Tucked in the Mission District of San Francisco is The Scarlet Sage Herb Co. , a shop that serves as the source for all things healing and witchery. This beautiful space is filled with "herbs, teas, oils, flower essences, supplements, tarot and oracle decks, crystals, jewelry and sacred talismans" The 23-year-old Scarlet Sage Co was purchased from its original owners three years ago by clinical herbalist and healer, Laura Ash.
Ash recently expanded The Scarlet Sage to allow for classes, workshops and a Wellness Space where practitioners can offer services. It caught our eye not only because of the beautifully curated products but because of the wealth of health resources behind them. Today Laura gives us a tour of the shop, shares her vision for the future of the industry, her personal daily herbal routine and more!
So tell us, what an herbalist do and how did you come to be an expert in the industry?
An herbalist is a person that uses medicinal plants to aid the body in finding optimal health.
I had lung conditions growing up a child — pneumonia at 6 weeks old, again at 2 years old, and almost every year I came down with some terrible lung infection. At 19 I had pneumonia (again) and walked into a used bookstore and started browsing the aromatherapy section. I found this book called "The Practice of Aromatherapy" by Jean Valnet and looked up "pneumonia" in the glossary. Lavender was used in treating pneumonia, it said, so I bought the book and left for the first natural food store I could find. I bought the essential oil of lavender, and not knowing how to use it, I drank it! I put 2 drops in water a couple of times a day, and after 2 weeks my pneumonia was gone. But this time it was different gone feeling — I had never felt good after taking antibiotics, but this time I felt stronger and healthier than I did before I became sick.
Ecstatic, I dove into the world of aromatherapy and whole food nutrition. This world engulfed me, and I got my first job at a herbal apothecary in Seattle called Tenzing Momo when I was 21 years old. I read every book I could get my hands on and apprenticed under the master herbalists there.
I moved to San Francisco in 2003 and found out that there was such a thing as a herbal medicine school, and in 2005 I began my formal herbal education at the California School of Herbal Studies in Sonoma, Co. Since then I have sought teachers out all over the country and the world. I worked at Scarlet Sage in 2006 when I was finishing my clinical year in school while I was running a small chai tea company to support myself. I helped co-found an organic spa in 2008 where I was the creative director, designing the products and teas for the spa. In 2011 I lived in Tanzania where I was able to help support the documentation of Maasai traditional medicine in with a Maasai herbalist. I started a non-profit based on that work of preserving and protecting traditional medicine around the world through Intellectual Property protection called Herbal Anthropology Project, which still runs today. In 2015 I moved back to San Francisco to purchase Scarlet Sage, and I've been running it ever since.
What are some common and uncommon ailments or conditions that you are able to provide guidance and remedies for?
One of the most common ailments that I see and I love to treat are skin conditions. I love helping people that have acne, eczema, hyperpigmentation, psoriasis and dry/oily skin. There are so many wonderful organic products for the skin, but the beauty about herbs is the internal support they offer. So many skin ailments start in the gut and the liver. I work with people to get their diet on par with their skin type and then help the liver detoxify more efficiently in order to reduce the inflammation on the skin. It's so very cool.
The most uncommon, yet the most interesting world I dove into the last few years is learning about herbs and cancer. I love the world of Integrative Oncology. There are so many wonderful resources to help support people while they are going through cancer treatments of any kind. Diet, basic teas, and supporting digestive health are key to keeping the body strong while going through chemo or radiation. This is something I am very passionate about and am constantly learning more of.
Tell us about the shop. You recently expanded! What do you love about your new space and how is different than the old?
Scarlet Sage has been around for 23 years and it's packed with over 10,000 products that support your physical and spiritual well-being. We have herbs, teas, oils, flower essences, supplements, tarot and oracle decks, crystals, jewelry and sacred talismans.
We expanding to another level of our building (in the basement, actually!) where we are offering classes and workshops and a Wellness Space that houses practitioners healing modalities. It's really more of an extension of our current space. Our community has been asking for a space for people to learn and heal and we had the opportunity so we took it! I look forward to offering more classes and workshops that help edify our community and bring us together more closely. We need that more now than ever.
What are a few new items you are excited to carry?
We launched four new organic lotions this month that are divine! My favorite is the Wild Heart. It's infused with white tea, rose absolute oil, chamomile, arnica and smells like a spring rose in fresh soil; I have been using it all over, daily.
In October, we are launching a new organic powder called Cacao Power that is packed with adaptogens (herbs that help reduce stress load) and it's absolutely delicious (I just taste tested it today). Stay tuned!
What types of events will you be hosting in the future?
My team and I have been building certifications that can suit the community’s needs: Community Herbalist Certification, Archetypal Astrology, Tarot & Divination for Beginners, Reiki, Family Wellness and Clinical Herbal Medicine. We will be starting donation-based movie nights in the space to help fund our scholarship program, which is going to be a ton of fun.
What are three items that a novice herb user can use to get started?
Great question! Loose leaf tea is a great start to getting used to making beautiful herbal teas. A cup of loose peppermint tea can be a sacred experience. Lavender essential oil is a great first aid kit in a bottle! You can put it directly on burns, cuts (naturally anti-bacterial), use as a relaxant and it's a great lung tonic. Digestive bitters are great herbal gateway because we know about their use in cocktails, yet they are fantastic to aid with any gas, bloating or acid reflux. You can keep them in your bag for when you need them most.
Will you share your personal herbal regime and tell us what you use each formula for in your own life?
Wow! Okay, here is my daily protocol...
- 2-4 dropperfuls of Astragalus Reishi tincture. I take this to help boost and protect my immune system since I work around sick people all day long (and I have two kids!).
- Green Tea: Honestly, I drink 4-8 cups of Japanese sencha every day. Sometimes I add Matcha in there for fun. I love the flavor and feeling of green tea as much as its medicinal properties. It's the most wonderful anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogen and centering herb. This is my daily non-negotiable.
- Omega 3's: Anti-inflammatory and wonderful for internal moisture for the skin, eyes and joints. I prefer taking Omega's that are higher in EPA due to its brain health support.
- Liver Detox herbs: I take our Liver Detox supplements at night before going to sleep. This is the best sleep remedy I have found thus far. The liver loves a good rest.
How do you see the herbal world transforming for both the industry and the client in the future?
Oh my goodness, the herbal world is changing significantly! More people are finding and trusting herbal remedies every day. As trendy as it may seem at times with all of the superfoods, adaptogens and herbs flying around, it's more natural and traditional for us to have these remedies at our fingertips than chemicals and synthetic products. I am witnessing a stronger diversity of people getting into herbal medicine and reclaiming their ancestral medicine. It's quite a lovely thing to be part of.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity