Corey MacDonald has spent a lot of her life in a thoughtful search for answers.
MacDonald’s first field, sociology, answered the questions she had about the world around her.
Her second field, herbalism, helped answer questions about her inner world and well-being.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, during a chapter where she said she felt many were in need of a little love, she found inspiration in a plant that grows locally – the purple-flowering raspberry.
That’s how Red Root & Co.'s My Dear Heart Elixir, an edible medicinal solution, came to be.
"This product is more for the emotional self. It’s very heart-tending,” said MacDonald, owner of the company that makes plant-based tonics, beverages, vinegars, teas and other herbal products. “[It was developed in] 2020, before there was a vaccine. Everyone’s heart was hurting for a variety of reasons. It just evolved because of that.”
MacDonald’s elixir is a finalist in the 2022 Good Food Awards, a national competition that recognizes quality food products and good business practices. The award presented by the Good Food Foundation recognizes products in a wide range of categories.
In herbalism, infusions take on the characteristics of the plant, MacDonald said.
“Flowers make us feel good, and we celebrate things with them,” she said. “When you create an infusion … those properties transfer. You can bring that into yourself.”
In this case, the plants MacDonald infused in the elixir are good for emotional well-being and the cardiovascular system. MacDonald combined the purple-flowering raspberry with rose, goldenrod, holy basil and hawthorn -- known in her field as a heart-healthy plant.
“All these flowers kind of told me what to do,” MacDonald said. “Once I had the purple-flowering raspberry, it was the inspiration. Then, it was just like, ‘What other heart-loving plants can I put in here?’”
My Dear Heart was entered into the “elixir” category and was named a finalist.
MacDonald said the product can be taken by mouth a few drops at a time, stirred into a glass of sparkling water or mixed into a craft beverage.
“The other day, I came into the office, I was feeling like, I don’t know, it had been a rough morning. I took a little bit because I needed a little love,” MacDonald said. “Over a bit of time, it just perked me up. It’s an uplifting [way] to give yourself a little self-love."
In addition to elixirs, Red Root & Co. sells shrubs, tonics, bitters, teas and other products reflective of bygone eras. In 2021, Red Root & Co. was selected as the winner in the elixir category for a bitter mix it makes called Hops & Citrus Bitters.
The winners of the 2022 competition will be announced on Friday.
According to the Good Food Foundation website, the standards for recognition require the product be free from all artificial ingredients and the business itself must be committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Being a finalist and potentially winning means a lot to MacDonald. She said the recognition makes the challenge of running a small business seem worthwhile.
“Winning is such an affirmation,” MacDonald said. “Especially with this organization because they promote good food and responsible businesses. Having a small business, the last two years has been a lot.”
Allison Dugan, director of the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, said Red Root & Co. was part of the center’s first Food and Beverage Accelerator Program. In addition to making a quality product, Dugan said, she thinks MacDonald makes sensible business choices.
“Many entrepreneurs might stretch too thin with supply and demand,” Dugan said. “[MacDonald] has been thoughtful, thorough and deliberate with how she chooses to expand her business.”
MacDonald, who enjoys spending time in nature, forages most of her own ingredients. She said that in her free time, which is increasingly limited, she enjoys taking trips with her husband in their old Volkswagen camper-van.
The herbalist said she usually spends the beginning of the year thinking deeply about business goals. Moving forward, her main goal for the business is to become involved in the Harrisonburg community.
“We want to be more present in Harrisonburg,” MacDonald said. “We’re here, but I don’t think people know that we’re here. We want to broaden a little bit and teach more herbal classes here in Harrisonburg."