About the Instructors

Nina DiCristinaNina DiCristina

Nina DiCristina is an herbalist in the spanish needle infused flatlands of Central Florida.  Leaning toward the green living world is in every child’s spirit, and Nina spent her youth reading under weeping willows and detouring off her school bus to take the long way down by the honeysuckle patch. She comes from a line of educators: her maternal grandmother Mona was a kindergarten teacher for the better part of 40 years, first in the foothills of Yellowstone in both Wyoming and Montana, and then in small town coastal Florida. Her paternal grandfather Rafael was a dean at the University of Puerto Rico, and her grandmother Gladys was the librarian at UPR. Having education in her roots served her independent studies well growing up, she was constantly buried in books and planning and plotting how to make the world a sweeter place. Mona, Rafael, and Gladys all profoundly impacted her life in various ways, and were her first teachers.
Studying plants came kind of naturally in her progression into adulthood. After being less than inspired by her formal studies, in 2007 she ran away at 19 to AmeriCorps*NCCC a traveling volunteer corps. She spent time with her team Blue 3 in Mississippi, Louisiana, and California, but the 2 places that had the most profound effect on her were Portland, Oregon and Sheridan, Wyoming. In Portland she and her team worked with SOLV on invasive species removal, and native species planting. The latter was done with gaggles of children and was really rewarding. The former was tough: it was monotonous manual labor in dreary rain, and Blue 3 was told only a small percentage of their efforts would take immediate effect. She considers this to be her first lesson against instant gratification and learned the will of nature. The place that Nina remembers dearly and fondly was Sheridan, Wyoming. In the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, Blue 3 worked a split project: in Buffalo, Wyoming they helped restore a sleep away summer campground, while in Sheridan they worked as camp counselors for the town’s YMCA. While in Wyoming she was completely immersed in Big Sky Country: rocks, creeks, soaring mountains, blue skies for days, elk, moose, river fish, prairies, and excessive amounts of wildflowers. Meeting mullein for the first time, she was captivated by its powerful and kind spirit. Growing up in suburbia, experiencing Wyoming was a wildness unlike anything she’d ever seen. The fresh Wyoming air opened her eyes and heart to the healing power of the earth. 
During Nina’s stay in Sheridan she’d gotten interested in health and nutrition, and what she now refers to as a state of allostasis, that is adaptive homeostasis. Upon graduation from AmeriCorps*NCCC, Nina poured over nutrition research and felt a sort of longing to find her tribe. After living in such close quarters to her Blue 3 team, she spent a couple years feeling desperately alone, torn from that connection. It was during that low point of her life in 2010 that she found the Florida School of Holistic Living and the organic teahouse & cafe next door, Dandelion Communitea Cafe. She felt as if her prayers had been answered! In that span of time she’s spent her life devoted to the study and practice of plant medicine, while working at the cafe and pouring healing herbal teas for all of Orlando. All thanks to the spanish needles, willows, and honeysuckles! A lifelong student, she now teaches and shares the spirit of the plants to whoever would like to listen. 2015 was a defining year for Nina, she sat at the feet of herbal fairygodmother Rosemary Gladstar and soaked up all possible spirit and knowledge, started coteaching the popular Roots of Herbalism course alongside Maggie O’Halloran, and enjoyed another year on staff at the annual Florida Herbal Conference.




Maggie O’Halloran

Maggie comes from a large family where chaos was the norm. She always found peace outside in her father’s vegetable garden or climbing magnolia trees. One of her older brothers was considered hyperactive and had a hard time staying in school. Because of the impact food had on his behavior they had no sugar in the house, including ketchup! She learned in her mother’s kitchen that the things you put in your mouth impact your mind and your body.

In the early 90’s she first found her own inspiration to view health from a holistic perspective while working as a teacher assistant at a mental health hospital for children. From that experience, she decided that there had to be a better way to help kids beyond medicating them to a zombie state with pharmaceuticals. She started college studying education and psychology and ultimately received a bachelor’s degree in Human Development.

When she was diagnosed with chemical depression in the late 90’s and prescribed a lifetime on prozac she learned about plants that could help instead. Though formal training would come later she learned from books and word-of-mouth while spending several years in northwest Arkansas where echinacea and mullein grow wild. Her love affair with plants grew deeper and she experienced her first yoga class.

