Navajo Herbalist Combines the Best of Her Two Worlds
By Levi J. Long
Photography by Jim Davis
ARIZONA DAILY STAR Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.10.2006
As a Navajo herbalist and entrepreneur, Virginia Boone has learned to walk a fine line.
In her youth, Boone learned Navajo traditions and language while living with her family off the reservation.
Today she's learning how to balance a career as the head of a traditional Navajo healing herb company, based in Marana, without compromising family and tribal traditions.
"We were taught at a young age about our connection to the Earth and to the plants," said Boone, 50, owner of Medicine of the People LLC., which makes all-natural healing balms and herbal spa products. "We also learned to respect their medicinal qualities."
With her father's teachings, Boone and her siblings spent their childhood and teen years learning about the healing qualities of plants and herbs found throughout Northern Arizona.
The Boone family lived near the Navajo Army Depot, now known as Camp Navajo, in Bellemont, outside Flagstaff. Weekend visits and summer vacations were spent with relatives on the Navajo Reservation.
Though traditions were emphasized, education was also highly regarded in the Boone household.
"The idea was to remain modern and educated. But my mom and dad were adamant about learning Navajo teachings and beliefs," Boone said. "Language was key. That was the one thing my parents did not want us to lose."
Boone has parlayed a long-held family tradition into selling a line of products that include sage-lavender massage oils, peppermint foot balms, conditioning hair oils, white-sage creams and sore-joint salves.
The products are sold at local guest ranches, museums, cultural centers and regional gift shops, including a few at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.
Using herbs and plants found on the Navajo Reservation, Boone, along with her partner Leonard Marcus, create the products at their home.
The company incorporated in 2004.
Product growth started to pick up last summer, due in part to a new marketing plan, redesigned packaging and an updated Web site, which contributed to increased orders in the last year.
"It can be hard to find quality products that are made by Native Americans and are produced in Arizona," said Lynn Bullock, a bookstore manager at the Heard Museum Shop and Bookstore, 2301 N. Central Ave., in Phoenix.
The shop stocks most of the Medicine of the People products.
"The products are selling well and we reorder quite often. It's been very successful."
After meeting through a family acquaintance in 1993, Boone and Marcus decided to try a relationship and started to sell some herbs at weekend powwows ? intertribal cultural fairs ? and arts and crafts fairs.
Sales started with various teas and dried herbs that could be used to help treat skin problems, backaches, stomach problems and to relieve arthritis pain.
"We weren't sure how we were going to do," Boone said.
"But there was this energy around us," Marcus said. "We sold out fast, and we thought, 'We can actually do this.' "
By emphasizing socially responsible behavior and supporting various cultural beliefs, Boone and Marcus said having a business that does not harm the environment or compromise their traditional beliefs is possible.
Becoming a major corporation is not part of the plan, Marcus said.
The couple still sells at regional powwows and art shows throughout the Southwest.
"We're still holding onto those grass roots." said Marcus. "But we have to grow. It's important to keep that balance and not stray from our vision."
- Leonard Marcus