I’ve written before about Harris, about the landscape, the sea and the Machair, the rock formations and the sandy beaches white and utterly inviting. I’ve talked about picking Thyme, Meadowsweet, Heather and other aromatics hardy, tough and full of aromatic intensity but I haven’t yet introduced the products that I make with them.
The Isle of Harris Distillery is a business that transcends the simple desire to make whisky with a return for its patient investors. It represents a different kind of business, it is a social distillery. Its raison d’etre is to serve the people of Harris, a tiny island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, to create jobs, educate islanders and as importantly, to educate us, the newly arrived, about the rich island heritage, to enfold visitors into the place and people. The mantra is that on Harris there is time. Time to relax and unwind. Time to explore and delight in the landscape. Time to be.
Part of the educational process is to create awareness about the local flora and how it can be used. With that in mind, I have travelled to Harris collecting plants with a small but enthusiastic bunch of foragers. Each trip has been magical – the sun has shone, the plants have been pristine and the process of gathering them has been joyful. I have sat on rocks teasing out strands of wild Thyme marvelling at the beauty of the place. I’ve watched herons feeding, sea eagles commanding the skies and damselflies dancing at the water’s edge. I’ve watched sunsets fill the horizon, tides turning and seas crashing on the sandy shore. I’ve bounced across peat, sunk up to my knees in bogs and felt the icy coldness of the Atlantic ocean. Being on Harris makes me feel alive.
So from this I’ve tried to create a set of products that capture the energy and feel of the place, that resonate with the landscape both land and sea, that have passed through hands of people both local and visiting. Products that invite time to use and savour but which protect and enhance the skin for both men and women.
I’ve used Thyme, Seaweed, Rose and Honeysuckle as a theme throughout the range – Thyme is picked slowly and meticulously on rocky, dry spots beside infrequently used single track roads. The Honeysuckle only grows where sheep can’t eat it favouring high rocky places often across streams, the roses grow in profusion on the coastal sandy soil and the seaweed thrives in underwater forests off the coast, unpolluted in crystal clear waters. To these plants I’ve added others that compliment the scent and qualities of these Harris natives. Sweet Gale, a plant found all over the Scottish mainland and some Cedar to add a depth and resonance.
For men we have made a Thyme and Sweet Gale shaving soap in a wooden bowl. The lather is rich, creamy and long lasting. It is an invitation to take the time to shave slowly and carefully – to refuse to rush, to relax. We chose to compliment this with an Aftershave Balm scented with Ling Heather and Thyme to really soothe the skin post shaving. The balm has a base of Shea butter, beeswax and jojoba oil perfect for calming inflammation and conditioning the skin. To finish we made a Cologne with notes of Heather, Thyme and Juniper balanced and softened with the addition of Rose and Honeysuckle to make a rich, earthy, masculine scent. The dry down is a gorgeous herbal combination that really captures the feel of the island.
For women we made a sublime lip balm using Rose and Honeysuckle and our own honey. It is the tried and tested A.S Apothecary lip balm recipe enhanced with Harris botanicals. We also made a Hand Cream to soothe and protect delicate skin from the wild weather and cold sea. It is easily absorbed and very gentle – we are rather proud that the first sale made at the Distillery was not whisky or gin but our hand cream…
We also thought that a cold process Olive oil soap enhanced with soothing Harris seaweed, scented with Cedar and Honeysuckle would be the perfect relaxing holiday cleanser. The seaweed has a fantastic skin softening effect.
The final two products are the ultimate Harris experience – a slow burn candle made in a hand thrown pot which we have scented with Sweet Gale, Thyme and enough Birch to give it a quietly smoky, rich, peaty scent. It really captures the best of the botanicals.
Then, having cleansed, shaved, moisturised, balmed and relaxed we thought a really extraordinary aromatic water would complete the Harris experience so we sourced hand dived Harris Sugar Kelp, distilled it and added organic pure grain alcohol to preserve it. It is the very best of the sea in a precious little bottle. Added to the Isle of Harris Gin it adds a whole new dimension, dropped onto seafood it is a treat or used as a bitter it transports you to the sea. We are thrilled with it.
This project has captured my imagination, fed my soul, introduced me to some of the most interesting people I’ve met anywhere and provided me with an opportunity to search for and harvest plants for a beautiful range. What a privilege.
You can find it all on the Isle of Harris Distillery website: http://www.harrisdistillery.com/social-distillery/collaborators/amanda-saurin