Cortney Herrera is the artisan distiller and founder of the holistic skincare company Wildcare, located in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve been crushing hard on Cortney’s creations, like her expertly distilled hydrosols and face masks full of the most unique, glow-promoting ingredients, and we’re so excited to share this wisdom-packed interview.
— Is routine important to you or do you like things to be more open and free?
Structure of certain things like eating & sleeping times has always made me feel the most supported. I am a triple virgo so by nature I crave a solid routine around the everyday basics. With that said, it’s freeing to just rehash it all and recreate a functional flow if I feel like I’m too caught up in our pattern. Now that I have a baby (he’s 1!) as much as I want things to be regimented for us all to thrive, it’s necessary to play with flexibility for the unexpected too, so I’ve shifted a bit more towards that direction.
— What do your mornings look like? If they differ from day to day, describe your ideal morning.
We sleep with our curtains open so that each morning we wake up to natural light. We just moved back to Oregon from sunny CA, so this is especially crucial for me here in the Pacific Northwest to feel more stable during the darker winter months. Our baby almost always wakes us up around 7am and usually starts babbling, so we’ll take him out of his crib and have a little cuddle time. If he’s not out on a job, my husband Alex will get him ready for the day and then I’ll make us a morning beverage (usually tea with mushroom powder and coconut manna, and honey) and either one of us will cook a simple breakfast for the family (tortilla with an egg, handful of parsley or cilantro and a fermented veggie). We both work from home so we each hop on our computers shortly after while switching off with who is playing with baby Oso. One thing I am firm on is giving myself a facial massage for 5-10 minutes after I wash up. My skin loves it, but more importantly it’s a nice form of meditation to have that little moment of space to zen out a bit.
— Do you have any bedtime rituals that help you sleep well?
I opt for a magnesium bath, face mask (I like our creamy Soft Focus Mask at night), sometimes a chocolate and always a cup of tea – lately it’s a blend of lemon balm, chamomile, oatstraw and raspberry leaf. If time gets the best of me, I’ll have a mug of hot water with magnesium powder to relax before bed. I’m also really big on lists (virgo) so I usually write a new one before bed every night for all different things like shopping lists, distillation lists, who I need to email back more urgently, recipes I want to make…. everything that’s been floating around in my mind that day so I’m more freed up before bed. I watch a little Netflix and laugh, and then get in bed around 11. I like the Headspace app as a guided 5-10 minute meditation to center my breathing when I lay down.
— Do you have any kind of mindfulness practice?
Outdoor explorations! We aim to weave one day trip into each week, usually within an hour of home, and drive to a mountain, forest, or river to breathe clean air & explore without much of a plan or direction in mind. Having this free-flowing space contrary to our routines during the week creates lots of room for spontaneity…and sometimes we hit a dead-end, but that’s all part of the fun of experimenting and not having a plan! Balance is key. If we don’t have time to physically drive to a big open landscape that weekend because of work, we’ll take walks in the neighborhood or a smaller visit to a nearby park (there are parks everywhere in Portland!). I like to be present and check in with myself as I move…how does the sun or mist feel on my skin, what scents are in the air, what does this leaf feel like in my hand…. All of these little check-ins help me feel more grounded and connected.
— Do you do caffeine and in what form? If not, what is your drink of choice in the morning?
I stopped drinking coffee and caffeinated tea about 8 or so years ago to curb my anxiety – it’s helped tremendously! My favorite go-to drinks for energy & focus are roasted dandelion tea, fresh juice we make at home (the greener, the better), or chocolate milk with walnut milk and raw cacao! For the most part good quality chocolate has always mellowed me out actually – I think it’s the magnesium.
— Do you have a sweet tooth and do you take any measures to keep it in check?
I like to opt for something that will satisfy a sweet tooth without the crash or sugar spike like incorporating dates, honey or maple with healthy fats that sustain my energy. Lately I’ve been making these very simple almond butter cookies. The recipe is: 1 cup almond butter (any nut butter will do!), 1 egg, ½ Tbs of virgin coconut oil, a couple spoons of coconut sugar, a pinch of himalayan salt and any spices that appeal (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean etc). Roll into balls, smoosh with a fork and bake for 10 minutes!
