Elderberries, the heavy, grape-like clusters of small, frosted-looking black or dark-purple berries drooping from bushes near rivers and creeks, are potent herbal allies valued for their support of many systems of the body and even the entire immune system. It’s those remarkable properties that make the elderberry a fitting and iconic namesake for The Elderberry Apothecary, a Chicobased grassroots movement of herbalists who teach and offer products related to wild-harvested, medicinal plants.
The Elderberry Apothecary (T.E.A.) emerged last winter from the thoughtful minds and hands of Rachel Rickard and Nicole Carroll. As trained herbalists and mothers, the pair care for their families, tend community ties, empower others to take health into their own hands, and forge a connection to the land we live in.
What they started by inviting local herbalists to gather and create a shared vision has taken root as a movement. Rickard describes how they built their herbalist community “We saw a little tincture bottle at such and such place and we thought, ‘Oh, this person is an herbalist! Let’s contact them.’” Now, T.E.A. offers workshops, hosts the twice a year Local Herb Faire, and sells herbal products they craft.
At a recent T.E.A. workshop held at Chico’s Blackbird: Books, Gallery, & Café, participants learned how it feels to be stung by a plant while foraging. They put those stinging nettles into a food processor along with dandelion, chicory, plantain, and violets, plus the more typical pesto ingredients: fresh local basil, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Then they scooped and slathered the delicious pesto onto local sourdough bread and seeded crackers.
Twice a month T.E.A. offers workshops like this one at a variety of locations around Chico, on topics like cooking with wild nutritive herbs, herb processing in the home, and infusing ghee with herbs. The schedule also includes wild edible and medicinal plant walks.
This summer, Elderberry Apothecary held its inaugural Local Herb Faire at One Mile in Chico’s Bidwell Park. The free event—with food, popsicles, tea, and dancing— felt like a family gathering. A diverse group of local herb vendors sold their wares as practitioners offered workshops aimed at empowering people to heal themselves with potent medicines made in a way that supports our land, plants, soil, and people. T.E.A. plans to hold the faire twice a year, bringing the community together to teach, learn, receive, gather, honor, and celebrate the bounty of local wild herbs. The next faire is expected to be held in November.
All year-round, T.E.A.’s Rickard and Carrol craft herbal products: tinctures, teas, medicinal syrups, digestive bitters, salves, muscle rubs, nutritive herb salts, and a hand sanitizer. They also make fresh herbal goodies and condiments like their Elderberry Pancake Syrup, elderberries with coriander, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and local honey. These items can be found at two locations for now: the West County Herb Company, a community-oriented herb shop in Occidental, and the seasonal Quincy Certified Farmers’ Market, as well as through the group’s website. Their sights on an herbal CSA and seasonal medicine baskets, Rickard and Carrol plan a local space offering herbal remedies, workshops, gardens for plant identification, herbal consultations, and more local herbal education.
“For now, we will continue to spread the word and gain community support so that others can value herbal medicine, because we can’t value anything without being educated about it,” says Rickard. “For us, it’s about tuning into that mindset similar to what we have for farmers’ market produce: wanting your medicine to grow where you are living and to have that connection to people who process and harvest that medicine.”
For additional details, dates, and workshops, visit elderberryapothecary.org.
Kala Riddle is a nutritionist turned sourdough baker, who enjoys celebrating the seasons through cooking, growing, and sharing our most basic and personal connection: food. Keep up with her at www.untamedbakeshop.com