Maria Noel Groves, a 1999 graduate of the Honors Program, is a New Hampshire native who attended UNH for a degree in English Journalism. While at UNH, Maria worked on the campus newspaper and was actively involved in the community Safe Zones program. Since graduation, Maria worked for a number of publications before opening her own herbal medicines practice, where she divides her time between writing and working directly with clients. Below, Maria discusses how her time at UNH helped her bring together her wide range of interests into a cohesive career focused on writing, learning, and sharing her passion for herbalism, healing, and natural lifestyles.
Tell us a little bit about your background?
I grew up in Derry, New Hampshire and had an ever-rotating list of things I wanted to be when I grew up. As a child, I loved nature and enjoyed studying the food pyramid and creating healthy diet and lifestyle plans (perhaps a tad unusual for an elementary school kid). In my teens, I became fascinated with psychology, considered teaching, and was inspired to take up both creative and nonfiction writing by my excellent English teachers at Pinkerton Academy.
Why did you decide to attend UNH?
I originally had hoped to use college as my opportunity to get out of New Hampshire and travel to new areas, but ultimately it seemed more practical to go to UNH, and I'm glad I did. I made the last-minute decision to major in English/Journalism (the two other contenders were Psychology and English/Teaching), and I enjoyed being able to take classes in other topics - such as Abnormal Psych - as electives. Instrumental professors in the English department included Jane Harrington, Mekeel McBride, and Lester Fisher. I enjoyed my journalism classes immensely, but I didn't realize until later when I had a job overseeing the editorial interns at Natural Health magazine how fantastic the program really was. I was shocked to see how little real experience journalism students had coming out of other colleges and was grateful for the practical, hands-on, thorough program Jane had helped create for us at UNH.
Were you involved with any sports or extracurricular activities while at UNH?
True to my major, I worked with both the University newspaper and magazine, and I was also actively involved in several organizations devoted to equality of sexual orientation, primarily the school's Safe Zones program, which I co-coordinated for part of my sophomore year. While this mission is less of a focus in my life now, I still see it as an important issue and am glad to see gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender friends and family slowly seeing greater acceptance in our culture and legislation.
How did the Honors Program contribute to your experience at UNH?
As an honors student, the majority of the classes I took were Honors classes, and I really enjoyed the small classroom environment and dedicated teachers. I appreciated having classes that were a tad more advanced than the regular curriculum as well, and I believe they helped me enter the working world better prepared.
What is your most significant memory as an Honors student?
I enjoyed a very liberal education while at UNH, both within and outside my major. “Issues in Environmental Education” with Chris Schadler was a surprisingly meaningful science elective for me. Chris was a very dynamic instructor who helped me realize how my diverse interests in journalism, creative writing, social justice, the environment, natural medicine, earth-based spirituality, and mental health could all come together as parts of a whole. I enjoyed addressing my various interests through assignments and articles in my English and Journalism classes, and I appreciated the willingness of my instructors in the English department to let me experiment with gutsy and unconventional writing topics and writing styles. Nearly all of the articles I wrote in college centered on the environment, nature, equality, and especially herbal medicine.
Did you write a thesis while at the Honors Program?
True to my nature to choose interesting (at least for me!) and unusual topics and writing styles for my assignments, my Honors thesis was to write a series of original feminist-minded Fairy Tales. The tales had strong female characters and themes of social justice, natural medicine, and finding your way. I read and borrowed from themes in the fairy and folk tales across the world, and it was an interesting and rewarding project.
What did you do after graduation?
Shortly after college, I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico to explore my interests in natural health and magazine writing; however, I was drawn back to Boston within a year to work for Natural Health magazine, first as an intern and then as a research editor (overseeing the interns at the magazine, writing, editing, and covering the "herb beat"). It was my dream job, and I was thrilled to land it barely a year after graduation. Magazines had always been my passion, but because they are more national than local, it's a competitive field. September 11th made it even more challenging; more than 100 United States magazines closed their doors within a year of that tragedy. After working at Natural Health magazine for two years, I decided to leave the magazine to study herbal medicine more formally and work with people more directly. I enrolled in three successive programs with some of the most highly respected herbalists in the country, and I freelanced for herb-minded magazines on the side. My herbal studies allowed me to further fulfill my dream of travel and included time in Bisbee, Arizona and the jungles of Guatemala.Ticket Manager for the arts auditorium. I ended up staying at the university for ten years until I was married a second time.
What exciting things have you been doing in recent years?
In 2007, I opened Wintergreen Botanicals, my full-time herbal practice. I spend nearly equal time writing and editing about herbs and health, seeing clients, and teaching herb classes, and I love it. I see the overriding focus of my business to educate and connect people to natural medicine, and I use my website as a clearinghouse of information, articles and class notes, and links to other herbalists and herb businesses locally and nationally. I am a regular contributor for Herb Quarterly, Tea Magazine, and Remedies Magazine. I also edit our local co-op's newsletter, which helps me remain connected with my local community. I teach approximately 100 classes per year and get the most joy in watching students get excited about herbal medicine and feel empowered to make changes in their own health. In September 2013, I was accepted as a registered herbalist and professional member of the American Herbalists Guild. Because the practice of herbalism isn't regulated in the United States, this is the closest we have to national recognition. The application and peer-review process was challenging! In 2009 I helped found the NH Herbal Network and continue to coordinate the group as a volunteer within the nonprofit NOFA-NH; our focus is to network and connect herbalists and people interested in herbs in the state while also providing educational opportunities. My husband and I live in Allenstown, surrounded by Bear Brook State Park, and we spend as much time as we can kayaking, xc skiing, hiking, enjoying nature, cooking with local foods, and spending time with family and friends.
Is there any advice you would like to share with incoming, current, or graduating students?
Listen to your gut, make your future your own, and watch the trends to realize where your time can be most valuably spent. Know your assets, and be confident in and advocate for yourself. High wages have never been a priority for me, but it's important to know where your money comes from and be sure that what you do for a living supports your lifestyle needs and comforts. Find a way to live your dream while still paying the bills. This is an important lesson in the fields of English, liberal arts, and herbalism where making $30K is considered a "good income," and we so rarely advocate for ourselves or think of what we love to do in terms of it being a business. Stay sharp, pursue your ambitions, listen to feedback, and live honestly.