I am really excited to introduce you to my next guest in the ‘Inspired By Nature’ series. This lady is a traditional apothecary, a distiller, plantswoman and a therapist. She has had a really fascinating life and I have loved hearing more about why she does what she does. Having just opened a ‘bricks and mortar’ shop and therapy room in Lewes, East Sussex, I wanted to find out what led her to this point in her life.
I hope you enjoy reading her story. She has some wonderful insights into how nature can support and provide, in terms of self care. If you would like to live more in tune with the rhythm of the seasons but aren’t sure where to begin, then read on, she offers some brilliant advice.
Please welcome Amanda from A.S Apothecary….
Can you tell me about what you do? And how nature influences your work and business?
I am a traditional Apothecary, a distiller, plantswoman and a therapist. I trained for 4 years as a Homeopath and I have been using herbs for over 30 years. Arising out of a practice where many of my clients suffered from skin problems of one kind or another, I started making balms, soaps and lotions which worked really well. A few years later I moved to Cyprus and learnt to distil meaning that I could make my own essential oils and aromatic waters. That was a real turning point for me – the joy of knowing that I could make what I wanted using whichever plant suited my purpose was simply fantastic. I extended my skincare range and now back in the UK, I run A.S APOTHECARY which is a small batch distillery. We hand make really beautiful skincare products using plants, many of which we grow ourselves, on an organic farm in Sussex or forage in Cyprus and the Outer Hebrides.
Can you describe a typical day to me?
Unlike most work, we are absolutely ruled by the seasons. A typical day in Spring revolves around seeding and pricking out at the farm, then manure for the roses and weeding the beds. In April I go to Cyprus to pick and distil Orange blossom, Geranium and Pink Pepper. When I get back it’s time to plant out the seedlings and direct sow the annuals. As early Summer arrives we harvest the Elderflower and Chamomile. We distil most and dry the rest. In July I go the the Isle of Harris to pick Thyme, Meadowsweet and wild roses. Then back at the farm comes Calendula, Roses, Clary Sage and a plethora of other plants through to September. The days are long and the work very physically demanding – distilling is hard but rewarding work. From September it’s all about Hawthorn berries, various roots and then as the first frost arrives Rosehips.
In between the plant work we make the products. Everything is done by hand, we believe that every little pot should be full of beautiful ingredients and good intention. On a making day we start just after 9 and work until 1.30, stop briefly for lunch and then carry on. Making has its own rhythm of weighing, blending, mixing and then when the product is made, there is the magical moment of stirring in the essential oils and feeling it really come to life. One of my favourite jobs is to pipe our face cream into jars, I love the method of piping a little then tapping the jars on the oak counter to settle it, then repeating until the pot is full.
In every part of our work there is rhythm, whether it’s the natural rhythm of the plants, the slow process of distilling beautifully, our methods of making that take their own time or just the music that fills the workshop. Rhythm and flow determines our hours, days and seasons.
What is it about nature that inspires you?
I love the certainty of it – whatever is going on politically or economically in our increasingly fractured world I find solace knowing that bulbs will appear up in Spring bringing light, colour and texture after Winter’s hibernation. Seeds sown will germinate, seedlings will grow, buds will form and then flowers will scent our days and nights. Nature is endlessly inspirational – I’m always amazed to see plants appearing in tiny, inhospitable cracks in walls and pavements, growing on windswept beaches with no soil and salty air, up high in mountains where the chill is permanent – it offers perspective, it reminds us that to thrive we need to be part of the natural world not separate from it.
How does nature impact the way you choose to live with your family?
My husband and I have been together for over 30 years and we have had 6 children, for all those years I’ve been working with plants and we have integrated the natural rhythms of the seasons into the very fabric of our lives. When our children were little we lived in mid Wales and they spent their days wild and free – our garden backed onto fields and beyond there were mountains, so they could wander far and wide safely and happily. My eldest daughter used to come home with pockets full of spiders, worms and wood lice, always entertaining emptying them before washing. When we moved to Kingston near Lewes, I would find them in other peoples’ gardens playing on swings and climbing frames oblivious to the idea of private spaces.
