The Strongest Herbs Ever Are on the Other Side of the World
And they aren’t used for food.
I saw a tweet the other day that said Los Angeles is shitty heaven and New York is fun hell. I think that's about right. I’d also like to propose that South Australia is fun heaven—and that it has the strongest herbs on Earth.
I recently found myself eating herbs and flowers on a farm in the hills north of Adelaide, South Australia. The farm is owned by the Jurlique skincare company, which uses the plants in its lotions, serums, mists, cleansers, and face masks. My girlfriend, a beauty writer, had been offered a press trip to Australia, paid for by Jurlique. When another beauty writer who was supposed to go dropped out at the last minute, the company asked my girlfriend if she knew of a travel writer who could go with her. She was like, My boyfriend’s close enough. I was like, sure, I’ll go, thinking, lotion is like food because when you use it, your skin eats it and at the end of the day, it’s all nutrients that go in your body. A week later I packed my bags for a skincare press trip.
The first thing they tell you about the Jurlique herb farm is that it’s not a normal herb farm. It’s organic and entirely free of pesticides, which is fairly common these days. What sets Jurlique apart is that it’s also biodynamic, meaning they follow ancient farming methods tied to the lunar cycle that were repopularized a hundred years ago by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. They mix their own fertilizer in a cement contraption with droppings from a homegrown worm farm and cow manure. They buy the shorn horns of female cows who have had babies and fill them with the fertilizer, and then place the horns in a special pattern in the the dirt to allegedly recycle the earth’s energy and better facilitate plant growth. They strictly follow the lunar cycle to determine when to plant and harvest different types of plants. Lavender would never be planted on a random day during its planting season. It’s all determined by the biodynamic calendar.
And those are only the parts of it I remember. What I’m saying is these herbs are not grown like your grandma’s window-sill herbs, unless your grandma is also an adherent of Rudolf Steiner, and if she is, that’s very cool and you should be proud of her.
The idea is that their herbs and flowers infuse the lotions with more earth-energy than your average organic herbs, or god forbid, herbs grown using chemicals, making them superior products. But does all this ancient moonman farming actually make a difference? While my girlfriend walked around the farm asking questions about their lotions, I wanted to eat some super-charged herbs and find out.
Jurlique grows lemon verbena and supplies it to spas for tea. I knew when I was approaching the lemon verbena plants because their aroma was so intense, it was like I was a cartoon character smelling hot pies with visible scent trails and then following my nose to the bakery. I ripped off a bunch of leaves and tasted them. It was like I’d crushed up and snorted a few Lemonheads. My brain was swimming in lemon soup. I didn’t know you could get a food to be that lemon-y without artificial flavors.
Next up were the biodynamic spearmint and peppermint plants. The guides said we could go ahead and dig in. The peppermint had a powerful numbing effect on the mouth, which is why it’s always been used to soothe toothaches. The spearmint was sweeter and more refreshing; that’s why it’s the preferred mint for mojitos. Our guide said they’d searched far and wide and tested many strains of mint seeds, many times over, to achieve optimal mintiness in both plants.
The coup de garden was the spilanthes hothouse. Spilanthes is a flowering herb native to South America and Africa. Like peppermint, it’s known as a toothache cure, but as far as the numbing effects go, it’s on another planet. Since we arrived at the farm, the staff had been getting us hyped on the spilanthes. They’d say things like “Oh, you have to chew the spilanthes!” with a big grin.
They walked us into the hothouse and handed us spilanthes flowers. They didn’t smell like anything other than grass. I started chewing a small piece of it. At first, there was nothing. Hmmph, maybe mine wasn’t working? Was it a bad batch? But a moment later it hit me. The tingle started in the gums and grew stronger, vibrating wider and wider, going around the teeth and face and even up to the forehead. I ate the rest of it. I love the sensation you get from Sichuan peppercorns, and eating spilanthes is way more intense. I popped another flower in my mouth—I was chasing that spilanthes feeling.
To Jurlique’s credit, they’ve used organic and biodynamic farming since the company was founded in the ‘80s. It’s not part of a new initiative to be sustainable.
One thing that was new to the farm, however, was the Jurlique Rose. The Jurlique Rose was developed by an Australian rose scientist who the company hired to make a unique, proprietary rose they could used in their products. Not that this actually happened, but I can imagine a maniacal skincare executive in a big office building in Sydney saying, “Make me a new rose! A rose that grows nowhere else on earth that will give us the best creams in the world!” and then frantically splashing a serum on her face. (Their Herbal Recovery Advanced Serum, by the way, feels great, and I don’t even use serums.)
So the scientist experimented and grafted and sniff-tested. He would let Jurlique executives do sniff tests, and then graft more roses, and experiment with different strains, until everyone agreed that this particular rose variety would be the Jurlique Rose. According to the farm’s staff, it is indeed a new type of rose that only grows on the Jurlique farm.
The guides led us to the Jurlique Rose patch. I knelt down and, with their permission, plucked off a handful of petals. And I have to say, yes, it was rosier smelling than your average rose, and more nuanced, with notes of peach and pink Starburst.
So in the end, could I tell a difference between biodynamic herbs and garden-variety herbs? Well, I didn’t have normal herbs to taste side by side with the moon-powered herbs. But I can say that these were the strongest, most aromatic herbs I’ve ever smelled and tasted. I’d love to cook with them... if only they weren’t on the other side of the world and not for sale. And if only I’d smuggled some through customs.