Azul; Veil of Love; Bohemian Rose; Prism of the Sun; hibiscus; jojoba; spruce; rose. These are just a few of the names of skin care products and botanicals used by SantaLena Groves, the owner, formulator, herbalist and general do-it-all entrepreneur of Heart Grown Wild, the ever-growing-in-popularity skin care company out of Wardsboro, VT, and our local Producer of the Month for August. Heart Grown Wild has a beautiful story that speaks to the benefits of risk taking, love for the earth, wild harvesting, clean, green beauty, and artisanship.
One warm and delicious-smelling day in June, I arrived at the home of Heart Grown Wild. As an amateur when it comes to skin care, I was unsure what to expect when I arrived at their home production facility. Would I see large gardens with herbs and flowers? Jars and labels all over tables with botany and herbalism books covering the shelves? Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful distillation setup that was creating hydrosol out of locally harvested spruce. Sitting at the kitchen table, we had a wide-ranging conversation filled with philosophy, history and passion from SantaLena and her partner Tom. I am unsure I can recall a time when my fingers moved so fast typing and writing down all that I learned. These products are literally everywhere in my home. In fact, my daughter runs through the house with bottles of SantaLena’s products, and my wife is always covering herself with Heart Grown Wild after baths and before work; she has struggled with sensitive skin and allergies her whole life, and now says she’ll only ever wear Heart Grown Wild. I myself sprinkle Prism of the Sun body oil on tender areas after exercising. Both in my conversation with SantaLena and my personal experience with the products, Heart Grown Wild is an inspiration!
The skin care industry is growing quickly, made up both of companies owned by corporate entities and small businesses operating out of country houses nestled in the foothills of the southern Green Mountains. The Brattleboro Food Co-op stocks all the trendy items: the salves, the serums, and lotions, from organic and Fair Trade to Non-GMO and even DIY options. It’s a crowded space with everyone vying for your skin. As a novice to this industry, I personally have just one philosophy: your skin is a sponge, and you must treat it with kind and gentle care. SantaLena agreed with me when I made this statement. She believes that her products must meet the needs of the most sensitive skin and she ensures that they deliver safe and effective doses of herbs, plants, and oils. Through this approach, her products continue to grow in appeal, as customers appreciate their gentle power and unique scent profiles. SantaLena attributes her success to the intuitive formulations, which use whole plant infusions, essential oils in lower (and gentler) dosages than many other face and body care brands, and are always deeply inspired by nature.
In her twenties, SantaLena began having her own personal skin care problems. Her dermatologist prescribed medications to help remedy the issues, but as a result her skin became dry and wrinkly. Instead of continuing the medication, she began to examine her diet, the body care products she utilized, and anything that might have an impact on her wellbeing. While transitioning to a cleaner diet of organic and Non-GMO foods, she also started examining the labels on her “natural” skin care products, which turned out to contain some pretty unnatural ingredients. In 2013, as her knowledge and skills in plants and herbalism increased, her experimentation with natural skin remedies did as well, and she tried her hand at formulas for lotions, serums and facial scrubs. In 2014 she enrolled in a class on shamanism and plant medicine, which furthered her interest and knowledge in intuitive, plant-based body care. The following year she left her career as a social worker after completing an herbalism apprenticeship with Sage Maurer from the The Gaia School of Healing in Putney. It was a life changing and magical time for her, and deepened her connection with plants and her dream of a career in creating skin care products. Some of Heart Grown Wild’s formulas were crafted during her time in the course, many of which are still quite popular today.
The name Heart Grown Wild was inspired by SantaLena’s first encounters with nature during her time at Western Carolina University. Her life prior to college was spent predominantly in the city and not engaged in the beauty of nature. As she began to connect with the forest, river rocks, herbs, and other plants, she began to find peace in her life. In 2016 SantaLena took a big risk and quit her full-time job as a social worker. During that career she loved working with clients on grounding techniques that incorporated sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. She took pride in her ability to assist people, using these practices, in moving towards a calm and present state of mind. With love in her heart and the desire to support people through her herbalism, she felt as though she could similarly help ground people through engaging with the earth via her products. Now, working with plants topically to utilize their nutrients and spread that love to other people, she feels like her heart is growing. She loves turning people onto plants and bringing them joy with the products. Everyone uses plants in some capacity every day, and harnessing that in a different and beautiful way brings her great happiness. She wants Heart Grown Wild to serve as a portal to a place in nature that you love—she wants people to mist their faces with Prism of the Sun toner and be transported to a forest of evergreens.
So why are Heart Grown Wild products so special? First is their commitment to sourcing the finest ingredients possible, always prioritizing organic, Non-GMO, and local. SantaLena grows some of her own plants, and partners and collaborates with many farms, all within our area, because it is vital to the company to support local, grow local and spend local. She sources a variety of herbs from Zack Woods Herb Farm and Foster Farm Botanicals. They are also partnering with Elmore Mountain Therapeutics as a source for CBD oil that is highly tested for purity, potency and identity. SantaLena also responsibly wild-harvests many ingredients, including black birch, spruce and balsam fir. Her passion for the best ingredients is shared by her partner, Tom. Tom has a strong background in botany, having been a fellow at the New England Wild Flower Society, and works with plant habitat conservation. He told me they’re “both nerds,” and love researching plants and herbs, and particularly finding native alternatives to ingredients that are typically shipped from elsewhere. For instance, they found in one case that a native plant, black birch, has similar properties as arnica, which is widely used for its anti-inflammatory and pain reducing properties. Black birch grows locally and can be sustainably wild-harvested while supporting native habitats. Sourcing practices like these cut down their carbon footprint, keep money in Vermont to grow a stable local economy, and ensure a high-quality product that never waivers from their love for plants.
Another unique practice of Heart Grown Wild is the hand-crafting of their own hydrosols. What is hydrosol? It is sometimes known as hydrolat or flower water, and is a byproduct of essential oil production. It is created through distillation, which is a process of boiling water and steaming out precious water-soluble compounds from aromatic plants. Through this process, they capture the essence, nutrients, and scents from the plants they so carefully gather, and are able to incorporate their many wonderful properties into the formulas. Heart Grown Wild is committed to quality, safety, and simplicity.
What does the future hold for Heart Grown Wild? First up are new labels that were designed in collaboration with a local graphic designer. These labels will add a beautiful edge and professional look to the products. They also hope to continue to expand on the types of hydrosols they create from locally harvested plants and herbs. Experimentation is always happening and allows SantaLena to refine her current formulas with any new science or research they come across. Finally, they recently released their line of CBD products that utilizes Elmore Mountain Therapeutics CBD oil. SantaLena is very energized by this partnership and sees it as a wonderful evolution in her business and working with locally grown plants.
The Heart Grown Wild products are ones of deep passion, quality and care. Join us on Tuesday, August 14 from 1–3pm to try them for yourself, along with Ashley Reynolds of Elmore Mountain Therapeutics.
by Jon Megas-Russell