• UO Studio Visits: Wild Rose Herbs and Willamina

    We're looking to the Pacific Northwest for our latest UO Beauty studio visits, with a trip to two Oregon studios, Wild Rose and Willamina Modern Apothecary, both making natural apothecary products with an eye toward seasonality and locally-minded, high-quality ingredients.




    A conversation with founder Willow Light on herbalism, starting your own business, and Portland's entrepreneurial support system. Photos by Michelle Cho


    Tell us about the history of Willamina Modern Apothecary.
    Willamina Mordern Apothecary (WMA) began from my love of herbal healing, plant medicine, aromatherapy medicine, and touch healing therapy. I lived on the Oregon coast on a 17-acre property, [which included a] forest for a backyard, animals, gardens, fruit trees, and wild herbal medicine. We didn't go to the doctor much, we used what we had on the land, really.

    When I moved to Portland in 1990, I apprenticed with Joseph Montana, owner of Atlantis Rising… [and later apprenticed with] Grinning Goat Farms, two herbalists I loved instantly and began a three-year intensive with on the farm. I really learned how to make tinctures, cordials, infusions, teas, baths… I was in pure bliss!

    In 1999, I went to work for Nordstrom as the lead esthetician of their Decléor Spa. I had access to more than 80 different skincare lines working in the cosmetic department. We had the opportunity to go to any cosmetic training that was offered at Nordstrom, so I went to all of them, and learned a great deal about ingredients, intention, branding, and integrity. It was eye opening.

    I decided to go out on my own and offered my esthetic services and my years of study. I began to make my own medicinal herbal tinctures, infused honey, healing salves, and herbal baths for friends and family, then one day, I felt it was my duty to share my knowledge with others. I see WMA spreading the word of aromatherapy and herbal wellness. 


    Can you tell us more about the ingredients you use?
    It is extremely important to my brand and my integrity that all WMA ingredients are pure, unadulterated and consistent. When I apprenticed at Atlantis Rising, I made a very valuable connection [with] Liberty Naturals...[where] I get everything from beeswax to the best essential oils I can buy. 



    What are your favorite products for summer?
    I am crazy about WMA Sunkissed Skin Protector. It took me over three years to formulate it! It is purely plant-based with no toxins, parabens or carcinogens, [and is made from aloe vera oil, beeswax, shea butter and a blend of oils—coconut, carrot seed, red raspberry seed, and essential oils]. All of the ingredients on their own as plants have their own SPF built in to their DNA. I use it on my face during the summer as a daily moisturizer; it is very hydrating and illuminating without congesting the skin.



    Tell us about your studio setup.
    My husband is a craftsman builder and he helped me create my apothecary in our home so that I may work from home and be here for our two young children. I also have a healing touch and wellness studio in our home. I see clients in the evenings. Then, during the day, two-to-three days a week, I make product, ship product, and do the business piece as well. It is a true whirlwind, I love it. 



    Tell us about working in Portland. What about the city inspires you and compels you to live and work there?
    Portland, Oregon is a wealth of beauty, nourishment, and local companies producing hand-crafted creations to share with others. [There are so many] green, lush escapes right in the city. Portland folks are amazingly talented and creative entrepreneurs, making P-town the best city to live in. I feel like in Portland we are almost cheered on to go out and do something extraordinary.

    Can you share some favorite places in Portland? What are your haunts? 
    Le Bistro Montage: A local favorite with communal seating. They yell really loud when you order oyster shooters ("TWO OYSTER SHOOTERS!").

    McMenamins - Kennedy School: Locally-sourced food, locally owned and operated business, and locally brewed beer. Kid friendly and they have a soaking pool with salt water. 

    Lan Su Chinese Garden: The grounds are mystical and so very relaxing. [There's] a large pond in the middle, with koi fish, and a traditional Tea house offering our local Tao of Tea company.




    WILD ROSE

    Ashley Bessler from Wild Rose on how a childhood of bad-tasting supplements led to her own herbal apothecary line. Images provided by Wild Rose



    Hello Ashley! Can you tell us a bit about the history of Wild Rose?

    I learned the value of a DIY ethic at a young age. I was raised by a single mother of three and resourcefulness was key in our household. My mom gets credit for introducing me to herbalism. Teas, tinctures and bad-tasting supplements were always on hand, and colorful herb books filled our shelves. This, combined with my immersion in the local punk scene, made me crave the skills necessary to be totally self-reliant. Despite doing well in school, I skipped college and invested in a small library of books on everything from aromatherapy to homesteading.

