In the Spotlight: An Interview with Latisha Guthrie of Sunflower Herb Farm

Elecampane

This post is the first in a series of interviews with entrepreneurs and artists following their passion and offering up their gifts to the world. If you’ve made the transition from dreaming to doing, and would like to be featured here, please drop me a line at withwoman@gmail.com. I’m excited to hear about it! Let’s inspire the world together.

When I decided to start sharing other people’s success stories, Latisha was one of the first people I thought about interviewing. I was overjoyed when she accepted my invitation, because her love of what she does for a living is palpable. Get her talking about plants, and even if you’ve never had an interest in the subject, you’ll find yourself wanting to take up herbcrafting.

Herb crafting is an intimate experience, even when it’s what you do for a living. Would you mind sharing some of your story about how you first came to connect with the plants? 

Well, the beginning is not so sexy, I’m afraid. It really started with smells. I have a really odd sense of smell and things can linger and bother me to the point of distraction. I have trouble concentrating; when I smell something funny I must hunt it down and resolve it. Having allergies and prone to asthma, I couldn’t stand most of the commercial scent-fixing nonsense, so I set out to discover some alternatives. I was fascinated by what I found was possible with just a few leaves and flowers, and my love affair began. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, my passion seemed to kick into overdrive and this deep knowing within me said this was our heritage to learn and share. I felt responsible to the medicine at that point, and let it take me from there. 

When and how did you make the leap from crafting just for personal use and making a living with your herbal wisdom, whether that means crafting products to sell or sharing your knowledge with others? 

It was all your fault, Mani! I’m sure I would have got there eventually, but you were the first person who saw something in me I didn’t yet see myself. You asked me to consider teaching a few beginning herbcrafting classes at your midwifery office in Phoenix. I remember how much I was freaking out and how incredibly gentle and encouraging you were. After I held my first class, I felt more alive than I had ever felt in my life. I knew then that this was exactly what I needed to be up to. 
Ha! I swear that I wasn’t fishing for that answer! I honestly didn’t know what you were going to say. But this works out beautifully, because it illustrates something I believe is extremely important: when we share our gifts freely, we free up others to share their own. If it’s all my fault that this has become your livelihood, I could say that it’s all your fault that I’ve pursued creativity consulting.

I think I was already penciling you into the calendar before you were done telling me all of the reasons you couldn’t possibly do it. You did it. And everyone that came to that first class Couldn’t. Get. Enough. They were raving about it. It was in that moment that I realized I had a gift for seeing other people’s gifts and encouraging them to own it. It took me some time to get to this point with it, but here we are! So thank you.

What fears or obstacles did you have to overcome to pursue your passion? 
With herbcraft there are so many. I still work through them now. The biggest fears are my inexperience and wondering, will I hurt someone? The world of herbalism is full of amazing, storied wise men and women who have been at this for a long time. That old record, “Who am I to be teaching this stuff?” playing on repeat in my head. In truth, I’m really a teenage herbmama. Awkward and shaky at times, overconfident at others. I’m really learning so much, right alongside those I’m grateful to work with. But, I do it anyway. We all start somewhere, and this is what I’m here to do. For me, there is no alternative. I also worry that someone might become ill or have an adverse reaction based on a recommendation, teaching, or product from me. And in truth, though the incidents were relatively harmless, it has happened a handful of times. The thing is, you can’t fully predict how everyone will react to medicine, conventional or herbal. We just proceed cautiously, start with the things that are the most gentle, and work our way up. Though it can be scary to think about, it brings up one of the differences with plant medicine or most holistic healing practices that I love: teaching the patient to know their body and their medicine. Empowering people to understand what they are doing and not just following orders, giving them the opportunity to read the many signs our body gives us, and watching them feel confident to choose their own healing, is the best affirmation I can receive. 

The farm. Won’t you please, please talk to us about your home? 

I could talk about this all day long! It sits just under Mt. Baker in North Bellingham, Washington. Our house is the 100-year-old farmhouse the original owners lived in. The property has a full orchard with walnut, hazelnut, plum, pear, apple, and cherry trees. Right now, our wee little 1.3 acres is still a blank journal, waiting for its story to be written. My husband is the main farm guy, and he is a food forester and permaculturist, so growth will be slow and long. This winter we worked on preparing the soil for the two main gardens: the three veg gardens and the twelve herbal medicine wheel gardens. Now that spring has arrived, we have begun the huge task of planting. We also just received a new batch of chicks, which takes our total up to nine. Next year we are hoping for ducks, and either goats or sheep. Neither one of us have any experience at this sort of thing, so we are taking our time, letting it all sink in. Our hope is to grow it into a teaching forest. A place where people can come and play and learn about plants, and see just how much can be done in small spaces. We have a big ass vision, but we are children of the earth, and we’re really here to do her bidding. So, for now we roll with the seasons, tinkering and sowing as we can. 

Your business has soul. I know that it is so much more than just a means of making money. Please tell me what it is that you hope to give to the world? And just as importantly, what do you receive from the world in return (that isn’t monetary)? 

I have two wishes for my contribution. One: to inspire a deeper connection to the earth. Two: to empower people to take an active role in their own health. I want every child to know what plantain is, and how it can be used. I want mothers to ask hard questions of their doctors, and to feel like they know what’s best for their children. The return for me is the healing and preservation of the mama. We are all here, living on this earth, together. Nature is a ridiculously awesome resource of food, medicine, and beauty, if we just notice it. Whatever you believe, we all need trees and oceans. When I see a child make a plantain spit wad and throw it on a bee sting, my heart grows ten times. When a mother emails me to tell me she can’t drive around anymore without rubber necking every patch of green to see who is there, stopping to harvest things she never noticed before, right there in such abundance all the time, I feel seen, too. We are earth. I am earth. When people notice and take care of her, I feel cared for as well. 

What is your favorite plant in this moment? 

Really?? Okay. I don’t play favorites. I just can’t. But I do choose one plant to work with deeply each year. This year it is elecampane. She is a cousin of sunflower, yet her roots are harvested for medicine. As we are finally rooting down, she has been a good plant to study. Those bright yellow flowers splaying out, proud and beautiful in summer, only to give way and offer her root up for healing. It is the ultimate sacrifice, and these plants, they just give so freely. We have much to be grateful for. 

That was a beautiful answer to a question I knew you weren’t going to like! Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

A lot of people shy away from herbs, even if they’re curious, out of fear. What would you say to them? 

I see you, friend. I felt the same way. It was the driving force behind the creation of my HerbCamp eCourses. First, I always say, just play. Don’t take it too seriously. Make some spritzers with essential oils, or some lip balms. Throw some weeds in your salad. There are literally hundreds of plants that you can use quite effectively and safely, before ever getting into some of the controversial things. Pick just a few to really get to know first. Start with kitchen herbs, for example. Sage, thyme, and rosemary make powerful remedies. Let the plants convince you. I promise they will. And find other herbmamas to share stories with. One of the coolest things about doing this work was discovering all the closeted herbcrafters out there. I’m not running my camps anymore, but our HerbCamp FB group is open to anyone who wants a safe place to land and explore. It is specifically created for folks just like you. By talking about it with each other, by bringing it out from behind the back door, by playing lightly, we remove the fear. 

Please direct us to your wildcrafting ebooks. Also, I know that you’re busy on the farm at the moment, but would you like to share any teasers about future offerings we should keep looking forward to? 

The ebooks can be found at Petal and Moss on etsy. I just listed the Dandelion book for April. I will also be listing loads of closeout herbals in the Petal and Moss shop in May to make room for this summer’s harvest. Finally, I am super excited to be collaborating on some local herbcrafting events here in Bellingham. If you’re in the area, look for those this fall. We’d love to have you visit us on the farmette!

Camera 360

Latisha is a mama, an artist, and an herb farmer in Northern Washington. A little bit fairy, a little bit witch, she delights in the juxtaposed, the contradictory, the paradoxical. Visit her farm site: Sunflower Herb Farm and her personal blog at http://petalandmoss.com

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3 comments

  1. I admire the candid tone of this article and totally agree with the notion of sharing our passions to make a life, rather than just a living. We teach what we most need to learn and I agree that we have to start from where we are, all the while maintaining awareness of what we know and what we don’t know, with abundant gratitude toward our predecessors and teachers. Your farm sounds amazing and the idea of a teaching forest is truly inspiring. The more we know about our oneness with nature, the more will work to protect it.

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