the beauty of it all

The Herbalist Who Believes in Ear Massages

Photo: Courtesy of Barbara Close

“I’ve been called the Stevie Nicks of skin care,” laughs Barbara Close, the founder and CEO of plant-based brand Naturopathica. “I think it’s great. Hey, I’ve been doing this for 20-some-odd years and now it’s so hot. I’m just so happy we’re having this discussion now, finally.

Growing up in Virginia, Close wasn’t raised in a particularly health-conscious household, but her Aunt Eleanor enlightened her to the ways of holistic care. “She was a student of homeopathy,” explains Close. “She lived outside of Paris, and she loved to visit the spas and take the waters, do the mud treatments. She’d take me to her little corner herbaliste where they’d make calendula cream for her dry skin or linden tea for her digestion. That whole aspect of nurturing yourself with natural therapies was my inspiration for Naturopathica.”

After college, Close moved to Santa Fe to study massage and apprentice in herbalism. During this time, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, so she returned home and put her new skills to work, helping quell Mom’s nausea with peppermint inhalations, alleviate anxiety with lemon-balm tea, and temper pain with aromatherapy massage.

In 1995, she opened Naturopathica Healing Arts Center & Spa in East Hampton, starting with teas and tinctures. Skin care came a year later, and encased in what was to become its signature cobalt-blue glass bottles, people took notice.

Now that plant therapy and its powers are no longer the outliers, Close, who earned a master’s degree in therapeutic herbalism from the Maryland University of Therapeutic Health in 2015, is thrilled to see consumers educating themselves on plants, as well as embracing them, both externally as well as internally.

“One of my colleagues recently bit into some echinacea that I’d steeped in alcohol, and she was like, ‘Oh, gross!’” recalls Close. “I said, ‘Listen, you buy your probiotics for 30 bucks at Whole Foods. This is the same good bacteria, sister! Start chewing that root!’”

Close spoke with the Cut about the importance of laughter, the talented relative who would play her in the biopic and the one plant we should all start growing.

Bath or shower? Definitely a bath. I’m a Capricorn, an earth sign, so I have to submerge myself in water once a day. I pour fresh lavender, infused in a French press, into the bath just before getting in.

Shampoo/conditioner of choice: I don’t wash my hair with shampoo because sulfates ruin the platinum color. Instead, I condition with Naturopathica’s Wild Lime Revitalizing Scalp & Hair Oil.

Facial cleanser of choice: Our Manuka Honey Cleansing Balm. It’s lightweight, melts instantly into the skin, and has probiotics, peptides, and humectants to nourish it without stripping healthy oils.

What, if anything, is usually on your lips? Gotu Kola Healing Balm. I don’t really wear makeup, but I do like a little color on my lips, so during the day, I use a neutral shade like Jane Iredale’s PureMoist in Sarah. For evenings out, I use Nars Lipstick in Falbala.

What shade, if any, is usually on your toes and/or hands? None, it isn’t good for the nails and I work with my hands too often to keep them polished.

If we could grow only one plant, which plant would you suggest we grow? Passionflower. It’s a creeping vine that’s kind of invasive — it’s currently growing under my house and up along my gym — but it is a hypnotic herb and it’s great for sleep. If you’re like me, who knocks off as soon as your head hits the pillow then wakes up at 3 a.m. with that chatty mind, passionflower is very good for that. It’s very sedating. Plant it first thing in the spring, then take the blossoms and make tea or tincture.

Purse of choice: Hermès — vintage or new. I will happily cough up a lot of money for items that are timeless and improve with age.

Netflix and chill outfit: Stretch jeans, since I am usually munching while watching TV.

What is your classic uniform? Jeans, boots with heels, and a cropped jacket (I’m only five-foot-three).

What do you splurge on? Travel to far-flung destinations. My next trip is a safari to Kenya this month.

Favorite travel destination: In the summer, you’ll find me swinging off the hook, under the stars, in my husband’s old wooden lobster boat, somewhere off the coast of Maine.