    At first, I didn’t intend to sell my creations. I made them as an alternative to store-bought synthetic products for myself, family and close friends. It wasn’t long before I was selling my herbal salves to the local health food store, funding my new-found hobby. I maintained a low-key presence at farmer's markets and craft fairs for the next four years, even while living off the grid in Northern California. When I found myself back in “the city,” I decided to take my most treasured recipes and reincarnate my products under the name Wild Rose.

    Can you tell us more about the ingredients you use?
    Wild Rose is my response to an economy where the ecological, political, and social costs of manufacturing are veiled. I spend much of my time tracking down raw materials, packaging, and even office supplies to their source. This minimizes or eliminates the social, environmental, and ethical footprint of my products by choosing sources that are non-GMO, sustainably harvested, organic, or fair trade. I grow many of the fresh botanicals needed for my recipes just outside my workshop.



    Are there any seasonal ingredients you're excited to experiment with as we go into the summer season?
    Right now our rose bushes are incredibly productive. We collect fresh blooms daily, leaving plenty for the bees and butterflies as well. The petals are dried and powdered for use in our Attunement Facial Mask and Bloom Muscle Rub. Calendula is another flower we grow heavily on the farm. These I tincture fresh for our handmade calendula extract, a vital ingredient for our face washes and Ink Balm Tattoo Ointment. Calendula is also dried for use in our Wild Man Aftershave and garden hand cream. Summer is also time for collecting fresh yarrow, rosemary, cayenne peppers, lavender and sage. Every year, we grow more of our own botanicals right on the land.



    Tell us about your studio setup.
    We're incredibly lucky to operate out of a 400-square-foot workshop on our two-acre homestead in the heart of Southern Oregon's Rogue Valley. Most days I float between making products, computer work, and tending to the garden. I'm fortunate to have help from my mother and mother-in-law. The mom team helps me with packing orders, answering emails, and bulk bottling/labeling.

    When I get the chance to make a new product, I generally look through my "personal stash" for inspiration. All of my products started as a custom recipe for myself or a loved one. I then do an immense amount of research to get the very best ingredients available. The specific formulation of a product could be called intuitive. I tend to know exactly how many drops or milliliters of an ingredient will give me the result I want. 



    Tell us about working in Oregon. What brought you there and why do you stay?
    Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is a hotspot for alternative entrepreneurs. I gain my inspiration from those who have come before me—the formidable, independent herbal and beauty companies who started right here. Of course, I believe the main reason this area is so full of successful, alternative businesses is due to our beautiful surroundings. Southern Oregon, part of the Klamath-Siskiyou Region, is known as a climate “melting pot” as we see the confluence of four different bioregions: North Pacific Coast, Cascades, Great Basinm and California’s Central Valley. The people here are varied, but we all hold the same basic values: a focus on sustainability, a love of nature, and a desire to protect this critical bioregion for future generations.

    What are some of your favorite Oregon spots? Can you divulge any secret swimming holes you love?
    Grants Pass is a pretty small town (a population of about 33,000) and the largest in the county! You’ll be hard pressed to find a restaurant open past 9pm. And if you’re looking to shop downtown on a Sunday or Monday—forget it! Grants Pass runs on its own schedule; even the cops hold banker’s hours. Most locals find entertainment outdoors, especially on the Rogue River, which runs right through downtown Grants Pass.

    This area holds the largest concentration of intact watersheds in the Pacific Northwest, which means we also hold the largest concentrations of secret swimming holes! I’ve lived in the region for seven years, and I feel like I’ve only begun to explore the endless rivers, streams, and lakes. One of my favorites is on the Illinois River about six miles up Illinois River Road out of Selma. It’s a steep hike down the canyon, but a gentle and deep swimming hole awaits with plenty of jumping rocks.

    A few more miles up this road you’ll find the infamous Illinois River foot bridge where daring locals take a 60-foot plunge in the river. Another favorite spot is actually north of Grants Pass along the Umpqua River. If you take Highway 138 East out of Roseburg, you’ll be treated to one of the most scenic and easily-accesible drives through the Cascades. There’s more waterfalls than one can visit within a day, plus the most epic natural hot springs near Toketee Falls.

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