— Are there any particular supplements, herbs, or tinctures/tonics that you take regularly and find to be helpful with your energy level and general wellness?
My sister Ash (Black Sage Botanicals) makes delicious oxymels – vinegar based tinctures with infused organic and foraged herbs and honey. I’m in love with her Tulsi Oxymel made with rose and pomegranate vinegar. It feels heart-opening and nurturing! I’m pretty regimented on taking Vitamin D, a DHA fish oil, and iron with nettles along with various flower essences dependent on what my emotional state is calling for. Water is the main tool for me I need to remember, all day every day!!!!!
— Do you exercise and do you have a particular exercise routine that you repeat weekly?
I aim to get out at least a couple times a week on an adventure and walk, usually finding a new forest to explore here in the northwest. It’s been the single best thing for me in releasing any anxiety or stress from the week. I also am just getting back into yoga, focusing on the balance between movement + stillness.
— What is your idea of beauty – external, internal or both?
I see beauty in nourishing and embracing every facet of our unique selves so much that the joy and loving energy we hold for our own bodies and spirit inherently radiates to those around us. I think when we allow ourselves to really connect with others, be vulnerable, be authentic, be blissful, be curious, beauty is an energy that’s more magnetic than visually stimulating. I find a lot of rocks beautiful because I take time to notice their expressive nature.
— What is your skincare approach – face and body?
My approach is all about balance supported by nature and ancient rituals. Cold-pressed oils, raw honey, herb infusions, powdered herbs….focusing on the balance between humans and the natural world – how we care for botanicals and how they may care for us. I like to look at skincare the same way I look at the food I eat; when I feel happy about the ingredients I apply on my skin, my skin feels happy too. It’s all about respecting and caring for ingredients so we create more harmony as we utilize them. My favorite tools are oil + water, in the form of our face oil and hydrosols. It may sound counterintuitive for those two to go hand in hand yet it’s what our skin is essentially made of and vital for nourished skin + optimal function. After cleansing, I’ll mist a hydrosol (during winter I choose Empress Cypress or Rosemary Bay) and follow with SunRoot Solar Serum. I’ll take about 5-10 minutes for a facial massage and then follow with another generous mist of Hydrosol. My skin glows!!
— Are there any foods, herbs or supplements you find to be helpful to your skin/hair/general glow?
Water mainly. Eating lots of healthy fats like coconut oil/manna, ghee, avocado. The fish oil and vitamin d every day along with eating a lot of fermented foods and drinking the roasted dandelion tea I mentioned earlier (hormone balancing = skin balancing). The more we can do to support the gut and liver especially, the happier our skin is! I love incorporating raw honey and bee pollen in my rituals. Our Bee Rosy Mask actually has ground bee pollen in it and makes my skin feel like a spring flower. As for my hair, I like to use our skin soother Rosemary Bay Hydrosol to keep my scalp healthy.
— Do you practice any consistent routines in order to avoid stress?
As a mama & business owner, there is always stress – good stress and real earth-shaking stress. The beauty/wellness business is pretty idealized – it’s HARD work and creating boundaries to minimize stress and prioritize your own personal wellness can be easily misplaced. Some things that usually help me release are talking it out with my sisters, breathing deep with a tall glass of water, embracing quietness, saying no when I need to, saying yes when I want to, putting my hands in dirt to work in the garden, and going on a walk. The past year I also started writing more regularly. Oddly enough a lot of it started flowing on my instagram which has led me to a beautiful community of friends that I’ll message with on and off. On some more wild days, my husband and I will just run to the living room, turn up the music and just go crazy dancing for 10 minutes and then go back to work. This often helps the most with little stressors, especially seeing baby Oso laughing at us.
— What measures do you take when you sense a cold/general feeling of being under the weather coming on?
