Harvesting Redwood & Wild Sage with Juniper Ridge

Juniper Ridge creates their wilderness perfume the old fashioned way – by harvesting wildflowers, plants, bark, moss, mushrooms, and tree trimmings themselves on the trail and using old perfume making techniques. Everything is 100% wildcrafted with no synthetic ingredients. Founder Hall Newbegin tells us how they sustainably harvest redwood and wild sage, and how their dedication to wilderness stewardship and education is at the core of everything they do.

Everything we do is done sustainably and with permission — always, every time, no exceptions.

People often ask, “How can Juniper Ridge harvest plants sustainably given the volume of plants they need?” This is a totally valid concern. I’d like to address this concern by talking about the different plants we work with and how we sustainably harvest each one.

Let’s start with Redwoods and other tall trees (conifers of the west). Redwoods make a big, beautiful mess when felled during winter storms. Clearing these trees is a big job requiring hard hats, heavy gloves, chainsaws and dump trucks. We’re regularly dispatched to help county maintenance crews clear these trees, given our experience with this stuff and our relationships with the state parks and U.S. Forest Service.

“Protecting and preserving the wilderness is so unbelievably important, it’s one of our primary business goals.”

When Caltrans crews clear fallen trees, they transport the plant material to huge waste yards in the Central Valley and burn it in big piles. When we do this work, we take everything back to our warehouse in Oakland and turn it into soap, incense and colognes.

If we’re not collecting storm fallen trees, we get permits from the U.S. Forest Service or state parks to go out into the woods and trim the bottoms of tall trees. The trees respond well to this pruning and of course keep growing taller and taller—well out of the range of even the most acrobatic wildcrafter. Neither the trees nor the ecosystem is harmed by this type of sustainable wild pruning.

White Sage (Salvia apiana) is one of the more delicate plants we work with, and so requires a completely different harvesting method. For fifteen years, we’ve been going back to the same wild gardens, on the same private land (with full permission from the owner), to collect our white sage. The reason we’re able to go back to the same place every year is that White Sage is a plant that can be harvested sustainably and indefinitely. If you prune it correctly, it responds with vigorous growth.

Because all mint family (laminaceae) plants including White Sage are pretty tasty, they’ve adapted to animal grazing. If you clip a White Sage cluster in its fuzzy, apical meristem tip, two or three new clusters will grow there the following spring. A White Sage wild garden can be harvested forever this way without negatively impacting the plants or their ecosystem.

Demand for White Sage has been blowing up all over the world, and we see crews harvesting in nearby areas who do it the cheapo quick way by chopping the entire plant off at the base. This is certainly more efficient but it’s awful because it kills the plant and alters the surrounding ecosystem. This is clearcutting – not harvesting – and is definitely not sustainable.

Whenever I see these Sage crews out there I try to explain to them how they are impacting the plants. This is an important conversation; the crews that clear-cut the White Sage fields need to be educated. I know their bosses are driving them to do it because they want cheap Sage; I’ve brought it up with them in the fields many times. It’s clear that more monitoring of open land is necessary, as these fields are just getting hammered—all for a marketplace that’s hungry for $7 smudge sticks.

Protecting and preserving the wilderness is so unbelievably important, it’s one of our primary business goals. We give 10% of our profits to groups that defend western wilderness; last year, Juniper Ridge wrote checks totaling $22,000 to support these wilderness defense groups. In 2015 we received The Conservation Alliance award for Outstanding Wilderness Partner.

Photography Credit: Colin McCarthy / Jordan Vouga

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