Jo Buono’s Journey to Healing and the Birth of Holistic & Herby

Eight years ago, Jo Buono’s life came to a sudden halt when she was struck by a debilitating illness. What followed was a grueling journey through chronic Lyme disease, involving nearly 30 doctors and countless treatments. Despite the overwhelming challenges, Jo’s indomitable spirit led her to discover the healing power of functional medicine, nutritional support, and herbalism. This profound experience inspired her to create Holistic & Herby, a business dedicated to wellness teas and handmade herbal products. Through sheer determination and a belief in tomorrow, Jo transformed her struggles into a mission to help others, embodying resilience and hope in every cup of tea she crafts. Join us as Jo shares her remarkable story of perseverance, healing, and entrepreneurial success.

Can you share more about your journey with chronic Lyme disease and how it influenced the creation of Holistic & Herby?

Of course! 🙂

Eight years ago my entire world stopped when I got really sick.

Before this, I worked full time, taught horseback riding lessons on the weekend, and was on my way to becoming an American Sign Language interpreter. 

Life had other plans for me though.

In 2016, a chronic illness led me down a 3 year medical rabbit hole that involved almost 30 doctors. It took 19 doctors to get diagnosed, and many more for proper treatment. I was extremely fortunate to (eventually) find help and progress within functional medicine, ozone therapy, nutritional support, and herbalism.

Lyme Disease is complex and complicated. I knew that I needed to continue on the holistic path to get well (and stay well), so I decided to go to school to become a nutritionist.

At the time, I was on weekly 5 hour infusions, barely mobile, and pretty much in bed all day. I honestly didn’t know if I would be well enough to finish the program, but Audrey Hepburn once said, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” 

I went for it, despite fear (or maybe in spite of it). I figured focusing on something positive would help me move forward (and would do a lot of good to get my mind off what I was going through).

I’m so glad I listened to my gut on that one.

I completed the program, opened my nutrition practice in 2019, and began my journey as a small business owner. The herbs came into the picture that same year after noticing so much progress in my own health and energy levels, so I decided to continue my herbal studies at Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism, which opened a door in my nutrition practice that I didn’t know existed.

I quickly connected to nutritive tea blending and started experimenting with formulations. I made blends for digestion and stress, mostly because I needed something to help me in those areas.

I decided to get a home processors license and begin my journey making products in 2020 after hearing consistent positive feedback from friends, family, and clients.

And just like that, I celebrated my 5 year business anniversary in April, which I’m super proud of because it took a lot of trials, tribulations, (and frustrations) to get here today.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while starting your business during your treatment?

One of the greatest lessons I learned as an equestrian was to always compete in the division under the one you trained in. Doing so ensured the rider is confident in their abilities to successfully navigate their course with a clear head. Riders who compete in divisions that they are not prepared for are more likely to experience falls, accidents, or poor performance. This can also lead to increased anxiety and stress, which wouldn’t be present in a more suitable division.

The last (almost) decade has felt like I’ve been thrown into jumping divisions that exceed my ability, so I’ve been navigating complicated courses at lightning speed while trying to make the best decisions possible, quickly, with limited information.

In my eyes, each chapter of this journey has presented very different challenges. The first chapter (2016-2019) was difficult because I was going through a medical crisis that required mental and emotional energy that was barely available, and I had to somehow learn complicated information and apply it in real time so I could survive, while managing debilitating (and highly concerning) symptoms. 

This timeframe was especially difficult because it took a while to find a practitioner circle who believed me, so I spent a lot of time advocating for myself, while trying to do all the above. Once I secured a practitioner circle and treatment plan, I had (a little) more mental energy to focus on my coursework and certification exam prep. 

I consider 2019 the peak of the first mountain. I became certified as a Holistic Nutritionist through the American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) and officially started my business. Although I still had health work to do, I was finally feeling better, seeing friends, driving again, and piecing my life back together. 

The knowledge I’ve gained over the years has helped me realize that wisdom comes with time, and if I had the resources then that I do now, my journey would likely have one or two less mountains to climb.


The second chapter of my journey (2020-2022) presented challenges that I could have never imagined:

–        A global pandemic

–        losing my best friend to cancer, and another friend to a different cancer in the same year

–        A significant Lyme flare that left me (seemingly) back at square one. I was bed bound again and back on weekly infusions.

I put a pause on my business during the second chapter. I was too overwhelmed, in shock, and sick to do anything other than rest and regroup. I dubbed this era “monkey wrenches and infusions” because it seemed every week brought new hurdles or tragedies and I was just. so. done. I needed a break. Chapter 2 was messy, foggy, and so hard, but I got through it. 

Chapter 3 began in 2023. I was finally starting to make some progress, so I decided to start blending tea again. I began (slowly) rebranding and rebuilding, while trying to find ways to grow my business with limited energy. I am fortunate to have made connections with a few local Long Island retailers who were happy to carry my products and support my venture. 

