When I first met Siena Perez del Campo, I was immediately inspired by her being. As a native of New England, Siena's magical California persona struck a deep contrast to the hard Massachusetts attitude I had grown up with. We met in the Winter of 2013, nestled cozily in sweet Emerald Valley of the California School Of Herbal Studies and I quickly grew to love her. To me, Siena is a rare sort of flower; the kind that people would flock to see blossom once a year on a full moon in some remote greenhouse. She inhabits this unique spirit that brightens up a room whenever she enters it and provides you with the sort of comfort you'd like to find in a healer. So when she and her partner, Gabriel Vicente, created herbal cigarettes under the name HOLY.SMOKES, I was in no way surprised to see her creating something so different and enchanting.
These days, I've been spending most of my time learning how to establish and grow a business. While I absolutely love this project, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. I've been reaching out to friends who are also in the throes of building up their business to ask about their process, how they face inevitable challenges and their self care practices.
I asked Siena if she would be open to sharing her wisdom and she graciously agreed.
Tell me about your background and what drew you to herbal medicine.
I was lucky enough to grow up a few minutes walk away from our local botanical garden. Some of my earliest memories involve chewing on fennel found in the garden, creating little sing song poems about the trees around me, mixing found leaves & berries with creek water to make ‘magic potions.’ I was a little bookworm & remember my favorite characters were the ones that had mystical powers or made tea from the forest or were resourceful, able to survive despite the odds. I was seduced by these fantasy worlds & wanted to be a magic maker in the real world.
As I got older, I had a health issue that Western doctors had no easy answer or cure for. My mother took me to a man in a nearby mountain town who gave me a few pressed lozenges of various plants & animal parts to suck on for a few days & the problem quickly dissipated, never to return. This impressed upon me the power of plant medicine & its efficacy. I found myself engaged in jobs related to the healing arts, from serving nourishing food to working for acupuncturists. Being exposed to alternative modalities of healing led me to wanting to know more. One of Rosemary Gladstar’s books was given to me & after trying out nearly every recipe, I found CSHS listed in the back as a place to continue my studies. So I applied & after a few months wait, I was accepted & took the Roots of Herbalism course.
Today, herbal medicine is in my life on a daily basis, whether it’s a closer look at a plant that I walk by (along with a quick ‘hello!’) or a sip of homemade fire cider to quell an oncoming cold, or engaging in my small herbal business. I look forward to watching my relationship with certain plants grow & change as the years go on.
When we were in herb school, I remember you telling me that you had very little experience smoking tobacco. Why herbal smokes?
The act of smoking, to engage in the ceremonies of sharing breath with others, has always been attractive to me. I have smoked tobacco a handful of times, however, I never got further than a hit or two. The littlest puff immediately wrenched me into a physical/emotional space that felt like my head was being pushed & held underground. Cannabis, too, felt too intense for me to smoke socially or casually. Due to my sensitivity, I explored alternatives & tried blending other herbs that had a history of being smoked in different cultures. I enjoyed the floral brightness of the herbal smoke & the subtle effect it had on my headspace. Around this time of experimentation, a friend asked me for something to put in his pipe besides tobacco, because he wanted to kick the habit. I gave him a tin of what is now the DREAM.TIME blend & he weaned himself off of tobacco within a month or two. He shared it with a friend who shared it with a friend until I finally realized I had to start charging for this so that I could buy more supplies. And so HOLY.SMOKES was born.
What has been your biggest challenge as you build your business so far? For me it's always the little things like shipping in timely manner or getting overwhelmed with tech dilemmas. Do you find yourself anxious in certain areas?
My biggest challenge in the beginning of creating MOON MINDED MEDICINE was coming up against strong feelings of inadequacy & a mentality of scarcity. Especially in the early days, rolling on my living room table, I would just be finishing rolling the last box I had, hoping to have built up a mini stock & it would all be sold within a day or two. This was exciting to realize & also daunting since I felt like I was always back at zero stockwise. These small first successes gave me an anxious feeling of not being able to do this on my own. My tendency of being very detail oriented & not able to see the bigger picture became obvious to me. I wavered in my dedication to being a businesswoman, not wanting to learn the numbers & just do what I love: sharing plants with people. My partner Gabriel has since joined me & it is wonderful to share responsibilities with another person. Over time, I have learned to project my hopes & desires a little better, & how to stay flexible with myself. I have realized the value of creating organized systems & how they become containers for creativity.
