The Mamalode Starter Series is an exciting opportunity for us to introduce you to some of the amazing people we get to meet. Starting something takes enormous amounts of work, faith, help and community. Every week we'll share another story of starting. So, community of Mamalode, read up, get inspired and check out these wonder-folk.
Interview with Elaine Sheff, writer, herbalist, and founder of the Green Paths Herb School.
Tell us a little bit about your business and how you started it.
I am an herbalist, which is an interesting profession in the United States. I have an incredible passion for natural healing and medicinal plants. I think of myself as a bridge between people and the earth, helping people to remember their inherent connection to the earth and their own bodies, and get a glimpse of how those are not exclusive to each other. As an herbalist, I have really made my own way for my entire adult career. Herbalists in the U.S. generally have to make their own jobs and then educate people about what they do. My husband and I owned a retail store, Meadowsweet Herbs, for 18 years. That was a wonderful journey filled with learning new business skills, teaching classes, making herbal medicine and seeing clients. I felt most honored about being a healing hub for our community, a welcome and gentle landing place where people could come and get information and tools to help in their healing process.
My husband and I sold our business in 2013 and opened an herb school to teach people how to become professional herbalists. Honestly, it has been a dream of mine for over 20 years. The thing I love most about my work now is being able to dive into the knowledge with students, to go deep. I also love having more time to write. I have written six books in the last three years. My latest, and most comprehensive book is a natural body care book called Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. I have a new one on herbs for children with special needs coming out soon.
What do your kids think about your job?
They love it! They each have their own little garden where they grow their own herbs. They are constantly asking me which wild plants they can eat, or showing me the herbs they know. They think it is quite commonplace to take herbs every day. I don't think they have any idea yet how unusual our jobs are. My older son asked me the other day, “Mom, once I am an adult, how will I keep getting my tummy herbs since I want to be a musician, not an herbalist?” The cool thing is, he knows so much already, he will have no problem fending for himself!
Tell us about a total mom+ biz fail?
As you all at Mamalode know, my younger son got very sick when he was two. The following three years were really hard. Honestly, I was struggling just to get up every morning, to rise to the enormous task of having two small boys, one of who was devastatingly sick. My business suffered. I just couldn't do it all. My husband, who owned the business with me, was working a good 80 hours a week, while I focused on my “second” job: my sons, our home, insurance coverage, doctor's appointments, and being out-of-my-mind-consumed-with-dread. I don't look back and regret my choices during that time, even though they really impacted the wellbeing of our business. I’m grateful that owning my own business gave me the flexibility that I needed during those years. Kids come first, you know?
Share with us a total win (brag away!)
Well, the business I own now is really my dream job. I adore what I do, and in some ways, that feels like the ultimate success. Last year we had our school, Green Path Herb School, in the basement of our old store. It was OK, but I missed the sky and I felt out of touch with my environment. This year, we are in the upper floor of this amazing two-story building. The view from every window is stunning–we can see the mountains around Missoula, the river, and downtown, our whole community, really. I love that.
But my biggest win is my new book, Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. It is my first print book (the others have been eBooks). It’s an amazing feeling to hold something that I created in my own hands. I love the message of the book: using natural products on our bodies is healing for ourselves and the environment. It's easy, inexpensive and fun! Plus, you can have a whole lot of fun with the title… For me, another important aspect of the book is the idea that we are all beautiful, in our own stunning and unique ways. I think the dedication of the book says it well: “To all women everywhere, no matter your culture, skin color, age or body type. No matter what television, the media or society may say, may you know that you are deeply beautiful, inside and out.”
What's your relationship with Mamalode?
I think I’m in love! My feelings for Mamalode are complex, and wonderful. I feel like Mamalode has given me a voice for my journey with my special needs son. You all have helped me take my writing more seriously, made me feel like what I had to say was valuable and worth repeating. The feedback I have gotten from the larger Mamalode community has been so supportive. I'm greatly inspired by the work that Mamalode does. Every time a magazine comes out, I sit and read it from cover to cover, often crying, smiling and laughing along the way. Thanks so much for that.