Founded in 2015, artisan distiller Cortney Herrera began Wildcare with a dedication to creating effective, holistic skincare based on the plant life in her landscape. Natural landscapes, visuals, and scent memories have taken her on a journey through California, ultimately leading to greater inspiration within her beautiful products. Through her formal training in the Culinary Arts, a year-long internship in Herbal Medicine, and a long winding path of continuing education and research, she directly experienced the synergistic benefits of purely natural ingredients and therapeutic botanical care from the inside, out. Cortney actively engages with the land around her and utilizes the organic plants grown in her family’s gardens, like lavender, lemon, rosemary, bay laurel, and red cedar, which she distills for her Hydrosols. With an emphasis on mindful sourcing, she has built relationships with two organic farmers local to her home in the Pacific Northwest, in addition to a 2nd generation farmer in the US Southwest who cold-presses organic Jojoba oil for several of her products. We’re eager to share the intuitive vision behind this heart-full holistic skincare company and how Cortney translates her thoughtful care into so many aspects of her life. Let’s dive in!
What inspired you to begin Wildcare?
Simple energy exchange is the best way to put it- the intention that we can be supported by the living things that already surround us if given proper care and attention, to begin with. I first learned about distillation through a hopeful experiment in my garden to soothe my eczema. Knowing that they are anti-inflammatory, I picked a handful of rosemary and a couple of bay laurel leaves and sat with them as I explored a few healing modalities I could try out. At that moment I felt so driven by my frustration with a chemical-based cream I was using, it really was a peak moment of activation to develop a remedy, or at the very least, something that felt complimentary to my body’s natural rhythm. The most interesting idea to me, in terms of its ancient and artisan process, was the Hydrosol.
After much research, I assembled a makeshift distillation contraption of pots, pans, inverted lids, and ice to condense the steam from the plants, and patiently watched for hours as I created my very own Hydrosol. The process left me stunned and incredibly curious after witnessing such a transformation. At that moment, I felt I was an alchemist. A couple of weeks went by as I obsessively sprayed this Hydrosol and watched my skin’s health quickly improve. Many distillations later, there was a night I dreamt about filling a table full of tiny amber bottles with aromatic liquid, and then a second dream, where I sprung up and shouted “Wildcare!” to my husband. Wildcare was born shortly after, at the end of 2015, with a curated line of additional skincare items that complimented our Hydrosols. This symbiotic relationship with the natural world is something that is intrinsically a part of all of us. We are it, it is us, and I aim to assist in delivering that message and allowing these botanicals to unearth that personal connection for all who engage with them.
Where does Wildcare live, and how do you connect with this place as the home for your brand?
We are now based out of Portland, Oregon. My husband and I met in Portland about 12 years ago, drawn to live in the lush northwest and attend school. To our surprise, we were both from the same small city in Southern California, and after years of living together in the NW and feeling a bit stagnant, we both craved more of a challenge. We chose to purposefully get a little uncomfortable and aimed to illuminate a new path, so together we moved back to our hometown. In the last 6 years in CA, my husband obtained his appraiser's license, and I officially opened Wildcare, both becoming our own bosses — followed by the swift welcoming of our first baby- a great manifestation on many levels. Much had shifted for us, especially after a difficult birthing experience with our son, and we began longing for Portland once again. We officially relocated our family and businesses last year, to the city where our love first bloomed. Having the time away and a new shift in perspective helped us develop much more gratitude for the rushing rivers, our thoughtful community, and an abundance of fresh spring water for distillations.
What is your first memory of connecting your senses with nature?
As a kid, my mom, two sisters and I would concoct foot soaks using pine needles and roses we'd collect on afternoon walks. My mom loved to collect extra bouquets of roses with various leaves and branches along the way to put in our house. Weeks later when they were all dried up, she would refuse to toss them out — even years old — as she saw much beauty in crumbling dried leaves and petals - a scent I’ll always be connected to. I think about my dad too, who’s lived on a boat for 20 some years, and the scents attached to the ocean, musky amber, and incense- purely nostalgic. Most of my childhood was spent by the beach in California, with a steady breeze of salty air, blooming honeysuckle flowers, and fresh orange blossoms during trips to Ojai. Later, a move to the Midwest prompted me to learn all about beehives as I smelled fresh beeswax during farm visits, and played in the fields, instinctively sucking the sweet nectar out of red clover flowers. I think for most, there’s a lot of comforts found in our aromatic memories and how they tie us to a sense of place. Past and present scent memories from nature often wind their way into my dreams even years later and continually catapult me into new product ideas.
At what point in your life were you driven to live a holistic and organic lifestyle?
This is fun to consider!! As a youth, my mom would play games with my sisters and me at the table during mealtimes. We would go around guessing ingredients and nutritional facts about products, and surprisingly, it became a playful way to dig deeper into the foods we ate and what they offered our bodies. I remember when I was 16 and got my license, I started driving 30 minutes just to go to Follow Your Heart, a natural food restaurant & market, with friends and family. After eating, I would spend probably too long testing, smelling, and feeling all of their natural body care products before leaving with a treat for myself. I think that experience was one of the most consistent and visceral introductions for me, instigating a solid connection between food and skincare. Moving to Portland 12+ years ago was when clean eating really started becoming more of a lifestyle and not just a treat - mostly through the easy access to organic food and a handful of local farmers markets. Farmers Markets on the weekend became a ritual, but more so gave me the insight to understand a larger picture in learning from and getting to know the people who were growing my food. My sister Ashley has also been a large influence in my life through her life's work as an herbalist and ethnobotanist.
