From Organic Farm to Home Farmacy
“In the beginning, all creatures were green and vital. They flourished amidst flowers.”
Beautiful words written by Hildegard Von Bingen, a 12th century female theologian who demonstrated a deep and practical knowledge of natural medicine. Inspired by both the natural and the divine, Hildegard coined the term “veriditas” from the latin words for “green” and “truth”. This word signifies the moment in which one experiences the healing power, or truth, from the earth in a physical way. The writings of Hildegard, and her understanding of the power of plants, directly inspired Melissa Farris, owner of Veriditas Botanicals Essential Oils.
I had a chance to speak with Melissa, to hear her story and the passionate way she speaks about Veriditas. We talked on the phone well over our allotted time as she warmly told me about the company she built from Hildegard’s inspiration.
Melissa Farris first leapt into the world of essential oils in 1996. She started a company called Simplers – the first line of certified organic essential oils in the United States. Her business became very successful, easily spotted in natural food chain stores across the country.
But with this success came frustrations and compromises. Melissa felt a desire to do business in a more personal way. She was eager to work with independent retailers and closely monitor the quality of a smaller production. She noticed that many customers who were buying her little bottles of “green truth” lacked the education to make proper use of them. Not only did she want to provide quality, she wanted to share her passion with a largely uninformed public.
With a new direction clear in her mind Melissa Farris sold Simplers, spent some time in the lavender fields of France, then in 2002 she launched Veriditas Botanicals from her hometown in Minnesota. Today, twelve exciting years later, Melissa is living her dream as owner, master formulator and international educator for Veriditas.
Ask anyone what an essential oil is and you’re bound to get some vague responses, all of which tend to revolve around aroma. The surprising truth is the average American consumes essential oils every single day. They are everywhere. Whether distilled or extracted, essential oils are in your soaps, lotions, food, breath mints, even soda. Those 23 magical flavors in Dr. Pepper? Essential oils.
According to Melissa Farris, 99% of essential oils manufactured are made for the commercial food and fragrance industry. They are sitting on the shelves of your average grocery store, not just next to the ear candles at MaMa Jean’s. These essential oils, highly altered with chemical enhancers and preservatives, have been stripped of their healing benefits, reduced to flavor and texture, and cranked out for the consumer by a misguided industry. If you take a look at the numbers, this isn’t just an unfortunate practice; it is a threat to the environment.
• 2,000 pounds of lavender flowers = one gallon of lavender oil.
• 2,000 pounds of oranges = 10 gallons of orange oil
• 5.5 million roses = 1 liter of rose oil. (That’s 30 rosebuds in EACH DROP of rose oil.)
With the above numbers in mind, take a moment to consider the land mass represented in these tiny 1 oz bottles. No wonder Melissa speaks so passionately about the importance of organic farming. As we harvest and consume this highly concentrated plant life, we need to protect and sustain that source.
The practice of organic farming considers our fragile environment and keeps organic plant life in its most natural state, from the farm to your home pharmacy. Unfortunately the protective and sustainable practices associated with organic farming are not the norm in this industry. Melissa believes that today, only .01% of the industry applies organic farming practices.
Melissa is proud to have Veriditas certified by Ecocert, an independant, environmentally conscious, international company which tests from the dirt to the bottle. She is also happy to disclose her sources and methods in a world where that kind of information is often concealed – such is the quality of her product. This organic distinction is not only looking out for the planet, it’s also looking out for us. Essential oils, when harvested and produced organically, have the ability to play a vital role in our physical well being.
The Veriditas Difference
“I started using the Rose Regenerative facial oil a few months ago and since then, my hyperpigmentation has cleared and my fine lines have softened. I also love using the Good Samaritan oil to keep my home and family healthy.” – C.S.
We know the contents of these little glass bottles smell fantastic, but the possibilities of organic essential oils reach far beyond our nostrils. This liquid is the lifeblood of the plant world. The properties in these oils, which keep plants healthy, strong and beautiful, are available to us if their quality is preserved. This healing potential is taken very seriously in other countries like France, where the purple fields of lavender stretch for miles.
“In Europe, essential oils are made for the pharmaceutical industry.” Melissa explains. “To buy them, you wouldn’t go to a natural foods store, you’d go to a pharmacy. That’s the kind of product we’re making.” She goes on to say that by inhaling, ingesting or applying essential oils, “we are borrowing that plant’s immune system”. The life of these plants, condensed down to a few drops, can enhance our own systems and aid in any number of ways.
