A visit with Natalia Bragg at her Knot II Bragg Farm in remote Wade, in Aroostook County in northern Maine, is a delightful and educational “step back in time.” When you enter her Why Not Shop, there is an amazing collection of herbs, tinctures, salves, and hand-carved items that fill every available inch of space. Baskets and bunches of dried flowers and herbs hang from the ceiling. Squirreled away in this unique farm shop is everything any traveling apothecary would ever contain.
Mirroring the feeling of plenty that the shop exudes is the abundance of natural resources that make up her farm’s land. Throughout the eighty acres there are ponds, cedar swamps, natural springs, fields, woodlands, wildflowers, and herbs. Wildlife is plentiful, as well, since black bear, moose, fox, deer, coyote, bobcat, and Canadian lynx have all been visitors to the property. When Natalia leads a farm tour, it seems as though she can regale you with an interesting folk use of just about everything that grows on the land.
The farm’s unusual name, “Knot II Bragg,” is associated with the comment that Natalia Bragg’s grandmother always made when she took her biscuits out of the oven, “Not to brag, but I feel that these are the best biscuits I ever made!”
Natalia’s appreciation for her grandmother and her family’s fascinating history is evident from the get-go when you meet her. She is very proud to be a sixth-generation descendant of her great, great, great aunt, Sarah A. Randall. Sarah was a descendant of the Lords and Ladies of the Randall Estate in London, England. The Randall Estate was the supplier of the medicinal herbs and fancy soaps used by the King and Queen of England. Natalia shared that Sarah A. Randall was by no means your typical nineteenth century woman. In the 1870‘s, Sarah became a nurse and then a Doctor of Osteopathy. Since such an undertaking for a woman at the time was unacceptable, Sarah was considered to be scandalous by many. Unfazed by the criticisms and lack of recognition, Sarah held steadfast to her career and practiced medicine in Aroostook County until she died at the age of 64. Sarah A. Randall was not the only “female pioneer in medicine” in Natalia’s family. Her great grandmother, Carrie Turner Alley, a wife and mother of eight children, was a midwife and lay doctor. She practiced in Mapleton, Wade, Ashland, Castle Hill, Washburn, and the Crouseville area.
Natalia shared several stories about Carrie Turner Alley, her feisty great-grandmother. She was a skilled horsewoman who made her rounds with a traveling apothecary in a wagon led by a horse in the summer and in the winter she traveled with a pung. Although small in stature at at four feet and eleven inches, she was a force to be reckoned with! A discussion of Natalia’s ancestors would be incomplete without mention of Eva Randall. Eva was Natalia’s grandmother with the bright red hair and the lively Irish temperament. She practiced herbal medicine and Natalia had the opportunity to learn quite a bit from her. As a child, Natalia was very sickly and she spent a great deal of time with Eva and the elders of the family in becoming acquainted with the natural remedies and the traditional cures.
As a teenager, Natalia thought she was an expert on herbal remedies and she was ready to practice herbal treatments. Her grandmother forbid her from doing so with the explanation that she “had no vested interest.” This didn’t sit well with Natalia at the time! When Natalia had two young children and the antibiotics the doctor prescribed for their ear infections proved ineffective, Natalia finally understood the concept of “vested interest” and the rest is history!
When Natalia moved to her farm in Wade, she tried to grow grain and various crops. Her efforts proved fruitless because the soil on her farm is predominantly clay. It was her grandmother who suggested that she quit fighting with the land and embrace the twenty-eight species of trees and shrubs that were already growing. Natalia took her advice to heart and now views Aroostook County in Maine as one of the most productive herb depositories in the country. Natalia has carried on the singular Bragg family tradition of using herbs to help those with various medical needs. She has been a practicing Traditional Herbalist for forty-six years. In the beginning days she always traded items or services for her herbal remedies. Approximately fifteen years ago, when it was apparent that she needed to acquire some income to keep the farm going, and when people who had used her remedies began asking to purchase them, Natalia began selling her herbal products at the Presque Isle and Caribou farmers’ markets.