In the background of business building, I had to maneuver my way around countless treatment roadblocks because the process of treating Lyme & Tick-Borne disease can feel like one step forward, followed by 5 steps back, so I really had to learn how to temper my expectations while managing (what felt like) a dumpster fire. 

During 2023, I worked in short spurts, when I had energy, and I only committed to opportunities that were flexible and feasible for me. That said, I had to say no to a lot of fun opportunities, which was disheartening. I wish I could tell the 2023 version of me to hang in there because I made a comeback in 2024 and have already been a vendor at 3 really cool in-person events, including speaking at a women’s empowerment event! 

Although it was one of the most challenging years I’ve ever faced, I’m grateful that I had some really cool opportunities in 2023. I made great connections that helped move my business (and my mindset) forward. 

Lastly, this current chapter (2024) continues to show me new puzzles to solve, and I am taking each challenge one day and one sip of tea at a time).

How did you stay motivated and positive during those difficult times?

I love this question! My business mantra is MoTEAvation! But before I share more about that, it’s important to know how I got here, because motivation doesn’t always come easy, especially during times of adversity.

Staying motivated and positive has honestly ebbed and flowed. I spent most of 2023 walking around as bitter as a cup of Starbucks dark roast. Grief and chronic illness layered together has been a mental marathon that could turn even the most positive person into a ball of cynicism. In fact, my first herbal product launch last year was titled “sweary self-care,” which was a fun idea, but the theme of bitterness reflected where I was at that moment, not who I am at my core. The project didn’t resonate long term, so I took a pause to regroup. 

While regrouping, I came across a quote by Maria Rainer Rilke: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final”

Every day, I wrote “Just keep going” somewhere at least once, because I had nothing positive to say. I was depressed and stressed to the limit, so most days my goal was to stay as neutral as possible and focus on very small, attainable goals.

Thankfully I started to make progress in treatment in late fall 2023. I still had plenty of down days (and sometimes weeks), but my life was expanding far beyond eat, sleep, survive, repeat.

Although I was starting to feel much better, I still had to slow down a lot to manage fluctuating energy levels.

Adjusting speed hasn’t been easy for this overachieving Type A who wants to do all of the things (yesterday), but I’m super grateful to have tools to lean on when I’m frustrated, and Sheldon the turtle to remind me that I’m still in the race.

Sheldon is a squeezeable stress turtle that quickly became my mascot after I found myself saying that I’m operating in “turtle mode.”

Turtles are known for longevity, wisdom, and endurance, so Sheldon is my visual reminder to stay the course and trust the process…even if it’s a super slow one. 

It seemed appropriate to have a turtle around during a time that I was forced to go slower than I wanted to, so he’s been coming along for the ride, and I’m attaching a photo of him for you to see!

What role did your wellness teas and handmade products play in your own healing process?

Before I got sick, I went to the barn anytime my world felt upside down. It was the one place that always made sense to me. Horses have this way of settling my anxious mind, and I’ve missed spending time with them more than I can say.

I felt lost when I couldn’t go down to the barn for health reasons; it was a huge part of my life for 15 years. Nothing can ever compare to the horses, but I will say that I’m super grateful for the herbs because the artistic and methodical process of blending tea brings my overactive mind back to a centered state, something only the horses were able to accomplish in the past.

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with how the blends made me feel and the process of creating them. At the time, I was only tolerating a few foods, so from a nutritional standpoint, it felt good to make mineral-rich blends to support my very depleted body.

My digestion has been severely compromised by Lyme disease, tick-borne diseases, and SIBO, to the point where many beverages (even some tea brands) irritate my gut. It was such an accomplishment for me to create blends that sit well and are soothing!

Building this business has given me the gift of strength to keep going during some really hard times. I am so fortunate to be doing work that means so much to me. While I may not be able to go down to the barn right now, I have found a way to create my own little space in the world that supports both rest and my growth. Holistic & Herby is incredibly special to me, and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to share my work with the world. 

Can you describe a moment when you realized your business was truly making an impact?

There have been so many cool moments that have validated and encouraged me to continue this work. The most recent was when my friend’s 7-year-old daughter took a special interest in my tea and my business. She is fascinated by my business, loves my tea, and is always asking her mom questions about it.

It was a surprise and an honor to learn that I was making an impact on someone so young, who is also managing tick-borne disease. The kids are the real heroes in my book. I wrote a special letter to her because she truly made my week, and I hope I made hers, too.

The work I do has a lot of rich history and discovery to it. I think it’s extra special when the younger generations take an interest, and I’m happy to support those who do however I can!

What advice would you give to other women who are facing their own health challenges and have dreams of starting a business?

-Just keep going

-Progress never feels like progress until you look back and see how far you come 

-Small accomplishments count, everything adds up 

-Never forget how wildly capable you are

How do you balance managing your health with running a business?

This has been a lesson learning process that is still evolving. 

