by Laurie Szott-Rogers
What got you started doing what you do? What drove you to do this? What was the moment when you realized you just had to start this business?
In the 1970’s Robert was a botanist, who was drawn to plant medicine. There was very little offered in Canada at that time. He studied in England, Spain, Peru and the U.S, learning what he could about medical herbalism, nutrition and iridology (a system of seeing what the body indicates by looking at the iris of the eye.) He then started his herbal clinical practice in Edmonton in 1984 and the beginnings of a store in 1988, knowing he wanted to bring bulk tinctures and herbs, essential oils and flower essences into the city. He founded the Scents of Wonder essential oil line, probably the first one in Edmonton.
In the late 1980s, he had a thriving practice consisting of clients who wanted to be involved in their own healing using natural remedies. He started writing his first book on plants of the area- Sun/Dew Moonwort, medicinal plants of the boreal forest.
I had been interested in herbology and alternative studies since late childhood but had focused more on astrology and metaphysical studies. I met Robert while I was a mature, part-time, university student. I was taking cultural anthropology and he was giving a lecture. His articulated philosophy was my silent code and he spoke words that I lived. I felt a strong draw but didn’t know how our paths would cross.
They did merge in a significant way and we became deeply involved. I quit the job I had as a research/communications person in the government and put my pension plan money into decorating and organizing the store. In 1990 it started attracting people other than Robert’s clients.
At the same time, I studied herbology, aromatherapy and flower essences and became certified in these modalities. I loved blending oils and creating products for our customers. We also put together a small college, Prairie Deva, to offer classes in herbology, iridology and aromatherapy for our very knowledge hungry customers. We also increased our emphasis on flower essences by becoming the Canadian Distributor for Californian Essences FES and the English, Healing Herbs. Also drawn to the essences of the area, we started creating the Prairie Deva flower essence line.
By 2002 Robert was finding more satisfaction from our wholesale business in oils and writing and teaching than from having a clinical practice and store. We closed the store, but kept the wholesale businesses (oils and essences) and joined, with partners, to establish Northern Star College.
With a desire to put more emphasis on educating students, potential store owners and practitioners about wholistic medicine including aromatherapy and flower essences we felt we could reach a larger population and create more change. Help educate those who can create change. In fact, now many of our students do own stores, grow or wildcraft plants and work as practitioners and product developers in the wholistic health field.
Why did you choose to go about it the way you did?
We grew slowly and organically. Our drive was never to get big, but to live a balanced life and do what we loved. Neither of us can tolerate debt, nor do we want to run an empire, so we have not taken large financial risks. We also believe that when a part of our business no longer resonates it is time to then let that piece go and focus on what is vibrant, so that there is an authentic connection between ourselves and what we do. Learning and education were natural paths for both of us. I was also very attracted to creating blends and product which we are happy to see in many stores.
How did you go about developing your particular approach to your business?
Like many others, we have no other choice, but to follow our inspiration. When there was a strong urge to teach more we moved toward that and put our time and energy into developing courses.
When I have an inspiration to blend and create product then I do that. My muse was slanted toward writing and teaching for a long time. Now it is more oriented to developing e-courses, making self-study easy.
Robert’s love is researching, teaching and writing about plants in this area. He is authentically fascinated and keeps his relationship with plants, and now mushrooms alive through daily interaction. Having been store owners we are happy to move our product to people who have much influence on others, (the store owners), and feel we have insight into their needs, as we have been in their careers.
What were the major obstacles or hardships that got in your way as you built your business?
We are not marketers but have developed so many products, books, and courses, but many of them have not seen the market or were marketed in a very inexpensive, low-key way. Also, we are not financial risk takers and sometimes have missed opportunities because we did not invest in them. Deciding on how much staff to have has also been difficult, as we like to keep our businesses lean.
We have never put much emphasis on getting our product out into the world, rather, depending on students to do this as they developed their businesses.
What have you experienced in your life that gives you the ‘street cred’ to do what you do?
Robert was out pioneering an alternative way of life since the 1960s as part of a wave of young people who built their own homes and forged a living in the Canadian North. He wild crafted herbs and grew an individualistic lifestyle. He traveled all over the world, studied with shamans, healers and other pioneers in the alternative field. He worked in health food stores in Edmonton, as an herbalist and traveled the province. He then pieced this together with his degree in botany and started as a clinical herbalist, something very unusual in Edmonton in the early 1980s.
I have studied metaphysics for over 35 years but actually started living this way even while I was an adolescent living in a small town on the prairies. I have also worked as a researcher, studying longevity and healing. I have worked in health food stores, owned a store and have blended thousands of oil mixtures in a company that has survived for 20 years. We have both taught what we studied for the past twenty years, and continue to write and teach as we grow.
We had owned an herbal, aromatherapy and flower essence store for about 15 years, dealing with customers and creating product. We also have been in wholesale for nearly thirty years and understand the needs of our customers.
Why are you so passionate about what you do?
