Dreaming of hydrosols

I’ve dreamt for years of setting up a witchy little corner of our farm; a place to bring home baskets of foraged or grown wild and tame herbs and distill them into magical, fragrant hydrosols.

But the dream always felt so far beyond my skill set, my knowledge, or my comfort zone. There was so much to learn! And other things on my to-do list.

After wild rose season came and went a few years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking of the delight I would feel in distilling foraged roses into a hydrating, rose-infused hydrosol. First just for our family and friends, but eventually for LüSa Organics.

So I plucked up my courage a couple of years back and purchased a handmade Portuguese still, the gold-standard (or copper, if you will), of small-scale distillation.


My still arrived after rose season had ended, and last year I was traveling when the roses were in bloom. Two seasons I had missed since my rose hydrosol dreams began! This winter I decided that when the snow melted and spring began to unfurl, I would set down my books, and set up my still. It was time to learn how to use it, at last.

With this in mind, I spent Sunday out in the orchard doing a still cleaning and set-up run of my beautiful still. Not distilling plants this time, but preparing my equipment (and learning the basics) of how to distill herbs when their seasons come. A practice run, if you will, using rye flour.


Like distilling hydrosols, the still set-up run is an all-day affair.

After washing the still and setting up the necessary equipment, the still body is filled with a measured mixture of organic rye flour and freshly drawn water.

I was lucky enough to have a helper who was as captivated as I with the setup process. (“This feels so witchy, mama!” she said, stirring the pot with a large wooden spoon, under a watchful feline gaze). And it was. In all the right ways.


After the rye is stirred, the still is tightly closed, and all seams are sealed with hand-formed coils of rye flour dough. These snakes of dough are packed into spaces where steam may otherwise escape during distillation.

Why rye flour? Rye is traditional, and it’s zero-waste. Teflon plumbing tape is a modern alternative, but I love the idea of my distillation process being as low-waste as possible and scraping off and composting the rye seals after every use feels leagues better than stripping off the plastic tape and throwing it in the trash.

It’s a matter of personal preference, of course.

Yes, Teflon tape is quicker and easier to set up, but the rubbish it generates will be on the planet forever. but the less trash I can generate with this process, the better, I say. So traditional rye flour it is.


The fire is then lit under the still (I use propane, since wood fire is difficult to regulate and makes a mess of the still), and the waiting begins! Eventually, the mash simmers, and as it does, the steam rises up the column and down the curving copper coil, where it is condensed back into a liquid (and is cooled through the spiraling condenser coil) before dribbling into a collection jar.


Since this was simply a cleaning run, there was no need to set up a sterilized catchment system, but future batches will require a sterilized, sealed catchment jar for capturing the resulting hydrosol.

The process was involved and complex, but deeply satisfying.

It was the first thing I thought about at waking this morning, and as I glanced over our valley my eyes scanned the hillside for plants I might distill.


Nettle leaf hydrosol for scalp and hair? Violet for moisturized skin? Chickweed and plantain for our first aid kit? There are so many options, and I can hardly wait to begin. It won’t be long before lemon balm, mint, and other herbs are up and ready for distillation as well.

And finally, come June, it will be rose season.

I can hardly wait!

Do you use hydrosols for face or skin care or general wellness? What are your favorite hydrosol plants? 


Love Bomb (for frontline workers)


Do you know someone on the front lines during the COVID crisis? Healthcare workers, grocery staff, delivery people, childcare providers, and other workers are truly the heroes and sheroes of the day.

I created the Love Bomb just for them.

A carefully curated collection of LüSa products for this profoundly stressful time, it’s a thoughtful way to say thanks to someone working hard to take care of the rest of us.

The Love Bomb includes one each of the following:

Be among the first 50 customers to order, we’ll include a large, organic lavender sachet, while supplies last. (As shown in the second photograph.)

Don’t forget the gift message for your (s)hero!

Gifting your Love Bomb to a front line hero? Use *coupon code “LOVEBOMBGIFT” for free US shipping on any gift order that includes a Love Bomb. Contact us for reduced shipping for international orders. (Feel free to add additional items as well, that will be shipped to the same address. A few suggestions are below.) *This is a proper coupon code, and belongs in the coupon field during checkout.

As a courtesy, we ask you to reserve use of this coupon for gift orders only, please. Thank you!

We’re essential


Here in Wisconsin, Govern Evers issued a “Safer at Home” order earlier this week, closing all non-essential businesses. However, as providers of cleansing products and personal care items, LüSa will remain open, making and shipping products to all who need them.

We’re breathing a big sigh of relief to know that we can continue delivering essentials like soaps and balms to local coops, natural food stores, and your homes.

