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 natural health and sustainable living workshops, continuing education, and professional training. In addition, 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 Bodhi Garden, Community Herbal Clinic, Moon Circles, 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.
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, relocating to our current neighborhood in Downtown Orlando in Fall 2006.
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.
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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.
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.
Emily Ruff, Executive Director of the Florida School of Holistic Living, and founder of the Florida Herbal Conference, 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 while wandering the wilderness and digging in the sandy soils of Florida with her grandfather, a tobacco farmer turned urban gardener, and her father, a botany and astronomy professor. Her journey into herbalism continued through apprenticeships in Guatemala under the tutelage of local healers on the southern coast of Lake Atitlan, in the mountains of Vermont at the feet of Rosemary Gladstar, and in the Central Florida apothecary Leaves & Roots with herbalists Carolyn Whitford and George D’Arcy. Emily’s academic studies include Ethnobotany, Philosophy, and Women’s Studies at the University of Central Florida and Curanderismo with the University of New Mexico. She is a Bach Flower Registered Practitioner.
Emily’s dedication to preserving bioregional medicinal plant traditions and ecosystems led her to become active in the organization United Plant Savers. Inspired by a need for greater connection among her regional community, she founded the Florida Herbal Conference event in 2012, an event which continues to sell out annually. In past years, she served multiple terms as president of the Herb Society of Central Florida and as co-founder of Homegrown Local Food Cooperative. Most recently, in response to the tragic shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Emily founded the Orlando Grief Care Project. From the community relationships cultivated through the national response to this tragedy, Emily has formed the Herbal Action Network to continue weaving the web of compassionate herbalism into community engagement. Her most recent work has taken her to Cannonball, North Dakota where she served with the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council.
Emily’s classes have been described as “heart-filled,” “enriching,” and “empowering,” creating a bridge between the teachings of our ancestors and the technologies of our modern world. Emily can be found in joy cooking, practicing yoga, writing, photographing flora, creating music with family and friends, and digging her fingers in the dirt. The plants continue to be her greatest teachers.
Lisa Ray, Program Director, is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Science (Zoology) with an emphasis in anatomy and physiology. In her spare time, she loves playing with her dog, Sunshine, gardening, traveling, cooking and spending time with family and friends.
A plant walk at Mead Gardens five years ago with Emily Ruff, rekindled a love of plants and the power of wellness they possess. Since that fateful day, Lisa Ray plunged into an intensive study of health, wellness and herbalism. She graduated from Florida School of Holistic Living’s Community Herbalist program in 2016, training with Emily Ruff. Then in 2016 she made the decision to leave her native Florida and move to Low Gap, North Carolina. Under the guidance of Thomas Easley and Matthew Wood, she completed the 11-month Intensive Advanced Clinical Herbalist Program at the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. Spending time in the school’s 400 acre nature sanctuary was a once in a lifetime experience that she will cherish forever. In a quest to learn from a variety of herbalists, Lisa has also attended classes with Jim McDonald, Marc Williams, Erika Galatin, Sam Coffman, Steven Horne and Guido Masé. Lisa has completed levels 1 & 2 of the Bach Flower Essence Training Program.
Stephanie Russ, Operations Director, has always had an interest in sustainable living and natural alternatives to modern medicine. This interest led to a significant change in her diet & lifestyle in 2011. Living in Downtown Orlando at the time, she became part of the local health conscious community and attended events such as the Moon Circles at Dandelion Cafe. By becoming part of this community, she heard of the Florida School of Holistic Living and quickly became interested in what they had to offer. With her new passion in self-awareness and interest in learning more about plant-based medicine, she began a journey in holistic health practices by interning at the school in early 2014 and became part of their staff in 2015.
During her time at the school, she’s was given many opportunities to take classes including Roots of Herbalism, and conferences such as the Florida Herbal Conference and Southeast Wise Women Conference, that have expanded her knowledge and opened her awareness into the world of traditional herbalism. Seeking to form a better relationship with the plants and being of service to our local community, she studied and graduated from the Family Herbalist Program in 2015 and the Community Herbalist Program in 2017.
Outside of work, she enjoys spending time exploring Florida springs, practicing yoga, supporting local art, music & gardening scenes in Orlando, and being an activist for the school & efforts like the Orlando Grief Care Project and Herbal Action Network.
Nina DiCristina, Development Director, is a practicing herbalist in Orlando, FL. She’s been studying herbalism and holistic health since 2008, and is a graduate of the Community Herbalist program at the Florida School of Holistic Living. She’s been grateful to study with Emily Ruff, Rosemary Gladstar, and Guido Masé. She has taught at the Florida School of Holistic Living, Sage Mountain Retreat Center, and Ground Floor Farm. A seeker of knowledge, she studies mythology, ethnobotany, and anthropology in her spare time. She is a scorpio, ISFP, slytherin, swamp bending, plant person.
Tessa Henley, Marketing Director, began working with the plants in 2014 and has since grown an intimate relationship with the land and plants of Central Florida. A Community Herbalist graduate, Tessa has had the honor of studying under Emily Ruff, Asia Suler, and Kathleen Maier. Through her education, Tessa hopes to sink deeper into the physiology of plant medicine and translating her herbal practice into a clinical setting.
Outside of work, Tessa is training to become a certified yoga teacher, and you will most likely find her bouncing around town with friends at local music shows.