By Christine Fisher
MAINE’S FARMERS don’t just grow vegetables or raise livestock. In Midcoast Maine companies like Avena Botanicals and Maine Medicinals are growing herbs and medicinal plants, in hopes of raising healthier humans.
In Rockport, the Avena Botanicals team hand harvests more than 1,000 pounds of fresh herbs from their 3-acre certified organic and biodynamic gardens. They grow plants ranging from Agrimony to Yellow Dock, and their medicinal herbs are made into everything from cremes, balms and salves to herbal tinctures, elixirs, oils, teas, powders and more.
Avena has flourished under the guidance of its founder Deb Soule, named one of the 50 most influential gardeners in the Northeast by People, Places and Plants magazine. Soule is committed to biodynamic farming, which is a holistic and spiritual system of organic and ecological growing. It recognizes that besides nourishing the soil from a nutrient-perspective, a farmer’s presence, attention, love and spirit are important.
“We believe the presence and love we bring to planting, tending our gardens and collecting the herbs adds to the vibrancy and spirit of our herbal products,” Soule said.
In Dresden, Maine Medicinals has a larger 33-acre footprint but a focus on just four core products: an elderberry syrup, cleansing tonic, relaxing formula and local bee pollen.
Maine Medicinals has a strong research-driven mission: to optimize human health by merging herbal traditions with current phytomedicinal research. Blending science and plantmedicine is a natural fit for founder Edie Johnston, who was raised by herbalist parents and trained formally in the sciences. Edie now runs Maine Medicinals with her son, Geo Johnston.
Since 2008, Maine Medicinals has received federally funded grants from the USDA and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study the preservation and concentration of phytonutrients in plant-based medicines, specifically how to protect the antioxidants in elderberries and wild Maine blueberries—their key ingredients. In 2014, Maine Medicinals traveled to the White House to receive a Tibbetts Award from the Small Business Administration, which honored their antioxidant research.
Like Avena, Maine Medicinals is committed to organic growing and ecologically beneficial farming techniques. And like Avena Botanicals, Maine Medicinals got its start at the annual Common Ground Fair, which is run by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and takes place each September.
Today both companies sell their products locally through natural food stores, co-ops and Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic region. Products can also be ordered online through both companies’ respective websites.
Both Avena Botanicals and Maine Medicinals are happy to talk with interested customers. Avena’s shop is open 12-5 pm daily year-round, opens its gates for public garden walks all summer long and fulfills its core, education-driven mission by hosting numerous classes.
Avena Botanicals and Maine Medicinals are in good company.
These nine other farms are also working to grow herbs throughout the state. They are all members of the Maine Organic Herb Growers Cooperative, which aggregates herbs from Maine producers in order to collectively fill large contracts for wholesale herb buyers.
Blessed Maine Herb Farm, Athens
Farm in the Woods, Monson
O’Meara Family Farm, New Sweden
Scattergood Farm, Brunswick
Duck Back Farm, Belfast
Dharma Farm, Washington
Blue Bell Farm, Bowdoinham
Ripley Farm, Dover Foxcroft
Still Roving Farm, Unity