By Jaime Lubin and Ronit Pinto
Ewket Assefa is the founder of Elevated Naturally, a wellness brand of handcrafted, sustainably-sourced herbal remedies including many hemp-based products. Hailing from Ethiopia, Ewket relocated to the United States after college and is now based in Boulder, Colorado. She brings a deep sense of spirituality and family history to her work, having learned herbal healing from her grandmother, a renowned practitioner of spagyric techniques and expert in medicinal plants.
HONEYSUCKLE: What made you interested in becoming a hemp entrepreneur?
EWKET ASSEFA: It has been a passion of mine to work with medicinal plants and share their healing powers with others. Growing up in Ethiopia where plant medicine and localized agriculture are an inherent part of the culture, I was also influenced by my grandmother who was an herbal healer. My herbal practice is not limited only to Hemp, but other healing herbs as well.
What do you love most about your business?
I love working with plants and the natural environment. I love crafting personalized herbal healing remedies and seeing other benefits from it.
There is a tremendous legacy of pan-African culture and relationship to the Earth through agriculture. How do you express that in your work? What should we understand about Ethiopian traditions and use of hemp?
Western science depends on written documentation; many of the ancient traditions passed orally were ignored. I honor my ancestors’ legacy and sacrifices, by reconnecting to the traditions they fought to keep. My work expresses the ancient alchemically-enhanced plant extractions called SPAGYRIC which offers a more energetically complete herbal extraction that contains the three essentials: the body, soul and spirit of the herb. The spagyric technique is part of the ancient Ancient Egyptian method of extraction.
Growing up in an Ethiopian traditional family, our garden was full of medicinal plants. It was common practice for many Ethiopian families to grow and to make their own homemade herbal remedies. Regarding Hemp (Cannabis) in Ethiopia, it was a sacred herb administered by healers; also the monks in Ethiopian coptic monastery use it when they go through their lifetime study of religion.
I recently learned that my own grandmother, who was an herbal healer, had grown Hemp (cannabis) among other herbs in her garden. Cannabis was not divided into hemp or marijuana, it was just one plant known as Atafarese. In contrast the American culture of cannabis largely has evolved from recreational use and recently moving into medicinal uses. One of my goals at Elevated Naturally is help support the understanding of medicinal plants including cannabis.
Your grandmother played a large role in your early understanding of plant medicine. How does that family history influence you now?
I feel that I am not working alone; I am working with my ancestors. I have their protection and guidance… My grandmother helped people in her house for free. She always said, ‘What I do, I’m doing it for you. For my grandchildren.’ Doing this for people, it is not really for money. I talk to my ancestors and thank them for healing. When I work with my plants, I have all this energy that I’m working with. You use the astrological calendar, the new moon, the Earth and nature.
You’ve said that your experience, as an Ethiopian citizen emigrating to the United States, is very different from most Black Americans in that you didn’t experience racism until you moved here. What are your thoughts now on systemic racism in this country?
We [Ethiopians] come from a country that has never been colonized. Ethiopians don’t see themselves as less than any other. It is a proud nation… There is not much I can say that I have been discriminated against… Ethiopia never accepted colonization or slavery… I don’t have the same observation as those that are African American born (whom their family brought to the U.S. as slaves). I came to the US to attend college and I didn’t know what racism meant before coming to the U.S [Watching the protests now] makes me think America is really backward in that sense. [Yet] they call African people, who are living a natural life, backward
Do you feel the hemp industry lacks representation for Black entrepreneurs?
It is still a mystery to me why we do not see Black people in the hemp industry… I’ve only met maybe two Black people who are involved in the industry, but I don’t know the reason why [there are so few]. When I am at my booth at an expo, people pass by and ask me, ‘Is this your business? Is this your booth or are you just working here?’ They ask me that so often and I don’t see them ask other owners the same thing.
[Regarding the American hemp industry generally], we haven’t proved that we are successful in hemp and cannabis in this country the way we use it. In other countries, the way they use it [is more well-rounded]… There’s a worry the cannabis plant may not have medicinal value in the future. It’s like Monsanto – all big companies
What advice do you have for people looking to get into the industry?
There is a lot of misleading information about the hemp industry and I would advise people to study it well before jumping to it. We can clearly see the falling of the cannabinoid market. The U.S. seems way far from producing Industrial-scale hemp (clothing, building material so on). Most of the industrial hemp we can find in the US today comes from China and India.
I would like to see humility in the industry and people to learn the historical and cultural uses of cannabis as it has been for thousands of years instead of acting like an expert in this new industry to the U.S.
As in any other industry, the U.S. hemp/cannabis industry is exploiting poor countries for cheaper labor and land. My fear is that those companies are polluting and pollinating the indigenous medical plants that have been there for thousands of years and are acclimated to their region.
Unfortunately, the recent cannabis dialogue has been shaped by elite privilege and reflects the partial perspectives of privileged viewers, race and class. Understanding of cannabis history would improve how mankind can manage it today.