From Lambeth Palace to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Chelsea Flower Show, and many private gardens beyond these shores. We catch up with Jennifer Hirsch to find out what inspires her colourful life and work as a natural beauty botanist.
So, it’s Monday morning, how does your day begin?
In the most British of ways: with a cup of tea. I’m working on a range of wellbeing teas with a client at the moment, so ‘work’ begins with that very first cup. I was horrified to learn that on average, a tea bag has contact with water for half a minute. Really, to make the most of the ingredients, you should leave the bag in for three minutes. Having had the privilege to collaborate with gifted tea blenders, it seems sacrilege to do anything less!
Do you have a daily routine?
Work can take me all over the globe, but no matter where I wake up, I kick start the day with a series of stretches and a vigorous walk. Walking is a great way to get under the skin of a new place. And it means I don’t leave somewhere feeling like the only places I’ve seen are the airport, my hotel and a speaking or event venue.
At home, with four dogs eager for the off, I take advantage of the miles of ox droves, by ways and country lanes that pepper the Chalke Valley. I meditate in the evening to clear my head, but it’s on my morning walk that I set the world to rights and set out what I’m to achieve that day.
When I tell people I’m a botanist and I help brands find the right ingredients, they envision a Livingstone-esque existence under canvas and tromping through rainforests on the hunt for newness. Sadly, my existence is more humdrum than that. Although I do have the privilege of getting out into the field and visiting farmers and communities harvesting ingredients, most of my hunting is restricted to the stacks of The British Library, the Internet and my network of suppliers, traders and growers.
Thanks to modern technology, my office is any flat surface in our house. So as I trawl through research on pre-Mayan diet as documented in petrified poop or parse the cutting edge stem cell science in search of the right plant ingredients for a project, I move around following the sun or the breeze. If I have writing to do, I try to escape to a place where my phone and emails can’t find me, but otherwise I’m glued to my technology.
When I need a break, I’ll nip outside and do a quick spot of gardening. Work can be crazy, but the minute I touch a plant I can centre myself and find the calm needed to tackle the knottiest of problems. And it means I keep on top of the weeding, too.
Typical office hours elude me, which is fortunate as I collaborate with people in time zones across the globe from Japan and Oregon to St Lucia and Ecuador. I love the window my work gives me on other people’s worlds. But it does mean that work can overrun and creep into precious family time.
Health issues have made it really clear to me that wellbeing is more than just eating right and exercising: it’s a mind body and soul endeavor. In addition to meditation to help calm my busy brain, I ensure I compensate for my elastic work days with downtime at our lovely beach hut on the cliffs at Portland. There’s nothing like a sea breeze (or gale) to reinvigorate the senses.
What’s normally for lunch and where do you have it?
Lunch, both the menu and the venue, is literally a moveable feast depending on the season. The constants are fresh, local ingredients. And to be honest, omelets made from our chickens’ eggs, homemade soups and a collection of vegetables that could be loosely called salad are mainstays. In fine weather, lunch is an excuse to get out into the garden (yes, even in November and February). Otherwise it’s at the well worn kitchen table that belonged to my beloved aunt. More arguments, plans and problems have been sorted out there by four generations of family and it’s one of the few pieces I moved to England with me from America.
What’s the last thing you do before you leave the office?
Before I close up shop for the night, I write out a to do list for the next day and review the diary. No matter where I am, I always have paper and pencil. As the saying goes preparation prevents…
What makes you smile during the day?
The dogs. I have two Sealyham Terriers, an ancient Labrador and a young Flatcoat Retriever. There’s a ribbon of dogs wherever I go and they’re always up to something.
What’s your favourite wellbeing thing?
Eating a rainbow. Over the last century, we’ve dramatically reduced the variety of vegetables and fruits we consume in the west to our detriment. I try to expand the box of vegetables and fruits we eat, adding heritage varieties, foraged fruits and greens and more unusual herbs grown in our garden. The relationship between our gut and mind is being revealed by research, and of course our skin (the body’s largest organ) is hugely impacted by what we eat. Ancient therapeutic traditions like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda view food as medicine, and there’s definitely something to that.
What makes you unwind during the evening?
A good book has always been able lure me into its world. And knitting. With yarn from a plant or animal (I’m a yarn snob). If I weren’t a botanist, I’d love to farm sheep and follow the process from animal to jumper.
What drives you?
To find the answer to why. To know more. We’ve named around 400,000 of the plants on the planet, but more are being discovered all the time. And not just in the deepest darkest Amazon or wild Australia, but in places like Sweden too! I am fascinated by the stories that link us to the plants around us and what they tell me about potential use.
Where did your passion for plants come from?
I blame my parents. They were passionate gardeners and grew a lot of what we ate. It started when I was about 18 months old and exploring my grandmother’s strawberry patch. Once I made the connection between the strawberries attached to the plant and the ones that appeared on my plate, I was off. There was no stopping me and my curiosity.
What is the link between botany and beauty?
Botany, or more specifically ethnobotany, is the study of the relationship between plants and people. We’ve been using plant derived beauty products on our skin for hundreds of generations. Ingredients don’t come more tried and tested than these. Understanding what we’ve used historically or in other parts of the globe reveals new (well, new to us) rituals and ingredients that have a personal recommendation from other women that extends across the miles and millennia.
What is your skincare philosophy?
Your body is the outfit you wear every day so it’s worth spending a bit of extra time, energy and money on it.
Skincare should be easy, uncomplicated and honest. We are busy, so it’s unrealistic to try and shoehorn 45 minutes of beauty ritual into 5 minutes of available time.
I’m a realist. We’re all going to age. It is an unavoidable part of life. And I am determined to do it gracefully. If youthful means looking like an 18 year old forever, that’s just not possible. And I’m not sure why it’s desirable. Your skin is a reflection of your journey, and if elevenses say you’ve had your share of worries, laughter lines are a testament to the giggle. Accept aging, fight it with effective products and routines, and have a young attitude. My mother in her 70’s has and uses a scooter, joins my niece on the swings, and has fun. She doesn’t see herself as old, so that’s a definite key I aspire to.
What are your beauty secrets?
Drink water and eat fresh, unprocessed food.
Cleanse, tone and moisturise twice a day every day. And double cleanse if you wear makeup.
Sleep. Your skin, your body AND your soul need it.
Laugh. A lot. Preferably with people you love.
Worry less. I try to worry about the things I can control and influence, and let the stuff I can’t just slide by. Stress is terrible for your skin, body and spirit so I try to avoid it, although it’s a part of modern life. Another reason to laugh. It’s the best stress relief.
What’s your life motto?
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Plato’s usually right.