Emily Ruff, Director of the Florida School of Holistic Living, is a community herbalist and health educator who has practiced the art and science of plant healing for over a decade. Her studies have taken her around three continents, where she has studied under indigenous healers of many traditions. Ms. Ruff inherits a background in gardening and botany from her family, including several generations of small farmers and botanists. The roots of her study were passed down during her childhood wandering the wilderness of Central Florida with her father, a botanist and professor, and digging in the soil with her grandfather, an urban farmer.
Her journey into herbalism was sparked in adolescence, when she traveled to Guatemala and apprenticed with local plant healers. Returning to the United States, she completed apprenticeships with many admired Western herbalists, including Rosemary Gladstar, Carolyn Whitford, and George D’Arcy, founder of the Florida School of Holistic Living. To authenticate her studies, she lived along the Econlockhatchee River in a primitive camp setting for six months to develop a deeper intimacy in her relationship with Florida’s plant medicines. Continuing her studies, Emily returned to sit at the feet of her mentor and source of inspiration, Rosemary Gladstar, completing advanced studies including teacher training and a residential internship at her home and education center, Sage Mountain in Vermont.
Emily has also continued her travels and studies of indigenous healing traditions in Central and South America. Emily’s academic studies include Ethnobotany at the University of Central Florida and Flower Essences through the Bach Foundation. Her influences, teachers and personal heroes include Rocio Alarcon, Maria Elena Martinez, Hunbatz Men, Roman Hanis, Kathleen Meier, Kate Gilday, Matthew Wood, Phyllis Light, Deb Soule, Rosita Arvigo, Dr. Jody Noe, Dr. Tierona Lowdog, Betzy Bancroft, and Sandra Lory.
Emily has dedicated much of her work to preserving medicinal plants and their eco-systems as a member of United Plant Savers. Her recent work focuses on biodynamic, bioregional, and biorhythmic-influenced cultivation and healing. She has also been a proud supporter of her local community through volunteer work, including serving multiple terms as president of the Herb Society of Central Florida, founding Board of Directors member of Homegrown Local Food Cooperative, and past member of the Advisory Board of Slow Food Orlando.
Emily is a frequently published author whose articles have appeared in Natural Awakenings, Orlando Weekly, and as Gardening Columnist for Edible Orlando. An archive of her writings can be found at this link.
Venues such as the Winter Park Public Library, Orange County Public Library, University of Central Florida, Florida Native Plant Society, Winter Park Harvest Festival, Winter Park Garden Club, New England Women’s Herbal Conference, and Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference have welcomed Emily’s teachings. She currently lectures throughout Florida and the United States to groups, organizations, garden clubs, and schools.
Before joining the school, Emily traveled extensively throughout the United States, Central America, and Western Europe, teaching environmental, economic and social justice and serving as ambassador on behalf of several international NGOs. She also helped establish two social justice and advocacy non-profit organizations during her collegiate career that remain thriving today.
In 2004, Emily launched her product line, Orenda Herbal, to provide her community with quality herbal preparations formulated with organic and locally grown ingredients. She joined the school in the Spring of 2005 as a teacher, soon after stepping into the role of the school’s Director and formalizing the organization her mentor began into a recognized 501c3 non-profit school. Through the school, Emily founded the Community Herbal Clinic and the Florida Herbal Conference. Emily’s classes have been described as “heart-filled,” “empowering,” “intellectually dynamic,” and “joyful,” and provide a bridge between the teachings of our ancestors and the technologies of our modern world.
Today, Emily stewards an herbal urban homestead in Central Florida, where she lives her joy immersed in the healing environment of her backyard garden, or in her other joys which include cooking, yoga, writing, photography, and creating music with family and friends. Through a daily practice of meditation and digging her fingers in the dirt, the plants continue to be her greatest teachers.
“I am humbled to hold space for our community to develop deeper relationships with each other and with nature. I am honored and delighted to pass forward the teachings that have been shared with me, honoring our elders and all our relations, in service to the planet.”