I recently had an interview with Laarni Gedo of Farm Link Hawai'i, as part of a feature to welcome Indigo Elixirs onto their platform. Farm Link is an online marketplace where O'ahu residents can buy local produce directly from Hawaii's farmers. You can see the featured blog post here and read the full original interview with me ~ Deanna Rose, the founder of IE ~ below.
How did Indigo Elixirs start?
The first iteration of Indigo Elixirs started when I was in college. I had spent a few years experimenting with natural body care in an effort to find healthy products that actually worked for my exceptionally thick Armenian hair and perpetually dry skin. By my senior year in 2009, I had developed a small line that I began selling locally in Massachusetts. In an effort to better understand the plants I was working with and their healing properties, I dove headfirst into learning herbalism. My herbal studies brought me to O'ahu in 2012, and I slowly began reimagining my entire line, one product at a time, from whatever local ingredients I could find. I've spent the past decade exploring the art and science of plant medicine, and I infuse everything I've learned into all that I create.
What is IE?
Indigo Elixirs is a botanical apothecary in Mānoa Valley. Our line of body care is constantly evolving, but always includes a wide array of herbal Topical Medicinal products to soothe everyday ailments, nourishing oils & butters to hydrate the skin and hair, and nutritive face potions & plant makeup to enhance your natural glow. We work only with healing botanicals that are actively beneficial for your entire being, and source from farmers across the Hawaiian islands for the most potent & fresh ingredients available. Elixirs are handcrafted with traditional techniques, and served in sustainable minimalist packaging. Our vision is to infuse the magic of plants into your daily rituals with offerings that support the wellbeing of your body and the planet.
What inspires you?
I am always inspired by the botanicals around me, especially Hawai'i grown ingredients that are abundant and underutilized, are a byproduct of another local industry, or are only available seasonally. I honestly love the challenge and excitement of figuring out how to incorporate a unique ingredient into a product that people can enjoy, especially when it connects them to flora they might otherwise never interact with and provides another revenue stream for local growers.
Describe your relationship with botanicals.
I have always been in awe of plants. I think of them as creatures that move in a different timescale and have their own unique form of consciousness. I believe that our earlier ancestors were naturally much more in tune with their senses, and were able to use these abilities to gravitate towards the plants they needed. As an herbalist, my lifelong goal is to develop that intuitive and physiological skill set ~ particularly my sense of smell. I never had a keen sense of smell until I started working with plants, and now I can decipher so much about even an unfamiliar plant by its scent. The aroma can unlock clues about a botanical's constituents, who it's related to, and how it will affect our body. Humans evolved with plants, and they can have a profound effect on us: understanding and having reverence for their power is crucial in the practice of herbalism.
Plants are natural extensions of the earth, and deserve to be treated with respect. A large part of my work is ensuring that I'm doing all I can to protect the delicate flora around us, and selecting with the utmost care where I get my botanicals from. For this reason I do not wildcraft, and instead source ingredients from local farmers across the islands and from my own garden.
Describe your process, from inception of a product to packaging it.
Formulations come to me in many ways: sometimes inspired by a local ingredient I've just come across or sometimes as the idea for a finished product (and every so often, in a dream). If I see a new ingredient that I really want to work with, I'll let my mind explore all the possibilities of what I can make out of it. If I have a specific product I want to create, I'll brainstorm what local ingredients I have access to that can bring it into being. Then I'll start making micro test batches, to achieve the ideal texture and aroma. I try out all of my experimental batches to determine the best formulation, and do a lot of math to transform the micro batch into a macro one.
A lot of my products involve creating an infused oil, where the properties and aromas of herbs are imparted into a cold-pressed oil that can be applied to the skin. Over the past decade I've developed a special process to infuse fresh plants into oil, which in my experience makes the finished product exceptionally vibrant and potent. Salves are made by combining the oil infusion with melted local beeswax, and then pouring into tins. I've always chosen to work with minimalist packaging ~ including recyclable tins, glass, and compostable tubes ~ to create the least possible waste. All of our labels and branding materials are printed on recycled paper.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
My favorite part of the process is designing a formulation. I love researching and brainstorming and experimenting. It's wonderful to see an idea come to life in the very first batch, to adorn the label and hold a finished product in my hands. The transition from a page in my journal into an elixir that someone can enjoy every day is a very special one for me.
What does Mānoa mean to you?
Mānoa to me is the aroma of Jasmine and Puakinikini and Champaka that drifts and lingers in the air after sunset. It's the scent of musky, damp earth that rises up from the ground after a heavy rain. It's a blissful mix of the sun shining through a downpour and thick, low clouds rolling over the mountain peaks. I've spent nine years living in this valley, and it never ceases to leave me swooning. I love the vibrant lushness and the way the neighboring ridges curve so that it feels like I'm being embraced by a giant hug every time I return home.
Describe your newest space. How does it make you feel?
My current space is tucked away in the back of Mānoa Valley, in a small house built by my partner. We were able to design my apothecary together, and it came together beautifully. I have a long gorgeous counter and shelves up to the ceiling, next to an enormous window overlooking the valley that we found at Re-Use.
I spend a lot of time in this space, and it serves to both energize and calm me. We also have a wonderful little garden, and I love being able to seamlessly shift between working outside with plants and brewing up botanical elixirs in the apothecary.
What was your first ever space like and how has the business grown from it?
My first ever space was technically my parent's kitchen, followed by the kitchens of houses I lived in throughout my twenties (including a houseboat). Up until moving into my current space in 2019, I spent four years living in a magical little cottage down the street. It was an old artist's studio with beautiful antique glass windows, surrounded by wild Ginger and next to the Mānoa stream. I brewed every elixir on a four-foot metal work table and a plug in burner; it was logistically challenging, to say the least. But the space was infused with such a serene, lush magic that it was easy to create there.
How have you grown?
After finishing my graduate program for Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2017, I was able to finally immerse myself full time in Indigo Elixirs and the business has blossomed so much since then. We are now a team of three and I am so grateful to work with passionate, talented women who put just as much energy and intention into IE as I do. I've been able to focus more on formulation, and it's been such a gift to step more into my niche of crafting seasonal, limited and truly fresh body care.
Over the years, sourcing locally has gotten exceptionally easier. I am constantly finding new ingredients to work with, and this is one of the many reasons I have been a huge fan of Farm Link from the beginning! From my perspective, it feels like more people are growing more plants and there is more connection around it within the community here. Having reliable suppliers has allowed us to brew up larger batches with consistency and to expand our offerings.
What’s your favorite product so far? What is a must have in your bag?
I never go anywhere without the Solve All Salve ~ I keep one in my wallet and in a few spots in our house. It honestly works wonders for any little spots of dry, itchy, or irritated skin, helps heal cuts & scrapes, and I even use it to keep my nose from drying out in arid air. The formula consists of all O'ahu grown herbs, local Macadamia oil and island Beeswax. The nourishing base soothes the skin while the infused botanicals calm and repair. I've gotten so many wonderful reviews on this product over the years that my friends joke it's 'salving the world's problems' – at least, when it comes to minor skin issues ;)
What are you most excited about right now?
I am really enjoying evolving my business into a seasonal apothecary. I've been creating more space for developing limited batch products that are exceptionally fresh and incorporate lots of unique and rare ingredients. I personally love Farm Link for this reason ~ I am constantly on there browsing to see what local farmers are growing, and any time I find something I can work with it immediately fuels my creative fire. I love coming up with new recipes, and being able to work with such a diverse palette of ingredients allows me to brew up an ever-evolving line of products.