By Mary, CN Body Care Buyer + The Naturalist Contributor
We’re celebrating love this month and the many forms it may take: self love, romantic love, platonic love, familial love. And then there’s the love that many have for what they do or create, for something outside themselves that causes them to look and learn with a childlike wonder felt by few.
The love that the founders of Heart Grown Wild have for the plant world is emulated by each one of their products. Working in natural skincare, I have smelled nearly all of the wonderful things our growing Body Care department has to offer. But the scent of the In The Trees body oil can transport me right out of the city and back to the woods I spent summers camping in, unlike anything else. And no wonder: it’s made with wildcrafted spruce and balsam fir.
At the heart of the line is a passion for plants and our deep connection to them. Lena, with some help from her husband Tom (recently featured in this month’s Beauty Uniform), has created a line using an herbalist’s approach to skincare with safety and sustainability always at the forefront. Below, I interview Lena to learn more about who she is and how she got started.
What is the last book you couldn’t put down? (Blogs and magazines count too!)
If I am not creating in my studio, I’m buried in a book researching information about plants and ingredients. As far as books go, the two that are my go-to right now are Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide To Holistic Self Care by Maria Noel Groves and The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook by David Hoffman. We have a huge botanical library in our home and apothecary. Books for me are more enjoyable because they’re tangible and accessible. Turning pages in a book for me is a visceral and cathartic experience much different than scrolling through my iphone. I also really love reading newsletters from fellow herbalists, some of my favorites are One Willow Apothecary and La Abeja Herbs.
There’s a strong outdoors influence to the line, is this influenced by any outdoor hobbies or your homebase of Vermont?
I would have to say that Heart Grown Wild is influenced by our outdoor hobbies and our location in Vermont. I found a strong connection to the outdoors in early adulthood. The outdoors is where I felt most at home. I love being outside, whether it be hiking, exploring, climbing over big river rocks, running my hands in ice cold river water or sitting in the comfort of big tree. Being in nature has always given me a sense of warmth and comfort very similar to a mother’s love or spending time with a dear friend.
When I opened the doorway to the world of herbalism, my love for the outdoors greatly expanded. Seeing and continuing to build the connection with the plants on a plant-spirit and medicinal level connected the dots for me as to why I had such an affinity for particular plants. I truly believe there is a strong connection between humans and the plants. If humans are willing to pay attention and listen- there is strong plant medicine accessible for everyone.
Vermont is the ideal location for Heart Grown Wild as it has vast areas of pristine wilderness and land to explore. Living in Vermont, I feel like I have a huge botanical canvas to work with. One of the reasons I wanted to incorporate plants into my self-care routine was so to continue to have the connection to nature - even when I lived in what felt to be a concrete jungle. The Heart Grown Wild line is influenced by the direct connection I’ve had with the plants on mist covered trails covered in vibrant green moss or sitting in a field of wildflowers under a painted sky. Often during these experiences plant combinations come to me - and I trust these intuitive moments. I am often pleasantly surprised to find that these divine, intuitive combinations magically go together. My time outside is highly influential in what Heart Grown Wild creates. In order to maintain our connection to the outdoors, we strive to create our products in small batches to produce ecologically sustainable, quality skin care products.
How did you initially start making the beautiful plant based products that grew into Heart Grown Wild?
There are two parts to this story. The first is that I have had my own skin experiences which molded how I treated my skin. When I was in my mid 20's I had a year-long, severe hormonal breakout that resulted in painful cystic acne along my jaw and on my neck. I went to a dermatologist, and was prescribed medication that was effective against the acne, however, the medication caused sun sensitivity, and my skin began peeling. I also began to notice some pretty intense wrinkles around my mouth and on my forehead that were very premature. Medication didn’t seem to be a solution for my problem. It was either, I can have acne, or I can have wrinkles and peeling skin. We live in a society, where problems of any kind are treated with medication that solves one problem but creates another. My need to find a better solution came at a time when I was starting to shed all the things in my life that were toxic. I became obsessed with reading labels on all types of products, from food to skin care products. I especially paid close attention to skin care products. At this point, I tried to find the most natural products possible, and fell in love with Lush. They were the first product I found that I could understand what the ingredients were. At the time I was a social worker, so unfortunately it didn’t quite work with my budget. I began writing as a contributor for an online herbal school called the Herbal Academy in Bedford, Massachusetts. One of the first articles that I wrote for them was a DIY Gift Box tutorial for the holidays. I showed readers how to create a sugar scrub, a facial scrub, and a bath soak, all of which were completely natural, and plant-based. This was the start, and from this point forward I was hooked. I continued to tear our kitchen apart creating and formulating mostly for myself, when I had time away from my previous full time job. On any given Saturday or Sunday Tom, my husband, would be plucking away on his guitar, and would graciously would allow me to interrupt him MANY times to smell things. We moved to Vermont in 2014 and I enrolled in two courses at the Gaia School of Healing, this experience took Heart Grown Wild to a whole new level. My final project included some of the products we carry to this day. For this final project, I created a plant beauty product for every chakra. I use a traditional herbalist approach to the crafting of the line. Our products are created by infusing solvents entirely with the plants versus relying on essential oils. The market right now feels very saturated with this process. Essential oils have high potency and they require a lot of plant material to create just a few drops. Tom and I know about this first hand because we distill our own essential oils and hydrosols when possible. On a sustainability and safety level, it was important for me to stick to using a slower process that requires less plant material as the base of many of our products. There is also something very ancestral about sticking to traditional herbal roots and this was important to what Tom and I wanted Heart Grown Wild to be.
