CONNECTING WITH THE LAND – BOTANICAL SKINCARE HAS ITS ROOTS IN MUSKOKA
Article by Meghan Smith/Photography by Heather Douglas
In the wild landscape across Muskoka, plants, flowers and trees flourish throughout the spring and summer seasons. There is a balance and rhythm to the fresh growth and flowering of the forests and meadows to which Ashley Love, founder of Love North botanical skincare, is attuned.
“As lily of the valley pops up, I know what’s next on my radar,” says Love. “I hike in to spots I’ve memorized now with a tracking system for specific times of year.”
As a child growing up in Bracebridge, Love spent countless hours among the forests, ravines, lakes and meadows, playing and exploring. Now, her forays into the wilderness are more purposeful but no less exhilarating. Her love of nature and natural medicine have only grown since her childhood.
Family history, on both her mother’s and father’s sides, has factored significantly in Love’s personal growth and the evolution of her career.
Through her father’s side, Love’s family has been living in Muskoka since the 1800s. At that time, her family worked in the lumbering industry and eventually opened the then well-known Elgin House resort where the Lake Joseph Club is now situated.
Through her mother’s family, Love can trace her roots to a Cree First Nation in Alberta. Her maternal family’s traditional approach to farming, respecting the land and using earth-based skills impacted Love’s own values and how she developed her business.
“I learned a lot about plants from my grandmother, her knowledge and her teaching,” shares Love. “I didn’t have an elder teaching me but I’ve been able to come back to it. I feel I’m reconnecting to those lost generations.”
Love credits her maternal family for her current business and the knowledge of the land and her paternal family for her work ethic and entrepreneurial outlook.
“When I was still fairly young, I lost almost my entire mother’s side of the family,” explains Love. “My grandparents, my mother and my aunt all passed away when I was growing up. Through the business, I’m honouring them, their experiences and the things they taught me.”
Working at the Muskoka Natural Food Market in Bracebridge, her first job after returning home from her university degree and working overseas, piqued Love’s interest in natural medicine and natural products. Her boss, at the time, encouraged all of the staff to learn about the products they were selling and to learn from each other.
“I saw a lot of American products and was almost dumbfounded there weren’t more Canadian products,” recalls Love. “There is so much medicinal value in plants that are here, locally.”
Her interest in learning more about natural medicine, utilizing local plants and developing holistic, simple products led Love to go back to school. Attending the Living Earth School of Herbalism, Love studied western herbal medicine. Her course work involved hands-on identification of plants, flowers and trees as well as understanding the interactions between the constituents of the plants.
“A big component of our practical learning was on ethical wild harvesting,” says Love. “There are strict rules to follow such as no harvesting anywhere close to a side or back road, harvesting no more than 10 per cent of a colony of plants and absolutely do not harvest anywhere near industry.”
With her schooling completed in 2012, Love began crafting face and body care products and tea infusions and taking them to local farmer’s markets to sell. Building a brand has been a rewarding challenge and Love continues to search for ways to utilize her skills and learnings and grow her business.
Love’s newest product line, soon to launch, features distillations of 100 per cent local ingredients including cedar, sweetgrass and balsam fir. From the plant in the forest to the final product, Love must follow multiple processes but each and every one is executed with great care and precision.
“When plants are in their natural habitat, unharmed, the quality and the medicinal properties are almost incomparable to cultivated plants,” explains Love.
Extracting the desired properties from plants can be achieved in a variety of ways.
Love utilizes three main techniques: drying, distillation and herbal oil extracts. Drying plants on racks allows Love to create herbal teas with medicinal qualities. Distillation requires a copper still, which Love has at her home production facility in Bracebridge. Distillation produces direct essence of the plant in either oil (essential oil) or water-soluble (hydrosol) form.
Herbal oil extracts require quicker action in order to have the medicinal constituents take to the oil. Out in one of over 30 different forests she harvests from, Love collects the plant and immediately macerates it, places it in a jar and covers it with olive or apricot oil. The plant must be completely submerged in the oil. Back at home, Love shakes the mixture daily for 30 days. Following the process, all of the medicinal properties of the plant are transferred to the oil. Once strained, the oil can be used in Love North body care products.
“I chose the name Love North because it’s my last name and I always think of Muskoka as the beginning of the north,” shares Love. “Plus, the products we’re making are love from the north, for your body.
For Love, nature and the environment we live in and how we treat ourselves can play a major role in our health. Starting with physical self-care, in the form of simple, well-made products to nourish the physical self can play a big role in a person’s overall wellbeing.
“If each individual begins caring for themselves, for their own overall health, that action creates a deeper relationship with self,” says Love. “You can love a lot of people from your own self-care. It’s subtle healing work but the body is the entrance point for the healing process.”
The basis of Love’s work stems from self-love, self-care and a connection to the land around us.