Knot II Bragg Farm has developed a line of Old Log Drivers products that can be viewed on the farm's website. Arthritic formulas and first aid and healing salves are offered. There are also salves for bones and ligaments, split fingers and chapped hands, and a lip balm for cold sores and herpes. An assortment of tinctures are available for sedatives and such conditions as depression, auto immune disease, migraine headaches, pain and inflammation, cramps, spasms, and charlie horses. Bug bites can be treated with her plantain salves and jewel weed complex and pesky flies can be deterred with the herbal fly spray.
Knot II Bragg carries creams for complexion and wrinkles, formulas for athletes foot, and sinus oil for head colds, asthma, and sinus trouble, and cough syrup. There are massage oils available for hot and tired feet, oils for children and pets, and sensuous oils for women recovering from hysterectomies. Car, sea, and air sickness are addressed by an assortment of smelling salts. Natalia always asks that her customers use discretion and have the wisdom to know that not every formula works for everybody. Although her family uses all the formulas and she instructs how to make them, she clearly communicates that a customer must consult a licensed practitioner if they have a problem.
Other products the farm offers are herbal comfort wraps, treatments for ear discomfort, a laundry stick for grease, blood, and grass stains and, several different types of soaps specifically made for abused hands, stinky feet and fishermen.
Recognition for Natalia’s skills and knowledge did not come quickly. It took many years for various groups and area residents to understand and respect her work. In 1997, after twenty-nine years of using her herbal practices, her work was featured on a Bangor television station. In 2000, Natalia’s work was chronicled on Boston television. Ever since then, it seems as though the world has awakened to the significance of the use of herbs in treating various conditions.
The Nova Forestry Alliance in Canada invited Natalia to speak in 2004. She was a guest speaker at the Cary Medical Center in Presque Isle in 2011. Presently she is involved in creating six television programs about alternative health and Aroostook County's stellar apothecary for Time Warner Fox 8. She has also been asked to do her own radio show on BBM Global Network that will start sometime this summer. It will be broadcast out of New Hampshire for the Northeast.
Plants, trees, and herbs have always been essential elements in the lives of Native Americans. They were used for food and as remedies for various medical conditions. It proved extremely meaningful to Natalia in 2005, when seven Native American bands recognized her as a Shaman for her teaching, spirituality, and her medicinal abilities. In July 2009, Natalia was honored to become an Elder of the Native people at the Pow Wow in Fort Kent, Maine.
Native people in Maine have a tradition of gathering. Natalia is a respectful gatherer of many of the resources located on her land. She is also a life-long learner. She was a founding member of the Aroostook County Herb Association. She became trained and certified in the Reiki method of natural healing in 2008. She has learned to make traditional apple wood pencils, stick-wood furniture, and to carve beaver-cut walking sticks. She is also a rock collector. She has gathered jaspar, quartz, jade, ruby, marble, agates, and many other gems. She offers a variety of unique semi-precious stones that she has polished at the Presque Isle Farmers’ Market and at her farm shop.
Natalia is also a life-long sharer. She imparts what she has learned with others by leading herb walks and classes. She offers a six-month Certified Beginner’s Herbalist Course which includes the following classes: Vitamin and Mineral Therapy, Salve Making, Oils and Tinctures, Simple Country Remedies, Medicinal Trees, and Medicinal Foods. When she was approached to participate in this Unique Maine Farms project, not only did she embrace the invitation, but she graciously helped to facilitate arrangements for the profiles of other Aroostook County unique farms.
Being active in her community has always been a priority for Natalia. In 1998, she was honored by the Maine Center for Women in Work and Community as an inspiration to other women and for her many contributions to the community. In addition to taking part in the Presque Isle Farmer’s Market, Natalia is a member of Made in Aroostook and Meet The County. In 2010, she was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year for Aroostook County and in 2011, she was honored as a VIP from the National Association of Professional Women.
According to Natalia, the land where Knot II Bragg Farm is located was cleared by a lumberman in 1892. The back side of the farm, which is located on the west branch of Salmon Brook, was once used by Native Americans as an encampment where they dried salmon for winter use. The tradition of turning to this rich piece of land for sustenance has been kept alive by Natalia Bragg. She has stocked her ponds with brook trout. She, like others before her, has focused on harvesting and gathering.
While many other farmers concentrate on starting and growing plants from seeds, Natalia dedicates great efforts in tapping the plants and trees that already are naturally growing on her land and incorporating them in an exceptional farm plan that is geared to herbal practices.
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