I make elderberry syrup every winter and take a spoon everyday when I’m run down. Magnesium baths, herbal steams, foot soaks, rest, water, raw honey, and garlic.
— Describe the actions you take or mindset you try to tap into in order to stay on track with your self-care practice and being nice to yourself?
Something that always helps me is doing something for myself first thing in the morning, so I don’t end up too busy and putting it off later. That usually takes shape as a face massage. At the end of the day when I’m laying in bed, I almost always do a self-check in and think of one nice thing I did for myself that day. If I forgot to physically do something, I’ll say a few affirmations to myself. I’m also quite excited to be starting therapy again and EMDR this month. I honestly am really eager to get back into it and work through some heavy triggers and blockages. I think that’s one of the nicest things I could do for myself right now.
— What do you consider to be the single most important change you’ve made to your routine or lifestyle in terms of wellness?
Allowing myself space to slow down & connect. Wildcare has been buzzing since conception. We were featured in Vogue the first month we opened, and from there it just became an everyday hustle to stay caught up – a challenge I’m incredibly grateful for. Last year I had my first baby, and he arrived to our surprise 2 months early via an emergency cesarean. He remained in the NICU for a month while my husband and I went home as baby and I each had to separately heal. I felt broken, and at first, I jumped right back into work as soon as I had more movement to distract from much of the emotional pain I had experienced. A few months later when he was home, business was great but there was this moment I knew I needed to stop everything, reflect and be present with what I was feeling and with our baby. I closed the shop for a few weeks, and decided to stop taking on new retail partners for pretty much the remainder of 2018. Being transparent and open with those around me – even our customers about what I was going through, has been the biggest change I’ve made. Slowing down, bridging that connection of my voice + products, being present and prioritizing the same amount of care for myself that I give others has allowed me to feel more honest with myself. Still a huge work in progress yet this practice continues to reveal a community of supporters that wouldn’t have been there unless I was vulnerable.
— How do you deal with periods characterized by a lack of inspiration or procrastination?
I feel like inspiration finds me within the energy of the landscapes I’m immersed in. Right now it’s walking on the soft mossy forest floor in Oregon, hypnotized by rushing rivers and gazing up at towering Fir trees and dancing leaves. I really trust in the natural relationship of quiet down time vs the times I’m energized with new ideas, and think it’s important to allow things to reveal themselves naturally as a connection is made. These visuals, scent memories, and feelings from nature always wind their way into my dreams even years later and lead me to formulas and product names so it’s best for me to just to go with the flow.
— What was your path to becoming a distiller and starting Wildcare?
My sisters and I grew up strongly influenced with our mom’s skin care rituals who worked as a makeup artist for film & tv, amongst other things. As kids, we would concoct foot soaks using pine needles and flowers we would collect on afternoon walks, and hair masks with eggs and mayonnaise! These DIY projects have always stayed with me. My formal schooling was both in Culinary and Herbal disciplines – a foundation that propelled my special focus on care – internal & external. There was an afternoon in particular where I had focused all my energy on exploring a better remedy to comfort my eczema flare-ups. When I noticed all the Rosemary that was growing in our yard near a little Bay tree I intuitively crafted my first Wildcare product, “The Skin Soother” Rosemary + Bay Hydrosol using a makeshift distillation system out of kitchen pots & pans. I remember I actually cried at the moment I saw the first hydrosol emerge…I really felt lucky to be in the presence of such an ancient form of alchemy. After obsessively spraying this camphorous green-smelling mist for a few weeks & seeing my skin’s improved health, this artful practice of distilling was something I fully got behind. I spent a year doing playful and careful experimentations, making hydrosols for family and friends. There was one night I even dreamt about filling a table full of tiny amber bottles with aromatic liquid and then a month or so later, I sprung up from a dream and shouted “Wildcare!” to my husband. Wildcare was born shortly after that in the end of 2015.
— At Wildcare, you make your own hydrosols and advocate their healing properties. Can you tell us a little bit about what they are and why they are so effective?
