When Rhiannon Parry, 27, of Fort Collins, first learned about the Equinox Center of Herbal Studies, she was looking to change her life. She considered moving to California or diving deep into yoga to establish some healthy habits. Instead, she signed up for the Equinox Center’s Foundations in Herbalism program. What she found was a place to belong.
“I felt supported,” Parry says. “There would be moments where Laura would just check in with me. I wasn’t even doing that with myself.”
That’s the kind of community Laura Cascardi, certified herbalist and owner and director of the center, wants to foster.
The center has been up and running for nearly a decade and more recently moved to 401 S. Mason St. in Fort Collins.
The center offers several levels of herbal studies programs, including a foundations program, advanced program and clinical program. It also features a walk-in apothecary that provides organic and wildcrafted medicinal herbs, tinctures and essential oils.
While teaching people about herbs and how to use them is a main part of what Cascardi does, her mission is bigger than that.
“I want to foster community in a way that is authentic, [allowing us to] step outside of some of our deep capitalistic mentalities,” she says. “I really want to create something beautiful based around herbs and herbalism.”
Jars of specially crafted tea blends line the walls at the center. Some blends are made to ease grief, some to help with hormone troubles, others to boost lactation in breastfeeding mothers.
Comfy couches beckon curious customers to stay a while. Stacks of books on herbs and natural living are free to read. Works by local artists adorn the walls, and musicians regularly play on the stage when Cascardi isn’t teaching. She invites established herbalists and newcomers alike into the space with open arms and a hot cup of tea.
Cascardi graduated from the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies in 2001, an herbal studies program that has since closed. She then got a degree in biological sciences with a concentration in botany from Colorado State University in 2013.
Getting the science background was important, she says, as she believes there is space for modern medicine and ancient wisdom to come together.
Cascardi also offers one-on-one consultations to help folks navigate specific health issues. The consultations start with an intake form and a long conversation.
“We sit down for two hours, and we talk really deeply about you,” Cascardi says. “Some people come to me for emotional health, and some people come for physical health ranging from tummy issues to reproductive issues and everything in between.”
Parry was sold on herbalism after taking Cascardi’s Foundations program. The school itself helped Parry carve out a new trajectory, she says, and now she’s in the advanced program and working as an apprentice at the center. She hopes to take the clinical program next with a particular interest in a holistic approach to neurodivergence—including disorders like ADHD and autism—as well as adolescent cognitive function.
“Herbalism is something that has been used by our ancestors and their ancestors before them,” she says. “We’ve grown away from our natural instincts, but integrating plants little by little can help you become more in touch with your instincts and the past.”
Starting Your Herbal Journey
Foundations in Herbalism
A 10-month herbal studies program that includes over 375 hours of classroom time. Classes run from March through December, taking place Tuesdays and Thursdays with day and night programs to accommodate different schedules. There’s also one intensive weekend per month. The program covers the medicinal uses of herbs, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, botany and more.
Materia Medica Intensive
This is an online, self-paced class taught by Cascardi. There are four sections that span six weeks. Each section concludes with a medicine-making class where students create something using what they learned, such as a tea blend, tincture, cream or salve.
Free community workshops
The center holds free workshops at least once per month. “I deeply believe that we all belong in herbalism,” Cascardi says. “I want people to feel welcome to come.”
Workshops often take the form of herb walks, especially in the summer. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Cascardi leads walks and talks about medicinal herbs growing nearby. Workshops cover a variety of topics, such as sustainable techniques for harvesting wild plants.
To learn more: Stop by the center for a cup of tea and a chat, or visit equinoxcenterofherbalstudies.com.