an interview with Madelyn Morris, owner of Mickelberry Gardens
photography by Anna Caitlin Harris
Madelyn Morris is an herbalist and gardener. In 2011 she started an herbal honey company with her husband, who raises honeybees. Based in Portland, Oregon, they have built their business around local bee products and folk medicine-based herbal remedies.
Madelyn has developed their product line of honey tonics, salves, balms, and soaps, and attends to the myriad details of running a small business.
In the four years since they started with a single farmers market booth, they have grown to having five employees and customers all over Oregon and Washington.
Madelyn is thirty years old and has lived in Portland, Oregon for most of her life.
CORDELLA MAGAZINE: What brought you to beekeeping and herbalism?
A love of gardening is what brought me to herbalism, and a desire to work with plants in an ecologically harmonious way. This love of gardening brought me to work at the Learning Gardens Laboratory in Portland while I was finishing my undergraduate degree and masters degree. I met lots of amazing people through these gardens, including women whose approach to working with plants were very influential in bringing me to herbalism.
Cascade Anderson Gellar was a brilliant and skilled herbalist, who had voluminous plant knowledge amassed through years of studying, applying, and teaching. And Judy Bluehorse Skelton is a Nez Perce/Cherokee herbalist. She made garden teas and told stories and sang songs to the plants in the gardens with all kinds of different students. Both of them inspired me to go deeper into learning about plants in new ways, and on to the path of herbalism.
Beekeeping also came from a love of gardening. My husband and I wanted to improve our home garden, through caring for lots of different plants and creatures, and to really nurture and better understand relationships in nature as they played out in our garden. So we learned to keep bees, and fell in love with it. Beekeeping guided us into the business we have built together.
CM: Are you connected with other women herbalists and healers?
MM: Portland has an active herbalism community, with lectures and focused gatherings that range from folk and shamanic experiences of herbalism to clinical herbalism. So I have connections through some of those networks. I have been fortunate to become part of a group of herbalists that meets regularly to make medicine together, and discuss and share experiences. Our group was taking a course from Cascade Anderson Gellar, one of my herbal mentors, when she died suddenly in May 2013. Her legacy created a community bond among our group of students. We have continued to gather to honor her and her commitment to plants, justice, education, and service. We go on plant walks, have potlucks, and invite guest speakers to come to our meetings. So in the past year that has been a wonderful connection with other herbalists.
I also have been lucky to occasionally visit an excellent Medical Doctor and Naturopathic Doctor, both women, who have helped me with my own health and well being over the last couple of years. Their perspectives as women have been very valuable for me.
And then through my ongoing study of yoga, I am connected with many yoga teachers who are insightful healers in their own right. Yoga is essentially a science of self-development that is traditionally passed down from teacher to student. Having those student-teacher relationships is crucial for my own yoga practice, which is an amazing and useful part of my life.
CM: Do you have a mentor/elder who has helped guide you into this work?
MM: Starting a small business was not exactly where I saw myself five years ago. I didn’t know what my work was going to be once I finished my graduate studies. But I took a course towards the end of my master’s program with one of my dearest teachers at that time, Dilafruz Williams, which gave me a sort of philosophical backing and conviction for doing this kind of work. The course was an investigation of Mahatma Gandhi’s educational philosophy, and his vision of India as a collection of autonomous self-ruled villages, where work was synonymous with education and life. These so-called “village republics” would master a craft that they could sell, generating income to sustain their unique art of living.
Gandhi said, “It is only the handicraft society that will endure the test of time. But it can do so only if we can correlate the intellect with the hand.” I found this really inspiring, this idea of handcrafting something useful to help in the pursuit of autonomy and a life more in tune with nature and self-fulfillment. And, when getting a more traditional job didn’t happen once I finished school, I started pursuing this idea of creating my own job, and creating a business of correlating the intellect with the hand.
CM: What aspects of this work nourish you/feed your spirit?
MM: All of the plants and ingredients I have chosen to use to craft my company’s offerings are ones that I feel like I know, that are friends more than acquaintances. I have met them in the garden, I have grown them, I have harvested them myself, I learn their stories.
I really gravitate towards using plants that flourish alongside people. So as we source them and process them, I learn more about them, I go deeper.
I also balance understanding the more scientific, analytical aspects of an herb or ingredient’s quality and potency with sensory-based and place-based understandings – where was it grown? Who harvested it? How has it been treated? How does it smell? How does it taste? So this partnership with plants, as well as a partnership with honeybees and sharing all the amazing things they have to offer us is nourishing for me.
And even when it’s hard, and I get bogged down in some of the less-fun details of managing our inventory, our books, our website, all of that stuff, ultimately it feels really satisfying to be able to hustle for myself, and build something from the ground up. It feels like our own version of the American Dream.
CM: Could you explain a bit about the process of creating one of your remedies? Do you have a personal favorite Mickelberry product? What is your best seller?
MM: Our honey tonics are what I am most proud of, and are our most unique offering. They start with raw, Pacific Northwest honey we raise ourselves, and also source from other local beekeepers. We have been fortunate to build a network of beekeepers that keep their bees organically, and on organic farmland and pristine wildlands.
We then source organic herbs grown as locally as possible, often directly from small farmers and wild crafters. We screen the herbs carefully for identity and purity, and have created an herbarium of all of the plants we work with so that we have excellent reference standards for anything new coming in.
Next we create tinctures with our herbs, which is a process of soaking herbs for a period of time in a menstruum, which extracts the medicinal qualities, vitamins, and minerals. We use raw, organic apple cider vinegar as our primary menstruum. Once the tincture is finished we press it, which removes the plant material.
We work with the moon cycles in making our tinctures, combining the herbs and menstruum on the new moon and then pressing it on the full moon, so that the subtle drawing energy of the waxing moon is utilized. The final process is blending a combination of our tinctures with raw honey, bottling it, labeling it, and selling it! Each step of the process is done with intention and thinking good thoughts.
Our most popular remedy is our Elderberry Honey Tonic, which is a delicious formula for the immune system. My personal favorite is the Relaxation Honey Tonic, which is made with skullcap, passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, and lavender.
CM: What is your vision for the future of Mickelberry Gardens?
MM: We are constantly changing and refining the way we do things, so I am learning about what close attention to quality and sustainability means as the scale at which we create grows. Our quality has only gotten better, and my hope is that we maintain control of our business while being profitable and staying small in the coming years.
I hope that we can continue to be a satisfying place to work for everyone who is involved. And we have built so many great relationships with beekeepers, farmers, employees, and customers – running a business is all about maintaining and growing these relationships. So I hope that continues to flourish and expand.
Anna Caitlin Harris
Anna lives in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, Oregon, and loves using the built-in overcast lighting and gorgeous green landscape as her photography studio. She is inspired by people and their life stories, and with her little magic box, she loves to help them capture the beautiful and genuine moments in their lives. See more of her work at annacaitlinphotography.com.