The first time Julie Caldwell drove across the Humboldt County line, the native Alabamian felt curiously at home underneath the towering redwoods. Humboldt's incredibly diverse ecosystem, rich with verdant flora and fauna, captured Caldwell's heart and imagination. She decided to stay forever.
Like many transplants starting anew behind the Redwood Curtain, Caldwell saw an opportunity for reinvention in Humboldt. Formerly, a writer and teacher with a graduate degree in contemporary American poetry, Caldwell also possessed a passion for herbal medicine. She remembers how scarce access to medicinal plants was in the mid-1990s, ironically even in Humboldt County, the nation's victory garden for cannabis. The daughter of a pharmacist and granddaughter of a folk herbalist, Caldwell set about furthering her education in plant medicine. She signed up for the class Beginning with Herbs with Jane Bothwell, a beloved local teacher, at the Dandelion Herbal Center in Kneeland. Expanding her roots in Humboldt's holistic community, Caldwell quickly "met her tribe," while also observing the need for better access to medicinal herbs in Eureka and Southern Humboldt.
This February, Julie Caldwell will celebrate 20 years as the owner and operator of Humboldt Herbals, located in Old Town Eureka. When she started the business in 1998, Humboldt Herbals was a DIY catalog with a friend's pen-and-ink illustrations of the plants, through which customers could mail order herbs and holistic products. She distributed the catalogs at local natural foods stores and laundromats, and somehow, orders from San Francisco to Oregon started rolling in.
Today, Humboldt Herbals thrives as what Caldwell calls "a full-service apothecary," providing bulk herbs, tinctures, salves, teas and knowledge to the community. While Caldwell happily self-identifies as living in the "woo-woo side of life," she understands that aromatherapy and crystals is not everyone's cup of chamomile tea. On opening the Second Street stop, Caldwell wanted to ensure that Humboldt's diverse community felt comfortable and welcome, encouraging those new to plant medicine to explore, learn and heal.
"No matter who helps you when you walk in the door, a trusted employee who knows their plants will help you. We don't have self-serve jars. That's important to me, because I want people to understand the herbs that they're purchasing. That's the part of the medicine," says Caldwell, who keeps at least three herbalists on staff at all times.
Regular classes from the Humboldt Herbals team include Sensory Plant Communication, Cooking with Medicinal Plants and seasonal plant walks, where Caldwell and her staff lead hikes to showcase medicinal plants growing in the Humboldt wild. In addition, Humboldt Herbals offers a community space for events and workshops of all stripes. Caldwell loves how many different groups have rented the open and airy space, from yoga classes to baby showers.
When Caldwell's not helping customers or compounding tinctures, she loves sitting in her garden at home, a habitat for butterflies and bees. There, she's immersed in everything she loves about being an herbalist, "watching the medicine grow," right outside her door.
To learn more about plant medicine while sipping a complimentary cup of herbal tea, visit Humboldt Herbals at 300 Second Street in Eureka and online at www.humboldtherbals.com.