Chestnut Herbal School

Kauai Farmacy Gardens:
Bioregional Farm-to-Apothecary

Text by Juliet Blankespoor and Devon Kelley-Mott
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor

Last winter, I had the pleasure of visiting the Kauai Farmacy Gardens with my family on a visit to Kauai, affectionately known as the Hawaiian “Garden Island.” I was intrigued by their thriving tropical farm-to-apothecary business model and was eager to meet the plants and people involved. Doug Wolkon, one of the co-founders of the gardens, generously spent an afternoon with us, showing us around the plantings and apothecary.

Doug Wolkon, cofounder of Kauai Farmacy, adorned with annatto facepaint

I was delighted to find shoulder-high ashwagandha and tulsi growing right alongside cacao trees laden with pendulous purple pods. Picture clambering passionflower chumming it up with creeping gotu kola. Perky ginger and turmeric leaves growing underneath cinnamon trees. Edible, medicinal, and culinary plants weave together in an exuberant pandemonium that can only be orchestrated by abundant rainfall, warm temperature, and sunshine - a true tropical permaculture paradise!

Cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) in fruit

Dried cacao seeds (Theobroma cacao) are consumed raw as cacao seeds or nibs. Chocolate is typically made from the roasted seeds with a sweetener.

Cacao pod (Theobroma cacao) with its fleshy, white edible pulp that surrounds the seeds.

The winding mulched pathways and shady resting spots create an inviting environment for the visitors who come to learn about Hawaii’s medicinal and edible garden flora. During the tour, folks get to interact with the living plants used in the business’ products and then retire to the Tea Lanai to sample tea grown on the land, accompanied by seasonal fruits and nuts.

The tea lanai, where tea is served and products are available for purchase by farm visitors

“Imagine a vibrant garden of paradise lovingly tended to by a small group of nurturing farmers. This is Kauai Farmacy, an organically-farmed oasis located in beautiful Kīlauea on the Garden Island of Kaua’i.”

Kerr, a gardener at Kauai Farmacy, and the curry tree

Curry tree (Murraya koenigii) is a tropical culinary herb in the citrus family

Annatto (Bixa orellana) is a tropical tree native to the Americas. The red-orange arils covering the seeds are used as a condiment and dye in foods and cosmetics.

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Founders of Kauai Farmacy, Doug and Genna Wolkon, moved to Kaua’i in 2007, and according to them, “their consciousness began to shift when they started making tea from the leaf of the Noni tree, which is a traditional Polynesian medicinal plant that grows on the Hawaiian islands.”

Doug in the passionflower (Passiflora sp.) patch

Three years later, they came into ownership of four acres of fertile pastureland on a river bend in Kilauea and began growing their own medicinal plants. “These herbal gardens slowly and organically grew and transformed into the Kauai Farmacy biodiverse herbal farm; now home to over 60 medicinal herbal plants.”

Papaya (Carica papaya) growing amongst culinary and medicinal herbs

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Permaculture Herb Gardening

This is bioregional herbalism at its finest. Doug and Genna’s operation is entirely organic, based on sustainable methods of cultivation and harvest, and with a direct connection to the medicinal plants used in their products. They focus on plants that are easily grown in their climate and employ permaculture techniques in their plantings.

Medicinal gardens at Kauai Farmacy

Instead of planting vast monocultures of single medicinals, they interplant botanicals in guilds comprised of plants of varying growth habits. Low-growing and spreading medicinals such as gotu kola and spilanthes happily cohabitate with taller herbs such as ashwagandha and tulsi. Grouping unrelated plants reduces insect and disease pressure and more closely mimics what happens in nature.

Moringa, or horseradish tree (Moringa oleifera), is coppiced (intentionally cut back to promote new growth and keep the tree in-check) for its highly nutritious leaves

Herbal Agritourism

Kauai Farmacy is a prime example of a successful farm to apothecary, or farm to ‘farm-acy’, operation. Doug and Genna have taken things one step further by adding a third link to their business chain: ecotourism.

Herb drying and medicine making facility at Kauai Farmacy

They operate on an innovative Taste/Explore/Learn model. Visitors may taste fresh herbs, spices, and tea blends at their Tea Lanai/Farm Store, explore their diverse medicinal herb gardens guided by their herbal and gardening staff, as well as providing many opportunities to learn more about medicinal plants, and Kauai Farmacy’s harvest and cultivation methods.

Kauai Farmacy's dried herb storage room

Kauai Farmacy's dried herb storage room

Kauai Farmacy creates a plethora of herbal products such as tea blends, tinctures, salves, superfoods, spice blends, hydrosols, and more. They proudly state on their website that “Every plant in every tea is grown on our farm.” One product of interest is their Buzz Chew Edible Herbal Blend, consisting of fresh ground spilanthes, mint, bele spinach, and moringa. This herbal chew is referred to as “nature’s pick-me-up” and is a “mouthful experience you will not soon forget!”

Kauia Farmacy products are made exclusively from herbs grown on the land

For those of you interested in eco-traveling through the Hawaiian islands, or for those who may have interest in starting a Farm to Apothecary Ecotourism business model themselves, we’d highly suggest visiting Kauai Farmacy and their lovely garden oasis. Visit their website to buy products or book a tour!

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) growing with cranberry hibiscus, or african rosemallow (Hibiscus acetosella), which has edible red leaves and flowers.

Meet Our Contributors:

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

DEVON KELLEY-MOTT sprouted in the lush hills of Western Massachusetts and was called to the herb world at an early age. She transplanted to the mountains of Western North Carolina in 2011 to study the vast biodiversity the Southern Appalachian region has to offer. During this time she has worked on numerous herb farms, organized and hosted herbal events, created an herbal product line called Apothefaerie, and currently works as Executive Assistant of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine.

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