Uncovering a blind spot of mine.
I've always cared deeply about including as many locally grown plants into my wellness products, taking joy in building connections with farmers, foraging mindfully, growing some botanicals that I could in my garden learning more and more about our unique bio-region, our plant kin here in Canada, and putting that into my work as a herbalist crafting seasonal, bio-regional self-care potions.
But, we can all have a blind spot sometimes. It wasn't until I set up my space at the downtown farmers market, that I discovered my blind spot in this approach.
For years, I have relied on importing carrier oils, such as extra-virgin, castor bean, hemp, apricot, meadowfoam, jojoba, as well as shea butter and cocoa butter from far away places, from plants growing in entirely different climates than here. always striving to find the best quality, organic, ethically produced oils that came from small farms and producers, which isn't easy. But i couldn't see to opportunity of using local fats.
Using plant-based oils is largely what is taught in our western herbalism schools and courses, and what approach I have been taught in my courses. But, it's not the way of our ancestors and largely reflects a capitalist, colonial model of consuming and creating, importing any ingredient we desire.
In a local, bio-regional context our ancestors both indigenous and early settlers here on Turtle Island, but including other cultures like the Celtic, and even Greek traditions too, our ancestors relied on animal fats in their diet, home goods, and their skincare from bear grease to bison and beef tallow, lard from pigs, duck fat, and more.
So what happened to these ways and what was happening to tallow after an animal was butchered for meat? I'm still uncovering this complexity of this, but have woven in my insights below.
A local butcher approached me at the farmers market my first weekend, and asked if I would be interested in working with beef tallow. I admit the thought of putting tallow on my skin wasn't an immediate yes in my mind. I wondered: Would it smell? Would it feel greasy? Are those your worries too? After chatting with him some more about the quality of life of the animals he works with, as well as that tallow often ends up as waste that farmers and butchers need to pay to get taken away to landfills.
I was curious enough to look into working with tallow in skincare.
So what did I find out?
I couldn't believe what I found out from blogs, youtube videos, (but it was largely absent from all my herbal books). I found articles and videos about: how to use tallow, benefits of using tallow, how to render it, etc. I found out that not only is it good for our health to consume these saturated fats, due to their high vitamin content which includes: Vitamins A, E, D, K, B12. But, that they wouldn't be any more greasy than a plant oil, and there are natural ways to deodorize it so it doesn't have a strong odour. The wet method of rendering which is similar to infusing oils in Ayurveda. It was fascinating to learn that animal fats like tallow are closest to our natural sebum that our body makes to protect us from the elements and keep our skin soft and supple.
Once I learned this, I thought how can I NOT USE IT? I was no longer squeamish about the idea, and was excited to try making some products with it, applying my strong formulation skills.
4 reasons I'm excited to explore working with tallow are:
- Tallow is a Bio-regional ingredient. When it fell out of favour in the 1980s when seed oils became more common place and saturated fats were demonized, tallow and lard often went the landfill as waste. ACK!
- Tallow is a highly nutritious fat to work with, and being a saturated fat, it is highly shelf stable and less likely to go rancid. Something, I have always had to be mindful of when ordering in plant oils, is how long is their shelf-life and how should I store them to optimize that?
- Tallow is anti-inflammatory and beneficial for several skin challenges such as: acne, eczema, dry flaky skin. With a similar fatty acid profile to human skin, it can help repair and regenerate skin faster.
- Using tallow is helping reduce waste and is inline with our farm - to jar practices. This ingredient is from here, from local farms. I love the idea of creating bio-regional products suited for our climate with ingredients from here! Supporting other farmers in my community, creates a stronger community and economy overall.
By using local fats, I could create a 100% bioregional product and THAT is so fascinating to me!