Greg and Colleen Monzel combine their interests of yoga and herbal medicine in Wild Persimmon School of Wellness
A love of plants, nature and being outside first bonded Greg Monzel and Colleen Donahoe when they met in 2009. So when the couple married in 2011, they asked guests to donate to their future business idea: an herb and yoga sanctuary.
“Since we met, we have been planning how we are going to build this space and how we can combine our skills and interests,” Colleen said. “
Greg and Colleen previously lived on the near Eastside of Indianapolis, where Greg worked at Pogue’s Run Grocer and Colleen taught at Metta Yoga Initiative. They wanted land, a space to grow their garden and work toward that business dream. Colleen began working at Garfield Park Conservatory and they found their property at 6215 E. Raymond St., Indianapolis.
With more than an acre of land and Distelrath Farms across the street, the property was fitting. The house is now split into a residential wing and business wing. Greg and Colleen remodeled the space and slowly began to build Wild Persimmon School of Wellness, named after the six persimmon trees on their property. The business, wildpersimmonwellness.com, incorporates both of their passions, while Colleen said they dream of bringing in other experts to offer a well-rounded, wholesome experience for the community.
It was around 13 or 14 years old that Greg found his connection with healing plants. He was having repeated strep throat infections. His mother, a nurse, would take him to the doctor but the strep throat would return as soon as the antibiotics wore off.
“I felt myself going this isn’t working,” he said. “I need to do something else. I found one of my grandpa’s old natural home remedy books. I found a reference for pineapple being used because it has an enzyme called bromelain that breaks down cell walls, it breaks down protein. It can help with inflammation as well as digestion.”
The next time he had a scratchy throat, he purchased a pineapple and fixed it the way the book suggested – leaving the core in. It worked.
“Why would I ever go to the doctor if I can just go to the grocery store?” Greg said.
That sparked the interest in natural foods. He began gardening at a young age. As an adult, he began working in the natural food industry, managing stores. He eventually went to learn from an herbalist in upstate New York for seven months. He went from growing his own foods, to making his own natural medication and being able to help his community with those plants.
“One of the things I think Greg is good at is making herbalism accessible,” Colleen said. “Anyone can be an herbalist or their own inner healer. He teaches empowering that inner healer throughout every choice that you make, really thinking about ‘is this helping me to build my health and my strength.’”
While he still teaches some classes in the broader Indianapolis community, Greg has begun to advertise his herb classes at Wild Persimmon and has an apprentice working with him. Herbal Medicine Making classes take place on Thursdays, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
“Being an herbalist is in the large part a way of life,” he said. “I see this as a way to be independent and do what I love every day. I can work here from my home with my family and make an income using the plants. It seemed like a natural fit for me. I’ve been teaching community classes about 10 years. I had a base from that work, teaching medicine-making classes, to foraging and plant identification classes.”
On the Monzels’ property, there are approximately 100 different medicinal plants. He sells some herbs to restaurants.
“There is a huge movement toward understanding the food system, local foods, farm to table restaurants,” he said. “It’s in high demand because people are into that right now. It’s not mainstream but there is a big chunk of people that are going there.”
Colleen found yoga as a way to exercise and found its benefits helped with depression. She was looking for direction in her life, and decided to study the practice at a Sivananda Yoga retreat in India in 2009, leaving just two months after she met her future husband, Greg. The 30-day program was completely foreign to her, as she struggled at first to grasp the concepts being introduced.
“They taught us about reincarnation, karma, the Hindu deities,” she said. “It’s so different than what we’re taught here in the west. They have such a different understanding of our physical existence here on planet earth. They have a whole vocabulary for the subtle body, an anatomy for your thoughts, your emotions. The chakras are these energy centers in your subtle body that correlate with physical organs in your physical body. I thought it was very weird. I studied science at Purdue, very rational and practical. That was a big hurdle for me the first week; there is no proof. There’s no way to measure what they’re telling me. I said I spent all this money, am I going to sit here for three weeks and reject all of this or am I going to learn? I decided to have an open mind. From there I was hooked.”
Colleen said realizing that proof will come through her practice has helped her find her course in life.
“The asana, exercise, is nice,” she said. “It will help you stay strong and flexible. For me, yoga, my interests are in the philosophy. How does it help you understand your psyche, your deeper connection with this world?”
Now Colleen said she feels like she’s on the right track. Anytime she may feel doubtful or restless, she goes back to her yoga mat.
As a mom and working full time at the conservatory, Colleen decided to keep the yoga side of the business small. The studio can hold six people at a time with the yoga mats out. When the weather is nice she can hold classes outside. She first taught friends in her studio and opened it up to the general public a year ago. She teaches Yoga in the Garden at Garfield Park in the summer, beginning June 5. When that program ended last year, she said participants began coming to her studio. She teaches Sivananda Yoga on Sundays, 10 to 11:30 a.m. and Wednesdays, 6 to 7:15 a.m.
“It’s like a dram come true,” she said. “I feel like a rich person to have a studio in my house. I am so happy to be here doing this and am excited to do more.”
Yoga in the Garden
Adults can join for a meditative hatha yoga practice in the Sunken Garden. Taught by Colleen Monzel.
Mondays, June -October, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Registration required: garfieldgardensconservatory.org/programsevents
Herbs Greg Monzel said he uses most frequently because they grow everywhere:
Chickweed, an early spring plant, is a wonderfully mineral-rich plant. Minerals are one of the things that are being depleted in our food supply due to the way that we manage soil health in conventional agriculture. So herbs like chickweed can be very beneficial for us on the dietary side. It grows everywhere. It doesn’t store well. It packs a lot of minerals and is good for people with inflammation. It helps support thyroid imbalance. It is historically used for various forms of cysts. I make oil with it. That is used for eczema or psoriasis. Having a plant is so safe that you can just eat it makes it safe for children (to use).
Plantain is another common one. It’s a good starter herb. It likes compact ground. One variety is commercially-sold as psyllium husk fiber. The leaves are what I normally use. I love how available it is. It grows about every lawn that is not sprayed with weed killer. I’ll have kids chew up the leaves and stick it on their skin for cuts, scrapes, different ailments. It’s good for bee stings.
Dandelion is another super mineral-rich plant. It’s high in vitamin A and E. You can eat every part of it. The flowers have a lot of nutrients that help detox the liver. The roots help to nourish your gut microbes, which is a big deal in terms of your health.