For the w|ė MAGAZINE JULY Interview we talk to Marina Kesso of Ivywood botanicals in County Claire, Ireland. Together with her husband Ross Marina runs a specialist medicinal herb nursery where they grow over 200 species of medicinal plants from around the world. This includes native Irish plants to exotic species of endangered medicinal plants. We find out about her go to herbs, the joys of rediscovering nature in the pandemic and learn her top 5 favourite wellness plants.
-Tell us a little bit about your Ivywood nursery and business
Ross and I are both herbalists, herb farmers and herbal medicine producers. We relocated our herb nursery, clinical practice, and courses from Sligo to Clare in 2018 after finding Ivywood. We had been searching for mature woodland for many years. As soon as we stepped foot into the woodland here, we knew it was to be our new home. It was the perfect space for us to continue our work with the plants, to hold a clinic space for providing nutrition and herbal medicine healthcare to others, and to host people wishing to learn how to grow and use medicinal herbs. The rich wildness of Ivywood is ideal for anyone wishing to simply reconnect. For many years we have supplied other herbalists and the public with baby herb plants and shared with them our knowledge of herbal medicine through courses and workshops. We originally established the online herb nursery to offer people across Ireland and Europe the opportunity to buy hard to find medicinal plants that are specific for making herbal medicines. We are currently building our new teaching and clinic space on the land from our own trees. Creating an earth building ourselves from our own woodland is an absolute privilege and labour of love. In time, we look forward to welcoming both herbalists and all herb lovers to Ivywood for our events.
-Do you think a connection to wellness and nature and the wild is important for us in the times we live in now and why?
Absolutely, it always has been, even before these times. Over the years in clinical practice, I would have noticed how much the disconnection between ourselves, and nature creates illness. Many of us race through life, often working against the grain, until some form of disease stops us in our tracks. Having a deeper understanding of yourself, your needs and how to maintain balance in life is key to wellness. One way to find this is by rekindling and nourishing your connection to nature and the wild.
We can easily witness this in children. As parents of three little ones, it is so evident how much more grounded and content they are when in nature. Kids, being so present, readily surrender to that slower pace when playing outside. They find fun and fascination in the minute, which allows them to not only connect but also process feelings and emotions they cannot convey through words.
As adults we must relearn this skill. When we let ourselves engage in the wild we become more centred, grounded and energy moves from the head to the heart. When we operate from this heart space, we make healthier lifestyle decisions around food, work, and relationships to better nourish ourselves and improve our wellness.
-What are the everyday plants you use a lot from the garden in your work?
Some of the more common go to medicinal herbs that feature heavily in our daily lives are Lemon Balm, Wood Betony, Hyssop, Mugwort, Marshmallow, Oregano and Thyme.
-How can people incorporate more wellness into their lives using medicinal plants?
Go wild!! I often suggest that rather than just focusing on cultivating herbs in your garden, get out into the Irish wildlife and forage. Foraging is such a rewarding practice. There are many wonderful foraging teachers and resources you can avail of to do this. We are especially blessed in Ireland to have an abundance of nutritious and medicinal plants in stunning wild places. Just stepping out into the wilds of Ireland brings wellness. Taking the time to stop and appreciate that tree you passed everyday but never fully noticed. Maybe it’s an elder tree – our herbal medicine treasure chest from which you can harvest flowers in summer for hay fever and berries in autumn for bacterial and viral infections. Learning how to make simple remedies from elder flowers and berries is very empowering.
Take advantage of the nettles or cleavers which are so prevalent in our Irish hedgerows. These make incredibly useful medicines which people have used for centuries to aid arthritis and support the lymphatic system. They are right there, waiting to be utilised.
-What role does the wild play in your own everyday/How do you personally connect to nature on an everyday basis?
We are very fortunate to have been able to make working with plants our life’s work. Every day, all year round, hail, rain or shine we are out there amongst the trees with our little ones in tow! The wildness of our ‘workspace’ is undeniable. When you tend plants that are medicines it brings a deeper connection, not only because of understanding the worth of their chemical compositions. Over years as a grower and herbalist you connect to the energies of the plants in the same way you can to any living thing. The trees we share this space with have offered a deep rooting beyond all our expectations. Anyone who has sat in an ancient Irish woodland has felt that magic. Simply taking the time to sit beneath their embrace every day is our practice.
