Mountain Rose Herbs has become a trusted source for herbs and essential oils

Christine Rice, product manager and staff aromatherapist, stands in front of the essential oil display at Mountain Rose Herbs Mercantile, the company’s new storefront in downtown Eugene.

Vanessa Salvia
Christine Rice, product manager and staff aromatherapist, stands in front of the essential oil display at Mountain Rose Herbs Mercantile, the company’s new storefront in downtown Eugene.

A local company’s products are so diverse that they’re used as flavorings for beers, cooking in the kitchen, for skin care and even herbal remedies.

And though it didn’t start here, Mountain Rose Herbs has put Eugene on the map as a trusted source for dried herbs and essential oils. The company recently opened a storefront in downtown Eugene, but it’s already known worldwide for its extensive catalog of products.

“Mountain Rose has around 1,500 products and that equates to about 6,000 different sizes and finished products,” says Christine Rice, product manager and staff aromatherapist, who oversees all products, packaging, labeling and website information. As aromatherapist, she handles some of the company’s initial sourcing and the quality control for all the company’s approximately 115 essential oils.

The company currently employs about 200 people.

Essential oils have a variety of uses

As might be expected, the essential oils are among the most popular products because they can be used as aromatherapy or for their topical medicinal purposes.

“Essential oils are volatile plant oils that are made for various reasons by the botanicals, whether it’s for protection, pollinating, attraction or scent,” Rice says. “They are usually steam-distilled and extracted via water, and in some cases citrus oils are cold pressed out of the peels.”

Inhaling essential oils can just make you feel better or, in the case of lavender, might even improve your headache.

“Our oils could be used both for a topical remedy or as a perfume,” Rice says.

A hydrosol is the water left over after an essential oil distillation. A rose hydrosol, for example, would be made after the rose essential oil had been distilled using a steam distillation method.

“There are some distillers who specialize in the hydrosol and other distillers specialize in both, but the result of a distillation is an essential oil and a hydrosol,” Rice says. “A big thing to remember is they are not only extracting the volatile oils but also the water-soluble plant material, and hydrosols usually contain less than 3 percent essential oil, and that’s on the high end, so they’re a little safer.”

The oils themselves vary in safety. Some, such as Western red cedar, can be irritating if they are used directly on the skin in undiluted form.

Most are really safe to use, but some have stronger constituents in them; for instance, clove and the oil of some firs have more of the skin-irritating components in them.

“You should always be using a diluted oil,” Rice says. “You just don’t want to dump it on your skin regardless of how safe it is.”

For essential oils, herbalists generally recommend using a one-to-two ratio. For older adults who may have more sensitive skin, Rice suggests using a ratio closer to 1 percent, which is about six drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil or hydrosol.

Rice recommends searching for oils by their Latin names because botanicals may have a variety of common names, and because different plant parts can be used to create different oils — and those parts can have their own common names.

All companies claim to be “the best” or the “purest,” so do your research before buying.

“I encourage people to ask a lot of questions of whatever supplier they’re working with,” she says. “What you’re looking for is a pure distillation that isn’t diluted with another carrier and that isn’t adulterated. As a consumer, you want to know what you want to purchase. It’s important to know the Latin name of the oil you want and the plant part it’s made from.”

Mountain Rose offers pure distillates and cold-pressed citrus oils, and uses its blog to explain the importance of cold pressing.

“Most essential oils are distilled with a combination of water and steam, but oils from citrus peels are cold expressed to preserve all of the aromatic botanical goodness that they possess,” the blog says. “This process involves puncturing the skins of either the whole fruit or just the fruit peel and pressing the essential oil out. With this process, a little bit of juice is also extracted, which is then separated from the essential oil. For therapeutic uses, you want to buy a citrus oil that is cold expressed, however you can find distilled citrus oils on the market as well. These oils are mostly used in the fragrance industry and have different characteristics than an expressed citrus oil.”

Mountain Rose also offers a small line of absolutes — oils that are solvent-extracted and well-suited for the fragrance industry because of their potency. “And, depending on the solvent, there’s always a chance that there’s some trace of the solvent left over from extraction,” Rice says, “so that’s why we don’t like to use them for topical uses.”

