In our last blog, we took a brief look at some of the most common toxins found in modern industrialized self-care products. We also gave a list of some of the primary ingredients which we are committed to never using in our own products.
This time around, I would like us to dive a little deeper into the ingredients, sourcing, practices, and philosophies which make Deschampsia special.
Non-industrialized Self-Care is "Nature Based Self Care"
One of the most powerful phrases I like to use to describe our products is "non-industrial" as opposed to (the trending, here-today-gone-tomorrow) language that marketers use such as, "clean" or "natural". These words have largely become meaningless through a process called, "greenwashing" --a topic we will explore in an upcoming post.
Cool, but what does "non-industrialized" actually mean?
The term, "non-industrialized" reflects several values that are key to how we move and groove in the big world of self-care, perfumery, and well, life in general. Here are some ideas that illustrate what we mean:
Deschampsia is not a corporation. We do not outsource our work (ie- private label companies). Our products are not mass-produced in a factory setting. We do not have a board of directors, investors, or a slick marketing team. We are directly accountable to our customers and ourselves. Our primary concerns are quality, authenticity, and the ethics of what we do.
Deschampsia is an independent artisanal maker. We craft our own products by hand in very small batches, carefully choosing each ingredient according to the purpose and season, which in turn, ensures that they are always fresh and of the highest quality.
Conceptually, the products we make today could have been crafted hundreds, if not thousands of years ago by traditional apothecaries, using the same basic techniques that Deschampsia uses today.
A Brief History of Plants and People
The archeological records document the human use of medicinal herbs as far back as 60,000 years ago. Although I suspect its origins are much older if we consider zoopharmacognosy (the observed behavior of wild animals to self medicate with herbs). We see this when black bears selectively eat Osha root (aka bear root or bear medicine) to cleanse their digestive systems after hibernation. Bears will also chew this same root, form a paste, and rub it into their fur to both sooth and prevent insect bites. In fact, early humans most likely increased their knowledge of medicinal herbs by watching the behaviors of other species.
The Chinese emperor Shen Nong, is credited with having the earliest written records on herbal medicinal infusions dating back to 2800BC. During the same time period the process of making soap with an alkali, as we do with lye today, was documented in ancient Babylon. Early descriptions of the use of distillation, as we do to make essential oils and hydrosols, can be found on Akkadian tablets describing the perfumery operation of Mesopotamia circa 1200BC. These are the same basic techniques that we use in-house to create the amazing Deschampsia self-care goodies you know and love today!
Not only is the working structure of Deschampsia and the methodologies we use “non-industrial", but so are our underlying philosophies. We believe in an inclusive cosmology. While the modern world often views nature as separate from humans, or worse--something to be conquered, we see ourselves as allies and extensions of the same whole--a complex ecology or web of interdependence. We see nature as the source of wellness and the further we get away from the source the more disease and disfunction we find.
Each one of us can apply this to the practice of self-care in our daily lives simply by listening, not hearing, but listening in a deep way. When something is out of balance--it is important that we take a moment to listen to what the problem is telling us. Nature speaks through both the self (body, mind, heart, etc) and the environment. The solution doesn't always warrant the need for a product, as we are often taught, but it might instead require a change in behavior or perspective in order to restore equilibrium. We believe in integrating this practice of deep listening as a part of our holistic view of self-care.
We draw knowledge from the vast history of interrelations between humans and the natural world. We're informed by the practices of hermetic, folk, indigenous, and modern herbal traditions. The validity of which is based upon thousands of years of cultivated experience.
- Contrasting this is modern industrialized self-care. This is a practice that is based upon a highly marketed, material-based, and homogenized vision of both the world and the self. A beauty ideal, which worships youth, conformity, and "innovation" at the expense of individuality, holistic wellness, tradition, and our direct relationship with nature/the self. It suggests that wellness is about "looking good" and anything that deviates from this vision, such as wrinkles, can be categorized as "symptoms" which will require treatment. These treatments usually mean going to war with nature and ultimately the self at large.
This practice of self-care has its origins in consumerism and the reductionist philosophy of science. Although valuable in many ways, this "way of seeing" ignores the complete picture and it separates phenomenon from one another, therefore ignoring interconnections. For example, when we simplify the brilliance of a Mozart concerto into wavelengths of vibrating air—the physical phenomenon—we get further away from explaining the beauty of the original composition. Without a holistic perspective, it becomes very difficult to solve problems, admire the ineffable beauty of the world, and create meaningful statements about what the world is. This philosophy has largely compartmentalized life into separate and opposing forces. Such as work from play, and self-care from everyday living.
Even though this philosophy has been around for longer, most of the chemistry, the ingredients themselves, and the practices of industrialized self-care have only been around for a few decades and have yet to prove their overall safety and benefits as compared to non-industrialized nature-based self-care traditions.
Whole Plants VS Industrial "Extracts"
We are committed to using whole plants versus industrial plant "extracts".
Historically, humans have always used plants in their whole form. They are safer to use and contain the original vitality of the herb, as well as, its complete and balanced synergistic phytochemistry. Whole herbs work intelligently with the human body and this decreases the likelihood that an individual will overreact to a certain chemical in the herb.
