Medical herbalist Julie Levin founded Leaf People, a sustainable skincare brand that blends botanical science with western medical herbalism, in 2003. Based out of Carbondale, Colorado, the line was inspired by Levin’s deep connection to the earth. Her ingredients are certified organic, ethically wild harvested, certified herbicide/pesticide free, gluten free and vegan. CO YOGA + Life® asked Levin about starting her skincare line and how she infused her love of nature into her products.
CO YOGA + Life®: We would love more background on you. As a medical herbalist, what was your inspiration to start your own skincare line? What did you feel was missing in the market that you wanted to add to?
Julie Levin: I’ve always had a special relationship with Mother Nature. I was born and raised in rural Alaska, where wilderness survival was my favorite subject, and spent much of my life traveling the globe, learning about plants and our complex relationship with them on what I like to call my “unofficial educational journey.” From Belgium and Sydney to Buenos Aires, Bogota, Hong Kong and South Africa, under the guidance of locals and healers, I was lucky enough to experience firsthand their cultural herbal traditions and plants. After returning to Aspen (where I called home after graduating from San Francisco State University), I enrolled in Crestone Healing Arts Center for energy work, plant medicine, massage and diet, where I focused on traditional herbal methods and plant spirit medicine under the guidance of master herbalist Lillian McCracken. After graduation, I went on to study at
Yarmony Mountain Herbal College’s medical herbalism program, under master herbalist Lynn Albers. I studied the science behind plants, their chemical properties and various healing modalities including Ute and Piute herbal traditions, indigenous plant utilization and harvesting techniques. After graduating, I noticed that there were very few high quality botanical skincare lines on the market. I began creating my own formulas, incorporating complex blending techniques that would make a true impact on the skin, showcasing potent medicinal plants and integrating cross-cultural herbal traditions. My education taught me how to make medicine, not skincare, so I used this to my advantage. As a formal student of Buddhism for 20 years – I spent a year in a solo, silent meditation retreat and studied with Buddhism masters across the globe, completing my transmission and training of the Medicine Buddha and receiving the blessing to use the Medicine Buddha mantra – Buddhist medicine-making techniques are also incorporated into my formulas. Through Leaf People, it’s my mission to strengthen the connection between people and plants.
CO Y+L: What does sustainability mean to Leaf People?
JL: Sustainability means so many things to us, including to do no harm. Our philosophy is to harmoniously exist within the ecosystem, while utilizing methods to help it thrive. We want to leave things better than how we found them. In order to create a positive outcome for all, we have a responsibility for promoting its wellbeing. We see ourselves as a part of a beautiful web of existence and we must be conscious of the impact our existence creates.
As a business, we source wild-harvested ingredients and grow key medicinals on our property, ensuring that we can directly manage the health and wellbeing of those plants. I also do a small amount of harvesting from the wild, in areas that I have managed and bonded with for decades. My harvesting techniques include checking, monitoring young plants, asking permission to harvest and returning to spread their seeds. When formulating, I carefully select plants that are well established on the planet so our use won’t be detrimental to their existence. It’s important that the ingredient is sustainable and the plant will be sustained on earth.
CO Y+L: As the founder, what is your personal skincare routine?
JL: I like to keep my daily routine as simplified as possible. Most days I mix Peptide & Vitamin C Day Serum(water based) with Green Tea Reishi Face Serum (oil based) together and top with a face cream and go. I do love the toning step, so I try to fit that in often, too. Exfoliation is a crucial step for me, and I do it twice per week, alternating between Turmeric Marshmallow Bamboo Golden Face Scrub and Walnut Honey Tea Luminous Face Scrub.
CO Y+L: Tell us about your facility in Carbondale, Colorado. What is the process of formulating products on site there?
JL: Our facility is small, beautiful and, not surprisingly, surrounded by plants. I spent years studying in nature – from the Alaskan tundra and the Amazon to the Daintree Rainforest (and many places in between) – all with the intent of understanding the botanical kingdom; so, when it comes to formulating products, I let the plants guide me. It’s a subtle, energetic process. I’ll usually meditate on an idea for months, then begin formulating the product. Then I’ll listen to the plants. They typically offer advice on the formula, so I make a few changes before the product goes into the testing period.
CO Y+L: What charities does Leaf People support with their 5 percent donations? We would also love to learn more about your partnership with United Plant Savers.
JL: I have supported United Plant Savers for decades. We love them! They truly walk the talk, are incredible stewards of the botanical world, and always put the plants first. Several years ago, we joined their adopt-an-herb program and “adopted” the Hawaiian Sandalwood – the only native sandalwood in our part of the northern hemisphere. These beautiful trees have been the victims of severe overharvesting, to the brink of extinction, and it’s important to me to do what I can to help reestablish their communities and territory. Right now, our support is purely financial, but I am planning to visit the project over the next few years. I want to get my hands in the dirt with the honorable men and women who are actually propagating, planting and caring for the new seedlings. We also support Monastics Dawn Mountain, Tara Mandala and Tsoknyi Rinpoche who are dedicating their lives to the betterment of the world through meditation, Buddhist centers, as well as various charities that support our local community.
Photos by Alexis Ahrling.