Monday, May 6, 2013

Ode to Cascade Anderson Geller vol 2

People ask me all the time how I learned about plants, herbal medicine making, perfumery, tea blending and the like.
For the most part, I say that it's a long story, or that I'm mostly self-taught. I don't know why the question always throws me. In general, if there is a question that comes up a lot that I'm not sure how to answer, I prepare an all encompassing answer. For example, people always ask "Where do you get all those bottles and jars?" I answer with "All over" The long answer is boring and the short answer is true.

So I usually say "The plants, time, experience, experimenting." All true.
"I don't know" I sometimes answer.

But the truth is, there is a longer answer, and it is, in part, that I may not be where I am or know what I know without the guidance of Cascade Anderson Geller.
Late last night when I heard that my dear friend, teacher and mentor Cascade had passed, I couldn't believe it. I still barely can.

I tossed and turned most of the night. There was a whirlwind of anxiety dreams, then Cascade was beside me. We were up high in the mountains at the top of a waterfall. It was lush and green and damp. She had on a maroon wool beret and a jean jacket. She said, "it's ok. we just go into the waterfall, it will be ok." she was talking so sweetly and pointing down at the spray of the waterfall. "Ok? Ready?" And we prepared together and dove into the waterfall and it was pure peace.

I awoke feeling a bit of peace, but still sorrow. I drank my morning tea and listened to a podcast.

I thought of so many of the things she brought to my life.

My husband says that your favorite movies are the ones you quote from regularly. I was thinking that your favorite people are those you quote from. Cascade is one of my favorite people, with me always, with bits of wisdom on parenting, teaching, and just being a person.

Many years ago, when we were learning about Hawthorne in an herb class, she asked everyone to smell the flowers. I was surprised to hear everyone saying how terrible they smelled. Most were making faces, saying ewww. I was perplexed. Cascade saw my confusion and asked what I thought, "I love it", she threw back her head and laughed. "You have an old nose."

A few years ago at the Breitenbush Herbal Conference I attended a talk she was giving on trees. Before she began, she said to me, "Why are you here? You know all of this, this is old hat to you"  I replied "I never get to see you and I always learn something new from you."

Today the question keeps coming up "how did you learn all of this?"

A true answer is that Cascade Anderson Geller was more of a big sister, mom and mentor to me than just an herb teacher.

I'm no longer sure that it's possible to be self-taught. Everything that happens around you is a teaching. All of the people you encounter are teachers. I had a product line under my belt before I even met Cascade, and the perfumery that lay ahead of me was not covered in any coursework. I was lucky enough to take part in a two year herbal studies course with Cascade. Without her, I'm not sure I would have been guided so surely in the direction I have taken with my life.

The things I learned from her infuse my day to day life.
When I make a perfume or potion or tea blend, I think of her. I hold her in my mind as a guiding force. If the tea I have blended would make Cascade proud, then I can be done. The perfumes; are they natural enough, pure enough, made with the best intentions? If so, then I believe Cascade would be proud and I let that be enough.

I will think of her as I always do, every day. 

My deepest condolences to her children, who are only a few years older than my own.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Each month at our Flora meeting I give little treats. Often of new products for everyone to try, a tea, perfume or balm that we sell. I also like to share a bit of tincture or herb that seems right for the season, or just that I have an abundance of.
This month we had two meetings as we spent much of the first one putting finishing touches on the pop-up shop that opened November 8th. That meeting we had lots of chocolate.
Another meeting followed a week later. I presented cardamom pods with a few tips on how to I use them and I realized I did not know exactly how they grow.

Cardamom is one of my favorite ingredients in perfumery as well as cooking, but not one I have too deep of knowledge about.

Here are a few interesting things to know about this magic pod:
Cardamom belongs to the Ginger family.

Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices, only vanilla and saffron are more dear.

Cardamom is not only used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, but is also a key ingredient in the Finnish bread, Pulla.

In the middle East cardamom is often ground up with coffee to create a magical hot drink.

Cardamom is, of course, a key ingredient in Chai or Masala Chai. There are a million variations of Chai, but if you're not including cardamom, it can't be that good.

One of our favorite teas at Flora is our house blended Dandelion Chai, which boasts a huge percentage of gorgeous organic cardamom pods.

Wrigley made a chewing gum with cardamom not so long ago, but made claims that it would "neutralize the toughest mouth odor" and now is off the market due to a class action law suit.

It is suggested that if you are out of cardamom, you can substitute equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg.
I'm not sure how I feel about this, but in a pinch, go for it.

Cardamom is a traded commodity. Maybe everything is.

Cardamom (purported) health benefits include
Digestive stimulant
reduces bad breath
reduces heartburn
can help with IBS
nourishes the kidneys and bladder
high in iron and potassium
can help with sore mouth and throat

Cardamom pods can be chewed like gum and kill germs in the gums, making your breath fresh.
All cardamom is handpicked.

This is by no means a full description of this amazing plant, rather a few tidbits to go along with the bags of cardamom pods handed out at a meeting.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Perfumery and kindred arts

A beautiful passage from Perfumery and kindred arts : 
a comprehensive treatise on perfumery 
by R.S.Cristiani

"The Greeks, whose deities were as numerous as the stars, almost always associated perfumes with the presence of the gods and goddesses, and attributed skill in the compounding of perfumes to the marvelous, and gave the name of magicians to those who prepared them.

Venus is described as sprinkled with perfumes, and Pallas (Athena), the goddess of wisdom, anointed with oil when practicing the exercises of the palastra, and to their use is attributed the great beauty of Helen of Troy.
Perfumes were generally supposed to possess great medicinal virtues, so much so as to cause the recipes for many of the most celebrated essences and cosmetics 
to be inscribed on marble tablets in some of their temples. The rose in those days was considered no less beneficial than beautiful, and formed the basis of many remedies."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

All Natural Solid Perfumes

I have been making solid perfumes for a dozen years or so and even though they are the solid form of perfumery, they seem to be the most evasive and ephemeral in terms of continuity and commitment.
I worked feverishly and obsessively on a set of balms in 2007 that were inspired by my study of the art and spirituality of color. I created a set of five perfumes that evoked not only a color, but the energy and spirituality of that color.
While they were amazing, I had gotten carried away by the color, in reality, of the balms to the point that the gesture was muddied.
For example, I used Blue Chamomile oil, which is firstly, expensive and secondly does not offer the perfect blue scent in the amounts I had to use to make it the right color. Cacao in the brown perfume and so on.
We at Flora loved them and made amazing and amazingly complicated packaging for them that entailed tons of very precise cutting and oh dear, I just want to make perfume.
Customers didn't really get it and there were issues with the containers, as they were chosen for their color, rather than functionality.
Fast forward to 2012 and we are back in it!
Focus: Solid perfumes, the importance of color gesture, packaging that is gorgeous and very functional.

We are bringing them back!

The new labels have arrived, new packaging has been procured and the ingredients are all waiting in line.

The cards we made all those years ago? Still perfect. 


The re-lauch will be at Crafty Wonderland's Spring Sale. May 12th 2012.

It's time.