Hall Newbegin of Juniper in nature harvesting

Interview with Hall Newbegin of Juniper Ridge

We recently had another chat with Hall Newbegin, founder of Juniper Ridge, to learn more about what inspired him to develop the California-based wilderness fragrance company.

Tell us about the process of producing your essential oils. What’s that look like from harvest to bottle?

We start by choosing a place. That location dictates what and how we harvest. It’s pretty straight-forward. A small group of us sets out on a trail and we go deep. We all stick our noses in the dirt and come up with a consensus on what makes that place smell the way it does. Once we’ve figured that out, we start harvesting.

Take Redwoods and other conifers of the West, for example. We get a lot of our redwood essential oil from trees that fall down in winter storms. We are commissioned as the cleanup crew and collect materials from the site. If we’re not collecting fallen trees, we obtain permits from the US Forest Service or State Parks to venture into the woods and trim the bottoms of tall trees. The trees respond well to pruning, and of course keep growing taller and taller, well out of the range of even the most acrobatic wildcrafter. Neither the trees nor the ecosystem are harmed by this type of careful pruning. Everything we do is done with permission and harvested sustainably.

Essential Oils by Juniper Ridge | Zebra Organics

What makes your essential oils unique and stand out in quality?

There are no shortages of reasons we’re unique – we’re the freaks of the industry! Our problem traditionally has been that we’re so far out there no one understands what we’re doing.

We’re the only aromatics company in the world doing what we’re doing; harvesting the natural materials extracting the aromatics from beginning to end, so we have complete control over every step in the process.

We’re also the only company working with local western plants from the mountains – so we have that added differentiator. One hundred years ago, before the advent of synthetic / petrochemical fragrance, this would have been totally normal, but today it’s just freakish.

You harvest ingredients straight from Mother Nature. How do you ensure that you are doing this ethically, as stewards of the land?

Here are just a few of our guidelines for sustainable harvesting, which we always follow and have modeled after those set forth by the legendary hippie herbalist Howie Brounstein:

  • Do you have the permission or the permits for collecting at the site?
  • Are you at the proper elevation?
  • Is there any natural or chemical contamination?
  • Are there rare, threatened, endangered, or sensitive plants growing nearby at any time of the year?
  • Is wildlife foraging the stand?
  • Do you have the proper emotional state?
  • Look around after harvesting. Any holes or cleanup needed?
  • Are you picking herbs in the proper order for a long trip?

It’s a long, thorough list, but following it in detail keeps us diligent and responsible in our work. In addition to meeting the qualifications on this list, we make sure to only take excess growth, that is, smaller plants that won’t survive in the middle of larger, mature plants. Generally speaking, we harvest one plant for every hundred you see.

In addition to ensuring we harvest plants sustainably, we also give 10% of our profits to groups that defend western wilderness. In the beginning I used to write checks for $50 bucks to wilderness groups and they’d be like “thanks” but now we can write checks for thousands of dollars to wilderness groups – if I can use this business to put that kind of focus on protecting the few large remaining scraps of western wilderness, wow, that’s great.

What aspect of what you’re doing at Juniper Ridge most excites you?

Most people dream about getting bigger, but I dream about getting smaller, more specific and weirder. The only way forward for us is to keep digging into beauty. I want our priority to always be doing our best work to capture the spirit of a place and put it in a bottle. As long as we’re digging deep into the wild places we love, we can keep bringing you aromatic snapshots of our beautiful world.

How do you come up with new ideas? What gets your creative juices flowing?

It’s all so intuitive. It’s really more artistic than scientific. When I’m out there on the trail, my rusty gears start turning in my head. I smell the dirt and leaf covered logs and it just gets me going.

Did you have any mentors or creative influencers that inspired you on your journey?

Neil Young, Iggy Pop, Jerry Garcia and Lou Reed come to mind immediately. They were the first people to whisper in my ear and tell me to go out there and do the weird thing. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I listened to “Walk on the Wild Side” over and over again. Lou Reed was singing about street hustlers, transgender folks, junkies and a world so much bigger than anything I ever knew growing up in suburban Portland. It freaked me out, but I figured, when you’re frightened by something, it usually means you should be checking it out.

Around that time, I started going off script of what my family and the world expected of me. Then later on it became all about the nature and place based freaks – Gary Snyder, Wallace Stegner, David Wallace, all those folks. They were the ones who started singing more directly to me about place.

I’m a wilderness perfumer, which is a job that’s never really existed before and may never again. I’m a total freak, so it shouldn’t surprise you that my inspirations and heroes are freaks and wanderers, people who aren’t afraid to chuck everything that came before them and try something new.

Douglas Fir Spring Tip Tea by Juniper Ridge | Zebra Organics

What inspired you to produce tea? How did this product innovation come about?

We make things that bring the mountains into people’s day-to-day lives. So whether that’s done through wild harvested aromatics, or a wild harvested tea … I just love it all and get so excited about it! I started making those teas as some of my first products I sold at the farmers markets 20 years ago. They languished in obscurity for years, but I didn’t care.

A normal business would have discontinued the teas a long time ago, but I do things for love, never for money. So I stuck to them because I knew they were beautiful and sure enough now they are one of our strongest sellers. If you make something truly beautiful from the inside out, eventually you’ll find your audience.

Pick your favourite:

Douglas Fir Spring Tip Tea or White Sage and Wild Mint?

I’m going to go with white sage and wild mint. I tend to gravitate towards southwestern / desert plants in general, but this tea just oozes real magic for me and immediately transports me to the wild sage fields that I’ve been visiting every year now for 20 years.

Red Wood Mist essential oil or Cascade Forest?

Redwood Mist! I love the redwood country so much, and even though I grew up on the slopes near Mt Hood in the cascades and while I love Cascade Forest because it evokes those Summery, fir and pine alpine areas of my youth in the peak of wildflower summer, Redwood Mist is more emotionally resonant and complex for me.

What’s your all-time favourite quote that you live by?

That’s easy:

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in and take responsibility from there” – Gary Sndyer

It’s who I am and what I’ve done with my life. I always see everything through the lens of place. And yes, once you’ve found your place, become part of it in a deep way – smell the dirt, use your animal senses to engage with the place, and then the taking care of it and the stand up for it part just naturally flows from there, because you won’t be able to help yourself – you’ve fallen in love and you’d do anything to protect it to make sure it’s ok.

Learn more about Juniper Ridge and their products.