How do you stay fit? I’ve been an avid horseback rider since I was a child, growing up on my grandfather’s farm in Virginia. To this day, hauling bales of hay up into the loft of our barn and unloading 50-pound bags of grain for my two horses keeps me fit.

Favorite podcasts: The Daily, Sawbones, How I Built This, and Fat Mascara for industry news.

What phrase or word are you known for saying? “That which adapts, thrives.”

What word or phrase drives you crazy when others say it? Overuse of the word “like.”

What beauty myth, fallacy, or utter falsehood drives you crazy when you hear it said? The word “balance.” I think it sets us up to fail by implying that there’s a secret art to having it all. Nature, which we are all a part of, is constantly ebbing and flowing, not staying in a perfect state of equilibrium.

Last great book you read? Most of my favorites are female biographies: the photographer Sally Mann’s Hold Still, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, to name a few.

Last great film you saw: The Wife.

What do you do or take when you can’t sleep? The Passionflower Sleep Tincture in herbal tea and a hot bath with rose and vetiver essential oils.

Jet lag cure: My “cure” is more of a prevention tip: Don’t change time zones for short trips. Take the daytime, morning flight if you’re traveling to Europe. You arrive in early evening and can have a quick dinner before falling into bed.

Cold cure: At the first tingling of a sore throat, I combine fresh ginger, the juice of half a lemon, and crush fresh sage leaf, thyme, and rosemary in hot water with a tablespoon honey. Drink three to four cups a day to keep the symptoms at bay.

Headache cure: For tension headaches, I apply peppermint cream to my temples and the back of my neck, and do an ear massage. Using the pads of your fingers on your temples, gently massage your fingers in a circular motion, moving above and around your ears to relieve tension. Placing your thumb and index fingers behind your ears and your third finger in front, “scissor” the ears rubbing up and down for a calming effect.

Next, use your thumb and index fingers to massage the earlobes. Continue up to the middle of the outside of the ears and gently rotate the entire ear in circles. Rub both hands briskly together until heat builds up and then cup your ears. Take several deep breaths and allow the heat to energize the senses and reinvigorate the mind.

Favorite smell: My dachshunds’ paws.

Least favorite smell: Cheap deodorant.

Name of your most-listened-to Spotify/Pandora playlist: The Most Beautiful Songs in the World.

Where are you usually when the best ideas come to you? Hiking.

Name a few elements that your favorite day would involve: Sleeping late, soaking in a hot tub, a massage, no smartphones or emails, swimming naked off our boat, a chilled glass of rosé, and my husband’s home-cooked rosemary chicken.

What talent do you wish you had? I wish that I could sing Ave Maria, in a tone that someone other than just my dachshunds would enjoy.

Comfort food: Chips and guacamole.

What would the name of your autobiography be? “Natural Healer.”

Who would star as you in the film adaptation? My talented cousin, Glenn Close, of course.

What product is currently your favorite (understanding that this could change all the time)? Calendula has always been one of my favorite herbs because of its beautiful bouquet and wound-healing abilities. I grow it in my garden and use it for home remedies throughout the year. It belongs to the same healing, botanical family as arnica and it’s approved in Germany and other European countries for topical use on slow-to-heal wounds, mild burns, and dry skin.

It’s ideal for replenishing dry skin and reinforcing the skin barrier, a skin-saving combination during the harsh winter months, so for this time of year, our Calendula Essential Hydrating Cream is my go-to moisturizer.

If you won the Powerball tomorrow, what are the first five things you would do? (After, of course, donating the majority of it to your top charities.)
I would adopt ten more dachshunds (to have an even dozen), pack a camera and a dozen moleskins into an Airstream, and travel across the country with my husband. I would take the opportunity to live in different communities and cultures over a few years, to feel the natural rhythm of life without timelines.

The Herbalist Who Believes in Ear Massages