Skin Care Straight from the Garden

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – Years ago, after everything else had failed her, Lynn Wallingford turned to nature, and turned into a believer of its healing power. It was nature, she said, that finally cured her bothersome eczema.

So Wallingford planted her own garden of healing and, along with rows of lovely herbs, it sprouted a fine livelihood.

Wallingford is the owner of Kettle Care, a company that makes body-care products with organic ingredients, including plants grown in her garden west of Whitefish. She founded the business in 1983 after an herbal cream wiped away the eczema that had plagued her since childhood.

Before discovering the natural cure for her eczema, Wallingford had visited numerous dermatologists, who administered cortisone therapies and even prescribed tranquilizers at one point. Then, at the age of 24, she discovered through a nutritionist that the condition was related to digestion. She was also taking up organic gardening during that same period.

Screens of chamomile, top, and calendula dry in the open air of a barn on the Kettle Care property west of Whitefish.

While changes in her lifestyle and diet helped with the skin condition, it didn’t get rid of it. But nine years later, she found the herbal cream.

“Within six months, it was gone,” Wallingford said.

Wallingford started Kettle Care in Washington before moving it to the Flathead Valley in 1989. Today, Wallingford coaxes 30 herbs – such as calendula and chamomile – out of Montana’s often unforgiving ground, enduring equally unforgiving weather, to be used in Kettle Care’s body products. She orders in many other ingredients, such as various oils and beeswax. All of Kettle Care’s products are chemical-free.

Kettle Care’s garden measures more than 100 by 100 feet, with vegetables for Wallingford’s personal use interspersed with the herbs. The company’s 5-acre property is nestled in a beautiful location in the wooded hills outside of Whitefish, but with the beauty comes unpredictable weather.

Wallingford has adapted her horticulture skills over the years to accommodate the climate. She’s constantly experimenting with different plants to see if they can grow in this region.

“I get seeds for herbs that are good for cosmetics if I think there’s a chance they can grow in our area,” she said. “I get the seeds and grow them in the greenhouse and then transplant them to the garden. If they make it through the winter, then I know I have an herb I can use.”

Wallingford added: “The basis for my body-care line from the beginning was using local herbs and then formulating my products around using those local herbs.”

Kettle Care produces moisturizers, facial cleansers, bath and body kits, lip care products and much more. Along with the handmade formulas in the company’s product line, Wallingford also does custom formulation for other businesses. The products are mixed onsite in a large kitchen that doubles as a laboratory – it’s like chemistry without chemicals.

All products must abide by certain standards to meet “certified organic” requirements. They are packaged and labeled at the facility. Kettle Care also does private labeling where Wallingford’s staff bottles and custom labels products for other companies.

Standing in front of an open barn door, Tammy Luken, Kettle Care’s office manager, describes how the drying of plants is possible in the open air in the area’s dryer climate. Sun filters through the open door onto screens lined with the drying ingredients.

Last week, office manager Tammy Luken explained the whole Kettle Care process, from growing and harvesting the herbs, drying them and extracting their essential properties, to the work in the laboratory and finally to the packaging and shipping stages. All of the work is done by seven employees. Luken and Wallingford are the only full-timers.

“It’s pretty amazing what we produce here,” Luken said. “Being as small as we are and being nearly a half-a-million-dollar-a-year company, we accomplish a lot for sure.”

Jen Elden uses a similar philosophy to Wallingford’s at her business, Sope, which makes soap using Elden’s homegrown herbs. Elden said people are drawn to her products, like those of Kettle Care, because they’re made with plant-derived essential oils instead of chemicals.

Elden, who runs Sope out of Whitefish, said it’s comforting for people to look at the ingredients and not see a bunch of “un-pronounceables.” Some of Elden’s customers have skin conditions and others, she said, simply want to be more conscientious about what they put on their bodies.

“I’m doing this on a much smaller scale than Lynn (at Kettle Care), but it all goes back to an ancient craft, a simplicity,” Elden said. “That’s very interesting to people. And it’s part of strengthening that local sustainable economy instead of getting everything from somewhere else.”

For more information on Kettle Care go to www.kettlecare.com or call (406) 862-9851. To contact Sope, go to http://sope.myshopify.com or e-mail sope@eldenworks.com.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.