In a tiny glass-walled cottage in Oahu’s Manoa Valley, herbalist Deanna Rose makes a line of all-natural beauty products for her company, Indigo Elixirs: Potions, salves, balms, and sprays specially formulated from native Hawaiian plants to accomplish everything from joint-pain relief to mugwort-induced Third Eye awakenings. Brewing in the slow cooker is a citrus-blossom lip stain, its red-orange tint derived from local achiote seeds. (See Deanna Rose’s body oil recipe, which you can perfume with herbs in your slow cooker). Rose’s KitchenAid stand mixer is poised to whip up her bestselling Whipped Love, a luscious cream of raw shea butter, coconut oil, and gotu kola, a natural collagen stimulator.
So when Rose kindly offers a glass of water before we sit down to chat, there was only one logical response: “Got a magic potion instead?” She skips out the door, making her way through giant ferns and red ginger plants to her garden, where she pulls up home-grown turmeric (olena) and snips lemonbalm. Soon, there’s a mild tisane on the table that’s anti-inflammatory and lowers blood pressure—the medicinal upshots of visiting a real-life barefoot enchantress. “I really feel like herbalism is a woman’s original power,” says Rose, 28. “Ancient women were natural healers, working with plants on an intuitive level. I’m tapping back into that tradition.”
Deanna Rose of Indigo Elixers Photograph courtesy of Indigo Elixers
In 2007, during her sophomore year at Bentley University near Boston, Rose began to experiment with homemade plant-based remedies to soften her dry winter skin. She found a recipe online for a solid massage bar made of cocoa butter, shea butter, and coconut oil that would melt all of its luxurious lipids into parched skin on contact. By 2009, the amateur herbalist had developed an entire line of garden panaceas that she was hawking at local farmers markets.
“But I didn’t just want to do topical medicines, I wanted to do medicines for the whole body,” says Rose, who moved to Oahu in 2013 to complete a graduate degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the World Medicine Institute in Honolulu. Studying such an exhaustive herbal regimen would not only take her practice to the next level, but is in fact, as she says, “next-level.” “I don’t question it. Ancient medicine has a long lineage of keeping bodies from ever reaching the point of sickness.”
While it’s been more than a decade since Rose has popped an Advil for a headache—her homemade Head Tonic of peppermint, lavender, and rosemary essential oils takes care of that—she admits that there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned dose of prednisone, the workhorse of Western medicine, to cure a bad case of poison ivy. She’s unusually susceptible to the toxic weed and sensible enough to know that her Savior Salve, with its restorative promises for chronic eczema and contact dermatitis, is hardly a suitable remedy.
Deanna Rose's medicinal garden. Photograph courtesy of Deanna Rose
Botanical hypersensitivities notwithstanding, Rose is still an ace forager. She honed the skill during a 2011 apprenticeship at an herbal center in New Hampshire called—what else?—Misty Meadows, under the guidance of the also suitably monikered Wendy Snow Fogg, a “medical herbalist and eclectic witch” who led an intensive curriculum of plant identification. “Nothing you would find in a garden,” says Rose, opening a jar of powdered local sandalwood, destined to be formulated into anti-aging makeup. “We learned to look for weeds and other wild plants in forests, roadside, stream beds.” A subsequent wildcrafter certification, completed in 2014 at Hawaii’s Earth Medicine Institute, helped Rose navigate the islands’ botanical bevy—the school’s founder, David Bruce Leonard, penned the herbalism bible, Medicine at Your Feet (Roast Duck Producktions), which explores 49 different Hawaiian plant medicines.
These days, Rose scours the Old Pali Highway for elderflower, a natural antiviral remedy, or heads to Waahila Ridge to pick gotu kola for her skin salves. In accordance with la’au lapa’au, or ancient Hawaiian medicine, she’s always mindful of her actions in the wild. “The tradition is all about communion with nature,” says Rose, who received a crash course in the subject from Keoki Baclayon, a Hawaiian medicine instructor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “I respect the plants and I’m appreciative of the healing they bring. I never harvest more than I need.”
Given her geographic roots, she’s particularly enthusiastic about the herbalist’s utopia she’s landed in, ceaselessly flourishing with native medicinal plants. “In the northeast, you have to prepare for the winter and anticipate what you’re going to need before the plants die off,” says Rose, who occasionally teaches perfumery and other herbal alchemy workshops in local grocery stores and botanical boutiques such as Paiko in Kaka’ako. “I’m so inspired by what flourishes in Hawaii all year long. My soul is so happy here.”
How to Make An Herb-infused Body Oil In Your Slow-cooker
This recipe for herb-infused body oil comes from Hawaiian herbalist Deanna Rose, who prepares the multi-purpose botanical oil in a slow-cooker. The herbs included here are soothing and nourishing, reduce inflammation, improve integrity of the skin and strengthen the hair, but you can use any home-grown herbsor flowers you like. If you have another natural cold-pressed oil that you prefer, such as sweet almond or macadamia, feel free to use that instead of the olive oil and coconut blend recommended here. Use the finished fragrant body oil after bathing and apply to scalp and dry ends as a nurturing hair serum.
1. Loosely pack a clean 8 oz jar with herbs of your choice until about halfway full. Smell the mixture before you add oil to make sure you like the combination of scents.
2. Add both oils to the jar and cap it. Make sure the lid is screwed on tightly. Shake gently.
3. Fill a slow-cooker roughly halfway full with water and place the jar in the water bath. Alternately, add water to an oven-safe pot and place the jar inside. The water level should be under the mouth of the jar. Cook in the slow-cooker on low heat or in a low oven (150º F) for 2 - 4 hours. Feel free to check your concoction every hour by removing it from the water bath, unscrewing the lid and smelling it. Once ready, you will be able to smell all of the herbs in your mix; the herbs should look slightly cooked but not brown.
4. Let the oil sit over night before straining. To strain, use a mesh strainer or cheesecloth and make sure to squeeze out the herbs - this is where the most potent oil is! Compost the leftover plant matter or add it to a bath. Your strained oil will last about 3 months. Use as a fragrant body oil after bathing and apply to scalp and dry ends as a nurturing hair serum.
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