We spent our summers camping in Northern Spain on beaches and in the mountains – it was blissful – no TV, nothing but paints, games and books. Moving to Cyprus allowed our younger children to have the same freedoms that the older ones had growing up. We lived for 7 years on a campus on top of a mountain surrounded by ancient olive and citrus groves. It was so beautiful and our children were completely free to roam. They all had a childhood of great privilege – loads of outside space, so much freedom to explore and immersion in nature.
Do you have a favourite season? If yes, what do you particularly love about that season?
That is such a difficult question because every season has its place in my work but in the UK I do love mid Summer, there is such an abundance of flowers and I find the longer days and higher light levels so nourishing. Paths are dry underfoot, we can abandon our thermals and there is the promise of sitting outside after a long day of picking, watching the house martins swooping over the fields catching insects on the wing. I can spend hours sitting amongst the roses, captivated by the scent, watching bees drunk on nectar wobble from flower to flower knowing that there are weeks of unfurling blooms still to come.
I believe that nature knows best… Do you have any examples of when you feel that nature has taught you something about yourself, or your self care?
21 years ago I had a son, Casimir, who died. It was the very worst time of my life. In the end, how I managed to get through it was by spending my days in our garden – the daily toil was utterly therapeutic, the feel of soil on my hands, the nurturing of plants, the turning of the seasons, the security of that was so comforting and it still is. Nature heals – not just in terms of medicinal plants but also in allowing us to reconnect to the landscape in which we live. It is powerfully grounding. It allows the mind to be stilled. I planted a Magnolia for him and every year it flowers, initially just a few flowers but now, in Spring it is covered in beautiful candle like blooms – it reminds me of him and at a point in the year when not a lot is in flower it provides a spectacular view.
What advice would you give to others wanting to live more in tune with nature?
Stop and look – so obvious, but we are so busy bustling about or on screens we often miss seeing some beautiful plants in unexpected places.
Smell – go up to trees and flowers and smell them, there is nothing like a scent to both create memories and to remind us of a particular place and time.
Volunteer – so many organic farms are desperate for help and even one morning a week outside planting, weeding or harvesting makes you feel better. We have volunteers at busy times and its hugely good fun.
Visit – if you don’t have much space around you, go to someone else’s garden and walk round – the National Trust, English Heritage, the Yellow Book open garden scheme and private plant enthusiasts all have fantastic gardens to visit.
Care for yourself – this is a real plea for your skin – start by throwing out cosmetics and skincare that contain the word ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ these words are used to hide a multitude of horrors, all of which are problematic, from synthetic perfume to scent extenders. Invest in truly natural perfume and skincare made ethically and without additives. Beautiful products may cost a little more but they last a lot longer because every ingredient has to justify its inclusion.
I’m interested in whether nature helps us slow down and supports a slow living lifestyle. What are your thoughts on whether working with nature helps you live in a more mindful and wholehearted way. Do you agree?
Yes I absolutely agree with you. Without the unchanging rhythms of nature as a guide, what do we have that connects us both to our landscape and our wider community? Working with nature anchors you, it gives you perspective and peace. It is endlessly interesting and it reconnects you with simple pleasures – going to the beach and hunting for the totally round pebbles or the ones with a perfect hole in the middle, lighting a fire and smelling the wood smoke, raking up leaves into piles and jumping on them, picking a handful of flowers and plonking them in a jar, playing hide and seek with the kids, lying on the ground and just looking at all that goes on under our feet, it is awe inspiring.
Getting out of the house and into the natural world is an invitation to play, to reflect and sometimes just to be still. If we ourselves lose our connection with nature or if we don’t introduce our children to the joy of it, we are quite simply lost. With so much stimulation around us for so much of the time, there is nothing to rival the quiet contemplation of watching bees collecting pollen, ants carrying unfeasibly large leaves and roses unfurling their exquisite flowers.