Back in 2014, she inspired me to take on an herbal internship program here in Portland, in which I discovered firsthand that our relationship with plants not only teaches us about history but has the means to transport us into a more balanced state of being. There at the herb shop and clinic, I switched to a naturopathic physician who utilized plants, enzymes, and a new food model to support me through depression & anxiety via holistic care. While I had one foot in this lifestyle for most of my youth, I’d say that in particular was the most concrete point when holistic living became fully integrated into my way of life.
How has your career led you to where you are today?
My career has always been centered around art or food - every single job. I started working at 11 years old as a ceramics teacher’s assistant and went on to explore various art jobs from there, like working in graphic arts and helping run an art institute. When I first moved to Portland, I immediately enrolled in Culinary School and was fully immersed in the food scene. I worked as a pastry chef, then following a hand injury, pursued more specialty food and food management jobs back in CA. I had the drive to be my own boss from a young age, but it wasn’t until I found myself uncomfortable with what I wasn’t accomplishing that I decided to say "yes" to myself and take the risk to fulfill that desire. The funny thing is, at the time I started Wildcare, it didn’t feel risky — it felt absolutely clear. I remember saying to my husband, “I have nothing to lose, only something to learn”, and I honestly had no fear as I started the motions to open Wildcare, and soon after leaving my job. Within the first month of opening, our Purple Majesty Lavender Hydrosol was featured on Vogue.com as the ‘Best of LA’ and the rest took off from there. I think when you steer decision making away from fear and the tease of money, and keep a clear focus on your joy, your authenticity, and your true soul's work, the sky’s the limit - you can do anything you believe you can.
How has working in the culinary arts interlinked with your journey through plant-based skincare?
Having trained in each built a foundation that propelled my focus on the connectedness of care – internal & external. I like to look at our skincare the same way I look at the food I eat; When I feel joy from the fruits, flowers, leaves, and organic, unrefined oils I apply on my skin, my skin radiates that joy back to me through its texture and tone. Our bodies are constantly reflecting what we’re feeling, consuming, and applying back to us. Our formulas were built upon that culinary groundwork of creating a cohesive recipe and considering how each unique ingredient marries with the other. That kind of harmony can be offered internally through the aromatics and how they shift the mood, and externally via the way these plants give life to the skin.
As sensory intuition led you to follow a life of wellness, what would you share with our readers to guide them along their true paths?
While I can look back now, knowing I’ve always been an intuitive dreamer, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I've created an intentional awareness around it — making more decisions based on those dream messages and the emotions tied to them. Having a few dreams of Wildcare wasn’t quite enough to make me drop everything, however, that feeling of uninhibited joy and pure desire resonated and led me to pursue it. I think with focused attention and intention on what you are creating and the thought behind it, the finished result will reflect the outcome. The key, in my eyes, is knowing the value of your self-worth and making decisions based on those heart-full instincts - ask yourself, how does your body feel when you have a particular thought? You may find yourself having to quiet the noise that surrounds you, that (usually unintentionally!) may steer you away from what you know to be true for yourself. Feedback can be helpful but it can also be a distraction from what you know is right for you, so deeply listen to your truth and follow through with unabashed action. Dismantle the fear aspect and trust that if you care enough, you will make it happen.
What brings you the most joy in your day-to-day and throughout Wildcare?
I count my lucky stars that I have the opportunity to work from home and be with our son every day. My husband works from home too, so our family dynamic is strong - and allows us the freedom to share our time and witness all the little moments of our son’s childhood. He’s often in the office grabbing jars and bottles off my shelf and pretending to cook with them. He offers a great perspective and a joyful craziness to every day. Developing new formulas, especially the research and testing phase, brings me so much joy too! Our most recent launch in SunRoot Solar Serum took a little over 2 years to formulate. It’s been immensely gratifying to see this come to life and hear how it’s shifted the way our customers feel and view the skin they’re in. Scouring the west coast for farm partners we align with has been a rewarding experience on both a personal and professional level. Supporting organic and local farmers is one of the most impactful things any human can do - business owner or not. We currently have 2 organic farm partners in the Portland area who supply a handful of our fresh botanicals for Wildcare. We also have a page called THINGS in which we collaborate with individual artisans, artists, and designers on items used in synergy with Wildcare products. There is so much pride in this project for me, as I have an opportunity to learn from and share the work of such talented people across the country. Pure joy.
How did you discover the healing benefits of Hydrosols and what is your favorite combination?
