Meet four creative spa professionals who’ve lowered their carbon—and budget—costs with locally sourced ingredients.
Foodies have been reaping the flavors, savings and green bona fides of the farm-to-table movement for years. Now, savvy spas are getting in on the action by using local and even homegrown ingredients in their menus’ treatment protocols. DAYSPA checked in with locavore-friendly spas across the country to discover how these facilities have managed to create, source and market their indigenous service menu items—and how their clients have responded to their pioneering efforts! —By Katie O'Reilly
On the menu: Organic Fusion Massage (60 min./$135), using Swedish strokes, shiatsu and Thai yoga stretches, with locally sourced Jasmine and Green Tea oil; and Organic Detox Facelift (75 min./$175), with lymphatic stimulation massage, utilizing customized herbal cleansing and enzymatic exfoliation
Recipes call for: Bergamot peel, calendula blossom, lavender, tuberose, geranium, nettle, echinacea, vetiver, white lotus, shea butter, raw honey and more.
How they’re served: Most International Orange (IO) service and retail potions (including body wash, body oil, bath soaks, deodorant, hair wash and more) are hand-blended by a formulator partner who works nearby, in California’s verdant Marin County. Only certified organic, wild-crafted and biodynamically grown plants—from Marin, Napa or Sonoma—are sourced, and all oils and butters are fair-trade. Spa management has also partnered with fellow San Franciscan Julie Elliott, owner and founder of In Fiore, an organic body balm and perfumery outfit, to offer luxurious body treatments. Elliott’s balms are crafted from small batches of grape seed and jojoba oils with herbal essences.
Inspiration: In 2005, the IO team began shopping around for a private-label formulator who could help the day spa better serve a clientele increasingly concerned with “stripping down extras and getting to the necessary elements of skin care and wellness not only in the spa but at home, too,” as manager Leslie Wang Su puts it. “We’re constantly collaborating with all our vendors, so we asked who they worked with and trusted, and by the time we hired our formulator, we had seen her work and felt really good about it.”
Trade secrets: The launch of IO’s organic private-label line opened up a world of indigenous service possibilities. “We unveiled the IO Organic Fusion Massage just a couple years ago,” Su says, “because it was a natural fit with our organic body care collection. Right now we’re designing facials that integrate different Eastern massage modalities.”
Final verdict: “Clients love it,” Su says. “Nowadays, they ask a lot of questions—and they know we offer truly curative body work, healing and skin care. We also do a lot of business with expectant mothers, who are really diligent about what they’re putting on and into their bodies.”
On the menu: Elderberry Facial (65 min./$190), Biodynamic Facial (50 min./$135), Cedars Massage (50 min./$145), Sacred Waters Massage (50 min./$145) and more
Recipes call for: Elderberry, which grows wild on the hillsides of Wisconsin; cedar from surrounding forests’ trees; and lavender, chamomile, rosemary, indigo, sunflower, violets, lilies, garlic and hawthorn berries, all of which grow in Aspira’s organic gardens.
How they’re served: Aspira might be the spa world’s answer to molecular gastronomy. Clients opting for the Elderberry Facial receive a facial steaming using warm, moist towels infused with elderberry tea, and exfoliation with the berry in dried, ground form. For Cedars Massage recipients, therapists gather fresh cedar wood and steam it in hot water, to great aromatherapeutic effect. After the ensuing cedar-infused oil massage, guests are enveloped in a large duvet blanket filled with aromatic cedar sprigs. For the Sacred Waters Massage, therapists collect water from Lake Elkhart (believed by early Native Americans to have healing properties) in deerskin bags and apply the warm bags to clients’ bodies to better penetrate tissues during massage. When the growing season gets underway this May, Aspira will unveil the Chakra Garden Massage (50 min./$145), wherein therapists apply bundles of specific herb blends to complement each of the seven chakras during a Swedish massage. Says general manager Lola Roeh, “Indigo-colored plants and flowers are good for the ‘third eye’ forehead chakra, offering clarity, and green plants and hawthorn berries are beneficial for the heart chakra.”
Inspiration: Several years ago, Aspira was looking to enliven its menu, so Roeh, a Wisconsin native with a background in holistic medicine, chemistry and biology, threw herself into researching the healing traditions of the Potawatomis, Ojibwas and Menominees—the three most prominent indigenous tribes that once inhabited the area. In the process, she learned plenty about native fauna. “I’d been picking elderberries my whole life, but it turns out they’re extremely high in antioxidants and flavonoids,” she says. “And according to indigenous Native Americans, cedar is an herb of protection and purification.” In 2007, Aspira launched an organic garden; in 2011 they expanded it with supplies from Seed Savers , a nonprofit that distributes rare, heirloom seeds to gardeners. “They’re pure and haven’t been hybridized,” Roeh says. Spa therapists tend to and gather most everything they need from the garden for treatments on the day of use. This year, they’re expanding the garden to five acres.
Trade secrets: Roeh notes the importance of seeking like-minded spa staff. “We have a culture that is steeped in tradition and nature,” she explains. “We don’t require that therapists have an extensive knowledge of herbology, but they have to have an attitude of healing and gratitude.”
Final verdict: While the planting and harvesting required have increased some of their costs, Roeh says that being able to offer authentic indigenous ingredients—and the bump in visibility—make it all worth it. “We have savvy spa-goers telling us that they’ve never heard of services like ours,” she says. “They’re always very pleasantly surprised.”
