To the chagrin of Harry Potter fans, you may not procure "eye of newt" and "toe of frog" in an apothecary outside of Diagon Alley. But if you happen upon the booth of Anna's Apothecary at a local farmers market, you might find that a healing salve or tonic tea is just as effective as a dose of Madam Pomfrey's Pepper-Up Potion.
The magic first began 15 years ago, when Anna Papini, then an anthropology major at Denver's Metropolitan State University, decided on a whim to enroll in a few holistic classes and discovered her passion for herbal medicine. Looking back, the 37-year-old says she never would have guessed that random college courses would catalyze the development of her own apothecary.
But after combining talents with Sara Foster — her older sister, and, conveniently, a professional gardener — the governing question seemed to be, "Why not?"
"The apothecary has turned out to be the perfect niche for us," says Foster, "as it gives me an opportunity to grow with my gardening and Anna a chance to take her knowledge of herbal remedies out into the world in a very tangible way."
Not that it was easy from the get-go. After a three-year process of turning a quarter-acre of gravel at Constitution Avenue and Union Boulevard into a permaculture garden, they had finally planted some medicinal herbs and established the apothecary last June — just in time for a torrential hailstorm.
"[The storm] didn't completely destroy the garden, and some of it perked up by the end of the season, but it was still devastating," Foster says. The incident was humbling, she adds, but inspired her and Papini to come back better than before. And a year later, the business is flourishing: "With good soil and good mulch, the herbs are rocking it."
Anna's is the only apothecary in Colorado Springs that grows its own herbs, which the women do primarily to help the proliferation of locally endangered plant species.
"We're in the process of growing all the herbs we use, but we're not quite there yet," says Papini. "Our end goal is to have 100 percent of our product come from our own garden, so we can truly have local product."
There are no cauldrons or incantations involved in the process of creating their herbal remedies, but timing remains crucial. The tinctures, for example, take about two months to make, so Papini finds it essential to maintain a consistent cycle. "It's not an easy process," she says. "It's time-consuming, but it's a blessing that I get to do what I love for a living."
To make the tinctures, Papini begins by soaking the herbs from Foster's garden in a vat of organic Colorado brandy. The mixture is left to macerate, or soften and decompose, in a dark room for eight weeks and is stirred periodically throughout. Over time, the alcohol extracts the beneficial constituents that will formulate the tinctures, which are extremely concentrated.
Foster is particularly fond of their tonic teas, which are unique because they contain no tea base and are made solely from herbs. "They taste great and it's the best way to get the herbs infused into your system quickly and stay hydrated at the same time."
Outside and in
Although Anna's Apothecary is geared mostly toward internal healing, the sisters have been surprised to find that their beauty products seem to leave the shelves faster than anything else. Their face lotions, body butters and body scrubs are distinctly popular because they are all-natural with no preservatives.
"The skin is the biggest organ, so it absorbs a lot of toxins," Foster explains. "We're pretty excited about the beauty products because they're free of any and all unnatural ingredients."
One year in, Papini and Foster are full of ideas for growth. Currently, they sell their $10 to $20 items almost exclusively at farmers markets in the Springs, and online (annasapothecary.com), but they hope to expand to other Colorado cities soon.
They also want to conduct hands-on tincturing classes, and to become a bulk herb supplier for other apothecaries in the area. And then there's product expansion: Right now they're developing an herbal root beer made from sarsaparilla, which in stark contrast to rootless beer, is actually good for the liver.
"We just want to help people feel better," says Foster. "Beyond sales, we want to share the good news that help is out there."
And just a tip, if you cross paths with Anna's Apothecary around Valentine's Day, you might just walk away with a love elixir made from natural aphrodisiacs. That's about as close to a love potion as you can get in the muggle world.