Local Heroes

The Elderberry Facial at Aspira Spa

Aspira Spa at The Osthoff Resort in Lake Elkhart, Wisconsin

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.”