In Conversation with Jen Padgett
Outcasts Magazine's latest article by Desi Lenc features the story of Aum Herbs and how it was born. Plus get to know Jen Padgett, her previous work ending homelessness and what she thinks about it today.
Tucked away in Boulder Creek, surrounded by Redwoods, sits Aum Herbs, an apothecary, sacred space, classroom, community, and a healing center. Aum Herbs welcomes people wherever they are in their natural medicine journey. This cozy space has been in operation for only three months, yet is known to many in the area for its array of products. Here you will find jars filled with herbs, mushrooms, as well as natural bath salts, moisturizers, air fresheners, jewelry, and books. With a background in non-profit work, the owner Jen Padgett’s focus has always been about community.
DL: When we first met, you said that being in the shop was surreal because it started as this idea, and now it is a reality. When was the first time you thought about opening an apothecary and why?
JP: Probably last summer when I saw the rental. I was really just looking for a place I could rent away from home to make medicine. I planned on making my goods and mainly selling online and at craft fairs in the area. I saw the location and decided that if it was available after I came back from my summer internship, I would put a deposit down and it was! It was cute from the perspective that it had good bones – but it needed a hefty remodel! So mostly my husband, friends, and other family and I all pitched in and got it remodeled and ready for business between labor day and November 1st.
The idea itself – well, perhaps it’s been brewing for longer than I even realized. I believe when something is meant to be, the universe helps make it possible. I was on the path of herbalism and natural healing – but once I stepped into fully embracing it as my next career, things happened with lightening force speed. The energy surrounding the opening and all of the good vibes and love from the Boulder Creek community, I think, has helped tremendously. Several times a day, I get to see and feel the love, so I feel particularly blessed to be on this path.
DL: Yes, I’m certainly happy to have a space like this nearby! In addition to the products you offer, you have classes such as belly dancing, yoga, nutrition, and medicinal tea making as well as services like massage. How do you decide which classes/services to offer, or did they come across you organically?
JP: I think the classes have mostly come organically. I am definitely interested in taking every single class that we offer, so that has a lot to do with it too haha. I put out an ad looking for healers and while I was remodeling, Julie Grant came in to introduce herself. I found out she did yoga, and we clicked and decided to get it going. It’s been similar with others who’ve come in. It’s almost like again, the universe is pushing these super high-quality individuals with stellar experiences/education/backgrounds into my door, and I’m just here to receive and help make it happen.
As I was planning, I knew I wanted to have classes – and wanted it to be a space for people to gather. That is why I designed it from the get-go to have everything on wheels so we could move everything in our main space out of the way. I also thought about what I would’ve liked to have known when I was learning – or how I felt the first time I did (or didn’t because it was too intimidating) in an apothecary.
I always want this place to be open and welcoming to everyone and a place they feel comfortable to ask questions, get to know about herbs, get to know what natural healing and learning about healing yourself looks and feels like. Classes seemed a perfect way to help do this. We have a library and a couch too so folks can come in and self study for free any time they like too.
DL: You got into natural medicine after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and your doctors told you there’s not much they could do. Can you tell us a little about that situation?
JP: Ahhhhh, man. Yes! That was frustrating. I guess this is one of the times that I’m lucky to be a rebel. My mom always said, “Don’t tell Jen she can’t do something because she’ll prove you wrong.” She learned super quick when I was growing up that I would always find my way around a no. Besides, it really is her fault – she’s the one who put the phrase “if you can dream it, you can do it” on our fridge growing up!
Anyway, so back to the diagnosis. I went through years of pain, being tired, multiple tests, questions about my mental health, tried various medications…the whole rigmarole anyone goes through when they can’t figure out what is wrong with them. Finally, about 3 or 4 years in, I got the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I was like, YAY!!! Finally! Then I asked what do we do about it? The doc said, “Well, there is nothing really you can do. There is no cure and no good options for treatment”. I was like, “fuck that!” (excuse my french) And my rebel heart set upon figuring out on my own the cause and the fix. I can’t say that I always stayed true to having that rebel heart or actively trying to fix it.
The next four years or so were tough, depressing, deflating, and upsetting at times. About five years ago, I took a three -month sabbatical from work to try to figure it out without distraction, because the pain and fatigue were getting too debilitating. What ended up being was that I had multiple areas of my life I needed to adjust, slow down in to take care of myself. Emotional work, meditation, prayer, bodywork, exercise, eating well, getting off all pharmaceuticals were all pieces. I found one major cause of my fibromyalgia was the birth control I was using. Herbs started to come into play during that time. I experimented a lot with making tinctures and salves and teas. The body responds so much better to natural medicine from mother earth that is unaltered or not stripped of many components. The whole experience sent me further and further into the circle of the natural healing world. I didn’t feel like I could be a healer myself at the time for others, but I was so intrigued by learning!
