By Mary, CN Body Care Buyer + The Naturalist Contributor
I discovered the benefits of herbal medicine and green juice during a few formative years in Los Angeles, land of the macrobiotic diet and home to soul cycle devotees. My skin was glowing and my moods were balanced, all without harsh chemicals or prescriptions. It’s what led me all the way back to New England to work towards a degree in Nutrition. I didn’t expect a passion for food based medicine to lead to cleaning out my makeup bag and bathroom cabinet, but you can’t un-know all the things your skin is absorbing every day.
We live in a society that has unrealistic beauty standards and the skin care and cosmetic industry certainly targets women more than men. But we all have skin that needs love and attention regardless of gender. So this month I decided to get a different perspective on skin care.
Tom Groves, co-founder of Heart Grown Wild, had a similar indirect introduction to natural skincare. His background in wildlife biology and botany has given the line of organic, plant-based, skin and hair care products an edge on what often feels like a saturated market.
Below, Tom shares more about his background, his work with Heart Grown Wild, as well his own favorite skin care rituals.
You have a background in wildlife biology, has co-founding Heart Grown Wild and working with plants in the context of beauty and body care changed anything about the way you interact with or study plants in your research?
I was academically trained as a wildlife biologist. I was introduced to botany through a professor at Framingham State University and eventually through the conservation department of the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS). My work with NEWFS began as a volunteer experience and continued as a conservation fellow. Generally, we performed rare, threatened and endangered species surveys, seed collections, habitat restoration and educational offerings for the public. This work was taxonomically species based. It was common to be carrying around 3 or 4 books for species identification in the wild. The knowledge of botanical diversity I learned while with NEWFS has given Heart Grown Wild a unique perspective on product constituents, habitat conservation, and sustainability. Currently, I work for a forestry company which allows me to be out in the woods on a daily basis. For Heart Grown Wild to provide a quality product, it was invaluable to be able to knowingly select particular plants for wild harvesting and product inclusion.
When/how did you first become interested in using more natural beauty/body care products?
My wife Lena had the most impact on my interest in plants for skin care. Like most guys, I was reluctant to be anything but a “shower and go” guy. It began with the In the Trees body oil which originally was a beard oil Lena formulated for me that piqued my interest in using plants as products. The beard oil was liked so much we decided to change its categorization to body oil. The scent is really why it’s a best seller. The facial expression on people makes my day every time, when they inhale dank conifer base oil mixed with just a hint of orange and patchouli. It’s made with wild-harvested red spruce and balsam fir tips, and our own home distilled spruce/fir essential oil. It’s something special. This was the first product that I used on a regular basis. It clicked for me when I realized that I had a specialized set of skills for helping Lena to create skin, hair and body products that were honestly unique, creative and rooted in Vermont. (See what I did there?)
Herbal skin and hair care products also just made sense to me – why use products that artificially scented or chemically based when I could use products that I know are entirely plant based and have low levels of essential oils. Through the process of making our own essential oils and hydrosols, Lena and I learned the amount of plant material to make 10 drops of essential oil was quite a bit. We try to impart this knowledge to our customers that essential oils should be used in sparing quantities due to their potency and for sustainability reasons. In today’s market it’s difficult to really know where our products are coming from. Our skin is the largest organ, so making products that Lena, myself, and our customers could rely on to be good on so many levels was a big part of what we wanted our business to be.
What’s your daily skincare routine? Does this change with the seasons?
I use three products consistently at the moment. I begin my day with a shower and post-shower I start with a spritz of the Tree Song toner, which is another more masculine scented product, made with our own black birch infused witch hazel and black birch hydrosol – an invigorating way to begin the day. I use a dime sized amount of In The Trees around my shoulders, with a little on my beard, and a dime size amount of Sol Nectar hair serum I run through my hair before I comb it. I don’t use a mask on a regular basis, but I do try these products when Lena formulates them and they are quite the experience. I haven’t quite crossed into that level of skin care as part of my routine yet, but who knows…
How do your self care or body care rituals change while traveling?
Prior to my introduction into Heart Grown Wild and plant-based skin care I had no skin care routine. Since the beginning of my use of skin care/body care products, the biggest change to me when traveling is that I actually take skin care products on the plane. Lena and I recently traveled to North Carolina and we were able to take all of our individual products through the security checks in our carry-ons. I never check a bag and I like to travel light. This made continuing my daily routine, which I’ve come to love, easy to take with me.
What has inspired or continues to inspire your beauty uniform?
The thing that has inspired me and continues to inspire me in regard to my beauty uniform is Heart Grown Wild products and the use of more and more Vermont grown herbaceous and woody plants, whether that be from a farm or the wild. I also am excited about the substitution of related non-native species of plants for sustainably, locally grown, or wild-harvested plant based products. In my free time I’m researching the evolutionary connection between related genera of evolutionarily divergent plants in an attempt to find comparable skin care compounds that could be present in Vermont’s native plants which could be used in skincare products. At the moment I’m looking into a substitution for the Mediterranean native, Helichrysum italicum, for a New England native, commonly called Pearly Everlasting or Anaphalis margaritacea. I’m also looking into using Populus grandidentata and Populus tremuloides extract, commonly known as big-tooth and quaking aspen, as a natural skin care product preservative. Very exciting!
When do you feel most yourself?
I feel the most like myself when I’m traipsing through the woods hunting for plants I’ve never seen in the wild.
Last but certainly not least, do you have a favorite Heart Grown Wild product?
This might be the most difficult question. I’d have to say for an overall score, where the criteria was simplicity, improvement to my life, and it’s botanical cool factor, is the Birch Wisdom body oil. Betula lenta was historically used by native and early settlers to treat headaches and fevers and eventually it was used to make salicylic acid for aspirin. Many New Englanders are familiar with chewing a twig as a child and the sweet, minty taste. What many New Englanders don’t know is that black birch can be tapped like maple trees and the sap can then be brewed into birch beer, although authentic birch beer is difficult to find these days. During the early 1900s this species was pushed to the brink of scarcity for the extraction of methyl salicylate for flavoring of soaps, chewing gum and sodas. When it was possible to create the compound synthetically, the harvesting of the species dropped off and the species rebounded. Black birch will likely be the tree of the future here in Vermont. It proves to not have sap as sweet as sugar maples, or to grow as tall and stout as a red oak, and it is surely not as straight grained as the white pine, but it does show resistance to disease, warming climate, and out competes thick, regeneration-killing fern. The Birch Wisdom body oil for me mixes resilient botanical qualities, native wisdom and childlike nostalgia together to create the feeling I love each time I put it on.
Thank you so much for sharing your beauty uniform with us, Tom! And look out for Tom’s wife, Lena, who will be featured as this month’s Muse! To learn more about Heart Grown Wild you can come visit us at Cambridge Naturals to try the line yourself in store, or follow them on instagram (@heartgrownwild)