Six o’clock in the morning is a magical hour at Tooth of the Lion. The farm’s 14 acres roll green and bright. The sun starts to light its four greenhouses, awakening the herbs growing inside.
Nearby sits a 200-year-old farmhouse. Standing on its porch and squinting into the distance, one can see Katelyn Melvin and her dogs roaming the fields. A female farm owner, she’s as rare and strong as the herbs she grows.
Among those herbs are anise hyssop, calendula, Echinacea, spilanthes, valerian and other medicinal varieties. At her apothecary, Melvin transforms herbs into teas, tonics, tinctures, topical creams and other products. Sold through Tooth of the Lion’s website, the products are also available at farmers’ markets in places like Bryn Mawr and Center City, plus Kimberton Whole Foods.
Melvin’s product and distribution lists are purposefully small. “I grow what I love and what grows well on the farm,” she says. “I also grow what makes a difference for people.”
Often, that includes vital components in holistic health—things like boosting the immune system, enhancing sleep quality or aiding digestion. “Herbs won’t fix your life,” Melvin says. “But herbs meet you where you are and encourage you to take care of yourself.”
Dreamers Elixir is one of Melvin’s most popular products. Its valerian root and passionflower act as mild sedatives while supporting the nervous system. “You won’t have to take it forever,” Melvin says. “You can readjust your nervous system in a matter of months.”
Billed as a “belly and mind soother,” the bestselling Melissa Tea Blend bears the Latin name of lemon balm, its main ingredient. “It’s gentle yet effective, and you can feel it working,” Melvin says. “We spice it up with lemon verbena, one of the most luscious herbs we grow.”
While Melvin’s herbs may be soothing, growing them can be a physically and mentally rigorous exercise. “There are slim margins and a lot of stress, so you have to enjoy the it,” she says. “It’s a philosophy, a way of interacting with nature.”
All of it is a far cry from the life Melvin left behind in Wayne. A 2008 graduate of Radnor High School, she spent a lot of time in gardens. Her parents and grandparents grew herbs and produce. A grandfather bred his own tomato variety, while Melvin’s mother preferred culinary and medicinal herbs. “I picked up herb books and went to herb sales every chance I got,” Melvin recalls.
She pursued her interest at three colleges, studying anatomy, physiology and anthropology to learn what she calls “human technology.” After spending a season working on a North Carolina farm and completing an internship in the gardens of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation, Melvin became an apprentice at Weavers Way Farms, a Philadelphia produce co-op.
By 2015, Melvin was ready for the challenges of growing herbs on an efficient scale and operating a seed-to-harvest farm that makes its products on site. While attending a conference, she saw an advertisement for a farm that had been operated by an herbalist. Intrigued, Melvin drove 80 miles northwest of Wayne to the tiny town of Orwigsburg, deep in Pennsylvania coal country. “It was love at first sight,” she says.
As a single woman and a female farm owner, she’s a bit of an anomaly. “People in the coal region have a strong sense of pride, and they are close knit,” Melvin says. “They struggle to understand that I don’t live in a family unit with a husband and kids. But, they are glad to see someone farming the land.”
Tooth of the Lion’s crops are now abundant and resilient, thanks to Melvin’s agricultural engineering. “We don’t coddle the plants,” she says. “The drier the soil is, the more the plants experience adversity, and they adapt to survive and thrive. The stronger the plant, the more aromatic, more potent it is.”
That imbues Tooth of the Lion’s products with holistic hardiness, Melvin says. After all, resiliency is the key to farming—and good health.