This week we speak to Holly, founder and herbalist from Wild Medicine Devon. Together with her apprentice Helen, the duo deep dive into the importance of wild-sourcing ingredients, daily inspirations, the process of hand-crafting skin care products and how we can harness essential oils.
What are the benefits of using organic ingredients that are grown locally?
Helen: We think it’s really important to know exactly where our ingredients come from. When sourcing herbs through growing or foraging there are no secrets! It’s also really fun and is where Wild Medicine Devon began! Supporting other, local businesses such as Quince Honey Farm (where we source our beeswax) is also really important to us. Providing products that are as environmentally friendly as possible has been a primary aim from the outset. Growing, foraging and buying locally ensures no excessive packaging or transport miles.
Holly: After many years in Canada training as a herbalist, I arrived back in my native Devon. I was blown away with the sheer amount of wild herbs growing in our hedgerows and meadows, and even more of a shock, was that next to no-one was utilising them! Wild Medicine Devon was set-up to connect people back to the plants that grow all around them. For me, the best medicine is more than organic, it’s more than local - it’s truly wild.
What and/or who inspires you at the moment?
Helen: Holly inspires me. She is hugely knowledgeable, driven and really confident in her own ability to succeed – and so she should be!
Holly: Thanks Helen! I’ve personally been buffing up lately on Marie Curie. A woman from the humblest of beginnings that succeeded in a field dominated by rich men. Her research has shaped the way we treat many illnesses today. As a medical herbalist, I always strive to be both inspired by the plant world and the medical world.
How do you choose which essential oils and ingredients to use in your products?
Holly: As a herbalist, my first step with a product is to assess the medicinal benefits. I take into consideration the phytochemicals, and what specific action they have on the body. We then move on to assess the smell, feel, and look of the product. Our ingredients can sometimes be challenging to choose, as we’re so fussy about the quality and environmental sustainability! For example, our candles only use pure essential oils, whereas the vast majority of even ‘natural’ companies use synthetic fragrance oils, which have been shown to be carcinogenic. Even if we like the look of a bulk item, we will refuse it if it gets packaged in non-recyclable plastic.
Could you tell us a little more about the process of hand-crafting your products?
Holly: I’m glad you asked this because although we tell people our products are handcrafted, I think most of them don’t realise the extent to which we go! Every candle is hand poured, every salve is flavoured and stirred individually, and every oil is macerated on the stove. We have a great time medicine making in our apothecary kitchen - listening to music and drinking endless cups of herbal tea! At the risk of sounding like a total cheeseball, a lot of love really does go into every product.
What is your favourite essential oil and why?
Helen: Can I choose two?! Scent wise, I am absolutely obsessed with gorse. I love the sweet, coconutty aroma and I just think it is such an iconic Devon plant. It always reminds me of walking the coast paths around North Devon. In terms of health benefits, lavender never ceases to amaze me. I’ve always had a bit of an overactive mind and it has an incredible ability to calm and promote sleep.
Holly: Blue Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is my current favourite. It contains a chemical called chamazulene which is profoundly anti-inflammatory. I’ve worked with it clinically for a range of conditions, from varicose eczema to nappy rash, and seen incredible results. It’s also an amazing bright blue colour - it turns our Cooling Cream a pastel sky blue, and our Dry Skin Salve an apple green colour.
Natural ingredients like turmeric have had plenty of airtime recently, what is your go-to medicinal ingredient at the moment and why?
Helen: Peppermint is (and always has been) my wonder herb! It’s calming, refreshing, helps reduce bloating and eases nausea. Plus it tastes great and is super easy to grow.
Holly: With an apothecary of over 150 herbs, this is a tricky question to answer! I tend not to buy into trends of herbs, or believe in ‘heal alls’, as I think different herbs have different benefits depending on the condition. Saying that I’m paying particular attention at the moment to plants that modulate our gut flora. Several plants contain inulin, a pre-biotic that feeds the good bacteria in our gut, which in turn can heal many systemic digestive imbalances, which are at the root of so many health conditions.Examples include elecampagne (Inula helenium) and Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).
What influence has Ayurveda had on your work?
Holly: As part of my training, I spent a semester studying the foundations of Ayurveda. It’s a fascinating system, based on the idea of our bodies’ inherent interconnection with the world around us. It’s great to have a system to apply my knowledge of herbs under, as western herbal medicine was somewhat stripped of its framework of indigenous knowledge following the witch hunts in the 17th century. Ayurveda is a beautiful and complex science packed with knowledge on everything from what times of day to eat your food, to what herbs to apply to different skin types.
What are you reading at the moment?
Helen: This is not a lie for the Q&A (!) but I am reading, ‘The Hedgerow Handbook’ by Adele Nozedar. It contains information about common British hedgerow plants and provides loads of delicious recipes (I am also reading a really naff crime novel but we probably don’t need to go into that!).
Holly: I’ve just finished reading ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M. Scott Peck. It was written by a psychiatrist in the 1970’s, and it’s one of those books that you read and think ‘I always knew this to be true but had never found the words to express it’. For me, part of health is continual learning and growing, and this book was a great chance to gain some introspection.
HOW TO BOOST YOUR MOOD WITH ESSENTIAL OILS AND CRYSTALS
The Happy candle has the uplifting scent of cedar wood, ylang ylang and lemongrass. Turquoise attracts friendship, luck & happiness
Quartz is a powerful & positive healing stone
Rose petals, hibiscus flowers, and cedar wood essential oil, the 'just for you' salts are designed with relaxation in mind.
Peruvian blue opal calms and clears the mind, brings relaxation.
The Silk candle is blended with cinnamon, cardamom, rose and vanilla to give a warm, spicy, grounding scent.
Jasper is a grounding & energising stone