DL: Oh yeah, I’m in that early phase right now and even looking at all the herbs in your store I’m like ouu what’s this? In the past, you worked in the non-profit sector, can you share about your background there, why you chose to work there, and about the non-profit?
JP: For seventeen years, I worked on ending homelessness and poverty and am an expert in homeless management information systems, data collection, and analysis. I was a kid about five years old when my dad gave change to a homeless woman who was crying and begging for help. When I asked my dad what was wrong, he said that she didn’t have a home. I just could not believe it. I still can’t believe that we let people live on the streets in one of the richest countries in the world. But what happened back then planted a seed, and I had always wanted to work on the issue.
When I moved to California twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to utilize my skills in accounting and accounting systems and transfer it over to work for non -profit in San Jose called Community Technology Alliance. I eventually worked my way up and became CEO. After that, I worked for a national non-profit doing technology & data collection consulting for communities. When my time ended there – I had a choice to either pursue herbalism or continue to work in the field.
I chose herbalism because I believe that it, too, can help many people. I also know from my time in the work to end homelessness, that it is community that makes this happen. What’s needed is not only an overhaul of an entire system of care but a community that is willing to override the systemic nature that homelessness and poverty have become. Ending homelessness is still very close to my heart, and I feel like I can be a part of a community (like Boulder Creek) that will find ways to override the system, and I’ll be there to help push it. With a place like Aum Herbs, I feel that it’s a community resource – and like so many other businesses in Boulder Creek, it is strengthening the local economy and support system for all in the community.
DL: You once posed the question of who heals the healers? At times, people view healers as having everything figured out and forget that they also need self-care practice and services. Would you say your shop is a space where healers can come to be taken care of?
JP: Yes – I hope so! I feel like it is a business that will keep me honest with my path. I have to take my own medicine, take time, get the care I need. I have classes here so that I will go. I haven’t always been the best at taking care of myself, and I’m still learning my way into that. We all have to be forgiving of ourselves and have to take time out for caring for ourselves – and healers, I think, have to do this more diligently because of all of the energy put out that the job requires. I don’t want healers to come to Aum Herbs and become burnt out – I want them to have the support they need. I also have ideas for another business that would help support healers to do their work. Maybe someday, in the future, I can pursue it.
DL: For people who want to open similar spaces, what has been the biggest challenge for you and how you’ve overcome or managed it?
JP: I think the biggest challenge is time management. My original plan was to make products and sell online. Thus far, I find that these two items go to the wayside while I run the day to day operations of the business and take care of customers. I love working with customers, so part of what I’ve done to resolve this is to bring in interns and some paid staffing to assist with a number of things, including making products. So it has required a shift in my thinking, hiring help, and I think it also requires setting aside time to plan and reconfigure and plan again. So, be flexible, plan for contingencies. Put help in the budget in case you need it. Be willing to shift based on current resources and trends.
DL: Any advice for people starting their natural medicine journey?
JP: I would say if you don’t know where to start, take a class – even if it is a free one online. Also, it’s not as intimidating as you might think. If you know how to cook – making home remedies is not much different. You learn about the plants, understand the best methods for using that plant, and follow a recipe or instructions.
That’s the very basics of the folk method of medicine making. Start with one plant. Make a salve! – if it is meant for you, you’ll be hooked! Then go out and learn all you can from whomever you can. Intern. Go on herb walks. Join groups and others who have your interest. There are so many little and big things to learn and know. If you do get to selling your own products – make sure you have a good education on herbal extractions, infusions, decoctions, and documentation processes.
DL: When we first met, you mentioned that when it comes to choosing which herb to explore first, it’s best to use your intuition. Can you elaborate on that?
JP: Every plant has an energy field, just as you do. We grow up in this world to question everything about ourselves and how we do it. It makes us lose sight of our natural abilities to know what is right and what is wrong for our bodies. The next time you don’t know what to do, listen. What is your body, your mind, your heart, your spirit telling you? When it comes to choosing a plant you want to use for medicine, you could come into our shop, and you could find at least a dozen plants to solve any given problem. Which one do you use? Well, the one that calls out your name is the one!
I only say this because if you pay attention, an herb will grab you and make you take it home, haha! Your energy field will tell you if you need that herb. Go over to the herbs jars. Open the ones that you are drawn to. Do they smell good, does your body lean in? If so, that is probably the herb for you. I want people to begin relearning to trust their intuition and instincts in all of life. Coming to pick herbs out is a good start. Come to the shop, and we will talk you through how to do it!
If you’re in the area, come on by to Aum Herbs at 125 Forest Street, Boulder Creek, CA.