“The past is a foreign country,” author L.P. Hartley famously wrote in his book The Go-Between. Perhaps that’s why we hold on to the postcards…
Welcome to Wüm Essential Elements, a new women-owned business and cultivation space for connection and reprieve during these isolating and health-taxing times. A beauty born of partners Coco Rawls and Mina Shahvali, the shop carries unique offerings: a variety of herbs in bulk, tinctures from local herbalists, vintage wares and fares, and ancient curiosities like a wooden tool from Mexico used to concoct a heartwarming ceremonial cocoa.
Coco and Mina met on a date almost three years ago and it was during their second date that Coco felt inspired to share her vision for her apothecary shop. Mina’s background is in food production and, as a three-time recipient of the prestigious Sofi Award in food specialty, she possessed a robust understanding of what Coco wanted to create. Early on in their relationship Coco began sharing her studies in apothecary, testing out formulations of herbs with different techniques and methodologies with Mina. It was an organic partnership from the start.
“We had an unspoken connection and trust,” Mina says. “Coco shared with me how she studied herbs to heal emotional aspects of her life. Mina explains that she feels the pandemic came into play as a time of rediscovery of self. “We are both in a place in our lives where we feel drawn to reconnect with nature and the elements. Living in the city, working the grind, we can become very removed from these natural elements.”
Coco recalls different transitions of birth in her life; versions of herself, different projects and relationships, “This shop now feels like one of those things that came through me,” she says. “I lost my dad to lung cancer about five years ago. At that time I didn’t know that there is this place where your heart can actually break. When he transitioned on it felt like an 18 wheeler hit my soul. It was that impactful, like a piece of me just flew away. I wanted to explore how I could call that piece of me back to myself, to feel whole again, to live and honor his memory. And that is how I found these herbs.”
Coco grew up in Louisiana, where traditional healers still strongly integrate herbalism back into the African-American community and beyond. She recalls wandering through medicinal shops, picking out herbs that called to her, not really knowing what they were but feeling drawn to them. “I would buy something, bring it home and Google what it was for.” She was fascinated by the many ways these herbs could be harnessed to treat mental, spiritual and emotional malaise.
Mina noted they share two very different cultural upbringings and traditions in terms of medicinal treatments. Her family is Persian and she recalls fondly the loving remedies from her grandmother, sucking on a quince seed for 45 minutes, to ease a sore throat for example. There’s something transformational and meaningful in finding a whole new lens on an ingredient, like having eaten saffron your entire life and discovering the medicinal properties. “I came to find saffron was a mood enhancer. I never knew this and I so appreciate this opportunity for Coco and I blend our roots.”
Their intention is not to get clients to depend on supplements or perpetuate a trend. “It’s more about making space for a daily reprieve that you can give to yourself.”
We asked Coco what her go-to remedies are. “Nettles is my hero herb, it’s one of the first herbs I learned about when I began studying,” she says. I would also have to give a shout out to elecompane. In Chinese medicine elecompane is an herb used to treat the lungs, and that is where one is believed to hold grief. It can be bitter but I still drink it, if I feel emotions that I need to work on or move around. I do a lot with bladderwrack, which is good for reproductive health. Oh, and damiana! It is used to infuse mezcal and tequila, is an excellent mood and libido enhancer.”
Since they’ve opened the shop, many people in the community have stopped by offering their own creations. Local herbalist Essence of the Mother procures tinctures for a variety of uses. Intimacy wellness experts Foria can also be found at Wüm. Coco and Mina both enthusiastically shared their deep appreciation for the other women-owned businesses at Pine Tree Circle, and received warm welcomes and support.
“My whole premise for this shop is rooted in the belief that your soul will always remember the way home,” Coco says. “You just have to tune into that and remind yourself. Whether it is in this lifetime or many other lifetimes. It’s important to remind myself that I do this work as a gift from my dad, sprung from his passing. I know he would be so proud of us and what we’ve created together. There’s so much beauty in passing on. We go on to nourish the earth and return in a different form.”