A tall row of black filing cabinets lines a wall in Romina Takimoto's nondescript St. Paul lab. She pulls open the "R" drawer and produces a cellophane bag stuffed with tiny dried roses, their buds a pale pink.
"I use Damascena roses," Takimoto says. "They're more fragrant than other varieties. Rose is a slight astringent on the skin; it can clean and repair. And it represents beauty and love."
Takimoto is an herbalist, and how she uses plants to create the balms and serums and lotions in her Romi Apothecary skin care line is her art. She forages for some of her ingredients — wandering through a forest in spring in search of spruce tips is spiritual for her.
Yes, she can talk scientifically and at length about how the spruce works in one of her cleansers to clean but not strip the skin, about natural biomes and the skin's acid mantle and Ph levels. But she's also interested in the bright energy of the plant.
"Spruce tips are one of the first things to emerge in spring, a sign of earth waking up," she says. "They represent hope and potential."
A self-described hippie, Takimoto arrived in Minnesota from Kona, Hawaii, as a Macalester College student. Within an out-there group of fellow theater and dance majors, she was even further out as a performance artist with a shaved head and a taste for the unusual.
She eventually settled into a career as an occupational therapist, but years of seeing eight to 10 patients a day left her feeling burned out. What helped was performing skin care rituals, some that she'd learned from her Korean mother. As she'd press a hot towel to her face and breathe in an aromatic scent, she'd find herself feeling nourished and revived.
After she stumbled across a book by an herbalist on natural cosmetics, she took classes, studied plant identification, learned about foraging and sourcing plants responsibly and apprenticed with an herbalist. She started making products and shared them with friends who loved them and kept asking her for more. Eventually she launched her business full time.
Now, 14 retailers carry her line and she sells direct to consumers through Etsy and her website, romiapothecary.com. She's hoping to grow bigger.
"I want to convey to the user that you can have tiny little sacred moments with these products that were made conscientiously, with ingredients from close to the Earth," Takimoto says. "Using them, you can find healing."