We asked a few questions of one of our favorite Apothecary product lines to help us all fall a little more in love. Read on to learn about their unique product and process.
Can you give us some history of Juniper Ridge? Who is the brain child, and why wild crafted essences?
Juniper Ridge was founded in 1998 by hiker, mushroom-forager, and all-around nature freak Hall Newbegin. Back then, Hall would spend the week harvesting plants up in the mountains, make natural fragrance, soaps, and wild-herb teas in his kitchen, and then sell his latest creations at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. People who normally steered clear of fragrances fell in love with the stuff Hall was making.
The question about wildcrafting is a great one. It breaks our hearts to see what passes for fragrance these days. All those fancy, tiny bottles filled with manipulated petroleum—yuck! We make fragrances that smell like the places we know and love as a backpackers and hikers. Nothing smells better than the sage-covered mountains of Big Sur, or wildflower meadows along Mt. Hood's Timberline Trail at the height of alpine summer—that’s real fragrance.
Do you have some kind of special permit to collect wild product? And how do you choose your plant materials?
For the amount of product we harvest, yes, you do need a permit to harvest on public lands. We go back to the same stands, year after year, pruning the new growth from last year's harvest. These places are like wild gardens to us, and we're very, very careful to not harm them in any way.
As for the plants we choose, we do endless field research on the places our fragrances come from. The first step in making a fragrance is to lace up our hiking boots and literally lose ourselves in these incredible places. We can spend hours reveling in a redwood forest, oak woodland, sage chaparral, or a square foot of wet earth right beneath our feet, overflowing with life and ten thousand species of little critters that we'll never know about. The plants and tree-trimmings in our fragrances are utterly abundant. Some people get obsessed with finding and harvesting backcountry rarities. We would never touch a rare plant. We want to transport folks to these wild places, which means using the most common plants and trees found there. We feel that all of this adds up to authentic fragrances that connect people to the West on a metabolic level.The Big Sur Trail Crew Soap, for example, is so quietly transformative that you can close your eyes and actually smell the sea wind as you drive up the curvy Highway 1 on California’s central coast. It exists in everybody’s collective imagination, even if you have never been there.
Can you tell us about your distilling process?
We have a few different-sized stills that we use, depending on what we’re trying to achieve. The still we carry around in the back of the Field Lab Van is a converted whiskey still. We use it for scent sampling in the field. The stills back in our Oakland workshop can handle much larger volumes. Whatever the size, all of our stills work pretty much the same way.
We load them up with plants, tree-trimmings, mushrooms, bark, moss, and water, then steam all of it the way you would steam your vegetables. We capture the steam by cooling it down quickly, and inside that steam is a tiny bit of essential oil. This oil is the heart of our fragrances, and it goes into every product we make. We are the only fragrance company in the world that handles every step of the production process ourselves.
A hundred years ago, every perfume house in Paris did it this way. But when cheap, petroleum-based synthetic scents became available in the 1960s, the perfume industry stopped making real fragrance. Today everything from fancy department store colognes to the more crunchy stuff sold at natural foods stores is petroleum-based, synthetic fragrance.
Are there health benefits for using your products?
That is a great question that I can answer in two ways. The simple answer is no: our fans buy our products for the real fragrance experience, the hit of the outdoors and the beautiful wilderness contained within it.
The more complex answer, though, is yes: Real, place-based fragrance—the kind that comes from plants, trees, moss, and bark—rearranges your insides, it brings up emotions, transports you to the stillness of the outdoors, and in general does complex, wonderful stuff to you.
What are some of your favorite plant products and why?
That is the same thing as asking us to pick our favorite place! It is so hard to do! The clean and bright notes mountain forests of the Cascades? The warm and gingery cedar forests of Northern California? The mysterious and resinous deserts of the Mojave? We think of the West as one incredibly complicated aromatic landscape. We revel in the fact that none of these fragrances exist in any perfume library in Paristhe only way to get them is to put on your boots and go into the backcountry of California, Oregon, and Washington. For us, you can't separate plant and place.