The Evolution of the Apothecary

The Evolution of the Apothecary

Once upon a time I lived in the Pacific Northwest rainforest at the foot of a mountain, the city on one side, a sea inlet on the other. I could step out my front door into groves of impossibly tall red cedar, douglas fir, and western hemlock trees. I went into the woods every day and foraged often, making friends with the local plants and trees and leaving many offerings. I turned my wild harvested plants into magical and medicinal goods to sell in my apothecary. I loved my mountain, I loved my home, and I loved my business… but I left my partner at the time and consequently lost all the things I loved and had to move to an apartment in the city.

I found that it was very hard to find the time to forage when the forest wasn’t right outside my door. I was only able to get back to my mountain a couple times a year to visit and harvest.  I ended up focusing on my flying ointments and my artwork instead. It was rewarding, but I missed foraging, I missed gardening, and I missed being cloaked in a mantle of green. I urban foraged for myself and friends, you can find some really cool things like wild plums, hawthorn trees, escaped thimbleberries, wild fennel and white yarrow… but it’s not the same as walking through the deep wood of native plants and trees. How I longed for tall red alder trees, sweeping hemlock boughs, oemleria, and devil’s club. I craved wild things, a lack of people, and a lack of the noise of civilization.

Foraging in a red pine and oak forest Round Lake, Ontario in winter

So here I am in rural Ontario and loving it –even near the tail end of a snowy Canadian winter. It is very different out here. There are no tall jagged mountains, no vast ocean and sea inlets, no impossibly tall trees, and all four seasons exist with gusto. Here the land is a shield of rock with stunted trees, rolling hills of green, beautiful farmers’ fields, vast lakes, rushing rivers, and wild forests. There are sugar maples instead of big leaf maples, balsam fir instead of douglas fir,  and many more deciduous hardwoods by far: ashes, birches, basswood, beech, elm, oak, maples… It is a land of forgotten ghost towns, abandoned farms, old log cabins, long-quiet saw mills, and forests young from over a century of logging.

Our goods at the local farmers' market

I cannot really garden here until the weather cooperates in the first week of June, but I have already been foraging and plan to do it as much as I possibly can this year. Alex and I have been making arrangements with multiple homesteaders to forage on their acreages. The bigger variety of herbal goods introduced to the online shop in the past few months is a reflection of the wild bounty available here. It has been so rewarding and happiness-inducing to collaborate with my forager and product gnome Alex, making goods for the apothecary out of the freshest and best quality botanicals possible because we harvested and prepared those botanicals ourselves. It is hard to beat the amazing fragrances of balsam fir, eastern hemlock, and spruce and pine resins which have filled my kitchen all winter. There is always chaga being cut and ground by hand, conifer branches hanging to dry, and bags of divinely scented wild harvested pine and spruce resins waiting to be turned into incense and ointments.

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The wild changes will continue as I adjust to my new life in the Ottawa Valley and continue to discover the amazing medicinal and edible plants now at my finger tips. I merged my local apothecary of wild medicine with my online magic shop to make my life easier and things less confusing since becoming a regular vendor at the local farmers’ market and having the plan to do so for the foreseeable future. I’ve also had a good handful of locals coming to the door to purchase medicines. The Fern & Fungi Apothecary now has it’s own blog of foraging, cooking, and herbalism posts and will feature articles from our other team members in the future. This is to provide a writing space to really feed into those passions of foraging, feasting, and folk herbalism with a big emphasis on bioregionalism and terroir.

I will still blog as often as I can on my own website, but with more of a focus on animism, witchcraft, every day life, and any adventures I have. Sarahannelawless.com is my personal portfolio of my artwork and writing and will continue to be so. I do not like duplicates, so I will likely not cross-post on both sites. If you want to make sure you get writings from both my personal website and my business, be sure to follow both facebook pages (Sarah Anne Lawless and Fern & Fungi) and/or the newsletter.

Fern & Fungi goodies Spruce amber resin and balsam fir ointment

I will still be making my flying ointments. I may always do so. They are so pleasant and so very effective for pain and sleep issues… This winter there has been a big mandrake, henbane, and datura shortage with suppliers so recently I’ve only been able to keep ointment recipes made with belladonna in stock. If the ointment section seems sparse, this is why! Do not despair, I should be able to get my hands on more henbane in a few weeks, more datura in the spring, and more mandragora officinarum root in a couple years if Molly, my solanceous herb grower in Michigan, is successful with her crop. When spring comes I will of course be trying to grow all the nightshades and aconites I can fit into my yard. There is just no comparison to working with lovingly grown, freshly harvested medicinal herbs! Hopefully I can grow a large enough quantity on my own to preserve enough flying ointments herbs to last us through winter supplier shortages in the future. *crosses fingers*

I am making plans to expand how much I teach this year. I will be teaching herbal workshops and plant journeys out of my home and yard, plant and tree identification walks in the area, and hosting workshops and rituals at Raven’s Knoll events. Keep an eye on the websites’ events pages once spring comes around for good! I thank you all for your patience with me in all the changes I’ve been making since my big move out East. I hope you will continue to join me on my journey to rewilding myself and my herbal practice.

Blessings of the deep and the wild,

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • I purchased one of your flying salves many, many years ago (I swear, it was probably in 2011 or 2012 that I purchased it) and have been a fan of your work and creations since. I very much enjoy your blog posts!

  • Gersande says:

    What a beautiful blog post. I envy your adventures but it is a happy envy, an envy coloured with gratefulness and hope. Looking forward to more pretty pictures and will be bookmarking the fern&fungi blog. <3

  • You are very blessed to live in the wilds I forage in my dreams, but the experience is true, and real. They have shown me, not just the evolution of my path, through visits with my animal spirit kin, but also the spirit of my Flora kin. One way or another, spirit guides, and speaks, helping us know what heals body and spirit. : ) I look forward to sharing your journey through the Shield. A great way to journey through her is on the Bruce Trail. If you miss your views, (I lived in Banff, so I understand the call of the mountain spirits), Lion’s Head will take your breath away. MERRY part, sister, till next time. <3

  • Lucea's Child says:

    I wish you so much luck with your ventures. This is something I’ve wanted to evolve towards myself and you are an inspiration towards that. Thank you for all the information that you share with us. <3

  • Jules says:

    Dear Sarah,

    You are such an inspiration. I look forward to every post. I’m going to presume to now speak for all of your customers and readers. Write the damn book already! You might find the book “How to Write a Book Proposal” helpful in getting started. But either way, get on with it! I’m sure you’ll have absolutely no trouble finding a publisher.

    All the best

    Jules

  • Soli says:

    What you’re doing now is similar to my lifetime aspirations, but not just yet.

    Question, what do you use to grind the chaga? I’ve found my own source locally and while I could probably put it in the food processor or coffee grinder I am curious to know what you use.

    Also, if you ever find yourself teaching in southern New England you have an extra place to stay if you need it.

  • Afshin says:

    Thank you Sarah for your lovely post You’re such a clever witch! Green blessings to you. :)

  • Erika says:

    When I read your blog I feel like I get to finally live out my dream-self and feel just so incredibly inspired :) Thank you for sharing your world with us