Hydrosols are the subtly aromatic waters from distilled plant material. A copper still is placed over fire, holding spring water (we hand-collect from a local Oregon spring!) & fresh plant material. Inside the still, steam rises & passes through the plant in the form of vapor, carrying vital nutrients, plant acids & suspended particles of the plant’s essential oils. As the vapor cools, it condenses back into a liquid state and emerges in the form of aromatic water (now a Hydrosol) along with its essential oil counterpart. Our distillations have about an 8 hour duration depending on the plant utilized, a very slow & thoughtful process that requires a focused presence from the distiller. The majority of the essential oil will rise to the top, leaving the Hydrosol with about 0.1% micro-particles of essential oil, making it a very gentle mist without the same safety concerns that essential oils carry. When you purchase a pure Hydrosol, note that it will read as 100% distillate or floral water – without the addition of other ingredients or essential oils. More on the distillation process here.
— What are some of your best-sellers?
100% SunRoot Solar Serum, but more on that below! Our best selling Hydrosols of the season have been the skin soother Rosemary Bay, awakening Palo Santo, and Empress Cypress (a personal favorite!). From our face and body line, Soft Focus Mask has been flying off the shelves. It’s a gentle and creamy clay based mask with brightening pearl powder, soothing organic coconut milk, and pineapple extract to even out lackluster skin.
Fun and Inspiration
— What is something you are particularly excited about at the moment?
SunRoot Solar Serum is a product I’ve worked on for 2+ years and was just released! After working so long on this formula, it’s been the most rewarding experience to see so many glowing reviews pour in. I’m overwhelmed in the best possible way. It features a 4-week infusion of organic artichoke leaf in this incredibly beautiful Jojoba oil that I’m sourcing directly from a farmer here in the US. He is self-taught and does all his cold-pressing by hand! Artichoke leaf is a powerhouse in healing sun damage, scarring and repairing tissue. It’s combined with warming turmeric root, and juicy fruit oils like Sea buckthorn, Rose hip and Raspberry Seed. To extend even more beauty and peace of mind, it’s a 90+% certified organic formula!
I am also in the middle of a complete rebrand, designed by artist Morgan Ritter (my younger sister!), with SunRoot as the first look of Wildcare’s new visual identity. The bottles are entirely covered with my actual tiny handwriting that’s been screen-printed, echoing my commitment to being a maker – literally being a conduit, like water. It’s a bold gesture to avoid a standardized typeface and is unlike what is commonly seen in the market, as we intend for this design to be a personal, embodied approach to commerce.
— What do you do to unwind or treat yourself?
It’s been a challenge as a nurturer however I’ve been practicing treating myself more, creating stronger boundaries around my own personal time so that I can give more too. My affirmations since going through what I did last year have been “The nurturer deserves to be nourished. I am deserving of nourishment. I am deserving of my own care”. Simple pleasures like tinkering around in the kitchen and baking something experimental, even a chiropractic care visit from my favorite Luna Wellness practitioner, Megan makes me feel extra supported. Every so often I’ve been treating myself to a facial from any one of a few dear friends here in Portland too. Allowing myself this space has been crucial to be able to lovingly care for child and have peace of mind.
— Standout book/song/movie/piece of art:
Book – Aromatic Medicine by Patrice de Bonneval & Cathy Skipper
Song/Album –Papa Celestin ragtime music, bought it at Mississippi Records :-)
Movie – Stargate (I just saw Hackers for the 1st time and that was cool, ha ha ha)
Piece of Art – “STOOL WITH WHEELS (ALL THE WORLD’S PAIN, YET THERE ARE MOVEMENTS)” by Morgan Ritter from her show The Cat House Settlements
— Is there anyone you would like to hear from next in this interview series?
Dena Nakhle Birch – She is my friend/angel/naturopathic doctor based out of Santa Barbara, CA. A brilliant healer with one of the biggest hearts I know. Erica Chidi Cohen – her friendship and book Nurture was incredibly supportive to me after my birthing experience. Neva Osterloh – the sweetest woman offering loving forms of care through her Portland skincare studio.