What do you do for self care?
I am always changing my rituals depending on the season or phase that I am in. I find that the moon is a gentle, yet constant reminder of time, easy to spot on a clear night. On a full or new moon, I will pause & remember to check in with myself & see where I am now, where I was two weeks ago & where I want to be two weeks from now. I will light a small beeswax candle & maybe pull a card (loving Rebekah Erev’s Moon Angel cards at the moment). Rubbing down with coconut oil all over my body at least once a week is always lovely. I don’t have a bathtub, but taking hot showers with a few drops of lavender essential oil under my armpits, on the soles of my feet, enjoying the flower infused steam. Laughter is so important, so a call to my sister in New York is a bimonthly mini ritual that is revitalizing to the heart. On occasion I will take a dropperful of mimosa tincture, but these wintery days I am more drawn to homemade herbal infused pastes with tahini, powdered herbs like shatavari & cinnamon, ghee & molasses (mm mm MMMMM).
As I work on growing my business, I feel like I spend way more time in front of a computer talking about plants than I do actually outside with them. Do you ever feel this way and how do you balance it?
Ah yes, this is so huge for me right now. The number of emails & orders to ship & social media time & online research, etc. etc. is overwhelming at times. I absolutely spend more time on the computer than I’d like to. To make my indoor spaces feel more like outdoor spaces, I have lots of plants around that I can croon to & water & they remind me to go out into the wild more. I am still learning the art of balancing screen time & sky time.
Do you mind sharing your daily routine surrounding business, plants and self care?
My routine varies everyday depending on what has priority. I feel like I used to exist on the edge of relaxation & productivity, which stressed me out & didn’t fulfill either state. It was like walking a tightrope & holding my breath. I am always learning how to best serve myself & my business, knowing how interconnected the well being of both is. Some days, going into the mountains to simply visit with the plants, even if it doesn’t mean a harvest, is what I need to re-inspire myself. Other times, I am waking up early & getting to the shop before the hum of downtown begins to pump out some orders or do some research for other products.
Having a visible calendar hanging on the wall helps me see how the month is panning out & I find I complete my goals more when I glance at them everyday. On the wall, there are strings hung with clips & flashcards that have simple, bite sized tasks written on them. Five strings have five different topics posted to the left: ONLINE SHOP/WEBSITE, HOLY.SMOKES, PHYSICAL SHOP, SOCIAL/EMAIL, FUTURE PROJECTS. Just below this is an envelope with completed tasks. It is encouraging to watch the cards go into the thick envelope, knowing that the job was accomplished.
When I really want to get something done, I will make a mate & drink my bitter brew with just a spot of honey while listening to classical music so I can focus.
What is inspiring for you these days? Are you reading and watching something that is exciting for you? Anyone on social media you're excited about following?
+ Lauryn Hill
+ Joanna Newsom + Mercedes Sosa + DJ Koze
+ Shye Ben Tzur + Solange + Bombino + Chance the Rapper + Shakey Graves
+ my niece, Nina, grow up
+ dance performances / music videos
+ Marlee Grace of @havecompany / @personalpractice
+ my friends Kaylah & Kiana grow their jade yoni egg company: The Tulip @wearethetulip
+ THINX period underwear company grow & expand
+ David Attenborough nature shows always seem to put things into perspective.. we aren’t alone on this planet!
reading / listening:
+ Integrative Herbology Correspondence Course with Candis Cantin + Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek
+ ‘On Being’ podcast with Krista Tippett
+ ‘How I Built This’ podcast on NPR
+ your blog! :)
|| You can find Siena & Holy.Smokes at Moonmindedmedicine.com
& on Instagram @moon.minded.medicine ||
All pictures taken by Lerina Winter of Winter Creative Co