The Glam Witch on Herbalism, Hair, & Being a Businesswoman in a Mans World.
BY: SHANNON DEGROOMS & RACHEL HELZER | OCTOBER 4TH 2018
We sat down with San Francisco stylist, dancer, and herbalist Rachel Helzer, to hear her cannabis wellness & entrepreneur journey—but what we got was enough wisdom to last til infinity!
No, seriously. If you find yourself doubting your body, yourself, or your direction in life, give this interview a read. It reminds us to work hard and listen TO our gut, but to always MAKE time to dance.
CFB: What came first: dancing or hair?
RH: Dance. I started ballet and tap at 6 years old. I teach dance now, and perform with Bossy SF Dance Company.
CFB: Due to permitting issues, the salon you co-owed, Velvet Beauty Apothecary, has had to shut its doors permanently effective this October 1st. What’s the future look like for you in the world of hair?
RH: So the salon is changing. Sophia and I are still working together, but not as co-owners. I’m looking into taking over a new salon and expanding on the apothecary, My goal has always been to create an eco-friendly, chemical-free salon that revolves around herbs and natural beauty. I will maintain herb classes and a cannabis friendly vibe, but I am no longer looking to become a dispensary salon. I want to focus on building a strong salon with amazing stylists and wellness practitioners. When San Francisco settles on cannabis regulations in the next several years, the opportunity may present itself for me to offer more cannabis services, but for now I, personally want to focus on beauty wellness, education, and building a strong team.
CFB: What does being a queer fem mean in the cannabis/beauty space?
RH: Being queer, I’ve always felt a little different but I like it that way! I like otherness. It’s something I cherish in friends and clients. I love celebrating someone's uniqueness. People love boxes and definitions so I use the “Queer Femme” label because it's easy for outsiders to understand. To be honest, as far as cannabis & business goes, I feel like being a conventionally attractive female has been the biggest hurdle. No one takes you seriously. I’m a businesswoman. I’ve run my own business for 5 years, but it’s such a boys club out here. I grow cannabis, I use it, and I understand this plant from seed to tincture, yet when I walk into an investment meeting or a dispensary, I get mansplained. It’s infuriating.
CFB: Can you share what experience led you to cannabis?
RH: Yes, I was diagnosed with high-risk cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition in which abnormal cell growth occurs on the surface lining of the cervix. My OBGYN offered a LEEP procedure; Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which uses a wire loop heated by electric current to remove cells and tissue. It's painful and sounded medieval to me. I had just started classes in western herbalism that summer, so I decided to see a naturopath and try some alternative medicines first. Through research, I found a women focused cannabis brand called Moxie Meds and started taking their tinctures daily, alongside my vitamins and suppository regimen prescribed by my naturopath. I also added drops of the tincture to my suppositories and feminine products. My next biopsy showed a decrease in abnormal cells, and its been getting better ever since.
CFB: Were you a cannabis consumer prior?
RH: Before my dysplasia, I hadn't used cannabis since high school and it definitely didn't occur to me to try it medicinally. I’m so glad I did, too. It’s totally changed my health for the better. I still don't smoke, but I use bud and leaves in smoothies, salads, as a dietary supplement, and topically. I love Cannabis lube, too, for pleasure and also for PMS symptoms.
CFB: Lube? Do tell.
RH: Oh, I make my own! With a hybrid that I soak for a month in MCT oil and then add a little peppermint E.O after I press the oil.
CFB: Do you think you have|had any internalized stigma around incorporating herb into your business?
RH: Internally no, not from me. I honestly think of cannabis in the same way I think of lavender, or peppermint or even spinach. It's an amazing holistic herb that makes sense to have in an apothecary, in your kitchen, or anywhere really. The stigma surrounds us daily, though. It's a constant battle.
CFB: How about any backlash from family & friends?
RH: I think everyone is on board with the idea of a cannabis spa experience, I mean who wouldn't want to feel total relaxation inside-and-out, while being pampered in a safe environment? My mom is skeptical, but supportive. My aunt has land and has offered to let me grow on, and my entire family wants to try the oils I’ve been crafting. So I’d say the reception by family and friends has been wonderful! My family knows me and they know I’m not a stoner or a drug addict, so the stigma that comes from that just isn't there with them. Outsiders definitely have preconceived ideas though.
CFB: A little personal— if you could give the Rachel of 10 years ago one piece of advice, what would it be? Think hard about this one.
RH: Ask for more. More money, more time, more space and more love. Ask for more than what you think you deserve, because you do.
CFB: How about advice for someone interested in many things, yet living in a world that tells them to pick one?
RH: I’ve never picked just one thing. For a long time I tried to make sense of all the different things I wanted to do, and tried to figure out how they all worked together so I could do them all at once, like in one business. The biggest thing I’ve come to learn is that not everything needs to be a job or get me paid. Pick one thing your good at that people will pay you for and make that your “job”. Everything else should be done for the love of it, and if you happen to get paid along the way for that love, that’s great, but it shouldn’t be the goal.
I dance because I love it, I love to freestyle and twirl and shake. Its magic to feel music move your body, and I got lucky because other people seemed to like my dancing and I get to perform. Herbalism and gardening are something very natural to me, I grew up every summer on my grandparents horse ranch, gardening and running cow trails and cooking with my grandma. My Dad kept a garden year round in the backyard that my sisters and I loved to help with and play in. I started making my own beauty products, teas and supplements for my own health and because I had access to a garden full of ingredients. Soon friends and family wanted me to make them things too and that has grown into the apothecary side of my hair business.
If you really love something and you keep practicing it, you will manifest a symbiosis of all the things. You CAN do whatever you want, you really can. Just not all at once.
For more of Rachel’s wellness journey, potions, or salon services visit: hairbyhelzer.com. As far as herbalism, Rachel is currently revamping her DIY beauty & wellness curriculum and is excited to bring her one-of-a-kind workshops to San Francisco clients beginning this Fall.