Leigh McDowell’s husband, Brett, forgot his towel after a shower and casually walked through the family’s Satellite Beach home in his birthday suit.
He happened to glance up and saw a face peering in the window by the front door. Brett ran and covered up while Leigh went to the door to greet the unexpected guest desperate to purchase something from Leigh, the Elderberry Fairy.
The McDowells got used to having unexpected visitors at all hours of the day and night. The Elderberry Fairy has been in popular demand since 2018 when Leigh started selling elderberry products out of her home. Some days as many as 40 customers would visit.
“I grew so quickly I couldn’t leave my house without putting coolers out with people’s orders,” Leigh, 36, said. “I had employees working in my home, and it all just became so overwhelming.”
Her husband wanted his privacy back, her neighbors were getting frustrated with the all the traffic, and her business was quickly outgrowing cottage food laws, which allow individuals to use their unlicensed home kitchens to produce for foods that present a low risk of foodborne illness without obtaining a food permit from the state.
The McDowell family, which includes four children ranging in age from 4 to 10, no longer worry about those unexpected visitors. Next month, The Elderberry Fairy will celebrate one year at its brick and mortar location on Post Road in Melbourne.
“Now I’m able to schedule days off, and I have brought back boundaries to my personal life in regards to my marriage and children that had fallen by the wayside,” Leigh said. “Honestly, this all happened so fast, it feels like a dream.”
Leigh, who grew up in Brevard and graduated from Melbourne Central Catholic High School, started making elderberry products seven years ago. The former nurse knew about the benefits of elderberry and decided to see if the berry could help her family.
“I had young children who were in day care, and they had the constant runny nose, cough, ear aches, and I was honestly so tired of it,” Leigh said. “I read about the immune supporting aspects of elderberry syrup and that they sold it in stores, but I knew a homemade version would probably taste a lot better with superior, quality ingredients.”
Not only did her children enjoy the taste of the elderberry syrup their mom was making, they also stayed healthier for longer periods of time.
It was back in October 2018 when Brett suggested Leigh post on Facebook to see if anyone was interested in purchasing the syrup she had been making for the family. Leigh made that post, then went in to a doctor’s appointment. When she left the doctor, she had 52 comments from people wanting the syrup.
“It quickly gained traction from there due to word of mouth,” Leigh said.
Her product line also has expanded. In addition to the syrup, she makes cough syrup, gummies, tea, popsicles, organic vapor rub, kombucha, insect repellent and brew-yourself kits to make your own syrup at home. One of her most popular items is actually a product one of her 10-year-old twins came up with two years ago: flavored lemonade.
The elderberries are sourced from Europe, which is where Leigh said the highest quality elderberries are produced. She spends four to six hours almost daily making the products.
“It’s a two-step process,” she said. “I pressurize and then simmer them. I think pressurizing the berries gives them a really rich, nice flavor. People tell me all the time mine taste the best they have ever had, and I think it’s because of the two-step process.”
She does tell customers who are pregnant, breast feeding, have any autoimmune disorders or are taking any immune suppressing drugs to speak with a physician before taking elderberry.
Her newest product actually doesn’t contain any elderberry, and she’s still having a hard time keeping it in stock — hot chocolate bombs. She’s already started making Valentine’s Day-themed ones in preparation for the rush of requests.
While Leigh no longer has customers showing up at her home at all hours, she is still extremely responsive, whether it be via phone call or her Facebook page, which has become a supportive group of clients who offer tips and advice to others.
“I’m a mom and a wife, and I don’t like to see my family members suffer while sick so I know that others can be desperate for help as well,” Leigh said. “Also, I’ve been taught to treat others how you’d like to be treated.”
The Elderberry Fairy is at 2015 Post Road, Melbourne. Hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday. Visit TheElderberryFairy.net or call 321-432-7122.
Spitzer can be reached at Michelle@byMichelleSpitzer.com or on Instagram @ByMichelleSpitzer.
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