by Megan Palumbo, Volunteer Writer
For centuries, cultures around the world have relied on herbal medicine to meet their health needs. It’s no wonder as these plants are rich in nutrients and improve well-being without any harmful effects. More recently, Mary Blue, founder of Farmacy Herbs, has been leading this resurgence in Rhode Island to not only make and sell high-quality herbal products, but also educate the public on a variety of local, medicinal plants.
Mary’s love for herbalism began early on when she was navigating her own health issues. “Herbalism was the connection between [my passion for] activism, healing the environment, and creating community. I knew that’s what I wanted my life path to be,” she said. Her career took off at Indigo Herbals in Providence and Seven Arrows Farm in Seekonk, MA, while also being involved in activism increasing access to natural health care.
In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, she had the opportunity to volunteer in New Orleans for four months administering herbal remedies in support of people’s health conditions from the aftermath. For Mary, this experience revealed how powerful herbs could be in a situation where there weren’t other resources available and inspired her to start her own practice in Providence. “One of the reasons we started [Farmacy Herbs] was acknowledging systemic racism within health care and basically dismantling those systems of oppression to provide a comfortable space for anyone who wants to learn about herbalism,” she said.
Farmacy Herbs opened its doors in 2008 and has become a small-scale example of a viable, healthy community rooted in sustainability, inclusivity, and holistic healing. Its footprint spans a cozy shop in Providence that sells a large selection of dried bulk herbs, tea blends, tinctures, and salves, as well as a five-acre, chemical-free farm in West Greenwich where people from all walks of life come to learn about herbalism. “From bus drivers to zoo workers to priests to young kids, we have a very diverse community which is great. I love it.”
Part of Mary’s healing philosophy focuses on using herbs to support health, not treat disease. “The strength of the herbs is preventative. It’s giving your body what it needs to work efficiently and feel good,” she said. Consequently, the other part of her philosophy revolves heavily around education, which accounts for half of Farmacy’s business. “Our products are very educational-based, but I don’t want to be the end-all, be-all for herbalism. That’s why our education model is teaching people how to provide for their own herbal needs where they can have a small garden at home and make their own tinctures or salves.”
Farmacy’s Herbal Foundations programs are a series of classes focused on the how-to of Western herbalism with social and health justice principles in mind. These foundational courses are for beginner and intermediate herbal students, and are available online year-round or in-person during the summer months. “So many diverse people come around this one shared belief of natural healing and using medicine that’s not addictive, not going to pollute the planet, and that’s going to heal our bodies, not hurt them. My staff and I enjoy the community that is created around [our classes].”
This connection of community has kept our partnership with Farmacy Herbs strong over the years. “Farm Fresh has always been responsive and very considerate to farmer’s needs. We started working with them when their farmers markets were founded in 2007 and have also facilitated classes for them in their kitchen,” Mary said. “A lot of their interns have ended up coming through my program and have become part of our family.” Mary’s hope for the future is to start teaching classes or even offer plant walks around our headquarters in Providence.
In the meantime, be sure to stop by Farmacy Herbs’ table at our Providence Farmers Market every Saturday 9am-1pm and try some of their amazing, all-natural products. Or follow Mary on Instagram for program updates and informative yet amusing videos on herbalism. If you are interested in embarking on your own journey to natural healing, get started with Mary’s book on Herbal Foundations or her free webinar and guide, “Become an Herbalist.”