The negative side effects of modern medicine and industrial extracts are a reflection of the fact that the chemical ratio of these ingredients is out of balance with nature. These plant "extracts" only represent a few choice chemical compounds found within the whole plant. The original volatile compounds (i.e. -essential oils) from these herbs are lost, as they are torn apart with extreme heat, pressure, and chemical solvents before they are brought back together in a more concentrated and indefinitely shelf-stable form. Transforming herbs into "drugs".
These industrial powder extracts are made for the convenience of mass production and "formulators" in white lab coats. More recently, these "extracts" have invaded the kitchens of many small home-based "natural" and "clean" producers in search of easy ways to add plants to their products without requiring the need to form personal relationships with their herbs.
For similar reasons we also prefer to use virgin organic plant oils and butters versus refined and chemically altered plant oils. Rawer is better and in balance with nature.
We support the natural world by not supporting wasteful modern industrial farming practices. Our herbs are non-GMO and have never been sprayed with petrochemical herbicides or insecticides. We prefer to form personal relationships with not only plants we use but also the place from which they come from. This is a brief summary of how we source our herbs.
- We wild harvest FRESH whole-herbs directly from nature using ethical wildcrafting practices.
- We grow and harvest FRESH herbs directly from our small organic garden or from neighboring organic gardens (ie - our friends who grow herbs organically next door.)
- We dry herbs ourselves in small batches, using better methods than commercial suppliers. We don't use heat to speed the process and we keep our herbs out of direct sunlight because the UV light can damage and decrease their potency. We also, avoid cutting/powdering our herbs until they are going to be used. This decreases the amount of oxidation and increases the stability of our herbs.
- We source organically grown dry herbs from reputable supplier i.e.) Mountain Rose Herbs or Mountain Maus Remedies
We prefer local sources to sources from halfway around the world. This reduces the amount of fossil fuels used to deliver us the plants and it also increases the quality, connection, and freshness of our herbs.
In-House Herbal Extractions
We implied this earlier when we discussed the "history of plants and people" but we thought it would be important to give this it's own section as we see a lot of self-care makers who do not practice these techniques but instead "purchase ingredients" and mix them together and moments later, a final product is made.
It is important that we use techniques that preserve the original vitality of our whole herbs. After all, we went to great lengths in order to source them. To do this we use traditional practices which have been used for thousands of years.
When incorporating whole herbs into our products we use three primary techniques- saponification(this turns oil into soap), solvent extraction (in which we infuse herbs in oil, vinegar, water, or alcohol), and finally, the more advanced but very old practice of distilling herbs into hydrosols and essential oils using a copper alembic still.
These basic practices are much more gentle and require a lot more time--perhaps weeks, months, or nearly a year when extracting for perfumery purposes. Not so convenient if we're searching for instant gratification. These techniques have been used in different capacities by all the world's peoples for millennia (see above). They are at the root of traditional herbalism and perfumery. Modern industrialized self-care is doing its best to recreate this original experience using a brand new pharmacopeia of ingredient.
We believe that our final products are not only of the highest quality but that they also honor our connection with the plants we use, the land, and the human story itself.
Here at Deschampsia, we consider the wider impacts of what we do concerning the choices we make. We've already mentioned our commitment to pure sourcing and non-industrialized practices. These ecologically conscious techniques all contribute to a healthier world and an increase in species biodiversity.
Deschampsia is devoted to creating less waste. We use recyclable/reusable glass bottles, tins (for salves), and compostable rice paper in our bath soaks instead of plastics. We choose to reuse shipping materials and opt for recyclable and compostable materials as much as possible.
We consider our products cruelty-free as well. We do not test on animals (only ourselves, friends, and family). We choose organic Fair Trade Cocoa butter versus conventional because we believe that people deserve fair and just wages no matter where they live in the world. We choose to use Red palm fruit oil from small family farms in Ecuador versus traditional palm oil sourced from Southeast Asia because we care about the loss of orangutan habitat caused by destructive agricultural practices, We are committed to making better decisions so that there is less rather than more suffering in the world.
As a species, our perspectives have altered over the years but despite this, plants and people haven't changed that much. Plants haven't lost their abilities to enrich our lives and people still need nature and its plants in order to be well in this world.
We believe that "Nature Based Self Care" is an ongoing living dialogue between ourselves and the world at large. We admit that in an ideal world we could always do better. For anyone who has attempted to go zero-waste, you've probably discovered how hard it is. For example, we can't avoid plastic completely since most of the lids and seals available on the market are made from plastic. However, this doesn't mean we're not going to continue looking for better alternatives. That's why we are committed to continuing this dialogue, learning as we grow, and always striving towards that impossible notion of perfection.
When I started this little apothecary in the basement of a humble house in Seattle, WA it was with the intention of creating self-care products that are not only "clean" and "natural" but also authentic and free from the excessive bullsh*t we find all around us.
Given the vastness of everything mentioned in this article, I plan to expand upon most of the topics brought up today. In future writings, we will be exploring more about our relationship with the natural world, ways in which nature contributes to the practice of self-care, the many virtues of the plants we use and the products we make. Plus-- so much more!
Feel free to reach out in the comments below if you would like to tell us what you think, ask any questions, or have a suggestion for future writings. Your feedback is so helpful in this ongoing dialogue.