Grace MacNeil is the founder of Monarch Apothecary, for which she creates small batch, artisan herbals and soaps using herbs sustainably wild-harvested and cultivated on her small farm in Southern Indiana. Her focus is on crafting potent plant medicines and body care products for beauty, health, and well being. She is also an Arvigo Therapy practitioner, certified advanced holistic doula through the Matrona, certified cupping therapist and master Reiki practitioner.
In this interview, we discuss her devotion to herbalism, her Reiki and Arvigo practices, her experience with sacred plant medicines, and more.
How did you get interested in herbalism?
My first interest in using plants medicinally was in 1995 when I was pregnant with my oldest son. I was working on a berry farm in Vermont for the summer. I intended to have a home birth and to use herbs to support my pregnancy and labor. I picked up the book "A Woman's Herbal" by Jeannine Parvati Baker. After reading, I wrote her a letter ( snail mail mind you, no email then!), she wrote me back a 2-page letter offering so much love, compassion and support. I then knew herbalists were a special group of people. In 2000, I attended the North Carolina School of Natural Healing and completed a 400 hr apprenticeship. This experience really shifted my life in so many beneficial ways. Herbalism really became a centerpoint. Seeing the plants heal common ailments that medication and even extreme diet changes couldn't touch, I became enamored and devoted myself to working with these beings daily.
How do your Reiki and Arvigo Therapy practices, and spirituality in general, inform your relationship to plants?
My work with plants really came before I started these practices. So, I feel the plants really informed my relationship to Reiki and Arvigo Therapy (as well as my holistic nursing practice)! I took a class with Rosita Arvigo in 2004 on Maya Herbal Medicine at the NorthEast Women's Herb Conference. At this particular gathering, a group of Maya Midwives from Guatemala were also presenting. It was only a year later that my mom moved to Guatemala to start a healthcare not-for-profit in the rural Boca Costa de Solola region. I have since had several opportunities to volunteer and learn herbal practices in Guatemala from the People. Becoming an Arvigo Therapist showed me new ways to work with the plants, namely via womb massage. I have witnessed chickweed applied topically break open ovarian cysts!
For the last 5 years my interest in the ancient and current indigenous understanding and practices of plant medicine have inspired my work the most. Having an opportunity to work with Ayahuasca in a traditional ceremony blew my mind and instilled deeply the extreme power and intelligence of the plant beings. My work with energies, ancestors, science, teachers and plants has truly shaped my spirituality. Which is based in Compassion, Unconditional Love, Relieving Suffering and finding our Interconnectedness with all things.
How does Monarch Apothecary source its plants?
Monarch Apothecary is located at Moon Valley Farm in South Central Indiana. This is our family homestead, and where we steward 25 acres of lush, fertile "bottom" land. We use organic practices to grow and sustainably wild harvest over 50 varieties of medicinal plants as well as vegetables for local markets. Over 80% of the herbs used in my products are grown here at our farm. If I need to supplement my apothecary I choose to work with other local farmers, herb farmers nationwide who grow organically and sustainably and/or I purchase organically grown herbs from companies like Mountain Rose Herbs.
What herbs do you incorporate in your every day routine?
My daily herbal routine consists mainly of drinking nourishing infusions of adaptogenic and immune tonic herbs including milky oats, reishi, nettles and burdock. I also work with fresh plants in food, currently eating a lot of chickweed and dandelion. I like to infuse fresh seasonal herbs into ghee, as well as toss violets, lemon balm, fennel and more into salads. Whenever we come up against a health issue at home. I have a stocked apothecary of herbal allies to call upon. Echinacea and Bee Balm for colds, Cleavers for lymph congestion, Bitters like Wormwood and Yellowdock for digestive upsets.
Tell us about your digestive tincture, Gut Remedy. How does it promote healthier digestion?
The Gut Remedy was developed to assist with many common digestive issues. It is a bitter tonic blend containing fresh herbs tinctured at peak medicinal potency. I start by harvesting dandelion, burdock and yellow dock roots either late fall or early spring. I find these three roots to work synergistically in stimulating digestive fluids and liver function. Burdock is especially soothing to inflamed digestive tissues. All three offer a gentle stimulation of peristalsis to encourage healthy bowel function. I also add fresh chamomile blossoms as a mild digestive nervine, especially helpful for settling digestive upsets related to stress. Bronze Fennel offers a gentle antispasmodic effect, a kind carminative for gas, cramps and bloating. I then add a little bit of Wormwood. This powerful bitter offers anti-parasitic qualities and is an incredible anti-nauseant. I recommend taking a dropper full 15-20 minutes before and/or after meals to enhance and support digestion and/or as needed for any digestive upsets.
***You can find her Gut Remedy, a tincture that stimulates the digestive tract, at The Alchemist's Kitchen in-store and online here.