Body Mind and Spirit
Soothing Balm from the Desert Sun
Desert Woman Botanicals coaxes natural healing products from the scorching desert sun
By Donna Clayton Lawder
To read the
eloquent and passionately worded brochure for Desert Woman Botanicals' product line is to get a feel
for the sense of mission Monica Rude has for the healing products she creates out of plants raised in the
scorching sun of her high desert herb farm.
Giving me a tour of the straw bale greenhouse she built in
1997, the fields where perennials are leafing out and tender transplants are taking hold, Rude rattles off
the botanical names of everything under the hot afternoon sun, their benefits and healing properties, the
difficulty or ease with which each one grows. Some need shade from the sun, which she provides with unique,
homemade natural structures.And she waxes philosophical about the "huge and exciting development"
of the growing popularity of integrative medicine, which incorporates ancient healing traditions, such as
herbalism, into modern Western medical practice.
Rude, master herbalist and founder-owner of Desert Woman Botanicals
in Gila, compares the many aspects of herbalism to the petals of the daisy-like Yerba Mansa flower.
|Monica Rude of Desert Woman Botanicals
An exclusively southwestern herb, the plant was used by Native Americans as an all-heal, a remedy for many
ailments; modern local herbalists prize for its anti-viral, -bacterial and -fungal qualities, among other things.
A modern herbalist needs to keep many things in mind these days, Rude says, not just the remedies - like the
many petals of the Yerba Mansa.
Petal One: "There are the legislative issues, what the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is up to.
An herbalist today needs to keep abreast of whats going on legislatively, to protect his or her practice," she
says. The local Herb Guild helps in this regard, informing both the public and the pros.
Another "petal" is that of ethical wildcrafting, the responsible harvesting of wild plants for use in
concoctions - tinctures to be taken internally, ointments, salves and creams to be applied to the skin,
dried herbs to be steeped as teas, or pulverized and placed in capsules for consumption.
Teaching is another petal on Rude's theoretical flower. Far from the "Take two and call me in the
morning" approach of yesteryear's family doctor, treatment with herbs is more effective, Rude says,
"when the client is aware of the relationship between health and diet and lifestyle choices, the expected
results of the herbal medicines in the body, and participates in treatment in an educated and thoughtful manner."
Rude also helps those interested in growing their own herbs by teaching classes through series offered by the
Silver City Herb Guild. Her most recent topic was "Springtime in the Desert," in which participants learned
backyard gardening techniques for the special growing conditions in the high desert.
Before she became an herbalist and concocted her first batch of wildly successful Desert Woman's Fire Cider -
more on that later - Rude was a nurse on the east coast for over 20 years, working in New York and
at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"I was very focused," she says with a laugh. "I knew I wanted to be a nurse since I was
in the 5th grade. I never went through that crisis about 'direction' that many young people face.
I always knew."
A particular passion for her was continuing education for nurses. Rude spearheaded efforts to increase
nursing professionalism, served as Director of Education for several nursing organizations where she coordinated
educational programs for nurses.
Shes been in Gila for 16 years now, working her herb farm and developing her line of natural products. She
focused at first on producing bulk herbs, but soon realized that "huge acreage was required to produce
enough to compete in the bulk herb market." While still producing bulk herbs for Bear Creek Herbs
locally, she has now shifted her focus to her natural-products line, incorporating her herbs into tinctures and
tea blends, salves and creams.
If it seems a leap from the allopathic world of hardcore nursing to harvesting plants for natural teas and
soothing balms, Rude connects the dots. "I quit nursing and got into organic gardening in a big
way," she says. She moved westward and worked for five years for the Santa Fe-based Seeds of Change,
a prime mover in the organic and heirloom seed business. There she learned all aspects of growing, from
germinating seeds, nursing plants through the growing season, to the harvesting of seeds. She also studied
with Michael Moore, the renowned southwest herbal guru. From there it was a logical step to start her own
business, involving all aspects of "messing with herbs."
In addition to the bulk herbs she sells to Bear Creek Herbs, Rude sells products through her website
(www.desertwoman.net), as well as through Messiah's Health Foods, the Silver City Food Coop, and the weekly
Farmers Market in Silver City. In all, she sells her natural products through 18 retail outlets,
including Tucson, Flagstaff and Tempe in Arizona, Austin, Texas, and a spa in Salt Lake City. A health food store
in Cape Cod even carries her Fire Cider.
Ah, yes, the Fire Cider!
It was her first home run, the product that convinced the Desert Woman of the value of her all natural, organic line.
"I got testimonials that touched my heart," she says. People told her that just a dose or two
staved off the nasty colds and flus others all around them were suffering. The acclaim was deafening, and
she struggled to keep up with the demand. Fire Cider continues to be a best seller for her.
Fab Foot Cream was another one that hit it out of the park.
"People wrote me these amazing letters, telling me how a single application changed the condition of their dry,
cracked feet. It was just so rewarding," she says.
Since then, there have been new herbal stars, like the newly developed Lemon Supreme line, made with organic
Meyer lemon peel and other soothing ingredients. Another new product is the Lavender Light Lotion, a quickly
absorbed moisturizer with a delightful aromatherapeutic punch.
Rude has developed her line of products according to her customers needs. "My remedies have all been
field tested," she explains. "I come up with a new product in response to a customers needs and
have then expanded production of that item."
A workday in the life of the Desert Woman varies, Rude says, according to what is needed in the season.
"Right now, outside work is really big," she says. Preparing soil, seeding and then tending to the
"starts," getting ready to transplant, are the orders of the day in spring. A small, slight woman,
Rude says she relies on her apprentices, students of herbalism who come to work with her to various degrees and
through individual arrangements, to accomplish the sheer volume of physical work the farm requires.
"I simply couldnt do it without my apprentices," she confesses.
The bulk of summer is filled, as any gardener knows, with the constant labor of tending plants, making sure
they are watered, the soil weeded.
Later in the season, the workday will shift to the lab, where Rude brews up her concoctions in a space
reminiscent of a natural foods kitchen, with stainless steel bowls, a big old-fashioned stove and jars of herbs
lining the window shelves.
It is a peaceful workspace, to be sure. On the same wall where a gourd goddess presides over an assortment of
bottles and bins, Rude points out her oil press, a strangely friendly-looking, almost robotic device. As Rude
screws in the handle and gives me a demonstration, the instrument clicks and clanks, and it's easy to imagine
the flow of rich infused oils dribbling out the metal spout in the front.
Blending organic plants into healing products, incorporating her modern nurses mind into an ancient tradition
of healing, have brought Rude a satisfying new direction for
her life's work, and a
new sense of groundedness.
"The garden is my force, my inspiration," she says, of not only what she does, but how she lives
these days. "Its not just where I get my herbs, but my centering."
Contact Monica Rude, Desert Woman Botanicals, at
PO Box 263, Gila, NM 88038
Donna Clayton Lawder is the
Administrator for the Mimbres Region Arts Council,
and a Silver City-based freelance writer.
Photo by Donna Clayton