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CULTURE

Juniper Ridge

All natural soaps and scents made by extracting essential oils from wild plants using a repurposed whiskey still

by Graham Hiemstra
on 07 September 2012
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Using old world techniques to extract and condense naturally occurring oils from wild plants, Juniper Ridge makes a variety of soaps, perfumes, incense and other amazingly fragrant products with a uniquely transformative quality. Made entirely from fresh flora harvested in the deserts of the Southwest and woods of northern California and the Pacific Northwest, the intense aromas transcend anything that could be found in synthetic alternatives.

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The organic products are made by hand, each retaining the distinct colors, textures and scents of the plants from which they're made. A single spritz of the Cascade Glacier room spray will transport you to the Oregon Trail, or at the very least right to the holiday season. To learn more about the processes leading up to and involved in the making of their all natural products, we spoke with Juniper Ridge forager and distiller Alli Darling.

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How do you break down the materials you find into essential aromas?

It is actually the same way that people used to make fragrance before the Industrial Revolution and the invention of synthetic perfume. These old techniques include enfleurage—the dissolution of fragrance inside of fat, in our case, organic vegetable oils—direct plant infusion and the distillation of essential oils in a still. The still we use happens to be made from a converted whiskey still.

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Can you elaborate on how the converted whiskey still works?

It is a simple process really, although it can be surprisingly laborious. It's not unlike steaming vegetables. We boil a heap of green plant material and then collect the steam by cooling it down quickly. In that steam is a small amount of essential oil and that's what we are looking for—it's what makes our products smell so good.

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How does this process vary when making room sprays versus making perfumes and colognes?

Both are made with 100% wildcrafted, steam-distilled essential oils from native, western plant and tree trimmings. The big difference, besides concentration, is that the room sprays are water based and the colognes are alcohol based, which makes them much stronger and brighter in scent. Our solid perfumes are beeswax based.

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What makes your soaps particularly unique?

Everything. Our soaps are scented and colored with nothing but the plant blend. We start with a compound of organic vegetable oils (jojoba and olive are the two big ones) and then directly infuse the live plant—its juice and sap—right into the base. This accounts for the great marbled texture of each bar. To each soap we then add real essential oil, which we feel is the secret to invoking the place where the plants come from. Smelling our soaps really is like taking a hike in the woods!

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What drives the Juniper Ridge ethos?

We work really hard at not working very hard. By keeping our products simple and by using pre-industrial methods of production we are able to spend more time outdoors in the wild places of the West like Big Sur, the Mojave, and the Redwood forests of the Siskiyou mountains in southern Oregon. We are able to remain close to what we love most.

The best part of sharing what we love is the light in peoples' eyes when they first smell our products and are clearly transported to a memory they have of the wilderness where the fragrance was born, even if they have never been there. It's a human reaction, something in our DNA that responds to the freshness. A reaction made possible by our relentless pursuit of wildly and relentlessly authentic, natural scents. We couldn't do it any other way, it's all we know.

For more information on their all natural organic products visit Juniper Ridge online.

Product images by Graham Hiemstra

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