GREENLAND — Growing up in rural Greenland with the full bounty of New England in her backyard, Jessica Bellantone always had an affinity for appreciating the outdoors.
But it was not until she fell ill from black mold in an apartment in Vermont that she began to embrace how herbal remedies could heal all sorts of ailments.
She embarked on a journey in 2007 that took her around the country, learning from many experienced herbalists as she traveled, starting with an eight-month herbal apprenticeship in Vermont.
After awhile, Bellantone said she was ready to come home.
"I was digging up all these roots, and I really just wanted to return to my own," she said.
In 2011, she returned to an upstairs apartment she had long adored in her family's home and started Blackbird's Daughter Botanicals. She is now also serving as an herbalist at The Herbal Path's new location on Woodbury Avenue in Portsmouth.
She went to school for transpersonal psychology, which she said uses a holistic approach to wellness.
"It ended up translating perfectly well to being an herbalist," Bellantone said.
Bellantone now offers holistic wellness consultations, which she said is very similar to a transpersonal psychology counseling session.
"I don't practice counseling or therapy, but I look at all the ways I can make someone holistically well and I give them tools to help them on their journey," she said.
Many of those tools are found in her own backyard.
One her favorite herbs to use is the simple dandelion. She also uses pine bark and needles for teas and tinctures.
She would like to specialize in helping families with children with an autism spectrum disorder or other special needs in the future, but for now business comes from those who stumble upon her at The Herbal Path or through her website and blog.
Bellantone does not shun Western or modern medicine. In fact, she encourages clients to visit their primary care physician, have a full slate of blood work done, and then bring it with them to meet with her and go over it.
She said people should not simply accept that they are in a "normal range" and said things can always change.
"Life is about change … so the form of herbalism I practice is about finding graceful ways to change with ease and if something is out of balance. It is about helping people get back in balance," Bellantone said. "I'm the guide. I really believe everyone is the hero on their own journey."
Bellantone said even before she fell ill, she had felt her body was out of balance. She said she suffers from "amazing" attention deficit disorder and had tried every prescription medication she and her doctors could think of to address it, but nothing seemed to work."Nothing brought me back into balance until ultimately I brought myself back into balance," Bellantone said.
Beginning in 2009, Bellantone "wild crafted" her way around the country with no clear destination, very little money and a car full of herbs. She gave away everything she made and produced.
"I had just this great trust that this was what I was supposed to do, so I studied with the most amazing people," Bellantone said.
She spent time with a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania that taught her about organic farming and with a backwoods Hari Krishna herbalist in Mississippi learning a mix of herbalism and Ayervedic medicine.
"I knew a little bit, but it wasn't enough. I had to do this big, long two-year adventure, and it was pretty remarkable. I felt like, for me, there wasn't one particular person who could teach me all I needed to know," Bellantone said.
She said working at The Herbal Path has given her exposure to some of the best herbalists in the industry. It also provides her access to many herbs and concentrated formulas.
The dandelion is her favorite herb because of its scrappy nature and because it is so underappreciated.
She said the roots can help clean the liver, the leaves are good for kidney function and serve as a superfood full of potassium and a bitter that stimulate digestion. It can also be used to address skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. She said even simply sautéed with some garlic and onion, they taste delicious.
Bellantone said she also enjoys doing custom perfumery and aromatherapy. She also recently started a line of herbal bitters. A vanilla pear bitter she created features alcohol from Flag Hill Winery in Lee.
Overall, Bellantone is using the bounty around her to help others find the same kind of healing she found in nature.
"People come in and they know something is not optimal, but we are really used to toughing it out. We are Yankees, that's what we do," Bellantone said. "It also means we're frugal. We don't want to waste money on doctors and prescriptions if we can just be growing something."
Bellantone's most recent venture is a small-batch CSH, a Community Supported Herbalism program that continues to grow simply through word of mouth.
For more information about Bellantone, her adventures and her botanicals, visit blackbirds-daughter.blogspot.com.