The science and art of herbal medicine making has exploded over the last several years and that is a really beautiful thing.I’ve seen SO many new herbal product businesses sprout up which has only served to enrich the tapestry of herbal medicine.The beauty of having so many is that each one is infused with that maker’s personality, imagination, and creative inspirations. Every herbalist relates to plants a little differently. Your medicine making is heavily influence by what inspires you and what traditions you work with. I am largely inspired by plants and their stories in Celtic folklore and mythology, so that comes through in my medicines. I am certainly not the only herbalist to approach plants this way (and that’s great!), but we each fill our own little niche and bring something uniquely “us” to the table.
More and more people are wanting to make their own medicines whether it’s just for themselves or to create a small business. If you’re anything like me, you can’t do things “just a little bit” (or so I’m told). Once I felt the joy of making my own medicines, I ramped up my batch sizes to that I could share them with the community, which led to having the product line I have today.
A note on
competition not being an asshole…
We are generally a very inclusive bunch and are happy to share our wisdom and experience. Very rarely (but definitely) have I seen the spectre of competition haunt the herbalist community. Usually when this happens, I believe it’s rooted in a scarcity mentality. Don’t do that. Don’t gatekeep. None of us own the practice or expression herbalism. There’s room at the table for everyone. My own firsthand experience of this was really hurtful and lead to years of imposter syndrome. I’m lucky to have had teachers and mentors since then who have been nothing but encouraging, supportive, and inclusive. Empowering people to make their own medicine is an intrinsic part of being an herbalist.
The most public clash was the Fire Cider copyright battle, in which an entity that I wouldn’t even call herbalists wanted to copyright and keep the name Fire Cider to themselves, and went after any small business who used the name Fire Cider (including myself), threatening legal action. The herbal community said a collective NOPE, took them to court, and won. That victory largely goes to Rosemary Gladstar, Kathy Langelier, Mary Blue, and Nicole Telkes, who were on the front line in that fight. Thanks, ladies!
Before you start filling those bottles…
For those just starting out, deciding how you want to present your medicines to the world can be a daunting task. Here are some key questions to ask yourself:
- What inspires my medicine making? (traditions, cultures, etc.)
- How will I make my brand stand out on the shelf?
- Do I have a logo that is unique and easy to see on the size of my products?
- How can I make all my products look like they are related (branded)?
My advice is to start following a lot of herbal product companies whose values and aesthetics align with yours and start taking notes. I’m not suggesting you copy them per se, but pay attention to how they photograph their products, how they engage their audience, what tags they use in their posts and listings, and how they convey their personality through their brand. I’ve certainly learned a lot around this topic over the last 10 years of making medicine, which leads me to one of my most frequently asked questions and the actual point of this post, which doesn’t even have to do with herbs at all…
“Where do you get your packaging and labels?”
Once you know you have made a good product and it’s safe to put out into the world, you need something to put it in! I’m going to list some of my most used packaging suppliers here, with those I order from most frequently first.
*I have not been paid by any of these companies, this is purely based on my opinion and experience.*
I’ve found Fillmore to have the best prices by far on packaging, and they *usually* have everything I need in stock so I don’t have to split orders between companies and get raked over the coals for shipping. (Prepare yourself though, glass is heavy and shipping from anywhere is always going to cause a bit of “distress”, shall we say.) Since supply chain shortages though, I’ve been having to order from multiple suppliers more often. This is a great source for really basic packaging like Boston round and flint glass dropper bottles and salve jars. I have a few products that I like white dropper tops for though, and they don’t carry those. Their warehouse is also in Lancaster, PA which is only an hour from me, so my order is here in a couple of days. If you’re local to them, they also offer pickup at the warehouse, but I’ve never made the drive out there to do that.
If Fillmore doesn’t have what I need, I go to SKS. They’ve got 2 warehouses on the east coast, so shipping times are still usually pretty quick, but their product and their shipping is a little more expensive. They have a wider variety of packaging options than Fillmore, and I like them for things like white dropper lids (for my Damask Rose Glycerite and Anam Cara), serum pumps, and lip balm tins (I use these for my Huldra Solid Perfume).
Next in my hierarchy of packaging suppliers is ULINE. My biggest complaint(s) about ULINE is that they still use non-biodegradable styrofoam packing peanuts (gross, but I do repurpose them), and unless you specifically tell them not to, they send you a literal TOME of a catalog printed on that icky shiny newsprint, and even after you opt out of it, they will still probably send you one. I get one in every. single. order. no matter how small, and also one in my mailbox every couple months or so. It’s extremely annoying. At least with the other companies, they use biodegradable packing peanuts and I feel good about using them when I ship out my own orders.
Lastly, if I can’t get what I need from any of the above, I go to Berlin. It’s actually probably a toss-up between ULINE and Berlin, but between all these companies, I’m covered for packaging.
On to labels…
I cannot say enough about how much I have loved using Canva. They have been an absolute game changer in helping me to make my brand stand out. I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted on Avery.com when I was starting out, trying to find a label size that didn’t exist and fiddle with their design interface. Canva is like graphic design for dummies. I felt like the learning curve wasn’t too steep, and they have a ton of free graphics and fonts. They have a lot of templates and sizes you can start from or you can customize the size of your design (ideal for a product line!).
It’s also easy to make all your labels look consistent and on-brand. The majority of my products are in 2oz dropper bottles, so once I had one good label designed, I just copied the design, and switched out the text. There’s a free version which I used for a while, then I upgraded to the business version. I think it’s reasonably priced for how much I use it, and it just has a few more bells and whistles than the free version. The bonus of Canva is that you can also use it to design Instagram posts, Facebook headers, marketing material, and so much more. It’s just packed full of useful tools for a small business owner.
Next, you need to print your labels. Once the label is designed, I download it as a PDF, then copy/paste that design as many times as will fit on an 8.5″x 11″ size blank document (I use the Pages app, as I have a Mac). Once I have a “sheet” filled, I download it on to a thumb drive (you have to convert the document back to a PDF first), and take it to Staples to have it printed. I haven’t invested in a home laser printer yet (most are inkjet), which is why I go to Staples.
I like to use these labels because they absolutely will not smudge if you drip tincture down the side of a bottle or get oily salve smudged on it. Another plus is that they are much easier to clean off of the bottle if you are reusing and recycling your bottles. You can also buy them in smaller quantities if you’re not ready to commit to the big box.
Once the sheets are printed, you can cut them to size using one of these handy slicey boards (technical term). These are easy to find at Staples, Michaels, or JoAnn Fabrics.
I make things in relatively small batches still, compared to larger companies, so that’s why I haven’t graduated to outsourcing my label printing in larger quantities. I also sometimes tweak ingredients or rename a product, so I would hate to have thousands of obsolete labels after a product changes.
This is just my own experience and the process I’ve come to after ten years of making and selling Mother Hylde products. This is an ever evolving process, and I am constantly learning new ways to do things. If you are a maker and have a hot tip for me in sourcing packaging or label design/printing, I’d love to hear it! Feel free to comment on this blog post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll try to make my next post more “herby” and pretty. 🙂