What are some of the highlights of founding a company as a couple? Any unforeseen or humorous struggles to this venture?
The love for plants Tom and I have has evolved together. When we first met he and I were doing very different things with our life. We both went through the process of shedding things that we didn’t feel fulfilled our lives. At these crossroads, we both became very curious about plants from two different perspectives. I came from a traditional herbal medicine perspective, and Tom came in from a botany/conservation perspective. Reminiscing on our walks in the woods together, they were fairly comical. I would be sitting with a plant, leaving offerings enamored by the plant’s magical spirit and Tom would note as a matter of fact, “It’s not Native” and continue trudging along the trail with his plant identification book. My plant dreams were crushed, but it was a learning experience, and relationships would be boring if partners didn’t challenge each other. Since then, we both have learned a lot from each other's botanical background and perspective. In many ways our plant worlds have collided and have since created a beautiful symbiosis. I think some of our highlights together would be our time spent together in the woods or at the ocean this past summer creating a traveling apothecary of sorts. We love exploring together and it’s really exciting when a product is birthed out of our communal experience. It’s like a photograph of that moment but with smell-o-vision. When I open a jar of our Stars of the Ocean face mask I immediately return to our trip to the Cape Cod National Sea Shore walking barefoot on a misty beach, looking ahead sweetly to Tom and our dog Cici’s silhouettes. When I open the Prism of the Sun body oil, no matter how cold it is outside, it evokes mid-morning moments spent in Green Mountain National Forest looking up at the sun’s rays sparkling through the trees.
I am a huge fan of the Nature’s Nectar body oil! How do you choose which plants and/or oils to blend together to make a new product?
I would have to say that Heart Grown Wild’s products are intuitive and inspired by that direct connection to the outdoors. Nature’s Nectar was part of my final project at the Gaia School of Healing for the Sacral Chakra. The Spruce Resin felt appropriate due to this deep, sweet, earthy energy that comes through every time I work with it. It combines perfectly with vanilla giving it a sensuous base. I paired it with floral earthy notes that are associated with the Sacral Chakra. With Sacral work, much of it is trusting your intuition and this emergence of creative passion that is flowing just beneath the surface. Nature’s Nectar encapsulates this sweet, earthy, deep rooted energy that is just below the surface, similar to the Spruce Resin of the tree. When I first came into contact with the raw, golden, infused oil it was like liquid gold! When I work with the Spruce Resin it’s like sparkling gemstones, so it felt appropriate that the oil have a natural shimmering quality to it.
Do you have a favorite Heart Grown Wild product? If so, what is so special about it to you?
This is a tough question! I have such a personal connection to them all. I guess I would have to answer that with my favorite combination of products. Hot baths are one of my favorite indulgences. I love combining making an evening of my ritual. I start by cleansing with Azul Face Serum, applying the Tree Song Toner, and then putting on the Release Face Mask while the bath water is running. When the tub is almost full, I pour the Root Soak under the running bath water. I love how it turns the water an earthy red hue. During my soak in the tub, I love to meditate or dream up new plant combinations. Once the mask is dry, I remove it with the warm bath water. When I get out of the tub, the Prism of the Sun Body Oil compliments the Root Soak bath ritual perfectly. The Root Soak has Balsam Fir and smoky, earthy notes to it. It is truly lovely with each of the tree associated body oils. Typically, I massage the oil into my skin and allow it to soak in while I practice restorative yoga. I highly suggest legs up on the wall, and Supta Baddha Konasana.
Many of the products described above conjure up a sweet memory of the plants or landscapes associated with them. I think what makes them special is the hand crafted piece. We know where these plants are coming from and what our relationship is to them. Our intention from the beginning has and always will be, to bring the connection of the outside world into your skin.
Thank you so much Lena! Come see and feel the Heart Grown Wild line in store for yourselves. We’re happy to make you a sample of a mask or two for you to take home and try. Be sure to stay in touch and watch for new products on their instagram @heartgrownwild