Melissa: Tell us a little about Red Moon, the origins, your mission, your standards:
Melissa (FBFC):How did you first become interested in plants as food and medicine?
Jeannie: Growing up with tobacco farmer grandparents and parents who loved the land as much as their parents, I was lucky to be around my family’s you-pick/we-pick strawberry farm and vegetables we put by with canning techniques. In the 70’s, my mama was known as a bit of a weirdo in central North Carolina since she ate dandelion greens and both my parents would order different tree’s or plant’s to try from seed catalogs…my dad tried salsify root (vegan oysters) and my mama bought a linden tree that the bees loved. We pulled a lot of weeds, now I eat them or feed them to my goats.
Melissa: What are your 5 most beloved plants?
Jeannie: Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Milky oat tops (Avena sativa)..fresh in alcohol
Red Root (Ceanothus americanus)…aka Jersey Tea
Eastern Osha (Ligusticum canadense)…Bo’Hog root
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
The last three I’m trying desperately to get growing in my forest and the goldenseal seems to be the easiest.
Melissa: What is your favorite herb book ( or 3)?
Jeannie: Sastun moved me so much, the determination that Rosita Arvigo showed to apprentice under Don Elijio Panti and the life long commitment she made to pay it forward is an example I strive to live by daily, passing on herbalism to future healers. Healing Wise by Susun Weed will always be in my top 5, she grabbed my attention and helped me see plants as fellow friends and true allies. Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech is my early bible of learning proper extractions of constituents of the plants while maintaining a relationship.
Jeannie: Jessica Godino and Corrina Wood both apprenticed for a year with Susun Weed, author of the Wise Woman Herbal Series. Following the ways of the Wise Woman Tradition, they birthed Red Moon Herbs, a company that chooses to make herbal extracts from prolific weeds, harvested fresh and processed on the same day in peak season. For instance, roots are only dug after frost when the tops of the plants have died back and the energy has returned to the earth. Flowering tops and leaves are harvested when they are in the most vibrant bud and bloom stage. We use organic alcohol, oil and vinegars, local beeswax and local honey while we encourage local farmers and Appalachian wildcrafters to join us in providing the most local plants with zero-50 miles travel time to get to the facility. We are so extremely blessed to live in western NC where the plant species exceed 2000 varieties. Now that Red Moon has been around 25 years and growing, I hold tight to the standard of small batch and fresh, local plants sourced by our own farmers and wildcrafters.
Melissa: How do you source your plants for making Red Moon medicines?
Jeannie: We do not limit ourselves to certified organic. We want a relationship with the person who watered, tended and harvested that plant. Besides, the USDA certified organic does not cover wild plants and a lot of what we harvest such as dandelion, burdock, plantain, chickweed, and yarrow are growing wild here in Appalachia and across North Carolina. The main thing we focus on is a pristine growing source, sustainably harvesting our herbs and the farmers and wildcrafters who share our commitment. For example, ginseng root has been in circulation for centuries and because the leaf did not hold up well in shipments and the roots could be stored for years, roots became the most desirable part and we have killed entire populations in Appalachia with the demand on this one plant. Although we focus on the “weedy plants”, we started offering ginseng leaf extract and dried leaf as a way for some wildcrafters and wild-simulated growers to hide their crop of ginseng from thieves…the leaves have medicinal qualities too. We also encourage a partial root harvest and planting back the neck node and part of the root as Joe Hollis of Mountain Gardens recommends…or using wild simulated roots, those who grow ginseng like it would grow in its natural habitat.
Melissa: What is the greatest struggle in running a local herb business?
Jeannie: Since we source fresh plants and we process in small batches, we tend to have a supply problem. Some plants have a small window of harvest time, like milky oats (2 weeks in late spring) or St. John’s Wort bud and flower (around Summer Solstice) so if we don’t harvest enough of the plant that year, we can’t just buy some dried material from Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier or some east coast growers and make it with dried plant. These two especially have to be made with fresh plant material to extract the correct constituents. Preparing for a whole years sales is tough when some plants may lose status in popularity and other plants shift to be the high demand (2017 and 2018 elderberry madness rush the Co-op experiened too!)
