Red Road Herbs is living textbook
On a warm (actually hot) June day, I meet Rachel Liester, a country herbalist and entrepreneur. She invited me into her workshop near Stanton, NE, where she was brewing a pot of lemon balm tea. She served the fragrant brew in a china cup as she introduced me to lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, a medicinal herb and a member of the mint family with calming properties. The delicate taste of lemon and the perfume of lemon balm wafting above my cup lessened my usual sense of urgency, and I sat back, relaxed and opened my mind to learn.
Rachel’s entrepreneurial business, Red Road Herb Retreat and Learning Center, LLC, was inspired by a quote, “Journey on the good Red Road — walk in harmony with all Creation,” she discovered in John Neihardt’s book, Black Elk Speaks.
Rachel explored the red road concept, and as her understanding deepened, so did her interest in studying herbs and the use of them for health and healing. She scoured ethnobotany books and especially The Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region by Melvin Gilmore, a book she keeps on her desk today.
“Our mission is education,” said Rachel, a Master Naturalist who has a degree in behavioral science, and a career in social work. “We teach everyone how to grow and use medicinal plants in everyday life and, most important, to connect to the planet through plants. Plants are the original medicine and offer healing. Plants keep us healthy over time. They look pretty and association with plants increases feelings of well being.”
Red Road Herbs is the mother and daughter business of Rachel and daughter Jazmine, with an essential and not always silent partner, husband and father Michael. The Liesters have rented the Red Road Herbs property for 22 years, and Rachel said, “We currently have developed five acres of herb garden, an herbal garden sanctuary, a campground, a butterfly and pollinator trail, a workshop, and conference building for me.”
The business involves gardening, growing, mowing, trimming and making herbal products for sale in the herb workshop. Rachel formulates and markets two herbal salves, one for healing dry skin and cuts and the other for itch relief. Lincoln and Omaha Whole Foods stores carry these products, as well as 25 locations in three states. Herbal sprays and sage bundles are also available for purchase at the workshop.
Rachel and Jazmine also plan, advertise and lead events, retreats, classes and tours. Events scheduled for July and August include the Fourth Annual Health and Harmony Herb Festival on July 18, 2015, and the Wings and Weeds Butterfly Gardening and Habitat Trail Tours on Aug. 30, 2015.
Become a friend of a plant
Walking and talking with Rachel among the herb gardens is like entering an ancient apothecary to see shelves carrying bottles of medicinal herbs. As we walk, she describes the properties, history, significance and healing factors of her plants.
“Since early times and in all civilizations, plants have been proven to have medicinal properties,” she said. “In the Linneal binomial system of plant taxonomy, more than 60 plants were given the species name officinalis because they were medicinal. Lemon balm’s officinalis name is Melissa officinalis.” Rachel recommends lemon balm for beginning herb gardeners. She calls it the never fail plant for Nebraska because it grows in drought and survives hard winters. It self-seeds and, like all mints, is a relaxant.
Rachel grows herbs, shares herbs and uses herbs in her daily life. Her studies tell her that plants boost the adrenal system—adrenal glands produce hormones that stimulate the immune system during stress. “For people who feel over stressed, I recommend walking about in the grass and in the dirt, barefoot,” she says. “I also advise people to begin their research into the healing power of herbs by choosing one herb to grow and use. Become a friend of the plant. For example, my herb is sage. Sage is recommended for healing the mouth area. Over the years I have experienced gum infections and used sage for healing.”
Red Road Herbs was awarded a Wings and Weeds grant from the Nebraska Game and Parks Education Fund to develop a pollinator trail for attracting butterflies and feeding caterpillars. Nebraska Game and Parks biologists helped the Liesters design and create a habitat trail through the wetlands and a butterfly garden of native plants. The grant included advertising and marketing funds.
Red Road Herbs marketing plan
Rachel says she walks a fine line with marketing the herb garden experience. She wants to keep it secluded and private. The retreat model accepts visitors by appointment, but she doesn’t want the garden to be so exclusive that it ignores drop-in visitors so Red Road Herbs welcomes visitors and accepts appointments.
“Our most productive marketing occurs on our Facebook site where I respond to questions and give advice,” Rachel said. “We also publish a Red Road Herbs newsletter.” Sign up by sending your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The website also provides current information on current events and upcoming classes.” www.redroadherbs.com
For Rachel, sharing Red Road Herbs with others, like the Boy and Girl Scouts, home schools and garden clubs, is about education.
“Gardens are living text books, to touch, taste and smell,” she said.
Who to Contact