Emma Tobin knows her plants. Growing up around her family’s business, Tea Lane Nursery, and spending her early days as an avid explorer of the natural world on the Vineyard, it’s no surprise that Tobin chose to pursue an education in botany, agriculture, and herbalism. Last year the young naturalist utilized her years of studying plants and plant properties to launch her own line of herbal skincare and remedies. Tea Lane Apothecary products include natural aids for everyday needs like sleep, focus, immunity, stress, anxiety, tick and bug repellent, hair and skin care, and more.
Not only are Tobin’s herbal-infused oils, salves, tinctures, syrups, glycerites, and teas all-natural, many of the plants that she uses are either grown in her garden or foraged by her during “wildcrafting” trips around the Island. “Many of the herbs used in holistic medicine grow just about everywhere,” says Tobin. “I know a lot of them from landscaping on the Island. It’s really amazing how abundant they are, and how people think of them as weeds.”
Tobin’s botanical education extends well beyond the experience she gained working variously as a farmer, gardener, and landscaper. After high school, she left the Island and earned a degree in plant and soil science, with a focus on sustainable food and farming, from UMass Amherst. She then went on to spend two years studying clinical herbalism at the California School of Herbal Studies. This culminated in a third-year intensive, and the co-founding and operating of a free mobile community herbal clinic in Sonoma County.
Tobin credits time spent working at her cousin’s organic farm in Vermont with inspiring her to dig deeper into the plant world. “That was probably my biggest influence,” she says. However, her early years growing up on the Island were what really instilled a reverence for nature in the first place. “I’ve always loved just walking around the Island,” she says. “My dad knows pretty much every plant here. He would teach me about everything.”
And, as she adds, it’s almost a given for an Island kid to be in touch with nature. “Going to the Chilmark School, there wasn’t much going on but the nature around us. A lot of us kids who grew up here know about the natural world.”
Tobin, of course, took that passion much further, and after moving back to the Vineyard last year, she began employing her extensive knowledge to create the Tea Lane Apothecary line. She grows, forages, and sources from local farms as much as possible. What she can’t find here, she purchases from organic farms elsewhere in New England. Tobin has a laboratory set up at a friend’s house in West Tisbury, where she develops blends, presses herbs, and makes infusions.
Last year Tobin set up shop at the Chilmark Flea Market, and had a very successful summer. For now, she will be selling through her website and hopes to place her products in local stores soon.
Among the most popular of the Tea Lane Apothecary products are items in the Salty as Folk skincare line. Tobin, who has spent years working outdoors, developed the line specifically to combat sun damage. Products include a replenishing serum, a toner, and a soothing aftersun spray.
The naturalist gave some thought to the name for this line. “I feel like we’re salt-of-the-earth, nature people here, who live close to the elements,” she explains. “Herbal medicine is also called folk medicine, so it seemed like a good fit.”
“I’m not as interested in strictly beauty products,” adds Tobin. “I try to make really practical products that I would want. I put out what I love to use.”
Here are some of the many local plants that Tobin forages or, as she calls it, wildcrafts, for her products.
Burdock: liver tonic
Dandelion: liver tonic, diuretic
Elderberry and its flower: immune tonic
Fir tips: lung tonic, antimicrobial
Goldenrod: urinary tonic, helps ease allergies
Honeysuckle: intoxicating smell
Milky oats: nervous system tonic
Mullein: lung tonic
Nettles: eases allergies, rich in vitamins and minerals
Pine: vitamin C, antibacterial
Plantain: helps relieve stings and itches from bug bites, helps heal cuts
Poke: helps stimulate the lymphatic system
Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot): diuretic
Red clover: women’s tonic, supports lymphatic system
Rosehip: vitamin C
St. John’s Wort: antidepressant, liver tonic
Violet leaf and flower: supports lymphatic system
Wild and beach rose: heart tonic
Yarrow: wound-healing properties, helps break a fever