Nature provides beautiful scents and essences useful for healing, beauty and mood enhancement. Introducing people to this green pharmacopeia puts them in touch with their inner healer and alchemist and is fun and empowering. They find a way to support their own health and lifestyle and become their own expert in day-to-day living and healing.
With the educational aspect, we feel that by teaching people to deepen their own self-knowing, intuition and wholistic knowledge they can make a positive change in their lives, their families and their communities.
Providing oils and essences to stores expands access and availability of the plants.
It also smells great to work with the oils and I become ecstatic each time I blend.
Who has been your Obi Wan Kenobi? Which mentors or teachers have most inspired you in this work?
For Robert: “it was Bernard Jensen a pioneer in iridology and iris diagnosis, Norma Meyers an herbalist from B.C. and Rose Auger a medicine woman from northern Alberta, who was a memorable mentor.”
For Laurie: “Robert was my main herbology teacher. His knowledge in this field is staggering. Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz of the flower essence society were important flower essence teachers for me. Stephen Aizenstat founder of Pacifica University, has been an inspiration for my dream work, which nurtures all of my other quests, as has Skye MacLachlan from Northern Star College. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, writer of Women Who Run with the Wolves was also a teacher. I have taken training to be an instructor of her very deep work. It has reignited my love for teaching women to tap into their creativity. Many teachers from elementary to university, to Northern Star College, provided valuable insight and encouragement and I treasure them all. My friends, students, nature devas and our cat are also wonderful teachers.
As you look back over your life – what are the primary questions you’ve sat with, struggled with? What are the different elements you’ve been trying to balance or weave together?
What really makes a difference to my life? How do I keep balance in my relationship, family, and societal demands? Where is a good place to put money, energy and focus?
What is feeding me now? What needs to die my life? How do I retain my sense of self within a relationship?
How do I best balance my time to reflect what I am here to do, but still accomplish what is necessary for day to day survival? How do I integrate my night dreams into daily life? How do I develop a relationship with the sacred and infinite that is meaningful and real to me?
What is it that you think most people don’t see or appreciate about your business that you wish they did?
Our love of plants and the natural world . . . What sometimes remains unseen is the amount of love we have for the plants and products.
What gets me most excited about our industry/business is we help people connect with plants (in the form of oils and essences, so they can create simple home remedies, beauty products and get a deeper view of their emotional patterns. Coupled with some education and experience they can become more self-sufficient and have more choice.
Using plant-based medicines means our forests and woods are seen as being beneficial both commercially and spiritually.
We support local growers.
We educate those who wish to pursue green careers, helping foster the herbalists, aromatherapists, flower essence therapists and environmental alchemists of the future.
We also keep learning about the medicines and plant devas around us to continue to work with what we have locally, and offer respectful alliance to the plants that help us heal.
The amount of continuous education we engage in to keep knowledgeable about our fields, Robert studies and writes hours each week in true devotion to plants of this area.
I tend to blend fields of study – whatever catches my current interest becomes fodder for blending – when I was interested in homes, I created room blends to illuminate the energy in each part of our living space, providing unique products to stores. Also, I have done product development with mystical plant lines through the years, some of which include: oils for the chakras, astrological essences, Tarot Scents, Color Scents, Essences of the Goddess, Totem Essences.
What’s your take on what’s most important for people to understand about this whole field of oils and essences?
We believe that people like to be involved in promoting their own health and well-being and many natural processes have been made unnecessarily clinical, such as childbirth, menopause, insomnia and stress.
We feel people like to learn and become self-sufficient. We have put together a college www.northernstarcollege.com, earth spirit medicine program to facilitate deep learning. But, we know many people also like to learn on their own. We are moving into e-courses and currently have a self-study program, where people can learn to be an aromatherapist, and earn either a certificate or diploma program. www.northernstarcourses.com
We’re big believers in self-healing and self-sufficiency. Our take on the situation is that people often know what is out of balance and can fix it if they listen to their bodies and make the changes that they require for better well-being. People are wasting too much time ‘talking about’ stress while being unwilling to make a change and too little time making healthy choices that bring the stress down. Start to live what you know. Professional medical intervention can be life-saving, but educating people to understand their bodies and rhythms, rather than putting all the power in someone else’s hands, pays off in terms of preventative health and personal empowerment. Most of us are out of rhythm with nature, we forget our bodies are programmed to heal themselves in many circumstances if they get the right food, rest, and balance. We know there is a divine intelligence in our human bodies and psyches that is able to repair, especially with day-to- day issues like stress, exhaustion, mild colds, flues etc.
Stores that can offer help with this have an essential service that many consumers will come back to. Stores that can offer valuable education toward these goals create customer loyalty and respect.
We dream of the day when as many research dollars go to wholistic and preventative health care (such as promoting natural cures, such as herbs, essential oils, exercise and lifestyle changes) as do into drugs and pharmaceuticals. We believe it’s a myth that only proven cures are effective. Our ancestors had cures that worked in some cases. This perception has more to do with politics and power than accuracy.
If you are attracted and curious, please explore. It is not a path for everyone. Let your governing philosophy be your guide. If this is not your way, there are many other healing modalities to explore. Honor what is right for you.