Avena Botanicals Herbal Apothecary and Gardens
Avena Botanicals is the Ô¨Ārst, and only, Demeter certiÔ¨Āed Biodynamic¬ģ farm in Maine. Founded by farmer and herbalist Deb Soule in 1985, the 3-acre farm produces more than one thousand pounds of herbs used in the preparation of over 200 herbal remedies. Avena‚Äôs handcrafted product line includes tinctures, herbal salves and ointments, facial cr√®mes and tea blends.
Avena also hosts an educational center called The Herbal Classroom. Students can participate in herb walks, classes, and workshops, all designed to help people develop their skills as gardeners and healers. Participants are invited to renew their relationship to nature‚Äôs rhythms and wisdom by celebrating and deepening their connection between their inner spiritual resources and plants.
In addition to her work as a farmer and teacher, Deb is the author of The Women‚Äôs Handbook of Healing Herbs and the newly released book (full of color photographs) How To Move Like A Gardener. Her second book includes an introductory chapter on biodynamic gardening. Deb began organic gardening and her study of the medicinal qualities of herbs at the young age of 16, and began preparing herbal remedies for her community a few years later. She launched Avena‚Äôs Ô¨Ārst mail order catalog in 1985. When she‚Äôs not tending the earth or teaching classes, she is frequently a guest lecturer at conferences and an instructor for botany and horticulture students, garden clubs, and medical students. Deb was named one of the 50 most inÔ¨āuential gardeners in the Northeast by People, Places, and Plants magazine.
Your interest in gardening and medicinal herbs started at the ripe old age of 16. How did you get interested in gardening, and what made you especially focused on healing plants?
My interest in plants started when I was around 6. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who was hearing impaired. She taught me to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. At age 15, after reading Diet For a Small Planet, I asked an elderly neighbor if I could grow some vegetables in his garden. A year later I was gifted a medicinal herb book written by Juliette de Bairacli Levy called Common Herbs For Natural Health. Juliette is considered to be a pioneer in the Ô¨Āeld of medicinal herbs and I was totally inspired by what she wrote. I began learning to identify and collect some of the wild medicinal herbs that grew around me. A friend encouraged me to add medicinal plants into my vegetable garden and showed me how to make herbal tea and tinctures.
When were you exposed to Biodynamic farming, and how did that inÔ¨āuence both your views of farming and your farming practices?
I was Ô¨Ārst exposed to Biodynamic farming in the mid 1980‚Äôs. I happened to be on the college campus in Waterville Maine where the Rudolf Steiner summer courses were being run. I visited the bookstore and bought my Ô¨Ārst Stella Natura calendar. I began reading and using the calendar faithfully as a planting guide and was impressed with the vitality of my herb seedlings. In the mid-90s I met a person who was connected with the local Waldorf school who taught me how to spray BD 500. A few years later I met Tom Griffin who had been one of the farmers at the Kimberton Camphill Village in Pennsylvania and he showed me how to use the compost preps. I have always understood that the spirits of plants are essential in the healing process. Because of my herbal background and my exposure to the Findhorn Garden in Scotland, the Biodynamic preparations and practices were easy for me to incorporate into my farming activities. The longer I practice biodynamics the more interested I am in studying both Steiner and the writings of contemporary BD farmers.
Demeter‚Äôs vision is to heal the planet through Biodynamic agriculture.¬† You believe in healing people through Biodynamic plants. What‚Äôs the connection between healing ourselves and healing the planet?
I see the health of humans and the health of our planet as exquisitely intertwined. This is not a new thought. Any indigenous healer I have spoken with understands this connection. The joining of my practice of biodynamics and herbalism has deepened my spiritual life and my commitment to helping nurture the various forms of life on Earth. I relate to the conversation Steiner had with Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, identifying humanity‚Äôs lack of spiritual development as ‚Äúa problem of nutrition.‚ÄĚ I believe biodynamics offers ways to restore forces to nature that can help restore the overall health of our planet and support humanity‚Äôs potential to live as awakened and loving people.
How do you describe Biodynamics to your customers and to folks who may not be very familiar with its concepts and practices?
I describe biodynamics as an ecological and holistic approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the Earth to the larger cosmos, views the soil and farm as living organisms, places signiÔ¨Ācant attention on soil health, consciously works with seasonal, solar, and lunar rhythms, recognizes and nurtures the unseen life forces active in the garden, and encourages the inner development of the farmer.
If you were to give one piece of advice to a young, aspiring farmer, what would it be?
Create a daily, year-round practice that supports your spiritual development, stay closely attuned to the health of the soil, plants, pollinators, and animals you live amongst, laugh a lot and be grateful to everyone.
“I relate to the conversation Steiner had with Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, identifying humanity‚Äôs lack of spiritual development as ‚Äėa problem of nutrition.‚Äô I believe biodynamics offers ways to restore forces to nature that can help restore the overall health of our planet and support humanity‚Äôs potential to live as awakened and loving people.”
- Deb Soule
Avena Botanicals Herbal Apothecary and Gardens