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Ash Cornejo in front of the goat shed at Flamingo Estate, copyright Diana Koenigsberg 2021

Ash Cornejo is the herbalist at Flamingo Estate in Eagle Rock, CA and the owner of Painted Cave Apathecary.

We met up recently on a cloudy morning in July in the medicine garden at Flamingo Estate to chat and to do this portrait session. I’ve been loving Ash’s herbal creations this past year, she has made a gorgeous hand soap and body wash for Flamingo estate using Sage, Ylang Ylang, Tulsi, Desert Yarrow and Blue Chamomile. Using both of these products especially the body wash was one of my greatest luxuries over the past year which was pretty grim during many months of lockdown.

Now that things are opening up a bit and Ash is about to move up north to finish her degree in Berkeley, I wanted to meet her and hear more about her work. She invited me to the medicine garden and Goat Shed where she and horticulturalist Jeff Hutchinson collaborate on new products. Ash showed me where she and Jeff sit outside the goat shed and dream up their next projects while overlooking the valley that Jeff has planted with California natives, fruit trees and about 150 other botanical species that grow on the property’s seven-acre hillside landscape surrounding Flamingo Estate’s Founder Richard Christiansen’s home and the name sake for the brand.

Ash Cornejo , copyright Diana Koenigsberg 2021

When I got home from the shoot I sent Ash some questions so she could share her story in her own words.

Here’s our interview:

What’s your major at Berkeley and your plan after ( I think you mentioned that it’s ethnobotony but can’t remember), I recall you saying you want to work in healthcare and connect it to traditional folk medicine? 

My major is Medical Ethnobotany. I went back to school in my 30’s, so I am finishing up my bachelor’s degree now, and will graduate Spring 2022. I am currently applying to grad programs in medicine, and I hope to pursue an advanced degree that will allow me to work in healthcare, focusing on the importance of integrating traditional and folk medicine with modern healthcare systems. I’m working on research now on Latinx folk and alternative medicine usage during COVID-19.

Would you currently describe your work at Flamingo as an herbalist?

I would call myself the herbalist at Flamingo. Jeff and I do a lot of dreaming up ideas together, and then I usually find sound ways to implement them, focusing on chemistry, phytopharmacology, etc. I then create and bottle all the tinctures we make at Flamingo. 

Apothecary still life, copyright Diana Koenigsberg 2021
Jeff Hutchinson and Rani outside the music room at Flamingo Estate, 2018

Since you’re a vegan and I’m working my way that direction, can you share some of your favorite places to eat in LA?

Shojin LA for sushi. Cena Vegan for authentic Mexican food. The Ricans for delicious Puerto Rican food. Burgerlords for Inn-n-out style vegan burgers and fries and shakes. I love Crossroads for fancier nights out, Mama’s Tamales has pupusas, tamales, and Salvadoran vegan options, Dune in Atwater has great falafel, and Ramen Hood in DTLA has amazing vegan ramen.  

What’s your favorite thing about creating from plants and herbs?

I love being with the land, and connected with the land. Touching soil and leaves and roots is necessary to my being, and creating from the earth allows me to be fully present, and also symbiotic. I never take more from the land than would benefit it. Caring for the plants is the best part of working with plants. 

Ash Cornejo , copyright Diana Koenigsberg 2021

Favorite creation.

I am really excited about our Aphrodisiac Elixir right now, because it is based on a formula I have been making for nearly a decade. It’s a special combination of precious plants designed to open the heart and mind. 

Designers you love to wear and why 

Ash wearing Christy Dawn, copyright Diana Koenigsberg 2021

My current favorites are Heidi Merrick, Oddbird, Christy Dawn, and Ovate.

All of these brands are women owned, and smaller scale. Heidi Merrick, Oddbird, and Christy Dawn are all LA local, and Ovate is a single woman run business in Montreal. Ovate has beautiful, whimsical, fairy-tale style pieces. Christy Dawn is doing some really amazing work right now, with their regenerative farm to closet collection. In the past, they have used only deadstock fabric, helping to alleviate the waste left over from the industry. Now, with their farm to closet endeavor, they are growing cotton on land in India that was depleted by monocropping. They are working with a farmers collective to replenish the soil using traditional practices. These dresses actually draw carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, meaning these dresses directly combat climate change. Their first collection drew 66 tons of carbon from the atmosphere. I try to only wear brands that pay a living wage, don’t overproduce, and are small scale. Fashion is a very damaging industry to the environment, so I try to still enjoy fashion through sustainable and responsible brands.