We first became enamored with Herbal Alchemy when we saw they were selling Viper Oil. It almost didn’t matter that it’s an all natural way to treat stings, cuts and scrapes, because the name itself had us loyally following. But delving a little further, we find out this all-natural perfumerist also creates essential oils, skincare, and flavor essences for cocktails, good enough to eat! Luckily Julianne gave us some time to tell us a little more about the nexus of perfumery, aromatherapy, cocktails and gardening as well as share a recipe to make a knock out cocktail of our own.
Check out Herbal Alchemy on Krrb and see below for our a conversation with Julianne accompanied by a very special recipe for Shiso Cocktails.
Where do you live and where are you from? What’s your favorite thing about each place?
I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn and I’ve been here for almost 25 years. It’s a very beautiful old Victorian Brownstone neighborhood with tree lined streets and gas lit lamps. It’s got a great community, everyone I know lives within walking distance and I run into people all the time. I’m really happy here. I’m originally from the midwest, born in Chicago but raised in Detroit. I have a real soft spot for Detroit. It was once a grand old city and now lies practically in ruins. The people there are great, no pretensions whatsoever.
How did you come to be interested in the nexus of perfume, aromatherapy, cocktails and gardening? How does the combination of these speak to you?
As a child I spent a lot of time in my mother’s garden. She had a huge garden and she was very generous with it and let me pretty much do whatever I wanted in it. I remember distinctly grinding up soap bars and mashing them up with lavender. I didn’t know what I was doing but I think I was a natural born herbalist/alchemist, always trying to make something out of the plants. I’m a licensed massage therapist which led me into aromatherapy. I was happy to find all of the plants from my mother’s garden in those tiny vials of essential oil. From there I ventured into perfumery which is a lot of fun and much more creative, not having to consider the therapeutic value of the oil but rather it’s scent characteristics. Basically it’s all about my lifelong love of plants and finding a way to use them to benefit health and create works of art (as in perfume).
Are you able to garden in Brooklyn? It seems to be a challenge for some. What special things do you do?
I’m a very active member of a community garden in my neighborhood in Brooklyn called 6/15 Green. I have my own plot where I grow mostly food and a few spring flowers. I’m also the steward of the herb garden there. When I inherited the job is was a rock hard, rubble strewn, sloping weed patch and over the past ten years I’ve overseen the rehabilitation of the soil and terraced the plot with stones. The plants are becoming established now and I’m able to use some of them in my concoctions. I’ve put a lot of my heart into it and it’s a thing of beauty.
Any concoctions or combinations you are particularly fond of?
At the moment I’m more inspired by the cocktails than anything. I love to tincture herbs and make medicine and infusing vodka with fresh herbs, spices, fruit and nuts is just another form of tincturing really. It just makes for a better party! Over the summer I became enthralled with red shiso which grows rampantly in the community garden. I came up with a drink called the Shihito with shiso infused vodka, fresh mint, cucumber slices and yuzu essential oil. It’s a very summery drink. Just yesterday I stared some pistachio vodka to play around with. I’m thinking of making a spumoni cocktail.
How do you finalize a product? If it’s a tasting with friends, how do we get on that invite list?
On my own here I just have to go with my gut. There’s usually a feeling of completion where I know a formula is well balanced. The cocktails I usually make with a group of women with exceptionally good palettes. I’ll make up a bunch of infused vodka flavors and buy some mixers and have a rough idea of what I want to do and invite my friends over for what we call Cocktail Lab. I’ll mix up a drink and split it between us and we’ll discuss it and make alterations. I keep mixing them up until we all agree it’s a winner and write down the recipe. If not for them I’d either be very tipsy or else wasting a lot of liquor – and not having nearly as much fun! I highly recommend forming your own Cocktail Lab. It’s like Book Group on steroids. I’m teaching cocktail workshops this fall (as well as lecturing about natural perfume) at the Brooklyn Brainery on Court Street and Observatory Room on Union and Nevins.
Anything else you want the world to know about Herbal Alchemy?
I’ve been an environmentalist my whole life and I do my best to keep Herbal Alchemy as green as possible with a keen eye to waste reduction and creating the smallest carbon footprint possible. This business is a joy to me, it’s what I have passion for and it comes naturally. I love that it allows me to follow my heart, my instincts and my nose to create whatever potions inspire me. It’s truly gratifying to come up with a remedy for something that really works, or to create a perfume that people really love.
The Shihito: A Shiso Cocktail Recipe
I jigger shiso vodka
4 thin cucumber slices
1 mint leaf
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
2 drops of yuzu essence
splash of club soda
In the bottom of a glass muddle the cucumber and mint with the sugar and salt. Add the shiso vodka and yuzu essence. Fill the glass with ice and top with a splash of seltzer. Relax and enjoy the flavors of summer.
The Short List
6/15 Green, 6th Ave & 15th St, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn Brainery, 515 Court St. (corner of West 9th), Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY
Observatory Room, 543 Union St., Brooklyn, NY.