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. 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. Her interest in nature-based living inspired her to relocate to a primitive camp along the Econlockhatchee River, to develop a deeper intimacy in her relationship with Florida’s plant medicines. Continuing her studies, Emily completed advanced studies including teacher training and a residential internship with her mentor, Rosemary Gladstar, at her home and education center, Sage Mountain, in Vermont. Emily continues her studies of the healing traditions of Central and South America to this day, traveling regularly to gather knowledge of plant medicine from the tropics to bring back to her home state of Florida, where her efforts restore the bioregion’s melting-pot-apothecary into modern herbal practice.
Emily’s academic studies include Ethnobotany, Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Central Florida, and she is a Registered Flower Essences practitioner through the Bach Center in Wales. Her teachers have included influential healers such as Rocio Alarcon, Hunbatz Men, Stephen Buhner, Kathleen Meier, Kate Gilday, Matthew Wood, Phyllis Light, Deb Soule, Rosita Arvigo, Steven Foster, Dr. Jody Noe, Betzy Bancroft, and Roman Hanis.
As a member of United Plant Savers, much of Emily’s current recent work focuses on biodynamic, bioregional, and biorhythmic plant healing. She has also been active in her local community, including 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, Orlando Sentinel’s A Better You, 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, Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, International Herb Symposium (2015), and Medicines from the Edge (2015) have welcomed Emily’s teachings. She currently lectures throughout Florida and the United States to groups, organizations, garden clubs, and schools.
In the early 2000s, Emily traveled extensively throughout the US, Central America, and Western Europe, teaching environmental and social justice on behalf of several international NGOs. She also helped establish two 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.
Emily 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. Growing forth from this initial vision, today the organization runs a professional herbal training program, a community clinic, a teaching garden, a seed library, and the annual 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.”