A Visit With Portland Apothecary

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God I love the internet. It would likely have taken me much longer to discover my latest obsession  Portland Apothecary without it. You've heard of CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) but have you heard of CSH's (Community Supported Herbalism))? Imagine experienced herbalists mixing up custom seasonal shares for you, remedies to treat and fortify both body and mind.

Since I've been following Portland Apothecary on Facebook and Instagram I've been getting more and more excited hearing about the wonderful-sounding things they've been preparing for their Winter Share: Fire Cider (I didn't know what that was but I knew I liked the sound of it). Batches of Elderberry Syrup with cinnamon, asian pear, brandy and honey simmering away. A Winter Forest Herb & Mineral Soak "Made with sea salt, epsom salts, cedar boughs, fir tips and essential oils. This soak makes you feel like you are in the middle of a still, majestic forest." I NEED that.

Not content with stalking them online I talked the gracious herbalists behind Portland Apothecary, Elie Barausky and Kristen Dilley, into letting me come over to get a first-hand look at their studio and meet them in person. They turned out to be even more lovely (and more fun!) than I had imagined.

Busily prepping their Winter shares as well as for several local pop-up sales they greeted me with their own blend of hot tea served in exquisite white porcelain cups (hand-made by Elie--these are those sort of multi-talented people). They are both gardeners, of course. Kristen is both a practitioner of acupuncture and an expert at terrariums. Elie grew up on a farm and is an experienced wildcrafter.

After my meeting with Portland Apothecary my head is swimming with new ideas. I think I get it. It's about balancing out what naturally occurs in our body as the season changes. Like right now there may be sluggishness, seasonal blues, extra stress from the holidays, as well as seasonal colds. They have a way to help deal with all those things: digestive bitters to aid in holiday feasting, an uplifting citrusy body/room spray to help stave off seasonal blues, a sore throat spray made with osha root, and my favorite, a gomasio specially blended with black sesame seeds and milk thistle to help nourish the kidneys and process all that red wine.

Seasonal shares are available by pre-order and are sold out for Winter now (look for Spring soon as shares are limited and tend to sell out quite quickly) but items can be purchased individually at these seasonal pop-up sales:

Homespun at Reading Frenzy from December 3rd - Jan 1

Portland Bazaar Dec 8 & 9th

Open Studios with Lilith Rockett Dec 15 & 16th

You can also find some of Portland Apothecary's individual products locally at Pistils Nursery, Palace, and The Woodsman. Their delicious teas are served at Sweedeedee.


Read on for a little Q&A with Kristen and a peek at the Portland Apothecary studio...

This concept of Community Supported Herbalism (CSH) is totally new to me. I love it! How did Portland Apothecary come to be?

I had been daydreaming for quite some time about wanting to create a Community Supported Herbalism Share based on the model of Community Supported Agriculture that many small farmers and growers use to support their small businesses. Our CSH Shares focus on preventative medicine and herbalism with a seasonal focus. It’s similar to the concept that is now more commonly held of seasonal eating.

When I moved to Portland a few years ago I met Elie at the now closed, but then amazing, Lady Bird’s General Store, where Elie was selling her incredible soaps. Soon thereafter over some tea I pitched the idea to Elie and we had so many ideas after one conversation that I knew it was meant to be! Elie is an incredible herbalist, artist & wildcrafter and the two of us work so well together.

Your shares are offered Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Can you tell us about the importance of the seasons to what you're doing?

 There are different herbs and practices that if integrated into your daily life will help you maintain good health throughout a particular season. Our Autumn Share for example, places a lot of emphasis on supporting the Lungs. In Five Element Theory in Chinese Medicine the Lungs are associated with Autumn and are more susceptible to different illnesses like bronchial distress or colds & flu during that time. Winter is associated with the Kidneys & Adrenals so we are focusing the Winter Share on supporting those systems.  

Using this integrated approach helps us to identify which body systems are key to focus on during each season. For example this current share, our Winter Share, is focused on the health of the Kidneys and the Adrenals. Our Spring Share will focus on the Liver and Gallbladder. Each organ system has a complex set of attributes, including emotional ones. We are striving to make each share address physical & emotional issues for a really holistic approach. 

An assortment of Winter posies on Elie's mantle. Both Kristen and Elie are longtime gardeners.

Can you talk about your approach to health and wellness?

My approach to medicine has a few foundations -- Western Clinical Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Bio-medicine. I’m also an artist, so learning the tools and the structures in those more traditional or established medicine frameworks allows me to then bring in my intuition and inquisitiveness for an approach that is integrative and flexible. I really want to keep people feeling well, healthy and energized to begin with so I place a lot of emphasis on preventative medicine. Both Elie and I are committed to education about herbalism and preventative medicine. One of Portland Apothecary’s goals is to inform people about how to integrate herbs into their daily lives. It is our hope that after they use the herbal remedies in their seasonal shares that they are then familiar with those plants, and confident in their relationship to them. In every CSH Share we include a booklet that further informs the participants about each remedy, the seasonal health concerns/associations and a few recipes.

What does preventative medicine mean to you?

There is a traditional Chinese Medicine concept that the doctor would only get paid if the patient was well. If the patient became sick it meant the doctor was not performing their job. This is a totally different concept then what we encounter here in the States. Preventative medicine represents such a broad scope for me. I think most basically for me it means regarding your body, mind and spirit as an ecosystem and checking in to see how it is or isn’t balanced. 

 The raw materials--note the sand used is collected from the Oregon coast. Love it.

I know you have a masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine and have your own acupuncture practice. How do the Chinese and Western herbalism differ? Do you ever find them contradictory, and if so, what's your approach?

Good question!  I came into acupuncture school already having practiced Western Clinical and Energetic Herbalism, and also having landscaped for quite a long time. I had a very intimate relationship with the native plants that I was studying. I knew where they grew, what they preferred and who their plant families were. Upon entering the world of Chinese Herbalism it was like creaking open the door to come across thousands of years of fastidious study of every living organism. Chinese herbalism, at least within the studies of TCM, is a very complex art form. There is a lot of emphasis put on balance within the formula in regards to temperature, direction, organ systems, etc. I found it to be very intimidating at first and will probably feel like a novice until I am almost ancient myself. The traditional formulas are incredibly effective, and the processing of the herbs can be fascinating like frying herbs in honey or preparing the herbs with black bean. Both systems of study and application are endlessly unique and rich in tradition. Almost every night you can find me reading about herbs -- for a plant nerd such as myself it is an endless source of knowledge.

As far as how the systems differ I would say that Western Herbalism thus far has been more of an oral tradition, or a family or community shared knowledge. There are modern herbals of course, and some really fascinating reads from say, the early 1800s before Western Biomedicine took hold. The grip that Western Biomedicine placed upon health traditions in the West has been firm and unyielding. Large parts of our herbal traditions here, especially in the US are just now being pieced back together. Michael Moore, a great modern herbalist, has been instrumental in compiling literature and practice methods that would have been lost otherwise. If you go to his website you can read some of the original texts. I think it’s an exciting time for Western Herbalists. As our healthcare system struggles people are looking at more traditional methods of healing and are very, very interested. It is a time where education about plant medicines has a very receptive audience.

In China herbalism is a huge part of daily life and is also an enormous industry. Formulas are developed in a very concise way. Unlike Western Herbalism that uses a lot of simple methods in which maybe one or two plants comprise a formula, Chinese formulas are generally complex and involve many different plants. Within the formulas there are lead herbs, supporting herbs and plants with neutral qualities to take into account the energetic properties of the formula. It is hard to get into in a short Q & A.

I don’t find that I have a lot of difficulty integrating the two different systems within my practice, Nightingale Acupuncture. Usually when I am working with someone it is very clear which herbs, and which system of herbalism will work for them. I love being able to draw from both systems and feel very lucky to have the knowledge that I have acquired. I am constantly on the lookout for great herb books & teachers so that I can learn more!

It's a labor and time-intensive process to turn herbs into medicine.

Can you talk about the "community" in Community Supported Herbalism? I know you are working hard to source things locally and sustainably.

I think the Community aspect of Community Supported Herbalism is multi-faceted. Portland Apothecary is dedicated to doing our part to ensure that our communities are healthy & vibrant. If we can help you surpass that cold for example, or have deeper insight into your emotions, we are helping our communities to grow stronger and healthier. At the same time we are supporting our community in their good health, they are supporting us by pre-ordering their share so we have more financial stability. With that financial support we are able to ensure that we are sourcing our botanicals from ethical and diligent sources. It also allows us to have less stress personally. We have found great community in pursuing this project from our graphic designer Morgan Reedy of Reedy’s Hardware, to our local screenprinter Adam Porterfield who makes the tote bags the shares come in. We are also getting to work with many amazing retail stores like Palace, The Woodsman, Otherwild, Accident & Artifact, Pisitls Nursery and Sweedeedee CafĂ©. We have had enormous support from our community including from lovely people like yourself Bria! 

Blocks of beautiful pink desert soap curing in the studio.

What's your approach to working together--do you divide and conquer or do you each have different aspects of the company you work on?

We both are incredibly hard-workers, maybe that’s from us both being gardeners. If there’s a task, we tackle it! We haven’t divided up our tasks at this point, it winds up being an organic process. At this point we both have other employment so in our spare time you can find either one of us taking photos, updating our website, mixing up a remedy, writing about our process or trying to figure out how to set up effective systems. We are lucky enough to have been accepted into the Portland State University Business Outreach Program this past month so they are going to help us really get our systems down. Stay tuned! Elie is the soap maker extraordinaire though. She has spent a lot of time developing her soap recipe and it really is fantastic.

Do you recommend one share per person or can a share work for a couple or family?  

One Share can easily accommodate one person and we’ve seen it also be enough for two people. Our shares thus far have had a lot of different remedies in them because we have a hard time containing all of our ideas, but we are looking at our shares becoming less in variety of remedies, but more in volume.

Any plans, dreams, or news you wish to share? 

Portland Apothecary is growing every day and we are hoping to find a place that is our dream studio! In our future plans we would also like to have a plot of land to grow some of our herbs as well as to be an educational garden.  Elie’s Dad is a biodynamic farmer in Northern California and we are currently working with him to grow more of our herbs which will be really exciting. We are hoping to work with more & more small farms. We are hoping to also have our online shop open soon and to lean all about making that process be easy and accessible.


  1. How exciting to learn about Portland Apothecary. My only regret is I didn't buy shares to receive the herbs for Fall and Winter health.

    Thanks for including information about upcoming sales. I think I will do a little Holiday shopping.

    1. They have a lot of things that would make really thoughtful gifts!

  2. I love this idea so much! Bummed I missed out on the Winter share but I'm excited to see they'll be at the Portland Bazaar...definitely going to do some holiday shopping there!

    1. Isn't it such a wonderful concept? They're really doing it right too--all the packaging and everything is such a feast for the eyes. I hear they are going to have some Cardamom and Fennel Bitters at the Bazaar, which sounds amazing.

  3. Fascinating concept and interview...thanks.

  4. Glad you enjoyed learning about them Ricki!

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