Discover Balsam Hollow

Introducing MADE SAFE® Certified products from Balsam Hollow, along with our Q&A with the company's Founder, Summer Streets.

Discover Balsam Hollow MADE SAFE Blog

Balsam Hollow is a line of simple, thoughtful, bioregional skin care products inspired by the plants that make their home in Balsam Hollow, located in Minnesota’s beautiful Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion on ancestral Ojibwe land.

As a scientist, the founder of Balsam Hollow Summer Streets, uses her expertise to evaluate ingredients for their toxicity and environmental impact. While formulating her products, she uses minimal ingredients that are wildcrafted or organically grown.

Why are you proud of your MADE SAFE® Certification?

Getting MADE SAFE® Certification feels like coming full circle. I have been a MADE SAFE science advisor since 2015. I’m an environmental chemist by trade and I’ve been studying toxics in the environment since 2005. I used my expertise to help MADE SAFE develop their ingredient evaluation criteria, so I know the requirements inside and out! Making my own products and having them certified makes me so proud, not just proud of my products but also proud of being a part of MADE SAFE.

Now that I am making and selling my own products, I feel the impact of MADE SAFE Certification in a whole new way. So much of what I have learned over the years as an environmental chemist and MADE SAFE science advisor has informed the way I approach product formulation. In a nutshell, I believe products should be simple yet effective with just a few powerful ingredients. Less is more!

Why is it important to have third-party validation for your products?

Having third-party validation gives the customer peace of mind that an independent organization with no financial stake in the outcome has thoroughly evaluated and declared a product to be free from harmful ingredients. So many brands make claims that their products are “natural” or “clean”, but that is often a form of greenwashing that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Having a third party like MADE SAFE evaluate every single ingredient against strict criteria assures customers that they are purchasing the best products for their families and the environment. 

Why did you start your company?

I have been making herbal oils for my personal use for years. They are effective, affordable, and you only need a couple of simple ingredients to make truly powerful skincare with no harmful ingredients.

My job as an environmental chemist and my role as a science advisor for MADE SAFE®, along with my background in esthetics and herbalism, gives me a unique perspective on product ingredients and their impact on people and the planet. There’s just so much junk out there! It’s incredibly difficult to find truly “clean” products with just a few minimally processed ingredients. When you can’t find what you want – make it yourself!

Balsam Hollow is not just a brand, it’s a place. I moved to the forests of northern Minnesota in 2021. The land here is truly magical with an abundance of medicinal plants right at my feet, literally. There are roughly 2 acres of “yard” and another 12 acres of forest dominated by balsam fir. Aside from the trees, the most abundant plants in the yard are also the stars of my most beloved oil and salve – yarrow and self heal! These little plants are herbal powerhouses and I always have them on hand. I am inspired by the land and the flora, and I’m passionate about sharing these lovely little healers with the world.

How are your products different from other, more conventional, products in the space?

When you use Balsam Hollow oil or salve it’s like putting plants right on your face! OK, not really. But it’s the next best thing. The essence of the whole plants is captured in the oil, along with its beneficial constituents. I use tried and true techniques to maximize the extraction of the plant into the carrier oil to ensure the most potent herb-infused oil possible.

I also tend to use the “weedy” plants – those that are abundant, hardy, perhaps overlooked or even demonized. There’s no such thing as a weed if you ask me! A weed is just a plant growing in a place you don’t want it. So many of the plants we vilify as weeds are incredibly useful medicinals with potent phytochemical constituents. Plus, their abundance makes them prime candidates for ethical wild harvesting.

All my products are packaged in glass, which has numerous advantages. First, glass doesn’t leech any harmful chemicals into the product. Second, glass can be recycled again and again, making it a sustainable option. Third, you can clean and reuse every bottle and jar once it is empty! I admit to having a rather large collection of empty bottles and jars, but I find endless uses for them. And you can, too!

What’s the one thing you would never do as a maker of better products?

My products are made from minimally processed ingredients, which is really important to me. I would never use synthetic chemicals, even those derived from plant sources, in any of my products. While there are certainly synthetics derived from plants that are safe to use, they don’t align with my own goals and values for Balsam Hollow. I want to capture the spirit and essence of the plants I use by keeping my products as close to nature as possible.

What do you wish shoppers thought about more, and why?

Just because a product claims to be “natural” or “clean” or “green” doesn’t mean it is! There is no regulation around these sorts of statements and many companies play fast and loose with these terms to convince customers that their products are safe. Don’t fall for it!

There is widespread misconception that if a product is on the shelf, it must have been tested by the government, and therefore, safe. The reality could not be further from the truth. There is very little oversight of product ingredients, especially in the beauty and skincare realm. It’s basically the wild west out there.

That lack of regulation makes it super important for consumers to be well-informed in order to make safe choices for themselves and their families. However, it can be incredibly difficult for most people to read a product ingredient list and know whether those ingredients are safe. You shouldn’t have to be a toxicologist to find a safe product! Here are a couple of simple tips to help you find safe products:

  • · Buying healthy products is a lot like buying healthy food: you want a short ingredient list with recognizable ingredients.
  • · Shop MADE SAFE® Certified products! MADE SAFE® does the hard work of ingredient evaluation for you so you can be confident that your products will be good for you and the environment.

What’s the one product in your line you can’t live without, and why?

I cannot live without my Yarrow & Self Heal Salve. It is so amazing for treating minor wounds and skin irritations. I find myself continuously reaching for it.

I have been going through laser tattoo removal for the last year. It’s incredibly painful and leaves the skin bruised, blistered, and painful. Yarrow & Self Heal Salve dramatically shortens the time it takes to heal and the amount of pain I experience. I recently did a side-by-side comparison and only treated half of my tattoo after the last removal session. Hands down, the side treated with Yarrow & Self Heal Salve felt so much better and was back to normal days faster than the untreated side.

I’ve had customers report that it works great for their chapped lips, windburn, turf burn (that one was new to me!), and bruising. It’s a must have in my book.

What have you done to make your life healthier (i.e., do you meditate daily, practice mindfulness, yoga, walk, etc.), and why?

I walk outside in the forest every day, no matter the weather. My dog helps with that! Getting outside, even when it’s 30 below or pouring rain, is so important for mental and physical well-being. I love the silence of the woods, the fresh air, the smell of the trees on a hot day. It is so healing. Even if you live in a city, there is always a little patch of nature you can get it touch with. I recommend it!

I try to get some amount of intense physical exercise each day, although I’m not yet as dedicated to that practice as I am to my daily walks. I realized that, at 47, this is not a dress rehearsal anymore. This is it. Use it or lose it, as they say. Since I plan to live to be 100, I would rather not lose it.

I try to taste a plant every day. In the summer, this means I am picking and eating bits of yarrow flowers and leaves, as well as self heal and other edible herbs I find. In the winter months, I drink tea made from plants I foraged and dried the previous summer and nibbling fir needles. If you taste a bit of the same plant every day you become really familiar with that plant, get to learn by taste when it is most potent, and develop a deeper connection with it. That has been a transformative practice for me.

Thanks to Summer Streets for helping us introduce Balsam Hollow to the MADE SAFE community.

Summer is inspired by plants that make their home in Balsam Hollow, located in Minnesota’s beautiful Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion on ancestral Ojibwe land. Balsam Hollow sees product packaging as an extension of the product. Their packaging utilizes sustainable, reusable, and recyclable materials.

If you found this post valuable, please share it below. Follow us on social to let us know what you like, what you need, and what you want to see more of. Also, don’t forget to ask the companies making your favorite products to become #MADESAFE Certified. Remember, your voice matters!

Back to blog