Mountain Mama of Maine turns native plants into skincare, meet her at folk fest

Where most people see weeds and wildflowers, Janet Edwards sees valuable medicinal plants. As “Mountain Mama of Maine,” Edwards uses common flora such as jewelweed and comfrey to concoct various salves and soaps that her customers have enjoyed for years.

Courtesy of Janet Edwards

Courtesy of Janet Edwards

This weekend, Edwards will be one of the many vendors the American Folk Festival, an event that attracts thousands to the Bangor Waterfront. She’s been a part of the three-day festival for the past 11 years. (And I’ve stopped by her booth for several of those years.)

Both fragrant and soothing, Mountain Mama of Maine products are made of simple, natural ingredients, which are listed online and on the product labels. For example, the cleansing oatmeal scrub is made of oats, French green clay, roses, calendula and farina.

Edwards grew up in the city, but in 1970, she moved to the small town of Anson, Maine, as part of the back-to-the-land movement, a time when many like-minded people living in U.S. cities and suburbs moved to the country in search of a simpler, rural lifestyle.

While loading products into her truck for the festival on Thursday, Edwards took a break to answer a few questions about her small business:

What are your top products?

Courtesy of Janet Edwards. Janet Edwards, owner of Mountain Mama of Maine, poses by her Calendula garden in 2012.

Courtesy of Janet Edwards.
Janet Edwards, owner of Mountain Mama of Maine, poses by her Calendula garden in 2012.

Salves for either dry or aching muscles and joints. The dry skin salve comes out of my garden it’s made with plants that moisturize and heal the skin — calendula, plantain and comfrey. And then I have a salve that is good for aches and pains made with wild-gathered and cultivated Saint John’s wort and essential oils of arnica, birch, lavender, tea tree and wintergreen.

Where do your ingredients come from?

I grow as much as I can in my own garden. I gather St. John’s wort from the wild — there are a few places I go for that. The essential oils I get from a company in Canada. And I also have a moisturizing face oil made with jojoba that I get from The Jojoba Company in Waldoboro.

I’ve seen you at lot of festivals and shows. Is that a big part of your business?

I do go to a lot of shows. I’ve cut back this year. I have about 15 shows. After the [American] Folk Festival, in two weeks, I’ll be at the Laudholm Nature Crafts Festival in Wells, then I’ll be at the Common Ground [Country] Fair and Fryeburg Fair. I also belong to the United Maine Craftsmen and do some of their shows, though I won’t be at their show this fall.

How did you come up with the name ‘Mountain Mama of Maine’?

That’s the nickname my husband gave me, and I wanted the business to be earthy and feminine and Maine-oriented, so it fit the bill. I’ve been online since 2001, and I sent a newsletter to customers whose emails I’ve collected. Usually it has herbal information and a list of shows.

Do you come up with new products regularly?

Last year, I started making soaps. I make a calendula-lavender soap for the skin and a jewelweed soap for poison ivy. Jewelweed is something else I pick in the wild.

What’s your philosophy about skin care?

If you read the labels on food, you should read labels on personal care products. Go online and do some research. There’s a lot of pretty bad chemicals in all our personal care, from shampoo right down the line.

What will you be offering at the American Folk Festival?

My whole product line. People can sample everything I have. I started in 1997 with five products, and now I have 15.

How did you learn about the medicinal property of plants?

Many years ago, I was walking in the woods and in the fields with a wildflower ID book, and one time, the book said, “This plant has medicinal properties.” But that’s all it said. So a big lightbulb lit up and started a 40 year education on plants for health. That plant was Saint John’s wort — which is a big part of my product line now.

To learn more about Mountain Mama of Maine, visit mountainmamaofmaine.com, and to learn about the American Folk Festival and what other vendors you should expect at the festivals arts and crafts tents, visit www.americanfolkfestival.com.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.