In 1999 she took her love of plants to Oakland, California where she worked with inner city elementary students and teachers, learning and teaching about violence prevention and anger management through physical education and body awareness. She explored working with food, exercise, breathing, and communication skills. That was also when she discovered a love of running (especially marathons) and biking (because it is so easy and incredibly beautiful there!) Much like in Arkansas she continued to study plants and their medicine by sharing with friends. Her friend Hyim still believes fire cider works so well on head colds because after you consume it you are no longer focused on the cold but the burn!

Her love of the outdoors led to an intentional practice of solo backpacking/camping for years. She says she finds the real answers while surrounded by the growing and precariously laid.

In 2006 she moved to Florida to find a slower pace in life. She found a home near Wekiwa Springs just so she could go kayaking or hit a trail first thing in the morning. Though her love of teaching hasn’t waned, she took the opportunity to focus on deepening her plant knowledge in a more intentional way with herb walks with Emily Ruff and attending the Florida Herb Conference in the spring of 2012. Since then she has found inspiration from teachers like Phyllis Light, Rosemary Gladstar, and mostly Emily Ruff. Finishing the community herbalist program in May of 2015. She continues her passion for helping people find peace by sharing her knowledge with whomever will listen. She enjoys working with friends, family, and strangers seeking a more holistic way to be healthy.

These days she can be found hiking on trails, tending her garden, creating something good for you in her kitchen, teaching in her community about plant medicine, and learning from her five-year-old herbalist and his friends.


Emily Ruff, author of the Roots of Herbalism curriculum and Executive Director of the Florida School of Holistic Living, is a community herbalist who has practiced the art and science of plant healing for over a decade. Her studies have taken her around three continents where she has studied under healers of many traditions. Her background in gardening and botany came in childhood while wandering the wilderness and digging in the sandy soils of Florida with her grandfather, a fifth generation sustenance farmer, and her father, a botany and astronomy professor.

Her journey into herbalism continued through apprenticeships in Guatemala under the tutelage of local healers on the southern coast of Lake Atitlan, in the mountains of Vermont at the feet of Rosemary Gladstar, and in the Central Florida apothecary Leaves & Roots with herbalists Carolyn Whitford and George D’Arcy. Her studies continue to take her around throughout Central and South American to study traditions of subtropical herbalism in order to further integrate the melting-pot materia medica of her homestate. Emily’s academic studies include Ethnobotany, Philosophy, and Women’s Studies at the University of Central Florida and Curanderismo with the University of New Mexico. She is a Bach Flower Registered Practitioner.

Emily’s dedication to preserving bioregional medicinal plant traditions and ecosystems led her to serve as a Board Member of United Plant Savers.  Inspired by a need for greater connection among her regional community, she founded the Florida Herbal Conference event in 2012, an event which continues to sell out annually. In past years, she served multiple terms as president of the Herb Society of Central Florida and as co-founder of Homegrown Local Food Cooperative.

Her most recent research focuses on biodynamics, bioregionalism, and biorhythmic-influenced cultivation and healing. She has taught at such venues as the Winter Park Public Library, the Orange County Library, the University of Central Florida, New England Women’s Herbal Conference, Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, International Herb Symposium, and Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center.  Emily lectures throughout Florida to groups, organizations, garden clubs, festivals, and schools.

Before joining the school, Emily traveled throughout the world teaching environmental, economic and social justice with international NGOs, and founding two social justice non-profits that remain thriving today. In 2004, Emily launched her product line, Orenda Herbal, to provide her community with quality herbal preparations formulated with organic and locally grown ingredients.  She joined the leadership of the Florida School of Holistic Living at the invitation of her mentor, school founder George D’Arcy, in 2005.

Emily’s classes have been described as “heart-filled,” “enriching,” and “empowering,” creating a bridge between the teachings of our ancestors and the technologies of our modern world.  Emily stewards an herbal urban homestead in Central Florida with her husband Michael, where she can be found in joy cooking, practicing yoga, writing, photographing flora, creating music with family and friends, and digging her fingers in the dirt.  The plants continue to be her greatest teachers. Follow Emily’s herbal adventures and find an archive of her published work at www.emilyruff.com.