-What does your own dream garden look like? Anything goes!
To be honest, my dream garden is an alchemist’s collection of overgrown wild and exotic plants which you could literally get lost in! Over time, this idea is something we endeavour to bring to life here. I like how our herbs are nestled into wild mature woodland which holds dark spaces to hide away in and bright secluded areas to bask in! We are enjoying working on creating more hidden herbal spaces here as our connection to the space evolves. A herbalist’s garden isn’t like a show garden – it’s very much a working garden that peaks in July making that time the busiest for harvesting and processing medicines. For me, a garden full of medicinal plants inspires creativity and learning. My dream garden is one that stirs up that sense of adventure I felt as a child in nature. Between the herbs and the woods there is a lifetime of exploration and discovery out there making it my dream space.
-Do you have any advice for others on how to bring more wild wellness into their every day?
Make time to just be! Giving yourself the time to be out in the wild is as important as the food you eat. You can find a little bit of wild in even the tiniest of gardens or your local green. Remember how children so easily lose themselves in nature. Just stop and rekindle that enchantment you felt as a kid sitting on the grass making daisy chains. You’ll be all the better for it! You could also rewild your garden. Let the dandelions and daisy’s take over. Dandelion leaves are a powerful diuretic, and the roots are one of our best liver detoxifiers. Many people are unaware that a homemade oil made from daisy flowers is as potent as any arnica cream you can buy for injuries with bruising.
Keep it simple by making tea! I often recommend to patients to drink herbal teas – even better if they can wild craft it or pluck it from their own garden. The simple act of preparing a herbal tea and taking the time to sit and enjoy it is very healing.
-Your top 5 favourite plants for wellness
Oooh! That’s a hard question as a herbalist and a grower to whittle it down to five. So many herbs bring me wellness by just growing them. As a plant lover you know how much wellness you get from nourishing, tending, and watching your plants flourish Whereas others bring me wellness by making medicines from them to take internally.
So, if it’s ok I’ll give you 10! Five that I could not be without seeing and connecting with in the garden and five I could not live without relying on taking as medicine.
In the garden: Motherwort, Mugwort, Sweet Annie, Tansy and Black cohosh.
As medicines: Angelica, Ashwagandha, Licorice, Scullcap and Valerian.
-Any clever tips on easy wellness recipes to do at home? Can you share an idea?
A very simple remedy anyone can make is a winter wellness oxymel using common garden herbs, kitchen ingredients and honey. It is most useful to have to hand for the winter months to soothe a sore throat and combat respiratory infection.
2 tbsp Thyme leaves and stalks
2 tbsp Sage leaves
½ tsp Cloves
½ tsp Fennel seeds
1 thump sized piece of fresh ginger root
1 piece of Licorice stick (actual root stick not the sweet)
400mls of Apple cider vinegar
Roughly chop all the herbal ingredients. Place in a pot with the apple cider vinegar and simmer for an hour. This will reduce down the liquid. Strain. Mix in 200mls of good quality honey. Decant into a sterilised glass bottle. Store out of light. This remedy can be taken straight by the teaspoonful or added to a cup of hot water for a sore inflamed throat, cough or infection.
About Marina Kesso & Ross Hennessy
Herbalists and naturopaths Marina and Ross have been growing medicinal plants, harvesting, drying and making herbal medicine preparations for over 15 years. They spent the last 10 years teaching both the public, students, and fellow herbal practitioners from their farm.
They founded Irish Herb Dispensary as the first herbal tincturing company in Ireland, where they supplied herbalists across the country with Irish grown herbs.
They grow over 200 species of medicinal plants from around the world at their specialist nursery. The nursery operates as a source garden so that everyone can have access to hard-to-find medicinal herbs.
Ross and Marina’s expertise as herbalists and herb farmers has been called upon in herbal medicine product development with companies in Ireland and abroad. Alongside their own work as practitioners, they continue to offer consultation services to farmers, wild crafting collectors and natural product developers.
As part of their work many rare and endangered woodland medicinals have been settled into the 40 acres of magical woodland at Ivywood. In time, Ross and Marina hope to make more of these plants available to the public. They have many more plans for Ivywood with the wish to welcome others there to experience the magic of the space and to share their knowledge of herbal medicine.