Melissa: What is your greatest joy?
Jeannie: My family, including those who walked before me to lay the path of farming together…that led to my path of herbalism and healing. My fungi-loving partner Michael and teen kids Sofia and Sam are my heart. I am ecstatic when I overhear the kids talking about herbal medicine and the plants they can identify or how they can heal, even when they act like they’re not that interested in herbal medicine. Some of it sticks anyway! Behind family, it’s great herbal friends, my cats, and goats.
Melissa: What are your top selling products?
Jeannie: Motherwort and elderberry elixir hit it out of the park last year, but it looks like this year’s #1 is Green Wonder Salve. We’ve used it on ourselves, our cats, rabbits and goats and we have a few vets who purchase for their clients so I can see how the word is out for animals now too.
Melissa: What is your vision for your business in the future?
Jeannie: I want Red Moon herbs to be a destination, but not limited to one place. We currently just have a small workshop where we mail out or deliver to local businesses. The wild and open spaces are part of our garden for sustainable harvests…see Eaglesong and her use of the Commons….I’d love to orchestrate more walks together while spreading seeds, replanting root crowns, and allowing participants to take part of the harvest in gratitude. Community building is is a part of my vision for the future and I see a piece of land that has some transitional housing as well as permanent residents. Red Moon wants a safe place for those without homes to come and sit in the garden or help with the harvest. We are living in an affordable housing crisis in the Asheville area and even though tiny homes seem to be a bit of a fad, I encourage and hope to build small spaces where people can live simply and share their gardens together while canning, preserving, and learning life skills.
Melissa: How do you think that the Co-op and consumers can support you and other local businesses to create a strong local industry and a more resilient economy here in Asheville?
Jeannie: Really pay attention to those tags that say LOCAL and even if they cost a bit more, perhaps buy 1 local item everytime you visit the co-op. It makes a BIG difference. Most or all of those local businesses are making their handcrafted items in small batchess so your purchase, together with 10-20 other people per month can mean whether they stay in business or not. These small businesses hire local people and purchase raw materials from local businesses and farmers so your purchases for locally-made help ten-fold, not just one company. I love that the French Broad is also supporting MothrEarthFood.com, a local delivery service that brings local produce and goods to your door. I really appreciate these sorts of collaborations. Holiday markets or special events that feature locally-made goods, demonstrations from our Asheville makers are also really appreciated. As the co-op grows, I hope Red Moon can team up with FBFC and with other local makers to showcase as one big family.
Melissa: Any words of advice for new herbalists and foragers?
Jeannie: PROPER ID is #1! Make sure you know what plant you are harvesting and please chose a weedy plant over some of the less common plants. Organize a plant save if you see an area that is slotted for development for housing or areas where the DOT is widening roads and highways. United Plant Savers has an at-risk list…consider growing a few of these plants in your forest or even on a shady city lot. If you don’t have land, scatter seeds when you see them or divide roots when you do harvest and leave a little behind. Black cohosh, Ginseng, and Goldenseal are plants that do well with division. For herbalists just starting out and considering their own product line, consider apprenticing with a maker and take a few classes that identify plants in various seasons so you don’t just see it in a bag, dried, cut and sifted with no idea how to identify in the wild.
Sustainable Herbs Project- A wonderful body of articles and info tracing our beloved herbs back to their source. It has amazing information on what we can do as consumers, as herbalists and as teachers to protect these plants that we love and how to protect the farmers/wildcrafters who provide them.
United Plant Savers- A wonderful organization focused on the preservation of medicinal plants. Any herbalist will benefit from the list of at risk plants, in depth articles, and even how to create your own botanical sanctuary.
Northeast School of Botanical Medicine