Written with help from Stephanie Keon.

I live and work in the Wilno hills where I was raised. My nails are often dirty, and my hands are strong from pulling plants from the earth, carrying huge vats of olive oil, and chopping beeswax. These ingredients are at the heart of my handmade products.

Due to a difficult home life, I left at age 12 and bounced around from home to home until I moved to Toronto at 15. I drifted from the Ottawa Valley to Toronto and back again, with a year in Mexico. At 22 I had a mental health breakdown and was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

A high school dropout with low self-esteem and virtually no skills (except for street smarts and a big heart), I was struggling. When I was involved in an alcohol-related car accident, I had to climb through a broken windshield, badly shredding my hand. I was given a homemade salve that quickly healed my wounds.

Afterwards I sought out Diana Macauley, the well-known local herbalist who had made the salve. We went into the woods to harvest comfrey root, and returned to Diana’s rustic house full of sunshine, surrounded by gardens. I remember the kitchen smelled of herbs and the wood fire warmed the room.

We cleaned the earth off the root, diced it up, and heated it in a pot of olive oil for a few hours. We strained the oil, mixed it with melted beeswax, and poured it into little jars. I didn’t know that this hands-on learning experience would lead me to create my best-known product, Comfrey Healing Salve, which was  featured in the Globe and Mail last winter.

I took the opportunity to funnel my mental anguish into my business. I started a business making salves and creams infused with local plants. It was truly a grassroots project; my initial investment was $50.

My desire was to make something with my own hands, have 100% of the creative control, and earn money. I also wanted to invite women of all ages to enjoy and benefit from my products.

I felt empowered by the exchange of money for something beautiful I’d created by hand. This allowed a certain amount of self-actualization for me.

Always keeping the importance of community in mind, I volunteered at daycares, community centres, and high schools – teaching at-risk youth and families, women with addictions, and new Canadians about creating skincare items.

I’ve always wanted to run my business as a social enterprise. Business should work with the health of society in mind, where there is a triple bottom line: people, profit, and planet.

I now share this vision with a local girl-empowerment program, Girls Rising, a grantee of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Together we harvested local plantain, mullein, red clover, and horsetails, and handcrafted Forest Girl Salve.

Forest Girl Salve is as unique as the girls I work with; the ingredients we use vary with what plants are in season and what grows locally. The product is a little bit different every time.

Sparked by my experience with Girls Rising, I aspire to evolve Forest Girl into a non-profit social enterprise, sharing my craft and fostering economic possibilities for women and girls groups across Canada.

Five dollars from each sale of each Forest Girl Healing Salve is donated to the Canadian Women’s Foundation – buy it here.

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