To those of us who call northern New Mexico home—and to those of us who keep traveling back—the trees, flowers and brush that dapple and scent our high-desert landscape are as much a part of the atmosphere that defines this place as the vivid golden light and the soft, looming mountains. This is a place whose botanical traditions are as unique and vibrant as its culinary ones. For over 400 years, the northern New Mexican curanderos, Hispanic folk healers, have harvested and made use of the healing properties of local flora—and the Puebloans have done so for far longer than that, from ancient times.
In this world of mass-production and synthetic ingredients, it can be easy to forget the beneficial properties of the plants that line our periphery on a daily basis. These days, a thriving New Mexico cottage industry continues the tradition of harvesting local or sustainable plants and other ingredients and utilizing their properties in products for the body and its senses. From two local women introducing the tradition of natural, organic or hand-made skin products to our local, contemporary farmers’ market, to two organic lavender farms creating body products out of this soothing, medicinal, desert-loving flower, northern New Mexico is a fertile ground for local, farm-to-body creations. Meet four of our area’s modern aromatic alchemists who turn whole, natural products into food for the skin.
Elizabeth Inman, co-owner of Purple Adobe Lavender Farm in Abiquiú, has been a lavender lover since the day she was born. Her farm grows 15 varieties of the sweet, fragrant plant, which blossoms in July and August. The lovely dusty purple flower that lines our walkways, calms our senses and billows on our local farms is a natural antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-fungal, and a natural calmative. It is also, of course, beautiful to behold—the gracefully resilient plant is the dream material for the alchemist with an artist’s eye. Brought here by the Spaniards in the 1600s, lavender is used, to this day, for its healing properties. “Curenderosuse it,” Elizabeth says, “it’s called alucema.”
Elizabeth learned how to grow lavender in France and carried her knowledge to Abiquiú, where the soil, pH, elevation and weather are perfect for the plant’s growth. The farm opened in 2004 and, that same year, created its first lavender-based product, a lip balm made of Purple Adobe lavender and other natural ingredients that are not harmful to the body. More than 10 years later, the farm’s products uphold the standard of natural, local, organic and sustainable ingredients. Purple Adobe’s lavender is transformed into aromatherapeutic lavender oil that’s distilled and bottled on location, as well as into lotions, bath salts, balms and soaps. On April 1, the farm will open for the spring and so will the doors of its new tea house, a venture into the culinary side of lavender, serving sweets and teas made from a different variety of lavender than that which is used to feed the skin. “I love the idea of making one thing into something completely different,” Elizabeth says, and doing it in a completely natural way.
For Roberta Easter, creator of Enchanting Soap Collections in Albuquerque, the craft and tradition of making use of and transforming the materials at hand hits close to her childhood home. Roberta grew up in Placitas watching the women in her life make lye soap in the back yard, milk goats for goat cheese, cook with the herbs and chile from their gardens and collect local plants for remedies. “My [paternal] grandmother always had a remedio for us,” Roberta says—she used mint and chamomile for belly aches, saffron to reduce fever, tree sap for muscle aches and prickly pear for blood sugar. The women, like her grandmother, who came before her, Roberta explains, made use of “anything you can get off the river.”
“My [maternal] grandmother,” says Roberta, “made everything by hand,” with the materials at hand. “We saw her do it. We watched her, we helped her.” Roberta did not realize until relatively recently how much she enjoyed dabbling in hand-made creations, from recipes to soaps. Fourteen years ago, she dipped her hands into personal care products and now continues her family’s tradition of creating hand-made products for use in everyday life. She sells her products online and out of her home. Her boutique, located in Vandito, opened last year; its grand opening will be held this Memorial Day weekend. Roberta uses local ingredients like juniper berries; chamomile, known for its soothing properties; cinnamon, which is spicy and heating; and New Mexico blue corn, which exfoliates and shines. Her body products span gender and generations—hand-made products for men, women and babies, as well as the soaps which work on all of us. “I let people know [my soaps] are not filled with detergents,” Roberta says. They are, instead, cold-processed soaps made with only the finest natural ingredients.
Further north, in Santa Fe, Laurie Richardson is the founder of a salon and aromatic boutique named after her mother, Anita Louise, which celebrates its 20th anniversary on May 9. Growing up in a large Italian family, with a father who ran several New York restaurants, Laurie’s love of the alchemy of aromatics began with her love of fresh ingredients and the alchemy of the kitchen. “What we put on our bodies is as important as what we put inthem,” Laurie says. Her organic, sustainably grown products are designed to feed the body’s largest organ, our skin.
Laurie makes her product line, LR Modern Alchemy, with aromatic essential oils in small batches to preserve freshness. Her farm-to-salon products cater to our dry-desert climate, hydrating the skin and infusing it with the fatty acids and vitamins that exist in essential oils, which Laurie calls the life force of plants. With local staples like lavender, sandalwood and rose geranium, as well as ingredients like vanilla from Madagascar and argan oil from Morocco, the aromatics at Anita Louise come from sustainable, small-scale farms. “The gift of good land is powerful,” Laurie says, and the cultivation and use of sustainable materials—whether produce for the kitchen or oil for the skin—ultimately means maintaining this earth for generations to come.
The Los Poblanos lavender farm in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque is perhaps the best known name in local, sustainable earth-to-body products. “Here at Los Poblanos, we planted our lavender on land that was originally the Los Poblanos historic ranch and soon began to steam distill our own lavender essential oil,” says Aimee Conlee, Los Poblanos’ lavender wholesale manager. The farm, with its 25 acres of organic lavender, grown in several varieties, sells its lavender products from Albuquerque to Tokyo. But it is the dry, sunny climate, Aimee says, that makes New Mexico ideal for the cultivation of the low-water, sustainable crop.
“Our handmade soap collection highlights scents of New Mexico which also have healing properties,” Aimee says, noting the lavender honey soap, made with local honey, and the La Rosa Bar, whose rose scent comes from the roses in Los Poblanos’ Rose Greely-designed gardens. New Mexico blue corn and mint are also infused into the farm’s products for their exfoliating and invigorating properties. Los Poblanos distills its lavender oil in small batches from Grosso lavender, which produces the highest oil yield. The farm’s fields “are tended by hand without the use of pesticides or fertilizers and harvested at the optimal time each year to yield the highest quality essential oil,” Aimee says. The certified organic farm takes pride in offering products that are connected to the New Mexico earth. The farm is a vibrant example of local, sustainable practices and products that come from land fertilized by the Rio Grande watershed for ages.
The locals who continue the ancient tradition of growing, harvesting or transforming our flora into balms, salves, scents and scrubs for the body are at the forefront of a small-batch, organic, sustainable revolution. From individuals with a passion for handmade products to larger-scale farms upholding sustainable practices, New Mexico can certainly claim itself a player in the contemporary local and world-wide demand for natural, land-based products. Laurie Richardson, creator of LR Modern Alchemy, puts it best: “Truly natural is no longer a trend. People want to live it.”
**Purple Adobe Lavender Farm, Abiquiú, 505.685.0082. purpleadobelavenderfarm.com.
**Enchanting Soap Collections, Albuquerque, 505.899.9370. robertasoap.com.
**Anita Louise Aromatics, Santa Fe, 505.988.8907. anitalouise.com. lrmodernalchemy.com.
**Los Poblanos Organic Farm, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 505.344.9297. lospoblanos.com.
Story by Mia Rose Poris