On the menu: A rotating “Farm to Spa” body treatment section including the Red Wine Grape VinoTherapy Scrub and Wrap; Apple and Pure Vermont Maple Scrub and Wrap; Great Pumpkin Scrub and Wrap; Rose Petal Sea Salt Scrub and Wrap; and a Chocolate Brownie Sugar Scrub and Wrap (all 75 min./$150).
Recipes call for: Red grape pith and pulp (from a local vineyard), apples and pumpkins (care of nearby farms), flowers, coffee, raw honey, maple syrup, chocolate from the Vermont Brownie Company and more!
How they’re served: Ingredients are blended with Dead Sea salts and essential oils provided by local herbalists, and guests can participate in the preparation if they wish. The scrub and wraps are removed with warm towels while guests recline in warm blankets, and all body treatments include a scalp massage.
Inspiration: “I’ve always grown my own flowers and herbs, and I’m dedicated to buying and eating locally,” says owner Cynthea Hausman. To comply with the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept, Hausman holds a share from a local farm—she pays a set price at the beginning of harvest and receives a weekly shipment of what’s fresh and available—and she regularly cooks using the flavors of the season. “You get local honey, flowers, bread, meat, vegetables, syrup... all kinds of amazing things,” Hausman says. “Then last June it dawned on me: I could be partnering with them for the spa!” So she reached out to members of her CSA co-op, the Intervale Food Hub, a farmer-run collaborative that aggregates, markets and distributes local food products. “They call me if they have a surplus of ingredients they’re looking to unload at a wholesale price, and we promote them: I’ll include their farm or company name in our menu descriptions, link them on our website and tell our clients about what they offer.”
Trade secrets: “Spas are a great liaison for farms,” Hausman says, “because ingredients don’t necessarily have to be perfect to be beneficial for your skin. They can call us and say, ‘Well, we’ve got a bunch of strawberries but they’re a little over,’ so it’s a great way for them to still earn money on crops.” Hausman also plans ahead for seasonal changes. “I created a rotating menu featuring three to four ‘flavors’ per season”—making use of berries in the spring and coffee in the winter, for instance—”but there’s still an element of surprise,” she says, referring to the frequent phone calls she receives announcing the availability of, say, tons of calendulas. “It’s all easy for us to customize, and it gives regular clients a sense that we have a ‘secret’ menu.”
Final verdict: Plenty of guests come to Vermont seeking an “authentic and memorable” spa journey, and as Hausman notes, “it doesn’t get any more unique than being able to sit down with a therapist and craft your own treatment from a bowl of strawberries, some goat yogurt and oils.” Client response, she says, “has been fantastic. And our bottom line is up since June, because this has been such a cost-effective operation.”
On the menu: The Basic (60 min./$95), Signature (85 min./$135) and Corrective (60 min./$140) facials are typically created with organic herbs and customized to each guest’s allergies and skin type. All clients receiving facials or body treatments also get complimentary foot soaks beforehand—which come in Soothing (lavender), Detoxifying (sea salt) or Stimulating (rosemary).
Recipes call for: Parsley, balm mint, basil, lemon, lemongrass, oregano, thyme, comfrey, marjoram, grapes, apples, naseberry and more. All are grown and picked right in the cottage spa’s backyard garden!
How they’re served: Prior to each facial treatment, guests are brought into the garden’s open-air lounge (weather permitting) for a consultation with the therapist to determine the best organic materials to be used. “For oily skin, we take a clay or zinc probiotic base mask and use a mortar and pestle to add, say, rosemary, a stimulant, and anti-inflammatory balm mint,” says Élegance’s owner and lead esthetician, Bernadette George. “For sensitive skin, we take a gel and zinc mask base and add calming chamomile, pore-shrinking cucumber or anti-irritant rosehip.” George adds that dry dermis benefits from the emollient comfrey and that sluggish skin gets a jolt from rejuvenating, antiseptic sage mixed with an açai cream base. Élegance however, is by no means a low-technology spa. “Our facial range includes oxygen treatments, microdermabrasion, ultrasound, medical spa–level services, peels and more,” George says. “We just use herbs to complement almost everything.”
Inspiration: After almost 30 years of being an esthetician, George was feeling the surge in demand for natural spa modalities. “Over the years, lots of clients had expressed interest in organic ingredients, and I enjoy gardening,” she says. So in 2005, George hired a local master gardener, Geri Miller, from Homegrown Edible Landscapes (homegrownediblelandscapes.com), who helps small businesses design and plant functional gardens, teaches maintenance, and even co-hosts gardening workshops. “She’s helped us make the [garden] dream happen,” George says.
Trade secrets: “If you love to garden, this is a wonderful way to offer your clients beauty and results,” George says. Élegance also uses veggies and herbs in spa water—lemon with cucumber; mint with strawberry—and scents treatment rooms with garden goods. “Our signature fragrance is a blend of homegrown orange and lavender,” George says. The one drawback? “It’s difficult to maintain production in the winter!”
Final verdict: The Élegance herbal treatment protocols hold appeal even for clients who aren’t diehard organic loyalists. “Our guests love that they can get a medical correction with their indigenous treatment,” George says. And the complimentary foot soaks have been so successful that George recently added a manicure cottage to the garden where guests can receive services and soak their hands in warm herbal waters. “We use completely organic nail products,” George says, “and guests love the private garden setting.”