Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Feature Shop: Upstate Herb Works

The scents of Catherine's Upstate Herb Works practically leap out of my computer every time I visit her shop. Learn more about her products, how she creates her scents, and why shopping fair trade and local matters to her. -Cori of Peace, Baby! Batiks

What is your name?
Catherine Rose

Where are you located?
 I live in beautiful, green Upstate New York, in the Syracuse area.

Tell us a little about yourself.
Thank you so very much for asking me to share with you! I’ve had fun pondering these questions and am humbled you would want to know about me. I love animals, green growing things, my family and friends. Since I was a girl, I’ve been fascinated with the veins in leaves, the magic of fire and filled with a passion for dance and travel. My daughter and I dance and sing together a lot, and I like to hum. We like to keep it silly! I grew up in a bicultural home, as my Mom is from Chile. I was so fortunate to have been born into an active, large family, spending a lot of time with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Recently, a teacher told me this was a “fairy tale” childhood and not everyone is born into a home full of love. I’m grateful and strive to create a loving home, as well. I’m from the Boston-area, and I met my sweet husband while we were undergrads. We have four adopted pets, although none of them are allowed in my workshop, much to their chagrin! Especially my loyal, 95-pound dog; he follows me everywhere.

Regenerate Healing Balm

What type of merchandise will shoppers find in your shop?
My shop is full of the plant-based body butters, infused oils and salves that I dream up and make in our home. I work with essential oils, as they are the essences of plants, trees and flowers and while they have incredible aromas, they also have incredible abilities to support healing. I like that herbal medicine, which has been around for many thousands of years, puts power back into the hands of people and encourages us to live healthier lives.

How/why did you get started?
When I was 16, I studied in Germany for a short while and my Mamita, my Chilean grandmother, sent me on a quest to find the best anti-wrinkle cream that Germany had to offer! At the time I didn’t realize how much people cared about those things, but I’ve been an avid label reader since I can remember. My mom taught me my first hair rinse when I was a teenager and wanted to dye my hair! After college I worked in health-care for years before attending medical school, only to get there and find out I didn’t want to sacrifice what was needed to live and work as a physician. I knew I needed to find a profession within the healing arts that would allow me to raise my children, expand my mind and heart while helping my community. Thankfully, a teacher of mine recognized my affinity for touch therapy and I enrolled in massage school where I learned the basics of blending essential oils. I became a student of herbal medicine. After having my daughter, it was as though a creative fire ignited inside me and I poured out my energy into Upstate Herb Works. UHW is the culmination of all those hours of organic chemistry labs, wound care for the bed- and wheelchair-bound people I worked for, community need for simple and healing body care, and all those middle-of-the-night feedings with my daughter where I had “eureka” moments of ingredient combinations! UHW is simultaneously local and cross-cultural.

Potion Bottle of Macassor Oil
How long have you been crafting?
My parents are both creative people and kept supplies in our home to keep us busy making things. My dad is a jeweler, and I have great memories of him teaching me how to melt bits of scrap metal with a blow-torch and push around the molten globs on a metal slab in his downtown Boston workshop. I also remember male friends and family coming to our home and my dad sketching out their dream engagement ring at our kitchen table. To then see that become a real thing, from an idea to actual gold and gemstone, really stayed with me. I’ve loved doing paper-crafts since I can remember, and as an adult, I became a scrapbooker and stamping fool (many UHW boxes come with a stamp or two on them, I just still can’t help it)! I don’t scrapbook much right now, but I enjoy taking my product photos and designing the labels. I love real mail and believe in the power of a handwritten note!

What is your favorite thing to make?
I would probably have to say infusing oils. I love watching the contents of the jars morph over the weeks as the color leaches out of the plant matter and into the oil. Plus, they are so useful and smell so real and lovely. The combinations and possibilities are endless! I’m working on a few pet-specific products using infused oils, not essential oils which are in general, too potent and toxic for small animals.

What are your favorite materials to work with?
Beeswax, from my neighbor, is a favorite of mine. It smells incredible, works as a great barrier and is so pure! The same bees that pollinate and gather from the violets I harvest, will turn around and zoom back to their hive to make wax and honey that I later use. This is amazing to me. They are such special creatures. I also love Jojoba, and Shea Butter is my go-to vegetable nut butter. And of course, I am so fortunate to work with essential oils, as they are true plant essences and have so many potentially positive things to bring into our lives. 

