When Diana Burrell Shipton began getting serious about growing herbs, it had nothing to do with starting a business. In fact, it had everything to do with family.
Twenty-five years ago, Shipton was growing herbs in a little garden behind the small apartment where she lived. At the time, she only grew culinary herbs and used them in her cooking. But around the time her second child and only son was a 3-year-old toddler, she began noticing changes in his behavior. Long before he was finally diagnosed at the age of 13 with an autism spectrum disorder called Asperger's syndrome, Shipton noticed an improvement in his behavior when she started preparing organic meals at home.
Her interest in organics was sparked after she began checking labels at grocery store and started noticing all the chemicals listed among the ingredients.
Tribune Chronicle / Kathleen Evanoff
Diana Burrell Shipton poses with many of the natural, organic botanicals she creates at her gift shop in Hubbard. Shipton has been devising her own formulas for skin products as well as herbal sachets, pillows, soaps, perfumes and eye masks for nearly 10 years. Her products were recently profiled in a New York Times article about organic skin products and perfumes.
''Some said it was all-natural, but I still couldn't pronounce a lot of the ingredients,'' Shipton said. ''I've always believed your food is your medicine,'' she said.
While attending Penn State University's Shenango campus where Shipton, a 1980 graduate of Hubbard High School, earned an associate degree in human development and family studies, she also took a few botany classes. Her thirst for knowledge about organic foods led her to do more research as well, pouring over books and doing as much reading as she could find on a subject that, while popular in some gardening circles, had not yet attracted the attention it has in recent years.
She became careful with what she fed her children, prohibiting pop and junk food and pushing lots of vegetables, all organic when she could find them. She also began buying grass-fed beef from a farm in western Pennsylvania and tried to change the family's diet to include as much organic food as possible.
Tips for organic gardening
''Anyone can grow organically,'' Shipton said. A few of her gardening tips include:
- Surround your garden with marigolds to keep animals out.
- Use organic Neem oil and sprinkle it on leaves to deter chewing insects
- Store rainwater and use it to water plants
- Compost heavily.
- Use natural mulch, such as fall leaves or grass clippings. These items help feed the garden all winter and in spring, you can just move the mulch aside to plant.
''It's impossible to eat all organic all the time,'' she said, ''but you have to do what you can.''
Traveling back and forth from her home in western Pennsylvania to her hometown of Hubbard, Shipton finally made the move permanent in 2003 when she was able to purchase her grandmother's home located on a semi-private road near the township line.
It was there, among her grandmother's flowers, that Shipton's interest in herbs grew from mostly culinary to skin and aromatherapy use. She began to experiment with different formulas, extracting her home-grown organic herbs' essential oils by creating infusions using various organic bases. She started developing balms and what she likes to call ''solid lotions,'' and her own herbal soaps using organic shea butter, cocoa butter and even mango butter. Shipton's herbal recipes included calendula, chamomile, honeysuckle, lavender, rosemary and many others she was able to grow in her Hubbard garden.
Not thinking of making a business with her recipes, her first solid lotion, ''Rescue My Skin,'' was developed for her and her family to use.
''I just liked making this for us,'' Shipton said, ''and then other people started asking me to make it for them.''
After some of her friends and family began requesting products for very dry skin, Shipton created ''Save My Skin,'' a solid lotion she formulated using more emolients for added moisture. She is currently working on a product for babies and children she plans to call ''Baby My Skin.''
Shipton grows and harvests herbs throughout the summer and works on her formulas and products during the winter months. She also makes hand-sewn eye masks, neck and bolster pillows and developed her own recipes for bath salts using only organic herbs and bases.
She began selling her products on various websites, including the personal publishing platform Squidoo, where she maintains more than 40 individual blogs that offer everything from gardening tips to recipes.
Shipton recently took over the ownership of a vendor and artisan gift shop at 6177 Youngstown Hubbard Road in Hubbard, which she renamed Diana's Gift Shop, but it was her website that attracted the attention of a reporter from the New York Times. The June 10 article in the New York Times resulted in a surge of orders on the website from all over the country.