About Florida School of Holistic Living

Meet Our Amazing Teachers

The faculty at Florida School of Holistic Living are experts in their fields and passionate about teaching the next generation of herbalists.


Emily Ruff

Founder and Herbalist

Emily is a community herbalist 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 healers of many traditions. Her background in gardening and botany came in childhood see more…

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Maggie O’Halloran

Executive Director and Herbalist Educator

Maggie is an herbalist and educator in Central Florida. She comes from a large family where chaos was the norm. She always found peace outside watching things grow or climbing magnolia trees. She learned in her mother’s kitchen that the things you put in your mouth impact your mind and your body. See More…

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Shannon Alycia

Home Study Coordinator and Herbalist Educator

Shannon is a mother, folk herbalist and light-worker. As a healer, her passion in life is empowering others to learn how to be responsible for their personal health and well-being. With such a busy life and being mindful of the fact the she is human and not immune to the external stressors in our world see more…

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Debbie Krause

Community Liaison and Herbalist Educator

Debbie is a Central Florida herbalist with a passion for plants, healing and medicine-making. She graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies from Rollins College’s Hamilton Holt School in 1994 and has had a passion for nature and a connection to nature ever since. See more…

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Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., RN, AHG, AHN-BC

Herbalist Educator

Ellen is a wildcrafting intuitive herbalist and is adept at radionics and dowsing. She is a mentor with AHG (American Herbalist Guild) and takes herbalists through the process of becoming AHG(RH) certified. See more…

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Christina Lynch

Herbalist Educator

Christina is a growing community herbalist who desires to share her knowledge and passions with those around her. She is a first-generation American, with her lineage deriving from Barbados. See more…


Shay DeGrandis

Herbalist Educator

Shay is an artist, community herbalist, kitchen medicine maker, accidental comedian, plant walker, ancestor talker, celebrant and animist working in the Orlando area. See more…

Stephen Kane

Stephen Kane

Community Herbalist and Herbalist Educator

Stephen graduated with a MaED in Education and a concentration in Biology, he is a passionate educator of all things of the natural world. See more…

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Julie Ward

Herbalist Educator

Julie helps others transition to health using a new approach to food and “habit hacks” that help her clients overcome obstacles. She brings 25 years of first-hand experience to the table see more…

Meet the Rest of Your Herbalism Faculty

Their Bios are Rooted Here

Our Support Staff

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Chris Flocken, Finance Director

Chris Flocken is a gardener, painter, and writer. Chris grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she developed an early kinship with the flora, fauna, and mountains of the Sonoran Desert. In 2010, Chris was hired as Bookkeeper for Homegrown Local Food Cooperative—an outreach program for FSHL—and later became the school’s official bookkeeper.


Jaime Pawelek, Garden Coordinator

Jaime Pawelek is a native bee taxonomist and researcher, as well as a gardener, herbalist and environmental educator. She graduated in 2008 with a B.S. in Conservation and Resources Studies from UC Berkeley. Jaime is passionate about environmental education and was a Co-PI on an NSF grant (2022) that provided research experience to undergraduates from underrepresented groups at the community college level.

Meet Some Graduates

Our graduates contribute to the community through care for themselves and their families. Cultivating home and family herbalists is the most important aspect of our work. A number of our graduates have also entered into vocational expressions of herbalism since attending our programs.

History of The Florida School of Holistic Living

Founded in 1999 as the Florida School of Herbal Studies, the school first focused on introducing the concepts and practices of holistic living through the science and art of herbalism.  Classes were offered in Titusville and Orlando under the direction of herbalist George D’Arcy, hosted at local herb stores and healing centers such as Leaves and Roots and Simply Well. The school’s first building and educational gardens were established in 2005 in Winter Park under the direction of herbalist Emily Ruff. The school relocated to Downtown Orlando in Fall 2006, where it established a full-time campus including the Bodhi Garden, a community teaching and healing space. In Fall 2018, the school expanded to a classroom space in Goldenrod Florida along the Cady Way Trail, continuing to maintain the Bodhi Garden in Downtown Orlando.

As the school’s programming grew, so did our curricula, to serve students and assist them in fully integrating ecological herbalism into their lives.  These expanded offerings included more diverse subjects of n atural health including holistic nutrition, iridology, healing with rhythm, and various nutritional theories, as well as sustainable living and urban homesteading topics such as beekeeping, permaculture, and organic gardening.  The school formally changed its name to the Florida School of Holistic Living in Fall 2007 to better reflect the full scope of its mission and work in the community.

FSHL has been a driving force in Central Florida’s movement towards environmental consciousness and conservation, offering access to education on traditional philosophies and practices, as well as contemporary technologies, that foster living in harmony with the natural world.  The school has been an ardent advocate for United Plant Savers, receiving the first Botanical Sanctuary designation in Florida in 2012.  In support of local farmers, the school founded the Homegrown Local Food Cooperative in 2007 to build a sustainable agricultural economy in Central Florida.  In 2012, in support of our regional herbal community, the school founded the Florida Herbal Conference.