I discovered Hydrosols first hand through that experiment I mentioned above - how Wildcare came to be. If you’re unfamiliar, Hydrosols are the subtly aromatic waters from slowly distilled plant material. They’re energetic, nutrient-rich waters used most commonly as a toner to balance the natural pH of our skin and protect it from everyday pollutants and bacteria. When I first created the Rosemary + Bay Hydrosol I spoke of, I had tears in my eyes the moment the first few drops emerged from the distillation. I felt lucky to be in the presence of such an ancient form of alchemy. It felt bigger than myself - yet made me feel more grounded to my body, to the earth, and to our ancestors. When you consider how ancient this particular process is — we’re talking at least 5,000 years that we know of through literature — it feels remarkable that it can still be acknowledged and cherished today.
I spent a year diving in, testing distillations, taking classes, tasting Hydrosols, and immersing myself in this realm before opening Wildcare. That time was critical to my process in personally understanding how we interact with these healing waters. Rosemary + Bay will always be a favorite combination of mine, thanks to my surreal "a-ha" moment. Another favorite I recently distilled for myself and loved was a distillation of Lemon Verbena with Calendula and Rose Petal.
We know consuming organic food and clean water heals the body internally — how do you feel about organic and clean products healing the body externally? Would you say textiles and garments are included in this category as well? What is the impact for you?
I believe in doing our best when we have the opportunity and means to vote with our dollars. I am sensitive to the fact that this territory can feel out of reach for some - growing up with very little in terms of material wealth, it did for me. I like to encourage others (and continue reminding myself!) to start in the areas where you are most exposed to toxins. Let what you know about eating organic translate naturally into skincare/makeup, hair care, bedding, and undergarments - the things that closely interact with our bodies on a daily basis.
Learning about the chemicals that go into mass textiles, from the growing to the harvest and processing, scares me. Those toxins have the ability to transfer into our skin as they slowly build up over time, leading to many unwanted imbalances, all cloaked in a general feeling of being unwell. No one person must be perfect in all areas, but with knowledge, they can do their best in making decisions that resonate. Supporting companies that have a deep-seated respect for their sourcing, their workers, and their farmers is a huge step we can take on a personal level, and in turn, you help contribute to a world that cares more about the bigger picture and less about driving profit. This is a huge reason why I love to support Coyuchi.
Learning more from the brands who take future generations into consideration has redefined a more personal awareness of how I aim to channel my purchases, large or small. Many times, that may look like making more of an investment upfront, yet it can also mean omitting smaller purchases that would've left a larger footprint in the long run. I like to think we’re lucky to live in this social media age, as the consumer commonly has a direct line to the maker or team, and an opportunity to hold companies to more strict, ethical standards and practices. As a business owner, that’s huge, and an incentive to do my absolute best with each decision I make. Consider one million people making one small change somewhere in their life…that impact creates a shift in our communities and extends to a global level.
What is your morning and evening beauty routine?
Tending to our garden and growing food and herbs is an everyday ritual that makes me feel beautiful. I really see beauty as embracing every facet of our unique selves, so whatever instinctual thing I do that leads to that nourishment of shifted energy, that’s where I focus my attention. I always have a glass of water (or warm herbal infusions during winter) when I first wake up and right before bed — this is probably the most noticeable act of beauty one can witness through brighter eyes and more hydrated skin. My favorite tools to apply on my skin are oil + water, in the form of our face oil and Hydrosols. It may sound counter-intuitive to some, for those two to go hand in hand, yet it’s what our skin is essentially made of and is vital for nourished skin + optimal function. After cleansing, I mist a Hydrosol (currently I’m reaching for our Purple Majesty Lavender or RosemaryBay) and follow with SunRoot Solar Serum. I’ll take about 5-10 minutes for a facial massage using a brass Kansa tool, and then follow with another generous mist of Hydrosol. My skin glows!!
What grounds and empowers you on a daily basis?
My one-and-a-half-year-old boy has taught me a lot about grounding! Since having him, the way I look at things comes from more of a perfectly imbalanced perspective. As is true for anyone in a caretaker position, it’s crucial to conserve the energy that you have left after caring for someone else, by actively creating space for consistent pauses of your own self-awareness. I’m saying self-awareness vs self-care here, as I’ve learned that it’s essential to develop more focused attention on what your body is communicating so care can be directed to where it’s most needed first. Listen when your body says "no", and be courageous when it says "yes". I’m empowered in trusting that things can be imbalanced yet still have harmony! I do take hematite stone essence every morning to help ground me from my wild dreams. It essentially functions the same way a Hydrosol does, but on the energetic plane of our body - subtly speaking the same language of our cells. My thoughts are much more active than my body, so I also tend to find stability through movement and touch. For me, even eye contact, sharing stories, and listening encompasses all of that, too. Notice who/what/where you resonate with and remember that no matter what we may think we lack in any given moment, we will always have nature. Remembering that can feel very empowering in knowing that those simple interactions can facilitate a grand transformation.
Uplifting + empowering advice/words you would like to leave with our community?
Most have probably heard me say this a bunch, but I feel it! I think when we allow ourselves to really connect with others, collaborate, be vulnerable, authentic, blissful & curious, beauty is an energy that’s more magnetic than visually stimulating. We are all capable of being beautiful through the intention of our actions.