Summerland herbalist finds creativity through her passion

Helping people with herbs

"Okanagan Inspired" is a weekly series of profiles offering a peek into the stories and inspirations of South Okanagan residents who hold creative roles in the community.

From what started as a hobby 25 years ago, a Summerland herbalist has made a way of life out of finding creative, natural solutions for helping people.

Sarah Willard Smits grew up in the Toronto area, and left Ontario when she was 20. She has now been in the Okanagan since 2002, settling in Summerland in 2007.

“I lived in Kelowna and Penticton briefly. I went to school in Kelowna for my post secondary schooling to become a sound engineer. I love both science and art,” explains Willard Smits.

“Summerland is my favourite place I've ever lived. It is a very welcoming community and a great place to raise my family. There are a lot of interesting people who live here, who are in the arts or entrepreneurs and we are all interconnected that way. It's really cool. There are these really creative science-y people, and I'm really drawn to those people. We have farmers, artists, scientists, philosophers, musicians and the nature here is close to so close and part of the culture. It’s the perfect size, but still has room for someone like me."

Being drawn to nature, science and art helped her find her path, and inspired her to grow her hobby as a community herbalist and starting her business, 13 Moons Herbal Apothecary.

"A community herbalist is someone who works with traditional medicinal plants and helps local people incorporate it in their diet. It's fun working with people and their health provider, and working together to see if they can use these herbs in their diets to support their health. I predominantly either grow my own herbs or wild-craft, which is another term meaning foraging, and do those ethically and sustainability," Willard Smits said, adding with a laugh:

"I usually use friends’ organic farms and spray-free gardens to find the wild plants I need. A lot of things people consider weeds are actually amazing herbs that are really nutrient dense super-foods, and most people don’t mind if I offer to pick their weeds for them."

Willard Smits learned about healing herbs when living in Victoria in the 90s.

“My partner at the time was very sick. His urologist said he had to clean up his diet and start taking herbs or things would get much worse. Upon the doctor’s recommendation, we went in to see a local herbalist, and he had a complete turn around," she explains.

As she grows her business, Willard Smits is also upgrading her accreditation at Wild Rose Herbal College, where after completion, she will become a Master Herbalist.

“It’s about finding ways to encourage people to take charge of their own health. Rather than looking for a person to tell them what to do, it's connecting with things available to them and maybe something that even grows in their yard."

Willard Smits has all kinds of options at 13 Moons Apothecary.

“I harvest and dry many kinds of herbs and use them in different tea formulations. I prefer blends because some herbs don't taste all that great, so I make sure to mix in some yummy things with the helpful things, for compliance. No point having a tea sit unused on someone’s shelf!" she says.

She also offers teas, salves and custom tinctures, and is always happy to chat with a customer about mixes that may address their specific ailments — that's where her creative instinct shines. She currently offers free initial consultations.

"I married a wine maker/ brewer who can make me the base which is great. I make 25 tinctures right now and more are coming!” says Willard Smits.

In addition to creatively helping people, Willard Smits enjoys other aspects of being an herbalist.

“I love hiking and exploring the Okanagan. I think we live in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. I get to spend 80 per cent of the day outside, and get to see it all up close. Since different plants are best collected at different times of the year, you really get a sense of the seasons. My harvest schedule is based on the lunar calendar. All parts of all plants can’t all be ready at once, but when the moon changes, different things become ready. The Wolf Moon in January is when I start harvesting the resin-filled poplar buds tips, whereas May’s Flower Moon reminds me to climb the mountains for fresh arnica flowers,” she explains.

For advice on how to learn more about herbs, Willard Smits says there are many wonderful local resources.

"For example, Summerland Ornamental Gardens has amazing plants with explanations of each. There are wonderful online groups. You can learn from places like Wild Rose Herbal College, and many others. Herbalism and foraging are becoming more popular, so there are all kinds of sites and books to help you learn. I will soon be offering guided walking tours in the spring too. I like to ask, 'How do we connect with our world?' because when we’re connected, we take better care of it and of ourselves,” she says,

While out wild-crafting, Willard Smits likes to listen to local BC band Shred Kelly.

"I really like 'Sing to the Night,'' says Willard Smits.

“It’s so happy and in their one-take music video they’re all dressed up in 80s ski costumes, skiing, hula-hooping and snowboarding. It’s like watching Shambhala Music Festival on skis,” she adds, laughing.

To contact Willard Smits at 13 Moons Herbal Apothecary and learn more email [email protected] or visit www.13herbs.ca.

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