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Herbal Garden Visit: At Home with Slow Beauty Expert Justine Kahn, in Sausalito

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Herbal Garden Visit: At Home with Slow Beauty Expert Justine Kahn, in Sausalito

February 28, 2020

From the quiet street in Sausalito, you wouldn’t know that hiding behind a tall fence is a thriving, vibrant micro farm, lab, and headquarters. This is where Justine Kahn, owner of Botnia (a “science-based skin remedies” company) and Skin Remedy (a day spa in San Francisco), lives with her husband and where she grows and cares for most of the plants used in her lotions, creams, scrubs, and hydrosols.

“The garden wasn’t always this way,” Justine tells us. “Our home was built around 1900, and in the 1920s, it was turned from a barn into a home for a family of five. They were known in the neighborhood for their garden, and we’ve been told that the garden was so beautiful that people thought it was a park.” Fast-forward to 2011 when, after years of neglect, the once-beautiful garden was now overgrown with weeds, and the house (listed as a “contractor’s special”) was dilapidated. Undeterred, Justine and her husband, Chris, bought the property and took the house down to the studs themselves, replacing the interior and leaving the exterior exactly as it was to keep the charm of the early 1900s.

That same year, Justine started Skin Remedy with the hope of one day offering her clients homemade remedies for their exact skin type. “I didn’t know I wanted or loved farming flowers; all I knew was that I loved skincare and wanted to help people understand that what we put on our skin is just as important as what we put in our bodies.”

Botnia skincare is sold to spas and boutiques all around the country.
Above: Botnia skincare is sold to spas and boutiques all around the country.

So Justine decided to try growing various skin-healing plants in her garden, which she had started to slowly rehabilitate. She and her team planted rose geranium, chamomile, calendula, sage, yarrow, arnica, sweet Annie, comfrey, gotu kola, goldenseal, meadowfoam, parsley, lavender, cilantro, dahlias, and many other botanicals—and from this bounty, she created her natural skincare line, Botnia. She realized, though, that to grow the quantity of botanicals needed for spas around the country she would need a farm partner. She found one in Katina Connaughton, owner-farmer-floral designer of SingleThread in Healdsburg. “Katina mainly grows yarrow, calendula, and chamomile for us, but this year she tried some tansy too,” says Justine.

Back in Sausalito, the Botnia team is also trying something different this year: growing two plants that normally have a hard time thriving in Sausalito’s Zone 10—arnica and meadowsweet. Both plants prefer higher elevations, but because the team had minor success last year growing them, they’re trying for a larger crop this year. “We have room to experiment!” says Justine.

Join us for a tour of her beautiful experiment.

Photography by Nancy Neil, courtesy of Botnia, unless otherwise noted.

Justine&#8\2\17;s botanically inspired Botnia Garden in Sausalito. The original garden was filled with treasures: There was a rose garden, along with apple, plum, and lemon trees. The rose garden is still there, as are the apple and plum trees, but sadly the lemon tree died. Photograph by Justine Kahn.
Above: Justine’s botanically inspired Botnia Garden in Sausalito. The original garden was filled with treasures: There was a rose garden, along with apple, plum, and lemon trees. The rose garden is still there, as are the apple and plum trees, but sadly the lemon tree died. Photograph by Justine Kahn.
Beautiful and stalwart roses are grown for Botnia skincare and make it into most every product. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.Above: Botnia&#8\2\17;s seasonal, small batch hydrosols are crafted from plants that grow abundantly in their garden, such as fennel. &#8\2\20;Having such a close connection to these plants on a micro level,&#8\2\2\1; Justine explains, &#8\2\20;and getting to know them first as seeds, then as plants, harvesting, processing and then adding them to our skincare and finally offering our clients such detail makes our style of skincare an art form.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Beautiful and stalwart roses are grown for Botnia skincare and make it into most every product. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.Beautiful and stalwart roses are grown for Botnia skincare and make it into most every product. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.Above: Botnia&#8\2\17;s seasonal, small batch hydrosols are crafted from plants that grow abundantly in their garden, such as fennel. &#8\2\20;Having such a close connection to these plants on a micro level,&#8\2\2\1; Justine explains, &#8\2\20;and getting to know them first as seeds, then as plants, harvesting, processing and then adding them to our skincare and finally offering our clients such detail makes our style of skincare an art form.&#8\2\2\1;Above: Botnia’s seasonal, small batch hydrosols are crafted from plants that grow abundantly in their garden, such as fennel. “Having such a close connection to these plants on a micro level,” Justine explains, “and getting to know them first as seeds, then as plants, harvesting, processing and then adding them to our skincare and finally offering our clients such detail makes our style of skincare an art form.”
Justine with her functional and aesthetically pleasing copper still. She makes hydrosols or flower waters weekly in the summer months, using techniques dating back \1,000 years.
Above: Justine with her functional and aesthetically pleasing copper still. She makes hydrosols or flower waters weekly in the summer months, using techniques dating back 1,000 years.
Every step in the creation of Botnia skincare products is carefully considered, from making sure the soil is rich in organic compost, the seed quality is the highest, the pest control is all natural (think neem, lady bugs, and their farm cat Aleister) to properly harvesting, drying in the greenhouse (her husband built it), and, finally, processing the botanicals in the onsite lab.
Above: Every step in the creation of Botnia skincare products is carefully considered, from making sure the soil is rich in organic compost, the seed quality is the highest, the pest control is all natural (think neem, lady bugs, and their farm cat Aleister) to properly harvesting, drying in the greenhouse (her husband built it), and, finally, processing the botanicals in the onsite lab.
Justine and her daughter working and enjoying each other&#8\2\17;s company. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.
Above: Justine and her daughter working and enjoying each other’s company. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.
Charming comfrey works double duty: as a botanical, it&#8\2\17;s a tissue builder for the skin, and as a plant, it&#8\2\17;s a nitrogen inducer for the soil. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.
Above: Charming comfrey works double duty: as a botanical, it’s a tissue builder for the skin, and as a plant, it’s a nitrogen inducer for the soil. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.
One of the aestheticians who works at Skin Remedy harvests fresh (and calming) chamomile. Photograph by Justine Kahn.
Above: One of the aestheticians who works at Skin Remedy harvests fresh (and calming) chamomile. Photograph by Justine Kahn.
Flowers, such as this pretty in pink poppy, that are for Justine&#8\2\17;s spa are all grown on the Sausalito micro-farm. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.
Above: Flowers, such as this pretty in pink poppy, that are for Justine’s spa are all grown on the Sausalito micro-farm. Photograph by Elina Frumerman.

For more gardens we love in Northern California, see:

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