Meet the Founders of Cloud Forest Botanicals

Organic herbal medicine as part of a healthy, vibrant lifestyle is central to the vision of Finca Luz. With this in mind, we created our own brand of organic herbal remedies and skin care products under the name of Cloud Forest Botanicals.

How did this happen?

Cloud Forest Botanicals was born on Finca Luz in 2008. Within the rolling borders of Finca Luz, there are multiple micro ecosystems. It is possible within the nine acre farm to walk through a mountain hardwood forest of towering trees dripping with wild orchids, purple and red epiphytes, and shading an under-story of wild gingers and exotic heliconias, then to meander through a meadow planted with rows and rows of Arabica coffee trees, pick a bunch of bananas, and eat an orange or a guava; and then finally to sit by a reflecting pond in a natural wetlands where springs encourage wildlife to water, frogs to spawn and papyrus, elephant ears, lilies and God knows what else to grow with abandon.

It is the “God knows what else” that gave inspiration to Cloud Forest Botanicals.

Elizabeth Worley

Elizabeth Worley

We, Elizabeth Worley and Dianne Heidke, the founders of CFB, have been living here in Panama for years. Dianne, from Queensland, Australia, has always been keen on knowing plants, knowing their scientific as well as common names, and knowing what they were good for. She worked for years in a botanical research facility, learning the how, what and why of plants. Elizabeth, from the temperate rainforest of western North Carolina, spent much of her life wandering those mountains, learning the names of trees and wildflowers, and just generally feeling comfortable knowing where she was and what surrounded her. She once owned a health food store in Brevard, NC and studied herbal medicine with several Cherokee Indian medicine people and a few ‘granny women’ back in the mountains.

Bienvenidos! to Panama, where we found that many of the local trees and plants were unfamiliar and the local names of none were known. Oh, there was some familiarity with some…but out of context. What to make of a twenty-foot tall philodendron climbing the side of an unusual oak—only recognized as such because there are acorns on the ground? Clumps of wild elephant ears the size of Buicks, just hanging out in the valley? Hibiscus bushes two stories tall? Poinsetta trees? So, even the few identifiable plant varieties were strange and alien. Weird, really. And then, there was all this other vegetation that we just flat out didn’t know. We would walk around. What’s this? What’s this? And, that over there, what’s that? And, what’s it for?

We decided to learn.

Embera medicine shaman -- Panama

Embera medicine shaman -- Panama

There is an old Zen saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” In our case, teachers began to appear. Mountain people who had lived their whole lives here on Jaramillo helped us to identify plants. A common theme began to emerge as we wandered through gardens and woods, while they pointed out various trees, leaves, shrubs and plants, giving us the local names (which we feverishly took note of, and then cross-referenced with Spanish resource books to learn the English and Latin equivalents. And, thank God for the internet!). That theme was: this leaf is medicine; use the bark of this tree for medicine; the root of this plant is medicine; this herb flower is medicine.

Our fascination grew. We began looking amongst the growth on Finca Luz for “medicine plants.” We found them.

Another teacher appeared. A tall, strange man—half gringo, half Panamanian—who has spent the last 30 odd years tromping through the jungles, studying with curanderos (local medicine doctors), and formulating tincture recipes for the use of the plants he studied to help people heal, without depending on modern pharmaceuticals. Frank Gruber, or Franklin as we took to calling him, decided we were serious enough inquirers to share knowledge with. He helped us identify plants, gave us a few herbal remedy recipes, steered us in certain directions, and hinted at mysteries we were too “young” in the field of herbalism to know. He also introduced us to Doña Maria, a 101-year-old (documented) curandera living in the El Valle area of Panama. At a mere four and half feet tall, this tiny woman walked us through her 5 acre garden, pinched off leaves, pulled up shoots and roots for us to take home to grow, and gave sometimes explicit and sometimes mysteriously veiled instructions for their use. We were blessed to visit with her twice, and to gain both her trust and friendship, and that of her heir and grandson, Estaban.

Did we mention that all of this has happened in Spanish? Before we could learn about the plants, we had to learn the local language. It has been quite journey.

Out of this, with the enthusiasm only available to those who don’t really know what they are getting into, we began to experiment with plants we found growing wild on the farm or which we planted based on the recommendations of our teachers.

Some of the plants were familiar and we each remembered a grandmother, another older woman in our past, or someone else saying, “Oh sure, use mint for an upset tummy.” “Make a tea from rosemary to clear your head,” or something similar. Some plants are wild and wonderful with limited and specific applications. Some grow like weeds—wait. They ARE weeds! And these weed -- er plant extracts -- are veritable miracles of healing. Some grow in the kitchen garden and are already regular ingredients in the soup, salad or stew pot. Some plants are very exotic and only grow here, in the Cloud Forest, and they are potent and mysterious natural medicine.

Dianne HeidkeDianne Heidke

We tested everything on ourselves. We drank nasty teas and delicious teas. We stung ourselves with nettles. We made tinctures, infusions, decoctions. We made batches of greasy ointments that turned moldy…until we got the hang of it. We harvested and hand processed hive leavings to make creamy yellow beeswax. We found local sources for organic coconut oil. We dug roots, chopped leaves, took photos, researched, asked questions, learned. We did not die or get sick. In fact, Dianne’s lingering bronchitis from exposure to toxic burning plastic cleared up. Elizabeth’s chronic digestive issues went away. We got better. Our potions and tinctures got better.

We tested everything on our friends. No one died or got sick. In fact, again, people improved, got healthier. And then they wanted more. We began doing limited production of herbal remedies and tinctures in the kitchen with a $30 juicer, a $10 mixer, a blender and little jars and bottles we either bought in a hole-in-the-wall shop in David (nearby city) or scavenged from the recycling center and then sterilized to a fare-thee-well. People began to pay us for the remedies and natural skin creams we formulated. People got better.

Our commitment is to make the purest, most natural and most effective natural herbal products possible at the most reasonable cost possible. Each product is researched, tested and based on both centuries of herbal knowledge and the most currently available pharmaceutical research. Each product and tincture is hand-crafted in small batches from plants that are grown organically or wild-crafted from the Cloud Forest jungle. We use no artificial preservatives, thickeners, stabilizers, perfumes in our natural herbal products…EVER.