Our staff, of course, is taking every precaution to stay healthy, and they have the option to pull the plug and stay home if coming in begins to feel like too much. We’ve established new sick leave benefits specifically for COVID-19, because we love our team like crazy and want them to be well (in body and in spirit). And members of our team who can work from home have already been doing so for 2 weeks now, leaving a team of just 1 to 2 people on-site at one time, to make product and pack and ship orders.

All this to say, great news: the soap making will continue. It certainly feels like more important work now than ever before.

Stay well, friends. This is a rocky road indeed, but we’re traveling it together.

Be well,

Rachel + Team LüSa

It’s time to talk about Essential Oils

As many of you know, each year LüSa Organics embarks upon a sustainability initiative to bring our brand closer to the environmental ethics we hold most dear. Two years ago we cut the cord on palm oil, while last year we curbed our use of plastic by 90-plus percent. This year, we’re taking a closer look at essential oils (EOs) and sustainability.


When I started LüSa Organics (then “Queen Bee Soaps and Baby Moon”) back in 2002, I was already smitten by essential oils.

I had been making body care since 1996, and EOs were already my go-to. They came highly recommended as a safe skin care choice, had a long history of effective use, and some highly rated benefits (be them physical, mental, or emotional).

They were also a natural way to create amazing scent profiles in our soaps and balms without resorting to synthetic chemicals.

In short: I loved them.

I was new to herbs back then as well. And though I dabbled in a few herbal infusions, I didn’t know much about working with whole plants. So EOs were a wonderful source of plant magic (if you will), not readily accessible to me in other forms.

But with time, we evolve and grow.


I began studying herbs. Bit by bit, I learned more about working with whole fresh and dried plants, and I began creating herb-infused base oils as the foundation for many of my products.

And just like that EOs didn’t seem quite so magical as before.

Because in my experiments and experience, an essential oil-based product could rarely hold a candle to a whole herb infusions, except in the scent department. Sure, there were exceptions, but formulas I once created using lavender essential oil or peppermint were leagues more effective when created with a calendula or chickweed infusion (alone, or in conjunction with EOs).

And while essential oils still had their place at the table, I felt myself gradually inching away from them and toward the wholesome embrace of whole, organic herbs.


Roots and leaves and flowers infused in raw, organic oils bring so much to a product, that once I began exploring this potential there was no looking back.

When I explain the difference to my students, I tell them this: that EOs are a wonderful tool, but they’re not everything. And to me (in some applications) they feel more heavily processed and less nourishing than an herbal preparation.

Put simply, herbal infusions feel whole.

And so products that I had been making for a decade or more with only essential oils were reborn, laced with long-infused herbal goodness.


And everything felt different.

Instead of simply being a lavender-scented moisture balm and stretch-cream, Belly Balm became something more when infused with calendula, rose hips, marshmallow, and lavender.

Da Balm, infused with nine powerful plants, was added to our line (and our family’s grab-and-go first aid kit as well). Booby Balm arrived on the scene to great enthusiasm by nursing parents–an unscented, nursling-safe nipple balm for those early days of breastfeeding.

And these new products either didn’t need EOs at all, or just needed a few drops, to brighten up what the herbs were already bringing to the table.


“But EOs are amazing!” you say. “They’re nearly magical!”

I hear you. I do! Even today I love and appreciate all that EOs offer. But I now also see the drawbacks of essential oils alongside the benefits.

I haven’t broken up with EOs, if you will, and I will continue to use them in much of the LüSa product line. But essential oils and I have grown apart a bit, from how smitten I was with them earlier in my life and career.

Because there is much more to herbal magic than potent, concentrated essential oils. So much more. And while I don’t foresee a day when there aren’t EOs in my home or business, they just aren’t at the forefront anymore.

And so we’re making a few changes here at LüSa Organics as to how (and what) EOs we use. Those changes (and why it’s important to us) are outlined below.


What’s the issue?

Here are a few of the reasons we’re reevaluating our relationship with and usage of EOs, as well as some exciting changes we’re making to address these concerns.

1. Essential oils are resource-intensive.

Essential oils take a lot of resources to make. For example, it takes a whopping 2 lbs of fresh lavender to create a .33 oz bottle of lavender essential oil. That’s a lot of plant matter for a bottle of EOs! Some other oils take far, far more than that (it takes some 40,000 roses, for example, to make 1 oz of rose otto essential oil).

This raises some sustainability concerns for me, simply due to the amount of land we’re devoting to these crops, as well as pesticide use for non-organics.

And the more we move toward zero-waste in our lives and in our business, the more I want to face the fact that using a massive amount of EOs in our products contributes to resource waste.


