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Harnessing Nature

       

From her base in Ojai, California, Cortney Herrera looks to the land around her for knowledge, nature and the healing plants she distills for her skincare line, Wildcare. Using a process that dates back almost 3,000 years, she harnesses the magic of western flora to create the powerful hydrosols that anchor the line. Hydrosols, the subtly aromatic waters collected from slowly distilled fresh plant material, are gentle yet powerful tonics packed with nutrients, plant acids and suspended micro particles of essential oils. Used to balance and restore skin’s natural PH, they’re some of nature’s best skin salves. We spoke with Cortney about this distillation process and about high and holy life in Ojai.

Can you share a bit about your journey and what led you to want to create a natural skincare line?

My sisters and I grew up strongly influenced by our mom’s skin care rituals. She worked professionally as a makeup artist for film and television, among other things. As kids, we would concoct foot soaks using pine needles and flowers we would collect on afternoon walks, and hair masks with eggs and mayonnaise! These special DIY projects have always stayed with me! My formal schooling was both in Culinary and Herbal disciplines, a foundation that propelled my special focus on care, both internal and external.

I started experimenting with hydrosol distillations at home and witnessed how well my hydrosols were helping to heal my own skin maladies. These experiments stretched beyond a playful pursuit in DIY selfcare, I had an epiphany that I wanted this work to reach a broader community.

You live in Ojai, California. What about this location inspires you? What are some of your favorite things to do in the area?

While we are actually just a few minutes from the beach in Ventura, Alex and I spend the majority of our nature time in the back mountains of Ojai. When I was a little girl living in this area, my Nana and Pop would drive my sisters and I through Ojai, telling us bits and pieces of its history and its reputation as a sacred space for musicians, artists and healers. The energy of this place has always stayed with me, its mountains and flowing springs. My favorite spots are high up on the mountains near Rose Valley, low along the creeks and rivers amongst little bushes of velvety white sage, walking along Meditation Mount and then other commercial spaces like Bookends Bookstore, Earthtonics Spa, Knead Bakery and Tipple & Ramble for snacks.

What does your daily routine look like in terms of selfcare and personal practices?

Being outside as much as possible even if it’s just mini walks with our dog throughout the workday to get inspired by our cactus-dotted neighborhood. Mini trips once a week, nothing fancy or too far, just driving to a nearby mountain, field or water source to breathe clean air and explore without much of a plan. Gardening, cooking, creating and sticking to routines like a mug of warm morning bone broth (I’ve been routinely making 30+ hour batches since being pregnant!), little facial massages when I do my skincare routine (I have a brass Kansa massage tool I love), lots of lemon water if I can remember and a face mask every Sunday night. Oh! And taking magnesium baths as often as possible. Relaxing with my mind, body and surroundings in these small ways help me create a clean mind space where I can operate as my best self during the week!

You’re about to have a baby. (Congratulations!) Are hydrosols safe for children? If you were to pass on one piece of general advice about wellness to your future child, what would it be? (UPDATE: Cortney's baby has arrived!)

Thank you and yes !!! The beauty of a Hydrosol is how gentle and safe they are for all beings, including babies and even pets! Prior to being pregnant, I wanted all products I was using to be as safe for myself as they were for pregnant women. Let’s treat our bodies with that level of attention and care! The advice I am most excited to pass on to our baby is to look at wellness as a whole. It’s not just about what skincare products you use or whether every single thing you consume is organic. EVERYTHING we consume, think, create and what we share and how we treat the world adds dimension to our health and leads to the kind of energy we will attract in life.

When and how did Wildcare come about? 

Wildcare began in our sunny little California garden at the end of 2015. There was an afternoon in particular about a year before that where I had focused all my energy on exploring a better remedy to comfort my eczema flare ups. I was feeling guilty about using a prescription cream that wasn’t visibly helping and felt trapped in a cycle of being stressed about using chemicals on my body. And that stress aggravated my skin issues. But then, noticing all the rosemary that was growing in our yard near a little bay tree led me to intuitively craft my first Wildcare product, “The Skin Soother” Rosemary Bay Hydrosol,  using a makeshift distillation system out of kitchen pots and pans! After obsessively spraying this camphorous green-smelling mist for a few weeks and seeing my skin’s fast improved health, this ancient modality of making hydrosols was something I fully got behind. I spent a year doing playful and careful experimentations, making hydrosols for family and friends. The process of seeing the effects that it had on our skin was transformative and magical. Every drop as it emerged revealed a sensory story of the plant!

For someone unfamiliar with the distillation process, can you briefly explain what hydrosols are (how they are different from face mists) and how they’re made?

Hydrosols are the subtly aromatic waters from distilled plant material. A copper still is placed over fire, holding spring water (we gather from the mountains in Ojai!) and plant material. Inside the still, steam rises and passes through the plant in the form of vapor, carrying vital nutrients, plant acids and suspended particles of essential oil. As the vapor cools, it emerges in the form of aromatic water (now a hydrosol) along with its essential oil counterpart. Our distillations have about a 5 to 8 hour duration depending on the plant utilized, a very slow and thoughtful process. Typically, the essential oil will rise to the top, leaving the hydrosol with about 0.1% micro particles of essential oil, making it a very gentle mist without the same safety warnings essential oils carry. With a pure hydrosol, no other ingredients or oils are ever added into the final product.

Distillation is an over 3,000 year old process. Can you explain a bit about the history and importance of this ancient “ritual?”

3,000 years and it’s still fascinating! The alchemists that first performed healing distillations used stills crafted from clay using sun and/or fire to heat it, gently extracting a plant's oils and aromatic waters. Used in beauty, healing and cooking, the most prominent hydrosol we’ve learned of in ancient texts has been the use of rose water (Cleopatra misted!), which amazingly remains a popular product today. By the 18th century, rose, orange blossom and geranium hydrosols were most commonly used to to nourish the skin. When the essential oil industry became more commercialized for their potency, scent offerings and profits, hydrosols were left on the back burner and slowly became a forgotten gem by many. Thankfully today, we are seeing hydrosols return as their supreme and gentle benefits are acknowledged again. Yay!

How do you suggest one incorporates hydrosols into their routine? 

Mist daily on clean skin before and after moisturizing, AM and PM in your daily facial care routine. The plant acids in the waters make hydrosols the perfect toner, delivering antioxidants, balancing the natural pH of our skin and protecting it from everyday pollutants and bacteria. You can even spritz some in your palm with your favorite face oil, essentially creating a fresh face "cream" (water + oil) to increase the oil’s absorption. Some other uses are as a mixer for a clay mask, misting as a scalp tonic and using as a form of aromatherapy to elevate mood, stimulate the mind and calm the spirit. I carry one in my bag wherever I go for these various purposes.

Which Wildcare products would you personally recommend as good “starter” hydrosols?

The Rosemary Bay Hydrosol is my go to as it has helped not only myself but so many of our customers soothe irritation. And it has a special place in my heart for bringing Wildcare to life! Purple Majesty Lavender Hydrosol is also a great product to begin with. Both emerge from distillation very lightly scented, compared to our other Hydrosols like Palo Santo and Ojai White Sage that carry a much stronger aromatic profile.

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