Foot Soldier Bee-Bar

Many of your ingredients are local or fair trade. Why is this important to you?
I don’t want to support businesses that exploit people or the planet. Knowing my sources is important to me for everything from our milk and eggs to mango butter. The Cooperative in Togo that I purchase several ingredients from is comprised mostly of women. The wages they receive allows them to support their families, as many have lost their husbands and male relatives due to war. Creative women banding together to care for their families…it’s no different than here. It’s important to me that we support each other, the world over! I know I truly appreciate the people who support my endeavors.
Buying fair trade and ethically harvested materials allows me to create a more healing, more heart expanding experience in the end. Buying local not only builds community, it reduces the impact on our environment, simply because less gas is needed to transport or refrigerate, for instance. Energetically, it feels good to know your sources and growers!

How do you come up with scent combinations? What are your favorite scents?
I decide what the “intention” is first – is it for soothing the skin, closing a wound, for smelling sexy, or for refreshing a person? Then I look to see what combination of ingredients will combine well to cause this effect and choose those that I think will work most harmoniously. Even so, aroma is a personal matter and while I adore patchouli, I know there are others who run screaming! I often blend by chemical family, examining which of the essences have chemical components in common. I’m always playing around with some combination on myself or my family. My current favorite, on our kitchen counter for testing, is an anti-viral, respiratory supportive blend of Ho Wood, Hemlock and Sweet Birch.

What inspires you to create?
The people around me inspire me. I am always asking my people for feedback and many of them feel comfortable telling me things they need. Nobody really wants the world to know if they suffer from scalp acne, but I am humbled people share personal issues with me. I am always grateful that the products I make help others feel healthier, more beautiful and more vital! Mother Nature, in her incredible detail, always inspires me. I look to see what naturally grows together, as there is wisdom in the subtle arrangements. It is no wonder plantain and violets often grow together, as they form a splendid symbiosis in healing treatments for the skin. These naturally healing plant combinations happen all over the world, in the maple and pine forests here in Upstate, to the tropical rainforests and rolling grasslands. The anthropologist in me really enjoys studying other culture’s natural beauty routines.

Chilean Rose Herbal Oil

What is one thing you need to have with you while you craft?
I only like using glass for blending, so probably would have to say my large Pyrex measuring bowl. Sorry, that’s very boring. When I am outdoors, I like to have a basket with me, as I’m always coming upon something I want to gather a little of. Also, I try to remember to bring my camera with me, as I like to photograph the plant where it lives and research it later when I go home.

How do you balance mothering and running a small business?
Well, for a while, probably not that great! Then I realized doing too many things at once wasn’t working. Nobody was getting my full attention, I felt guilty and everyone felt a little frustrated! I decided that there were some things my daughter and I could do together for my “work” and other things that would just have to wait. So one thing we started doing was wild-harvesting together this summer. Last summer I just carried her on my back, but now she is two, and she understands about carrying a basket without spilling. It’s not to say she doesn’t spill sometimes, but that is a lesson for me in patience! I decided to just answer emails/edit listings/order supplies when she is in her high-chair for meals or during naptime, but then I leave blending, labeling and packaging until night-time when she is asleep. I used to try to schedule things I “needed” to do while she was napping, but I was really just setting myself up for disaster! A mother-midwife I know recently told me that it’s good for our children to see us doing things that we feel passionately about. I just needed to figure out how to do that more as a family and it’s so much smoother now that we have!

What is your favorite thing to browse Etsy for?
Clothes! I love online shopping for unique clothing and have found that the sellers are really more than happy to convo about fit. I am petite and quite short, so everything I get from a store has to be tailored anyway. On Etsy, I have gotten some of the coolest and best fitting clothes in my life! My current favorites: Herban Devi, Duncan Creative (best hats ever), Onanya, and Tatting for Spirit (super-intricate lace jewelry)!

Swat Team Bug Repellant

When you're not crafting, what are you doing?
I love reading. I am an eternal student. I can’t go anywhere without a book and my bedside table has always been stacked with whatever five books I have going at once! My husband and I enjoy cooking together, camping, hiking and boating. We love live music and festivals. I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 10 years now. While I don’t make the time to do long asana practices since becoming a mom, I started exploring other forms of yoga, like Trance Dancing and Mudras. They work better now that my “me time” is in much shorter, random increments!

Where can we find you?
I’m on all the time:, and I also check into my Facebook account frequently and update what herbal things are going on in my mind or in my kitchen. There is a page and a person for Upstate Herb Works, though I am trying to move things over to the page.

What is your favorite shop (not yours) on Etsy currently?
My most recent, most delicious items have come from Chilean Sweets, a shop based out of my home state of Massachusetts. They make gourmet, traditional Chilean cookies. I practically hover over Timjan Design’s shop to see what she comes up with next!