Mountain Rose’s beginnings

In 1987, an herbalist in northern California named Rosemary Gladstar opened a mail-order business and retail herb shop to supply students in her California School of Herbal Studies.

When she moved to Vermont in 1991, she moved only the herbal school, and the business changed hands. New owner Rose Madrone enlisted the help of herbalist Julie Bailey, who eventually purchased Mountain Rose Herbs.

They hired Shawn Donnille, who created the company’s first website and eventually became co-owner. In 2001, they moved the company to Pleasant Hill, and finally to a larger facility in Eugene seven years ago.

As they’ve grown the company, Bailey and Donnille have purposefully chosen to give back to the community and environment by selling only organic-certified, when available.

“We do strive to have everything certified organic,” Rice says. “In most cases, organic products are being cultivated on a farm, but in some cases, they are being wild harvested from organic-certified lands and forest areas.”

If it’s not possible to certify a product as organic, the team works closely with its harvesters to make sure they are harvesting at the right time and providing safe sustainable harvests, she adds.

“Shawn is a very strong environmental activist so treating the earth carefully and taking care of everything is really strong with him and organics is a very good way to do that,” Rice says. “We do site visits with a lot of our suppliers. We have a very close relationship with our Indian suppliers and also have been visiting a lot of our European suppliers as well. Our procurement department is four people who each specialize in a different region. We also have someone local who handles all of our local farms and wild harvesters.”

Although customers could purchase products at pickup counters in the Pleasant Hill and the Eugene warehouse, Rice says it left them wanting more.

“We also found that a lot of people from around the state who were traveling through Eugene wanted to come in and see the products themselves and see the packaging, so the pick-up parlor didn’t quite meet the customer demand we had,” she says.

The 2,000-square-foot facility is near the downtown Eugene post office and Allann Bros. coffee shop, in a space previously occupied by Oak Street Vintage, which moved to a larger spot nearby. The store had a soft opening in October and a grand opening Nov. 5.

The new store stocks all of the company’s 115 essential oils and hydrosols in the half-ounce size. Larger sizes and other products can be purchased online, and all orders can be picked up at the mercantile store.

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The store sells books and supplies for do-it-yourself projects such as herbal remedies and green cleaning.

“Some of our customers are very into just the herbs, or just the teas,” says mercantile assistant manager Sara Seitzman. “Then there are the people who want to come in and look at everything.” The new storefront gets a lot of foot traffic not possible before.

The store has plenty of samples to touch and smell, from herbs and spices to body care. There are DIY manuals, herbal materia medica books, reference and recipe books. Each section in the store has corresponding books nearby.

One popular area is the line of pet products, including herbal flea powder for cats and dogs, and a line of glycerin herbal extracts that provide immune and joint support.

Also available for pets are an anti-itch spray, a dry flea shampoo and a salve for hot spots, an herbal rinse and, of course, a variety of cat nip.

Have a specific need? The herbal health section holds a full line of extracts in single and combination blends. The names are self-descriptive, so it’s easy to search for a topic like “joint support” or “memory care.”

“We do have a joint care, we have a male care, we have both a ‘wise woman’ and a ‘crone care’ depending on what stage of life you’re in as a woman, blends for circulatory health and adaptogen blends for general adrenal support,” Rice says. Herbal tea blends might help with sleep support and digestive care.

The store provides a large line of culinary herbs, blended in house, as well as seed packets to try growing your own.

Lastly, the tea section offers more than 75 loose-leaf teas, both caffeinated and herbal. “A lot of those recipes are original to when Rosemary Gladstar owned the company,” Rice says. “Throughout the years, they’ve been formulated by both Shawn and Julie and now we have a custom tea blender on staff.” This section also includes tea accessories such as infusers and teapots.

Seitzman speaks about some recent older adult customers who enjoy the seasoning blends for cooking. “One lady said she wanted the blends because it’s easier than having to deal with individual containers of herbs when she wanted to cook,” she says.

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