In 2016, in response to the tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub, we founded the Grief Care Project as a way to deliver the healing power of herbs to our neighbors and community. This project continues to share resources and support towards impacting the possibility for healing grief and trauma in individuals and communities with the support of the plants.

In 2018, we developed a collaborative partnership with the Sage Mountain Botanical Sanctuary to support the continuing legacy of our inspiration and mentor, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar.

In Spring 2020, all of our programs shifted to a hybrid virtual model, providing online learning with personalized, live-time support from teachers and staff. Our primary campus and in-person classes have since continued to offer programming while maintaining the virtual connection found through online learning.

Our Mission

The Florida School of Holistic Living is a 501c3 nonprofit educational organization with the mission of cultivating sustainable community by empowering individuals through philosophy-in-practice education that promotes holistic living.

Our programming includes a comprehensive curriculum of plant-centered workshops, continuing education, and professional training.  In addition to our classes, we provide the Central Florida community a space to connect with our community, build vibrant health, and deepen our relationship with the earth through our Community Garden, the Florida Herbal Conference, and ongoing special events.

Philosophy-in-practice education offers students the opportunity to “get their hands dirty.”   We emphasize a holistic philosophy in all of our courses, a perspective which honors the whole person and their connection to their environment. We then see k to put that philosophy into practice through hands-on educational opportunities, taking our students into the field to connect with the subjects of which they are learning. By empowering our students with the knowledge and experience to live a more fulfilling, sustainable lifestyle, we hope to contribute to a more equitable, peaceful world for future generations.

Our Founders

Carolyn Whitford (1944-2010), herbalist and charter school advisor, founded Leaves and Roots in 1993 to ensure the power of the plants remained in the hands of the people.  Carolyn was a community visionary whose steadfastness and generosity provided access to herbal medicine to Central Florida residents for nearly two decades.  Carolyn was a supportive advisor in the work of the school since its inception, and became active in the work of the organization by hosting classes in the research room of her store starting in 2001.

George D’Arcy (1952-2005), herbalist and school founder, was a student and apprentice of Dr. John Christopher, Rosemary Gladstar and seven other herbalists whose training motivated him to found the Florida School of Herbal Studies.  Certifications as an EMT, Pharmacy Technician, and Nurse Assistant provided a context to bridge the gap between traditional healings and modern systems of wellness, which allowed Mr. D’Arcy a unique position to consult his clients to wellness with an intimate understanding of modern healthcare.  As a graduate of advanced programs at the Tracker School with Tom Brown, Mr. D’Arcy’s teachings focused on integrating wellness with a relationship with our natural environment.


The Florida School of Holistic Living is based in Central Florida on unceded Timucua and Seminole territory. We recognize the occupied land on which we grow our gardens, along with the myriad of historical and current traditions alive on these lands from which we borrow our knowledge of plant medicine. Florida is a melting pot of traditions whose people have sought refuge on these sandy soils for generations, through the trade of slaves and the oppression of colonization. We believe mere acknowledgment is not enough to right the historical wrongs of our culture and of herbalism in particular, and work actively with local communities, individual healers, and organizations to support reparations, rematriation of land, and protection of indigenous cultures and their way of life.

“Herbal Studies courses at FSHL strike the perfect balance between rigorous coursework, in-depth readings and discussions, and hands-on experience with the herbs.  Having almost completed the Family Herbalist certification course, I feel confident in my herbal and natural health knowledge, knowing that I can better take care of myself and the people I love.”

Sarah Kate Moore

Family Herbalist Graduate

“Emily’s love, gratitude, and knowledge of the plants shines through her teachings. She has a way of making you think on so many different levels. Emily shows what being open to potential and possibility can bring and how very easy it can be. Our community is truly blessed to have her here. Thank you Emily, for all that you do!”

Melissa Creel

Community Herbalist Graduate

“The Family Herbalist Immersion was eight days of nonstop learning, bonding with classmates, and opening to new and more nuanced ways of viewing plants, the human body, and the connections between them. This week for me was also one of real perspective and internal growth – being away from my daily life, immersed in this world of herbs, health, and personal responsibility to myself, my community, and my planet, allowed me to see more clearly the patterns within my life I wished to change, and those I wished to amplify and nourish.

Emily is a superb teacher, finding a rare balance between being grounded in scientific research and understanding, and respecting and honoring the intelligent spirit in all of us that allows us to heal ourselves and connect deeply with the plants and each other.

If you can take the time away from your daily schedule, I would give this course my highest recommendation. It is a pretty massive download of information, so be prepared to have a full to overloaded brain, take lots of thorough notes, and know that you can’t learn it all at once. This class is a major step forward in your journey with herbs, and will open all sorts of new doors of possibility within your life, if you are open to them!”

Caitlin McMullen

Family & Community Herbalist Graduate

And There’s More Love Where That Came From

Want to read more about what our graduates are saying?

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