“Most people think something like lavender is only for stress and sleep,” Melissa says. “I teach that it’s also for cuts, scrapes, acne and burns.” Her unique chemist’s perspective makes Melissa an authority on what is possible within the world of essential oils. She has spent the last several years demystifying the public and prioritizing education.
“If lavender calms you, then use it. If citrus wakes you up, then great. I see the smell of essential oils like art or music: it’s a connotation.” She explains that this connotation, a sensory link which may exist for some, isn’t universal. “For example, if you were a child and your mother left you in a lavender scented closet, you wouldn’t grow up with a soothing connotation for lavender. But no matter who you are, if you have a cut and I put lavender on your arm, your arm will begin healing. It comes down to chemistry. This is what I was drawn to, and this is the way I teach.”
“These are by far the best essential oils I have ever used. I have Lymes disease and they have done so much to ease my suffering. I take them with me where I go and tell everyone I meet about them. Thank you.” – B.C.
Here comes the chemistry lesson:
Just like plants, not all oils are created equally. Customers must do their homework in order to get the most beneficial and safest results from these drops. Thankfully, Veriditas provides this information to all retailers to make the learning experience a little easier.
As shown from this graphic, not all oils have the same application. One oil may be used medicinally while another oil must be diluted to 1% and still only be used topically. Lavender is an example of what Melissa calls a driver oil, meaning that it can coat and protect skin, so more intense or harsher oils can safely penetrate and heal.
(For more information, please be sure to visit the Veriditas website. It is a treasure trove of helpful resources.)
Melissa is aware that not everyone comes to their natural market with her same excitement for chemistry. Even the more seasoned shopper might not know just how incredible these oils can be. That’s why she enthusiastically teaches anyone who would take a moment to listen.
“However you get into [essential oils] is great. Personally, I was attracted to them for their medicinal uses. I know others are attracted to their smells. There are so many ways to use them: diffusers, baths, recipes… But no matter what, if you choose quality, you’re going to get antioxidants and healing benefits from them.”
“I use helichrysum and peppermint to treat my muscles during a fibromyalgia flare. I also use lavender for sleep and sinus. I diffuse frankincense and ylang-ylang, Peppermint is great for by brain fog days! I love my oils.” -C.M.
In addition to the more than 60 single ingredient oils, Melissa is also the formulator for the Veriditas Wellness Line – 25 unique blends for the body and mind. She’s proud of these signature formulas which, when used as part of a whole health lifestyle, can work to relieve the body and improve its function. Among these, the wonder-in-a-bottle which Melissa refers to as their “gateway drug” – Mental Clarity.
This particular bottle can be found on many a MaMa Jean’s desk, with its warm and minty aroma floating down the halls by the end of a busy afternoon. A couple drops on the palm, rubbed together and inhaled, can bring the kind of focus it takes to… say, launch a website, put together an event, or make it through a long meeting. As I tell her how much this particular blend has helped me, Melissa’s tone brightens. She is delighted to hear this and is genuinely excited that it’s been so helpful. This woman is fully invested in her craft, and she’s not the only one.
“I have to say my whole team eats, sleeps and breathes Veriditas with me. Every one of them is passionate about what we do. They’ve all been to France to see the lavender fields, they’ve all been to the distillers. It’s incredible.”
When she sold Simplers in favor of a smaller business, there was one thing of utmost importance to her business plan. She was done with big chain stores. As a result, Veriditas Botanicals is only available at 220 independent retailers and co-ops across the country.
This allows her team to have a personal relationship with every store, which in turn offers the chance to educate those who sell her product. She spreads her passion like wildfire through informational resources and open communication, making her grassroots approach an incredible marketing tool.
When asked about the legacy she hopes to leave behind, Melissa hesitates briefly. “Honestly, I hope other companies start doing what I’m doing and start to focus on a grassroots approach,” she responds. “It takes a lot of work and education, but some companies are doing it. And I’d hope that this approach would even spread beyond essential oils and become the standard in the food industry.”
This grassroots approach is one which favors information and open communication over hype. It looks out for the planet, the farmer, the supplier and the customer. With so much experience in natural and organic markets, Melissa has seen her share of “next big things.” This industry isn’t exempt from buzzwords and marketing ploys. But with education as her tool, Melissa and her Veriditas team have created a lasting impression of character.
“We’re in an essential oil craze right now. The industry has seen crazes come and go and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I hope people learn how to use these oils as tools and use them wisely. If customers select quality, we can see a beautiful change in the future.”