By Rhonda Parks Manville
Santa Barbara News Press Staff Writer
During her 14-year career in nuclear medicine, Star Riparetti worked with the unseen vibrations of radioactive isotopes. Now she works with the invisible energy of flowers.
The Santa Barbaran is the maker of Star Flower Essences, liquid infusions of flowers collected from plants in Santa Barbara and sacred sites near Machu Picchu, Peru. Bottled in blue glass and dispensed with eye droppers for placement under the tongue, the flower essences are said by those who use them to have beneficial powers that come from the plant's field of energy.
"There are some things you can't see, or feel or taste, but they are very powerful," said Riparetti, who takes a lighthearted approach to life. She wears loose, flowing clothing and short-cropped hair with long braids in the back, and she drives a Volvo with a bumper sticker proclaiming, "Bliss Happens."
"Nature is part of an unseen world that is willing to help us," she said. "When you think about how good you feel when you look at a flower or smell a flower, it makes sense. Everything has an energy -- science has proven that."
At 54, Riparetti has a life many people would envy. She lives and works not far from the beach in Santa Barbara, in a home surrounded by plants and flowers. Her small business is doing well enough that she employs several people. She works with spiritually minded people like herself, who use yoga, meditation, prayer and holistic health practices to keep their lives in balance.
Riparetti also leads annual tours to Peru, and she conducts workshops to teach people how to make essences for themselves. A one-ounce bottle of her essences sells for about $13 in New Age bookstores, on her website, and through mail order.
Humans have been making healing potions with plants and flowers for thousands of years. Similarly, almost all the world's major religions use holy water in rituals and anointments to signify healing and purity.
So while many people might scoff at the idea of flower water having healing powers, Riparetti sees her work as part of an important spiritual tradition that is being rediscovered. This awareness coincides with the coming of the millennium, she believes.
"I think that more of our senses are coming to life," Riparetti said. "It's why we can use something that is subtle like flower essences, because our energies are becoming more refined."
Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Riparetti entered the world of flower essences after leaving a successful career as the chief technician and director of the School of Nuclear Medicine at the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara.
Working in the field of nuclear medicine "was frustrating, because you would have five people with the same disease, treat them all the same, and some would get better and some would die. I knew there had to be something else," Riparetti said.
After leaving her job, she opened a bar called Riparetti's on the Eastside, and she became a spiritual seeker, although she wasn't sure what she was looking for. She practiced yoga and Reiki body therapy, aromatherapy and herbology; she meditated and spent time in nature.
And then she saw a tiny ad in the newspaper that said, "Flowers for healing."
"It just got to my heart and I don't know why," Riparetti said. "I had always loved flowers. I wanted all the information I could get."
Riparetti studied the teachings of Dr. Edward Bach, who popularized the use of flower essences for health in the 1930s. Riparetti became a practitioner, but the work was not as rewarding as she would have liked. So she kept an open mind about what she was to do with her new knowledge.
In 1988 she went to Peru for the first time, and hiked the famed Inca trail leading to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city in the Andes. On the way, she was introduced to Andean orchids, and a light went off in her head. "I thought, 'Andean Orchid essences,' but I knew I'd never make them without a Peruvian. It was not my country."
Riparetti continued to travel to Peru in the following years, and the thought of making orchid essences nagged her. Then she met the man who would be her partner, botanist Roger Valencia of Peru, an orchid expert and guide who speaks five languages and has a nonprofit organization that plants trees. With him, Star made her first batch of "mother essences" from several varieties of wild, non-threatened orchid species growing near Machu Picchu.
From this, Star Flower Essences was born.
Using orchids is significant, Riparetti said, because they are a highly evolved plant, comparable to dolphins in the animal kingdom. And they are beautiful, "demonstrating a profound understanding of natural laws," according to company literature.
There are now 74 essences available through the company, 23 from plants grown in Santa Barbara. Several are blends and some are essences from gems. ("They also have a frequency, just like colors do," Riparetti explained. "Some materials, like radioactive cobalt, have a frequency so strong and dense scientists use a Geiger counter to measure it.")
Some essences are made to coincide with important planetary events. On Aug. 11, during a cross-planetary alignment, Riparetti and her students made a Lotus essence, harvested from Lotusland in Montecito.
Riparetti's essence-making process is imbued with spiritual ritual and mindfulness. Prayers are said before an outing begins and when flowers are harvested. The essences are made by leaving the flowers to soak in the sun, in water taken from a sacred ceremonial fountain of Inca ruins. Then this "mother essence" is diluted and preserved with a bit of alcohol. Before the essences are bottled, Riparetti and her staff bless them with prayers.
Joy Bondy, who works at Paradise Found bookstore, said Star Flower Essences changed her life. She's been using them for three years.
"I did a three-day workshop with Star and I had a spiritual awakening," she said. "I could see that I was functioning in a way that was not working any more. I went from being a suburban housewife to a person on a spiritual path. It opened my eyes to new possibilities, to a healthier, more spiritual life."
Bondy said that using the flower essences is a way of seeking the higher intelligence of nature.
"There is a mystery involved. I can't say how or why it works exactly," she said. "But then, do we know why some Western medicines work? The answer is 'No.'
Riparetti gives her Star Flower Essences names and suggestions for their use. From the Santa Barbara collection, for example, "Pure Joy" is the name of the orange blossom essence, which she recommends for "renewed enthusiasm" to be "happy for no reason."
Riparetti views flowers as teachers and healers, whether people enjoy them through gardening or by spraying flower essences on their pillowcases at night.
"The flower is the highest state of the plant's expression," Riparetti says in her brochures. "Flowers are gifts from Mother Earth, telling us how much she loves us."