and all the humans. I spent a few years working in a community garden program in the Denver metro area and a lot of those women were from Central America and Mexico and they would always be like constantly telling me about their remedies for different ailments. I’ve had so many opportunities to learn from different people that have really inspired my journey.
Ned: Quality seems to be a very important piece to your practice, why is this important to you?
Annie: With all of my background and experience with farming and growing and agro-ecological environments (like, environments that try to mimic nature as much as possible) the difference between buying a store bought tomato and growing a tomato — it is just a completely different food. The same is true with herbs. Even, organic standard is really great and provides a lot of quality control, but it isn’t everything and when you purchase herbs from a supplier, especially stuff grown in other parts of the world, it’s harvested so long ago that the vitality and the qualities of the plants have left and you don’t get those energetic properties. The life force that the plant is lost through all the harvesting and shipping. And then there's also that blessing of — especially with wild harvesting — the asking of permission and the giving and offering and that deep connection and humility that is there during the plant harvesting really translates into the final product. I love sharing that with people and it makes me feel really good about giving it to people. All of that absolutely influences the quality, the energy behind it — the freshness, the vitality, the intention.
Ned: Why are you driven to do what you do?
Annie: This deep longing or question of what it means to be human in some ways. I studied anthropology and my journey since then has been really plant focussed. Ethnobotany is how people use plants. That’s what really guides me, wanting a deeper understanding of our ancestral heritage of knowledge and medicine-making and then also just that question of where is the place of humans in the world. We become so disconnected from nature that we think it’s not a part of us. Which is not true. The language that surrounds us creates this binary between humans and nature, so for me it's more about being in relationship with nature and how to be in relationship in a good way. I just love it and it feels so natural to me. It’s the best part about being a human.
Ned: Why were you open to working with Adriaan and Ret and being a part of the Ned brand?
Annie: I met Ret in the neighbourhood at a block party and he was building a bow with my husband, Victor. So we became friends and that was around the time he and Adriaan were launching Ned. It came from a place of liking them and appreciating their vision, and I felt really excited that they were excited about the idea of bringing in wildcrafting and solar and lunar infusions. I felt like that was a unique thing, for people developing a product to have a real appreciation for that and really wanting to incorporate it into the product and valuing the energetic infusions.
Also, It feels so good to be in circles of women and to be creating supportive medicine and cures and products for other women and to have this unifying force or sisterhood of lifting each other up. I think there's a lot of ways in our society in which women can be catty and competitive and not supportive of each other. It always feels good to be in a community of women who have the intention of lifting each other up. I really appreciate that Ret and Adriaan wanted women farmers and women formula makers and women marketers and so on. Made by women for women.
Ned: How has herbalism/botany/natural remedies changed your life?
Annie: On a personal level, I feel very much more connected and in tune with the seasons and the cycles of the moon and all the earth cycles. That's from wild harvesting and growing and doing lunar infusions. I feel more tapped in, which feels really grounding. And also, just really empowered that the more that I learn, it’s like, the more I have this medicine chest I have available to share with friends and family and aid in my own healing, and it feels really good not to be reliant on these experts in the field of western medicine. Even since becoming a mother, stepping into this different roll, a family matriarch, makes me feel even more powerful with all this herbal wisdom and knowledge like it’s a real asset and a real skill and not just a hobby project, this is actually really important stuff and really valuable for the health and well-being of my family.
I see that there's this need to reconnect with plants now more than ever. We’ve just gone down this path so much in American culture of fixing what is wrong or broken, always coming from a deficit, taking a synthetic lab made medicine. I see coming back to plants as medicine and reconnecting with all the herbal wisdom as a way to really shift our whole thinking and being in the world to a way of being more gentle with ourselves and our bodies and really supporting ourselves from a deep nourishing place rather than just trying to mask or cover something or reverse something. Some of the plants in the products are things that people will be familiar with, perhaps they’re growing in their garden, so also the opportunity to build that connection and relationship more for people, like ‘I can actually do this.’ Instead of thinking, ‘this is a weed we have to kill and get rid of with chemicals,’ thinking ‘no this is actually beneficial and it 's everywhere.’