April 24, 2024

“Consume creatively.”

Those words welcome visitors to the RedRoot & Co. website, giving customers a little taste, so to speak, of what Corey MacDonald believes. But before you start thinking she wants you to eat soup with a fork or turn all your food into edible art, that’s not quite what she has in mind.

“I have always loved food; it’s been a lifelong passion of mine, cooking and being in the garden,” MacDonald said. “I then went through a three-year training program to become an herbalist, and that further fueled my love of plants. … I wanted to pull those two things together.”

The combination is called an herbal infusion, which MacDonald explained is taking “plant material, fruit, vegetables, herbs and [putting] them in a liquid. It could be vinegar, honey, alcohol or water. There’s an extraction process; those liquids pull out different flavors and properties of the plant material and you’re left with an infusion.”

Initially, MacDonald wasn’t sold on the idea of turning her herb and cooking background into a business. But after some coaxing from friends, she realized she had a great product — one that she thought other people might enjoy as much as she does. The result was the creation of RedRoot & Co., a company that handmakes small batches of flavors for people to add to foods and drinks.

MacDonald, a Harrisonburg resident, runs her business out of Woodstock with the help of volunteers who donate their time to help her make and bottle different products like tonics and syrups. They also sell oxymels, which are infusions of herbs in honey or vinegar, and shrubs, which are flavored vinegars that can be added to sparkling waters to make soda or can be added to different alcohols to make mixed drinks.

She prides herself on using fresh, organic ingredients that are bought locally if she’s able.

“Everything is either organic, local or fair trade,” MacDonald said. “I wanted all goodness in the bottles. I get all of my honey from Virginia, I get a lot of the produce from Virginia and people from the Valley and some of the other plant material I will wild harvest or cultivate.”

RedRoot was established more than a year ago, but the majority of the first days of the business were spent testing recipes and getting approval by the Department of Food Science at Virginia Tech because, as MacDonald said, “a lot of them were unusual to the Virginia Department of Agriculture.” The company made its first sale around January 2017 and now has more than 12 products.

While recipe testing varies from product to product, MacDonald will work on a product for a minimum of four weeks before deciding it’s ready to be sent for testing and approval. Her mind is always churning, coming up with new concoctions to try.

“I’m usually saying it to my family and friends: ‘What do you think of this?’” she said. “They’re pretty much in my mind and it’s endless. But none of this would happen without the dedication of my family and friends.”

Despite being a new business, people are already taking notice of what RedRoot is selling. On Wednesday, MacDonald attended the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo, held in Richmond. The event is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and it connects buyers with Virginia’s specialty food and beverage producers. In the end, RedRoot came home with more than what they left with: a Best New Food award for the heirloom garlic oxymel.

“I wasn’t expecting that; there was just a wall of really awesome products,” she said. “It was a big surprise. There’s been a lot of hard work and sacrifice that’s gone into this. They judged based on originality, taste, aroma. One of the judges told me the flavor was unbelievable and they were all fighting over the bottle to take it home after the tasting.”

She is fine with living in the moment, but that hasn’t stopped MacDonald from thinking about what the future holds for her business.

“I want to grow in distribution and reaching out to a wider audience than what I am now,” she said. “I think there are a lot of different people and demographics that would be interested in this for different reasons. I have a lot more ideas and I’d love to be able to expand those.”

You can find RedRoot & Co. products online or at the Friendly City Food Co-Op, Midtowne Bottle Shop and Lineage, while Food.Bar.Food and Jack’s Hideaway use the products in their menus.


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