2. Overuse of EOs can be unsafe.

We live in a day and age when EOs are everywhere! You can buy essential oils from your friends, at the coop, even the pharmacy or grocery store. Because EOs have become so common, their misuse has become more commonplace as well. It’s not unusual for folks to apply essential oils neat (undiluted on their skin), while some even consume them on occasion (both of these are applications that most aromatherapists agree are unsafe).

As more and more people experiment with using essential oils at home, and the more EOs we use in our products, the more concerns are bubbling up that many of us are getting too much of a good thing.

And while we love our EO-scented products, we think that we can make some improvements with how we approach product-scenting (more on this below).


3. Some essential oils are extracted from rare or endangered plants.

Some essential oils are simply unsustainable–and unethical–to continue to use. Here at LüSa, we researched the 70 essential oils we currently have on the shelf, and two of them are rare or threatened, due to unsustainable harvest techniques or poaching.

Those oils are Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansiand Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

What can we do about it?

Just like palm oil in 2018 and plastic use in 2019, we can look at our own status quo and move in a fresh direction. Change can be hard, but it leads us to better, more sustainable places time and again.

All this to say: we can change the way we choose to do things.

It won’t be easy, but we’re certain that it’s worth it.

How we’ll go about it is outlined below.


Essential Oil Sustainability Plan

Here are the actions we are taking to bring our essential oil use in line with our sustainability goals in the coming year.

1. Phase out all rare essential oils

We’re starting in the simplest place: with the two oils on the list above. Just as we would not purchase an endangered animal, we will not purchase a rare or threatened plant oil simply to make something smell nice. While in some cases the therapeutic uses of these oils may be justified–I have a friend who is using frankincense oil as a part of her cancer treatment, for example–recreational/pleasure-only use feels inappropriate.

Spikenard is an oil we began working with more than a decade ago, but one we never got deeply involved with. We add it in small amounts to Sweet Soul Sister Soap as a scent anchor. In a small and easy swap out, we’ll replace this oil with a more sustainable one. Expect a subtle, negligible shift in the scent balance of this soap in the coming year.


The second oil we’re phasing out is Frankincense. This one I’m certain that many of you will miss. We add small quantities of it to a few products for its therapeutic value, while it plays center stage in our Frankincense & Goat Milk Soap. Needless to say, we’ll have to retire this soap scent from our regular product line-up in order to achieve our sustainability mission.

And while that is one of our favorite soaps ever, we just can’t with good conscience keep offering it on our website. We hope you understand and can support us as we make this big change! We will keep selling it for the time being (as we are well stocked with the oil) but expect to see it disappear in the coming three to six months.

What other products contain Frankincense? Only three, and we’ll simply reformulate these in the coming months. Expect a small, subtle shift in the scent of Muscle Magic Arnica Oil, Charcoal Facial Bar, and Eye Serum, after we replace it with an oil with similar properties from a more sustainable source.


2. Reduce EO use in many other products

In addition to phasing out these two threatened oils, we’re reevaluating our use of essential oils in our Pregnancy + Postpartum line, our Baby + Kids line, and our Everyday body care.

No, we won’t stop using EOs in our products! No way, no how.

We love good smells around us as much as you do. But we will be reducing the amount of essential oils in some of our products, in order to create a more subtle (but still aromatic and delightful) experience.

We’ve experimented with a few formulas already, and are smitten by the complex and subtle scents created with a higher dilution rate.


3. Offer more scent-free products

In the coming season, we will start offering more luxurious unscented products for hair, skin, belly, and baby.

Products like an unscented, herb-infused shampoo bar (which we’re making now, for a March release), EO-Free Baby Wipe Juice, and more delightful unscented soaps and balms–all coming later this year.

We hope you’ll join us in this embrace of the unscented side of LüSa by trying out some of these new products (as well as our existing unscented line) in the coming months.

4. Continue seeking sources for certified organic essential oils

EOs are among the only ingredients we regularly purchase non-organic. A large number of the 70 EOs we use are simply not available as a wholesale, organic oil. Others are, but at a price point that is exponentially higher than those we currently use, which would drive up the cost of each product significantly (approximately a $2 increase per tin of balm).

Since many of our essential oils are wildcrafted, they are by their very nature organic, but others are farmed.

We will continue to seek certified organic essential oils for our products, in hopes of finding stable sources for enough of our oils to transition our Pregnancy + Postpartum, and Baby + Kids lines to 100% organic in 2021. By reducing the amount of essential oils in each product (or removing them all together), we’ll be able to do this while keeping prices stable. (We’d love to hear from you if organic certification matters to you, or if all organic ingredients is enough.)


Growing up, my mom frequently told me two things:

“All things in moderation” and “The only thing constant is change.”

I think both of these gems of maternal wisdom apply here. Because we still love EOs, we’re just working on exercising some good, judicious moderation.

And that, of course, means it’s time for all of us to embrace a little change.

Thanks for standing by us while we make this shift. It means so much to have you here, cheering us along.


Rachel Jepson Wolf and the rest of the LüSa Organics Team


Have a thought to share? Comments are open on this post. We welcome your input. Truly.


LüSa Organics product and production photographs by our friends Ray + Kelly Photography. All other photographs by Rachel Jepson Wolf.


One small step: upgrade your moisturizer (sans-plastic)

Yes, indeed, friends. I am falling a bit behind. Because life and work and holidays and homeschooling are happening over here, and sometimes even a weekly blog post feels like a lot to keep up with.

Thank you for your patience, and for joining me on this journey to greater sustainability, one small step at a time. What say you instead of calling this a weekly challenge, we call it a bi-monthly to weekly challenge? Please and thank you for your understanding. Now let’s get on with it!

~ Rachel 


For challenge 7 in One Small Step, I want to get personal, and look at what you use to moisturize your skin. Most of us keep a big plastic pump or squeeze bottle of lotion in the house, plus a thick plastic pot (or two) of rich body cream in the bathroom or bedroom.

This week, I want to offer you a more sustainable alternative to lotions and creams: the humble and often overlooked lotion bar. (Yes, I’ll even share a DIY recipe later in the post!)

What are the benefits of lotion bars over lotions or creams? There are many!

Lotion Bar > Lotion

  • Lotion bars can be sold plastic-free: If you mindfully purchase or choose to DIY, lotion bars normally arrive without the disheartening plastic packaging. That’s an easy win in my book. LüSa Organics lotion bar tins are refillable, as, of course, are the bars you make at home.
  • Lotion bars are always water-free: When you purchase a lotion your bottle contains more than 50% water! That adds up to a higher carbon footprint, as the product is made, packaged, and shipped. A lotion bar, on the other hand, is water-free. This means they are lighter to ship, require no synthetic preservatives, and are super concentrated and long-lasting. And because cream and lotion are simply an emulsion of water and oil, you can create a similar experience with this water-free product by simply wetting your hands before application. Easy-peasy.
  • Lotion bars are preservative-free: Because there’s no water in a lotion bar, they lack a place for mold and bacteria to grow. That means no need for synthetic preservatives! A win for your skin (and for the earth).
  • Lotion bars are super concentrated: A tiny amount of lotion bar goes a very long way. That means you can buy or make one small tin, then use it for months. No need for filling your trash bin or recycling bag with lotion bottles week after week.


You can find our very own line of Lotion Bars (that we’ve been making since 1997) here, including my go-to, Unscented Calendula, or four essential oil-scented varieties from uplifting citrus to grounding patchouli, energizing peppermint to relaxing lavender.

Order one or more LüSa Lotion Bars (including our zero-waste refills) this week, and a note of “ONE SMALL STEP” to your order notes.  We’ll tuck a free sustainable gift in with your order (a scratch-and-dent, organic bar soap sample–palm oil-free, of course). 

Or DIY your own with the simple recipe I created for you. Find it below!


DIY Zero-Waste Lotion Bar Recipe + Tutorial

While I would be most delighted if you purchased Lotion Bars, that’s not in everyone’s budget or lifestyle. So a simple DIY lotion bar recipe follows if you’d like to try to make your own!

Worth noting: the way the lotion bar feels on your skin and how quickly it absorbs after application will vary widely with the types of oils and butters you choose. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below.

Also worth noting, some skin types find coconut oil to be quite drying (counterintuitive, I know), so I have not included it on the list that follows. If you make a lotion bar using coconut oil and do find it to be drying, try again with a more moisturizing oil. Conversely, if your lotion bar is quite oily, it could be on account of your oil choice (using straight olive oil, for example), which does not absorb as readily as other ingredients. Keep experimenting until you find a formula you love.


  • 1/4 cup liquid oil of your choice (we love jojoba oil, avocado oil, and sunflower oil best, but you could even try working with the olive oil from your kitchen)
  • 1/4 cup moisturizing butter of your choice (try shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter)
  • 1/4 cup grated beeswax


Step 1: Combine all ingredients in a double boiler. Gently warm over simmering water until just melted.

Step 2: Remove from heat, and stir to combine. Pour into an unlined, unoiled muffin tin or small heat-proof dish.

Step 3: Allow your lotion bar to cool overnight. Tip out of the muffin tin. If it won’t release, pop into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, then tip out. Store in an upcycled tin or other storage container.


Are you already a lotion bar convert? How do they compare to conventional lotions and creams in your experience?

You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts: