A few hours after giving my two-week notice at my bar job, I took I-25 south and thought about what my life might look like in a few months. I passed dry, empty fields and periodically glanced at the directions to the apothecary I quickly and almost illegibly scribbled down. I wanted to believe there would be some magic when I got there. As indication I wasn’t a foolish child stampeding around trying to “find myself,” I wasn’t entirely sure what an apothecary was, but I imagined therapeutic lighting, sage burning and world music playing. After a few cattle-crossing signs and yards full of barking dogs and abundant juniper, I arrived in a dirt parking lot where Sophia Rose stood in the doorway of a small casita.
As I walked toward her, I noticed a large antique trunk in the yard. She revealed she had just discovered it at a garage sale before saying hello. She had a floral sundress on, and she smiled in a way that seemed more sincere than the smiles I had been around lately. She didn’t look like the otherworldly, linen pants-wearing guru I had naively imagined her to be.
Within 20 minutes of sitting with Rose, I realized I might have come to the farm with the wrong impression about alternative wellness and Rose herself; I wondered how many others might never come at all because of doubts about the efficacy of alternative wellness, with its “new age” approach to emotional and physical ailments. “I always think it’s funny when people use the term 'new age,' because actually, herbalism is ancient,” Rose says, reaching for a bottle labeled “El Milagro.” Her movements are fluid but also intentional and sure. I can’t help but feel she has brought that sensibility to bear throughout her existence. After earning her Master Herbalist certification at the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, she traveled around the US searching for a way to create a meaningful, useful space within which to house her encyclopedic knowledge and love of herbs and plant-based medicine.
In fall 2012 she befriended South Valley anti-GMO activists and farmers Michael and Suzanne Reed. Within a few months, Sophia Rose opened her apothecary, La Abeja—the Spanish word for honeybee—in a casita nestled on La Orilla, the Reeds' farm. Now her tinctures, salves, flower essences and elixirs are sold locally at both locations of La Montanita Coop, Abitha's Apothecary and in Austin at La Botanica. They can also be purchased on her website, laabejaherbs.com.
Rose teaches a variety of classes, guiding students on herbal approaches to everything from fermentation to aphrodisiacs. “In Western medicine—and even in 'alternative' wellness—people are often just treating symptoms, rather than addressing the underlying imbalance that caused those symptoms to arise,” Rose said. In “Los Remedios del Corazon :: Herbs for Heart + Spirit,” she addresses such imbalances, and she expresses her gratitude for being able to teach the class. “We sample many different herbs with an affinity for the heart. And by the end of the class, everyone is simply floating on air and deeply in tune with their own inner knowing.”
New Mexico hosts a variety of native plants and flowers that Rose incorporates into her tinctures and salves. “I love beeswax. Bees are phenomenal creatures and true alchemists,” she said. Beeswax is used in many of her products, including the El Milagro Salve. Rose gave me a sample of the El Milagro, and I've used it every day. What’s nice about the salve is how nourishing it is, and it's not heavy or overly fragrant. In addition to beeswax, many products work with roses. “I use organic red rose petals in our Spiral Path Immune Support Honey Paste, as well as in our Herbal Smoke, Rose Petal Elixir, El Corazôn Remedy, El Milagro Salve. … Rose is the queen of flowers—unabashed in her beauty and uniqueness. However, it is the powerful protection provided by the thorns of the plant that allow for this expression of fullness without fear or apology.”
Rose spoke with earnest certainty about her practice. She never came across as fluffy or ethereal. She wasn’t some potion-making wizard. She was a thoughtful, educated human creating practical, natural and scientifically supported concoctions. I've long known about the benefits of dandelion root and magnesium, but what struck me most about Rose was who she seemed to be—as a human being, as a woman. Her sincerity was colorful and apparent. I could imagine her using Facebook, and it's possible that she's shopped at Target in the past year. And it got me thinking: Maybe all these culturally created notions of alternative wellness are totally flat and erroneous. Maybe alternative wellness can exist in a space of neutrality and sensibility. Maybe you don’t have to join a cult in Taos to appreciate and benefit from natural medicine. Rose turned out to be the perfect representative for alternative wellness: A delicate balance of spiritual confidence and educated sensibility. Maybe I wasn’t crazy for thinking I could find some magic on the farm; maybe its source was simply not where I originally suspected.
If you’re the tiniest bit curious about natural medicine or flower essences—or you just want a real nice salve for dry elbows—Rose awaits to assist you at La Abeja. What’s more, you’re able to pick and choose how invested you want to be in the whole thing. If you want to dip your toes in the alternative wellness water, great. Try out El Milagro hand salve, made with a variety of herbs like soothing calendula blossoms and marshmallow root. If you’re suffering from painful migraines and insomnia, you can set up an in-depth consultation; for $70, Rose said customers leave with an individualized regimen catered toward their particular ailments and potentially a deeper trust in the possibilities of alternative wellness. All consultations are held at the La Abeja Apothecary (2401 Black Mesa Loop SW) by appointment only. Contact Rose by phone at 512-423-7508 or via laabejaherbs.com.