I recently had the opportunity to connect with Liz Hodges, the creator of Verdant Wild Apothecary, a small batch, botanical skincare line. Down to earth and happiest in nature, Liz creates holistic products by marrying the ancient wisdom of her Celtic heritage with herbalism. She generously gave her time for this Q & A in which we touch on everything from her childhood spent in wide open spaces to her divergence from the beauty industry. In a time where climate change is at the forefront of our minds, Liz emanates hope and demonstrates that Mother Earth and business can peacefully co-exist.
Q: You touch a little bit about growing up off the grid and working with your Aunt harvesting lavender in Santa Cruz. Can you talk more about your experience with nature while growing up and how that shaped your path?
A: My parents were part of the ‘70s back to the land movement; spending my early childhood years on our 40 acre off-grid homestead instilled in me a deep connection with nature as well as place. As a child, I remember being happiest just wandering the hillsides. My mother was also really into plants and learned how to use many of the wild plants as well as grow a prolific garden (with no running water!) and preserve the harvest for winter. These things were always a part of me, but I wanted to go out and explore the world and then I ended up coming full circle in my thirties when I started gardening and learning homesteading skills.
I started working with my aunt on her farm harvesting lavender in my late twenties after I moved to Santa Cruz and did so every summer for about 10 years! I also bottled olive oil with her. I’d say she’s been my mentor in many ways, showing me how strong women can be and how to run a successful business doing what you love.
Q: I love your blog posts and how you marry herbalism, ancient medicine and astrology, it’s really beautiful. Can you talk a little bit about how you use the principles from each of these disciplines or areas of thought, to guide you?
A: Herbalism is a combination of many different disciplines. At its core, it’s a worldwide lineage of ancient plant knowledge and you get to choose what works best for you. Because of my ancestry, I’ve been exploring Celtic traditions, which work with the wheel of the year and the phases of the moon as a base for understanding the cyclical nature of all life. I love to tie in mythology as well, as I’ve been a fan of Jungian archetypes since reading Women Who Run With the Wolves and I find it a beautiful way to illustrate concepts that have been part of the human experience for ages.
Q: Part of the beauty of Verdant Wild are the seasonal products. How do your products change with the seasons and why? Which are mainstays?
A: I love to create seasonal products because we are part of nature and just as the earth around us passes through seasons, our body’s needs change throughout the year and as we age as well. Any products that I wildcraft are seasonally crafted small batches so that they can remain sustainable. These are available until they sell out. My soaps are also all seasonal, as well as the Intentional Living collection. All the other facial and body care products are pretty much mainstays.
Q: Can you explain Community Supported Herbalism and what the offering is? Where did the idea for CSH come from?
A: The idea for our Community Supported Herbalism program came from seeing local farms launch CSA programs. The basis of these is that you subscribe for a set amount of money and you get a box of whatever the farm is growing each week. This way, you’re supporting the farm by committing to buy what they have available at any time and they have less waste too. It’s really fun and I’ve learned how to cook some fun new things this way. Live Earth Farm has a great one if people are interested.
So I figured, why not create a seasonal box with my goodies based on the same concept? I know my products last longer than a week, or even a month so it made sense to line it up with the solstices and equinoxes. It’s $60 quarterly, and I curate a box of our products (a combination of limited seasonal offerings with some mainstay faves sprinkled in) worth much more (usually $80-90 worth) for each season and send it out to members.
Q: What was the catalyst for leaving your studies and creating Verdant Wild?
A: I got really into gardening during my graduate studies, and realized I wanted to do more hands-on work than the policy path I was on. I wanted to be working with plants and immersed in nature more. I actually took an elective class on creating a sustainable and socially responsible business, and that’s where I came up with the outline for what became Verdant Wild. I initially took a leave of absence and started a homesteading blog that was to become the platform for selling products I created, then I studied horticulture which eventually shifted into herbalism. It’s been a very interesting path, with more twists and turns to come I’m sure! My plan is to one day have a garden center where all sorts of experts come to teach workshops too.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about foraging? What do you forage, why do you forage, where do you go and how do you use the ingredients for Verdant Wild products?
A: I love to forage wild herbs if they are growing abundantly and I can do so sustainably. It’s important to always be aware of legal restrictions for harvesting on federal or state land (National and State Parks are never an option) and to get permission when foraging on private land, and also not to harvest any species of the United Plant Savers’ “At Risk” or “To Watch” lists. For every online order, we donate a dollar to plant a tree in our National Forests through the National Forest Foundation. I forage a bit around Santa Cruz and mostly on my family’s land in Washington State, where I grew up. It’s amazing how many of the herbs I use still grow in abundance there.
I forage because a) it’s my favorite place to be and it feels like my purpose when I’m doing it, and b) when plants grow in the wild their beneficial qualities are often stronger because the constituents they develop as self-defense mechanisms are the same that are beneficial to us. I then dry the herbs for later use, or I make fresh herbal infusions or tinctures with them which are super magical because the process takes a whole moon cycle (month) to complete. An example of this process is our “Happy Body” massage oil made with fresh St. John’s Wort.
