Tuesday 2 August 2016

From plants to skin with Paul Richards | Herbfarmacy

How often do we pick up a jar of cream without considering what it really takes for it to reach us? We might be aware of the fact that calendula is soothing, chamomile has calming properties and lavender is extremely relaxing, but very few of us are able to grow, harvest and make them into skincare. Herbfarmacy is a bit of a precious jewel amongst skincare brands, not only is it certified organic, but herbs and plants are grown, and processed before being made into skincare on the tranquil Herfordshire farm. The balms are what Herbfarmcy is known for, mallow beauty balm is probably the most talked about product from the range (with good reason, you can't help but fall in love with its scent, texture and the way it leaves your skin beautifully soft and hydrated). However, instead of giving you the lowdown on the incredible products, this time we decided to get right to the heart of what makes them so special. We got together with Paul Richards (the man behind the magic) to talk about herbs, plants and processes used to make them into skincare.

What herbs and plants do you grow that are used in your skincare range?

We grow about 12 herbs for the skincare products: Buckwheat, Burdock, Calendula, Chickweed, Comfrey, Cornflower, Dandelion, Echinacea, Hypericum (St. John’s Wort), Marshmallow, Meadowsweet and Mullein. We also use Ginkgo and Horse Chestnut (conkers) which are from trees at nearby Kinnersley Castle (they have one of the oldest and largest Ginkgo trees in the UK – our own small tree is only 2 metres high so far!)

One of the star plants in your range is marshmallow. How long does it take for it to become part of a balm: from the seeds being planted until the extract is ready to be used in a beauty product? Talk us through the stages and processes involved?

In autumn, we save the seeds from the current crop that’s about to be harvested and these are stored, ready to be sown in trays in the greenhouse in Feb/March. The seedlings are planted out in May and we nurture them and keep them as free of weeds as possible for 2 summer seasons following which the roots are lifted during the winter and washed, chopped and dried ready for extracting in oil. Extraction is in high-oleic sunflower oil at around 95°C. The oil is then filtered and is ready for use in a balm. It's a long process but one we love to work on!

What different methods do you use to get herbal extracts? How do they differ depending on the plant?

We extract in oil and water. Some herbs are extracted in hot oil (as with Marshmallow root), whilst others are extracted at around 20-25°C such as Calendula and Mullein flowers. We extract in water by decoction – the herb is boiled in water for 10 minutes, and this process is used for both roots and above-ground parts (leaves/flowers). The extract is then filtered and cooled to be used immediately in a cream.

 paul mullein

Are there any herbs/flowers that require extra attention during the whole farm to skin process?

The flowers are the most delicate and need to be handled carefully and dried rapidly to preserve their colour. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum) flowers have to be extracted fresh in oil to produce the peculiar blood-red oil that’s so good for muscles and for mild pain relief.

What is your favourite plant to work with and why?

This is a very difficult question for me as I love them all! I guess it’s between Marshmallow which we use so much and Mullein which is so impressive – growing up to 13 ft or 4 metres in height. Marshmallow root has wonderful gentle mucilages for soothing the skin (and the digestive system when used internally). Break open a fresh root and you can feel the silky nature of these substances.

Why is it important to you to run an organic farm?

I studied as a botanist with a particular interest in plant communities and natural sustainable ecosystems, before going on to research in plant physiology. I wanted to grow in a way that respects the natural cycles and for me organic was the only way that made sense. We are certified by the Soil Association and the name says it all – the aim is to create and maintain a healthy soil which gives the environment for raising healthy plants for maximum benefits as food for eating – or as food for the skin!

What is the most challenging part, growing plants or formulating skincare?

Both are a challenge – the seasons can throw all sorts at you with the growing. What we have managed over the years is to develop systems that work for most of our main herbs most of the time. Formulation involves lots of experimentation and creative use of the wonderful properties the herbs give us. It is probably more challenging in some ways and developing fragrances to match the herbal benefits and be appealing is a further challenge in itself. Fragrance is a very much a personal thing, so it’s quite hard to please everyone but we try!

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