Corey MacDonald of Red Root & Co. collecting elderflowers. (Wildcrafting!)
In coming up with a name for her company, Corey MacDonald thought hard about the kinds of feelings and practices that she wanted to inspire. As a dedicated wildcrafter and herbalist, she wanted to choose something native to our part of the US, illuminating the value and beauty of our very own Virginia flora. She chose Red Root, commonly known as New Jersey Tea, because of the many associations it had for her.
“I wanted to name my business after a plant native to North America,” she explains, “so I chose to name it Red Root & Co. There are so many plants here that are useful but not native. Dandelions aren't native, for example. I wanted to focus on something that has always been here. Red Root is not as well-known as it should be, and I wanted to bring it back into the light. It’s such a cool plant—it has a long history of use, going back to Native Americans, who used it for intestinal issues. And there are notable records of early immigrants to America using it as a malaria treatment. Such important history should be appreciated!”
Corey is thoughtful, knowledgeable, and dedicated to her calling as a practitioner of herbalism. She is so accomplished and highly regarded that Virginia Public Media featured her this past March in an episode of their Virginia Farming program, entitled “How Permaculture Makes a Mighty Impact for Small Farms.” The episode, which aired on March 2nd of this year, shows Corey making fire cider. (Link to program provided at bottom of page.)
Fire cider is a tonic that herbalists tout as a restorative beverage that also helps ward off colds and flu, promote good digestion, and lower blood sugar, among other claims. As she makes her cider in front of the camera, Corey’s creativity and her love of what she does comes through. She explains how she chooses the ingredients of all of her products, putting a primary focus on local and organic ingredients. Several segments of the show her interacting with the farmers who supply her with the fruits and veggies and herbs that go into her infusions, while other segments show her out wildcrafting in the mountains near her home. By the end of the program, you understand that Corey’s studiousness, creativity, and commitment to the highest quality tonics and infusions are what make Red Root & Co. such a great choice for folks who want products they can trust.
During our interview, Corey elaborated further on her absolute dedication to making every single Red Root & Co. product top-notch: “Just to give you one example, I use only raw, local honey in my infusions. Honey is amazing. It contains enzymes, minerals, amino acids--all kinds of important elements. Honey is antibacterial and antifungal. It actually has a functional use in my tonics, which is why I always use it instead of sugar. Sugar is just a sweetener, and you won’t find it in anything I sell. All of the ingredients I choose have an actual function or purpose. Also, I specifically use raw honey because when you heat it up, it loses some of the very properties that promote good health. Yes, there are carbs in honey—but they aren’t empty. They carry important elements for feeding your immune system.”
“The people who choose Red Root & Co. are often really health conscious,” she notes. “That’s why, if you watch my social media feeds (@redrootco, for those who may want to follow her), you’ll see lots of educational material. Each of my infusions and tonics helps with a different body system or addresses physical needs and problems that arise at a specific time of year. My oxymels, for example, are made for particular seasons.”
Along with selling her infusions, Corey also has a clinical practice in herbalism. One frequent problem that her clients have is digestive trouble. It turns out that, along with being a great heightener of flavor in cocktails and mocktails, bitters can help with digestive ailments.
“People often come to me for help with digestive issues,” Corey notes. “If your food doesn’t digest properly, bloating can occur. Lots of discomforts can result. Bitters are often useful because they help stimulate the liver and gall bladder. They can also prompt the stomach to secrete digestive juices. It’s kind of a physical chain reaction that’s started by the taste of the bitters in the mouth—the flavors hit the mucous membrane, and the process begins. They’ve been used since Hippocrates’ time. It’s most helpful to have a little before you eat and a little after if you’re using them medicinally.”
An assortment of Red Root & Co. bitters
Asked what function bitters serve in a cocktail, Corey offers an analogy: “bitters are to cocktails what salt is to food. They contribute to the way a drink tastes by enhancing the flavors and rounding them out. It’s kind of like the effect of salt and EVOO on broccoli.”
Members of Fall Line Farms and Local Roots will find a lot to love on the Red Root & Co. page. And Corey has found a lot of joy in being part of our community, too. “I love trying the other vendors’ items and coming up with recipes that use them,” she says.
We’re fortunate to add Corey and her herbal artistry to our producer community, where her dedication to her craft and her sincere wish to deliver only the best to her customers falls right in line with the ethos of the rest of our farmers and foodmakers. Please give her products a try, and feel free to experiment with how you use them in foods and beverages. As Corey herself advises on the Red Root & Co. website, “consume creatively!”
If you need ideas about how to do that, check out the results from the latest Red Root & Co. recipe contest! There were several categories, including both food and drink. You can find all of the recipes here: [https://www.redrootcompany.com/cocktails-1] and you can find Red Root & Co. products on our pages here: [https://flflr.luluslocalfood.com/Shopping/Search?CategoryId=&ProducerId=9261&SearchTerm=].
Ready to try one of the recipes? Here’s one of the winning recipes, created by Maureen Miller. It makes use of Red Root & Co.’s Winter Oxymel. You can also search our online market for most of the other ingredients on this list by clicking here [link to buying pages here].
· ¾ cup green onion tops, chopped
· ¾ cup fresh basil, julienned
· 2 small zucchini, sliced and grilled
· 4 baby onions, halved and grilled or 1 small onion, thinly sliced and grilled
· 2 yukon gold potatoes, baked and chopped
· 8 eggs
· ½ c feta, coarsely chopped
· ½ tsp salt
· ¼ tsp pepper
· 2 TBS butter, or 2 TBS oil
· 2 TBS Winter Oxymel
Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven broiler.
Warm 2 TBS butter in a 10-inch cast-iron or ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Swirl to coat skillet with butter. When the butter is hot, add potato. Sauté, stirring often, until potatoes are lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until blended and mix in onion tops, basil, black pepper and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk together Red Root & Co. Winter Oxymel and honey until combined. Set this mixture aside.
Remove the skillet from the heat. Slowly and gently pour in the egg mixture. Layer grilled zucchini and onion over potatoes. Sprinkle with feta. Place the skillet in the oven. Broil until the eggs are set and the top is golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Watch towards the end of the cooking time to ensure it doesn’t burn. Time will vary depending upon the skillet you are using. If your frittata is not fully cooked, switch the oven to bake at 350 degrees F and continue cooking until the eggs are set. Remove from the oven (skillet handle will be hot!). Let cool a few minutes.
Drizzle Red Root & Co.Winter Oxymel sauce over frittata and garnish with edible flowers, if available. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.
Links You Might Want to Follow:
Fall Line Farms and Local Roots non-profit online local market: www.flflr.luluslocalfood.com
Virginia Public Media’s “How Permaculture Makes a Mighty Impact for Small Farms” episode of Virginia Farming: https://vpm.org/watch/articles/11138/how-permaculture-makes-a-mighty-impact-for-small-farms
Corey and her wares
 Wildcrafting: The practice of foraging in the wild for plants and fungi that can be eaten or used for medicinal purposes. Wildcrafting is based on the use of species that grow locally. As Corey points out above, however, all local species are not necessarily native. Some, like dandelion and plantain, were brought by European settlers and have “gone native.”  A basic oxymel contains both honey and an acid liquid (usually vinegar). They may also contain herbs. They’ve been used since ancient times to boost health.