Known as the “Godmother of American Herbalism,” Gladstar sat down for a cup of lemon balm and chamomile tea blended by The Rosemary House & Gardens owner, Susanna Reppert-Brill. Wearing her trademark moon pendent necklace, dressed in purple, her warmth reflects a nurturing instinct. Despite the late hour, and a delayed flight into Harrisburg, the Vermont resident spoke enthusiastically about her lifelong commitment to herbal medicine.
“Everything evolved from my love and passion of plants,” she says about her extensive mark on the herbal world.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in Sonoma County, California, Gladstar was heavily influenced by her maternal Armenian grandmother, Mary.
“When my grandmother would weed, she would be weeding and putting these plants into her basket and she would be telling us, you know, how these plants were used and then she would cook them up into food.”
Mary and her grandfather met on the death march in Armenia. She told the young Rosemary, God and plants saved her life.
Her passion for plants was further cultivated by her family's faith. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Gladstar was drawn to books from authors from her faith, one of them being Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss. The groundbreaking book on healing herbs, published in 1939, along with church co-founder Ellen Gould White, who also wrote about herbal and natural healing, helped to shape Gladstar's growing passion. That influence supported her decision at the age of 13 to become a vegetarian, a path she still follows today.
After years of backpacking and living in the backwoods of the U.S. and Canada, Gladstar eventually settled back in California where, due to the lack of herbal access, founded Rosemary's Garden, a retail herbal store in 1972. As customers lined up, the interest in knowing herbs more intimately also blossomed. She started teaching small groups, eventually forming one of the oldest, and still surviving herbal school in the U.S., California School of Herbal Studies, in 1978.
Following in the footsteps of Kloss and White, Gladstar authored 12 books on herbal healing and co-authored an additional one. From the classic, Herbal Healing for Women to the more current, Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use, Gladstar has influenced a generation of herbal enthusiasts. Despite her ambitious career she says, she is modest about her legacy.
“I just serve the need.”
Gladstar never set goals to become an author or entrepreneur, yet life enfolded before her. In 1974, Gladstar and environmentalist Drake Sadler, founded Traditional Medicinals. The company today, no longer run by Gladstar, still ranks their top product sales with her original 13 blends. From "Smooth Move" to "Gypsy Cold Care," Gladstar still cares for those who don't know her name, but understands the connection of herbal remedies to a healthy lifestyle.
In 1991, she co-founded the Northeast Herb Association and just a few years later, Gladstar founded, United Plant Savers, a non-profit that serves to protect native medicinal plants in North America and their habitats.
Looking at her 44 year career, an outsider would conclude she is a chronic entrepreneur, an author and advocate. However, just skimming through the foundation of each project, you can easily see how herbalism seeded the genesis of each one.
“I've never looked at it from that perspective,” says Gladstar. “I've always looked at it as I'm an herbalist and all of those things, out of being an herbalist, that naturally grew. I was just an herbalist and there was a need for it.”
Today, Gladstar lives on a 500 acre botanical preserve and farm in Vermont where she runs Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center. The 67 year old still travels offering workshops to want-to-be herbalists and garners tens of thousands of views on YouTube with her herbal how-to videos.
For more information on Gladstar's retreat center, programs and travel journeys, visit sagemountain.com.