I follow Robin Wall Kimmerer’s rules for The Honorable Harvest as outlined in the book Braiding Sweetgrass, paraphrased as follows:
🌿 know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them
🌿 introduce yourself. be accountable as the one who comes asking for life
🌿 never take the first. never take the last
🌿 take only what you need
🌿 take only that which is given
🌿 never take more than half. leave some for others
🌿 harvest in a way that minimizes harm
🌿 use it respectfully. never waste what you have been given
🌿 give thanks for what you have been given
🌿 give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken
Q: How would you describe the values of Verdant Wild?
A: I usually sum these up as: good for your body, good for the earth. It’s a pretty simple concept that is actually quite complicated to implement in this day and age! We keep all of our formulas nontoxic obviously, use containers and labels that are plastic-free, and ship with reused, recycled and biodegradable materials. We believe in nourishing bodies and respecting the earth while enjoying the bounty of gifts that the botanical world offers us. We give back by planting a tree for every online order, and donate a portion of our profits to local causes during the holiday season.
Q: What sets Verdant Wild apart from other skincare brands?
A: What sets us apart is that we’re pro-aging. I’ve come to believe in aging gracefully, while the whole beauty industry has been founded on making a profit based on unachievable standards. The biggest lie they’ve perpetuated is that we should somehow be able to freeze time and look like we’re 25 forever, but this isn’t in alignment with our true nature. We are part of the earth, and we have our own cycles and seasons. And just like the earth, if we are healthy, each season holds its own beauty. We all know people who’ve embraced aging and are attractive because of it. So yes, we should take care of our skin and that means tending to it lovingly and addressing its changing needs as we age. And that’s what our herbal formulas are here for.
Q: What role does sustainability have at Verdant Wild? Why is sustainability important to you as a brand owner and as a person?
A: Verdant Wild was founded on sustainability. I got my undergraduate degree in Global Studies and was studying International Environmental Policy in grad school when I came up with the plan for Verdant. Sustainability is important to me because we are in the middle of a climate crisis, no question, and I want to do anything I can to create grassroots change that will have a positive impact on the world around me and preserve the harvest for future generations. I don’t have kids, but I have nieces and nephews, and I want them to have the same beautiful natural world to explore that I had growing up. We live in such a magical and beautiful place and I believe that everything here is connected. Never has this been more apparent than over the last year! I strongly believe that people, plants and the planet should come before profit, always, and this SHOULD be a given.
Q: How do you choose the ingredients you need to source for Verdant Wild products?
A: I forage my ingredients when I can do so sustainably, then I source locally, and if I can’t do either of those I source organically through only sustainable, ethical and responsible companies based in the US. Mostly, this happens to be from Mountain Rose Herbs in Oregon!
Q: My impression of you and the brand is slow and intentional. In the fast paced world we currently live in, how do you create balance?
A: This is challenging! If there’s one way to sum up what is happening in our world today, it is that we have lost our connection to our true nature. So I create balance by finding little ways to come back to my true self through rituals in the midst of everyday activities, which can be simple things like breathing, lighting a candle, journalling, making tea, meditating or stretching in the sun. I also carve out time for movement and getting outside. I like to do yoga and trail run. It’s all a practice!
Q: Why was keeping nature part of your life important?
A: Nature is my home. I don’t think I could live without it. It’s where I feel the most comfortable, the most happy and most relaxed. Nature is my teacher and my medicine. I believe we are all part of nature, so it’s not something that’s just outside of me, it feels like it’s inside me too!
Q: What is the meaning and significance of the name Verdant Wild?
A: Well, Verdant came first and I got it from NPR actually! I believe it’s one of their sponsors, the McArthur Foundation that says “building a more just, verdant and peaceful world?” I thought that perfectly encapsulated what I wanted my business to create. Its definition is: green with grass or other rich vegetation. The Wild was added when I went mobile during the pandemic and began wildcrafting ingredients. I wish for it to convey our roots in sustainability and growing connection with the natural world.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I’m listening to The Gene: An Intimate History on audiobook currently, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, cancer physician and author of The Emperor of all Maladies. One thing I love about the herbal path is it’s holistic, and for me that also means learning from the natural world and ancient traditions along with current scientific research. As you may know, my mom died of cancer when I was young and I find our current advancement in genetics fascinating. It would be a dream come true to see cancer cured within my lifetime! I love how he goes into the history of genetics from all angles, including how Mendel discovered the fundamental laws of inheritance through peas! He brings up some important ethical questions as well and doesn’t shy away from the horrors that occurred as the result of eugenics, which have been thankfully discredited. Thorough and unbiased account so far!
Q: Favorite herb for fall?
A: Do I have to choose? Haha. Probably ginger! This season is about letting go, shedding layers and preparing for the womb of winter. As the process of decomposition begins, we recycle energy from what we no longer need. Roots such as gently detoxifying burdock, loaded with the prebiotic inulin, anti-inflammatory turmeric and ginger help ease this transition.
Shop Verdant Wild, and don’t forget to check out Liz’s blog while you’re there!