My biggest challenge in this chapter has been learning how to navigate fluctuating energy levels, and the mental marathon of constantly having to pivot. Between treatments, unexpected (and emotionally demanding) doctors’ appointments, business building (and everything in between), things can get overwhelming quickly over here. I’m very fortunate to have tools to lean on when my world feels like it’s spinning. 

It also helps that I make tea for stress haha! 

What has been the most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey so far?

I’m trying to pave the road forward so I can continue to improve and be a light for others on the same road behind me. I do this work in honor of the younger versions of me who were sick, scared, and directionless. My entire mission has been to create a business that offers the tools I needed, and still need. 

I’m grateful to say that if the 2016 version of me (at my weakest and most scared) found my online shop, I would be able to provide helpful information, direction, and supportive tools that would have helped me avoid some less than desirable situations. I included a photo (attached) of myself from that time as a tribute to the first chapter of my journey.

How do you stay inspired and continue to innovate with your products?

At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s people who inspire me! Each event sparks new creativity because of connection and conversation!  

What message do you hope to convey through your brand and products?

If the world doesn’t have what you need, you can create it; you just have to find a little MoTEAvation and BeLeaf in Yourself <3.

Can you share a story of a customer who was significantly impacted by your products?

Someone expressed deep gratitude to me for giving them a tea that was more soothing than anything else they had tried, including other recommendations I had made. At the time, I was taking a break from my business, but it was that moment I realized people were finding my blends more supportive than what they found in a store. I started blending tea again that very weekend and never looked back. 

How do you handle the day-to-day stresses of being a business owner?

By drinking lots of tea!

Jokes aside, the most helpful tools for me have been organization, prioritizing, and time management. Recognizing when to disconnect for a break has been crucial. Additionally, I’ve come to understand that the to-do list is never truly finished; it simply evolves. It’s important for me to acknowledge this and intentionally schedule downtime to rest and recoup.

What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned since starting Holistic & Herby?

– Learn my limits, even the ones I don’t like

– Trust the process, even if it’s a super slow one

– Do my best to live in the moment and not get caught up in the negativity of my inner antagonist, who I have dubbed “Darth Jo”

-The process is never linear, in healing or in business. There will be busy times, and downtimes. Both have a purpose. 

– Everyone needs help sometimes, and it’s okay to ask for help.  

– Always look forward, because the possibility of greatness is far bigger than the fear of failure. 

How important is community support to you, and how do you engage with your community?

Community is everything! I feel honored to be able to support my community in a unique and meaningful way. I have been participating in community service for as far back as I can remember:

-When I taught horseback riding lessons, I offered work study programs to intermediate & advanced riders who otherwise couldn’t afford to ride. In exchange for helping prepare horses for lessons with my younger students, I offered my helpers free lessons and equine education.

-After completing my certification, I offered free weekly nutrition services at a local wellness store for 3 months

– At the beginning of the pandemic, I worked with a local business to help spread awareness for a program that was feeding those in need.

-During the height of the pandemic, I offered services in a women’s Facebook group, and volunteered time to teach a mini class on stress management. 

-I work with a few people every year who need services but otherwise can’t afford it, so I donate time and products to individuals when I feel the situation is right. 

-I was recently a speaker at a Women’s Empowerment Charity event to benefit St. Basil Academy and Fearless of Hudson Valley, NY. I also donated a gift basket to this event for the raffle to benefit the organizations. It was such a great day! I wrote about it and shared my speech on Medium, please feel free to check it out here.

– While I am building my strength back to ride again, I am in the very early stages of inquiring about how I can help volunteer with a local equine therapy program that supports riders with all mobility levels and abilities (HorseAbility). I will be making a product donation to support their horses and riders in the meantime, which will be mailed out early next month. This organization has a special place in my heart, and I hope to be involved soon! 

-I am in the infancy stages of working on a bigger community service project for food allergy awareness, but that may be a while because there’s a lot happening in the background right now.

What future plans or goals do you have for Holistic & Herby?

My goal is to chase this dream as far as it will take me! I have a lot of big dreams and goals for both my tea and my research work. I’m excited to be in a place where I can attend in-person events, and I’m savoring the moment while looking forward to continued growth in the very near future!

As I work towards my goals, I hope to be a source of information and inspiration for others who are starting a small business under less-than-ideal circumstances, even if it’s not a chronic illness. We all face adversity, and although we may not be able to relate to our individual struggles, we can all relate to the challenges of hard times and adjustment periods.

I hope my story brings a little bit of MoTEAvation and EncourageMint to anyone who is trying to do big things while fighting stress monsters <3


by Harness Editor

Harness believes that freedom of expression equals female empowerment. The truth? We’re a badass authentic community of fierce women, and we exist to help your voice be heard. Harness is here to be your safe haven. A place to shed the competition, the insecurities. This is a place to rise by lifting others. This is who we are.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *