Still waters run deep
Laura Cartledge meets the Lewes lady who harnesses the planet’s power.
Pictures by Emma Lee and Susan Bell
Lewes’ Amanda Saurin works to a slightly different calendar from the rest of us.
“My season starts in April picking orange blossom, geraniums and pink pepper in Cyprus,” she reveals.
“And at this time of year every surface in the workshop is covered, it is just mad.”
While Amanda is the founder, plant grower and gatherer, distiller and maker at AS.Apothecary it is clear nature is still boss.
However over the past 30 years the two have found a great and inspiring balance through her work as a homeopath.
“Essentially I’ve been working with plants for, oh my gosh, more than 30 years,” she recalls. “I love them.”
And this passion really blossomed during Amanda’s time living in the Levant, in the eastern Mediterranean.
“I moved to Cyprus for seven years,” reveals Amanda, “and it was there I met a herbalist called Mariam who said to me ‘smell this’.”
It can’t be often that those two little words lead to such a big adventure, but when Mariam showed what could be done with orange blossom and a copper still Amanda instantly thought ‘crikey now we are in real trouble’.
“I got one made,” she smiles. “The first things I made were absolutely disgusting.
“It sounds so easy, you put the flowers in and heat them up and it comes out the other end. But it is so complex, what temperature, what pressure, when to put the flame out. It’s a conversation between the ingredients in the still.
“But once you have got to grips with it, you can do anything,” Amanda enthuses.
“You can make essential oils and waters and they are just gorgeous.
“I started making face creams and body butters, it has been incredibly good fun.”
The AS.Apothecary range is certainly testament to this, combining the ‘gorgeous’ with the good for you while celebrating the centuries long relationship between humans and this planet.
“I think it is incredibly important,” Amanda agrees, “we are at risk of losing our connection with the landscape.
“Too often we travel somewhere and don’t stop and look along the way – the journey is as important as the destination.
“We are so indoctrinated with the idea of everything has to be new and ‘have you heard about this product’,” she continues, “but chances are there will be something local available that is better.”
For Amanda, her practice, where she saw ‘loads of eczema, psoriasis and general skin problems’, led her to think ‘what is going on’ and ask ‘what do you put on your skin?’
“The problem with a lot of the mass produced is they take out the glycerine because it clogs the machines but that is the moisturising element,” she says. “I thought I can do better than this so I started making balms and soaps.”
The results spoke for themselves.
“I loved it, my patients loved it, I enjoyed growing the plants and macerating them in the oils,” she says – and Amanda seemingly hasn’t looked back since.
With her knowledge spanning three decades it is understandable that big companies abusing the current trend of consumer awareness makes Amanda ‘incredibly frustrated’.
“There is a lot of ‘green washing’ going on,” she sighs. “There is money to be made from ‘being ethical’ and people are trying to cash in, but it seems people don’t believe what they are being sold anymore, big claims can be disproved.”
All of her five children were ‘raised with herbs and homeopathy’ and now she wants to encourage other generations to embrace it too.
“It’s a very tame environment we keep our children in and I think that is a real shame. My children were wild things. Every summer I would cut the plug off the telly – granted by the age of ten my son had learnt how to rewire it,” Amanda laughs.
“It becomes harder and harder, we are chained to computers, but there are definitely people around who are saying ‘let’s do things in a human way’.
“We see it across the board from furniture makers to basket weavers and I am joyful about that.”
The benefits of Amanda’s approach, coupled with the ‘wonderful thing of it having been made by someone’s hand’, have been the foundations for the business and the reason it has stayed small.
“There is no job like it, I decide what I want to make and set the limit so I know the quality isn’t being compromised,” she insists.
“We plant the plants on an 80 acre organic farm 20 steps from my workshop, and we pick when they are ready. We think about everything we do very seriously,” adds Amanda.
“Having said that we dance a lot and all have an appreciation for eighties music and put on competitions to see who can sing the loudest. It is a joyful place to work and I think that transfers into the products.”
One of Amanda’s ranges has seen her collaborate with Glyndebourne Opera House.
“It has been fantastic, they give me freedom to roam through their rose garden which is dangerous as I have secateurs and a big basket,” she grins.
“In return I make lipbalms and soap for them. I don’t make soap for other people as it is a long process.”
The demand looks set to see the Glyndebourne product list grow in the near future, something Amanda is delighted with as it means more time spent at the gorgeous grounds.
“A few weeks ago I was there and in the background I could hear people warming up,” she enthuses. “No-one else was around and I was just there listening to this wonderful singing flying out of the windows.”
For more information on Amanda and the AS.Apothecary range, visit www.asapoth.com