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A Brief Interlude

Dear Friends,

As we move through spring, that amazing cool breeze of change moves through us. Each year it is a time to renew, to clean out the dusty corners, and to welcome in new life. For us, this particular spring brings a chance to shift, and take a break from making our remedies in order to pursue new ideas and exciting opportunities.

We’ve loved making our elixirs and remedies. It’s a magical thing to be surrounded by jars of deep red tonics and bundles of pungent herbs, and to share them with our friends and customers. The rich and vibrant history of these ancient Eastern traditions is so important to us, and they continue to inspire us and our journey.

During our little sabbatical, we hope you will stay connected, and check back here on our Journal for current inspiration and adventures.

Wishing good health and happiness,

Reorient

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Our Ramblings on International Women’s Day

I know of the leafy paths that the witches take…

-Yeats

Whenever people visit our workspace, with piles of herbs in dark corners and long, stringy roots steeping in jars of alcohol, we hear the word “witchy” used more than a few times. We take it as a compliment, because we love the mystical images associated with witchcraft – be it in the form of great, beautiful healers, dark sorceresses, or old women of quiet mystery and kitchen magic stirring cauldrons over the fire.

Of course, this picture of a witch, mixing up potions and casting peculiar spells, is more a Western concept than an Eastern one. In China, where our founder Jess grew up, the meaning of the term is closer to the Western understanding of a Shaman – a term traditionally associated more with holiness and respect than evil and disrepute. Unsurprisingly, it is this reverential interpretation that most closely matches our own experiences with people and practices that are so often described as “witchy.”

Much of our inspiration and medicinal knowledge come from the strong women in Jess’ family, who always had a remedy on the stove in the kitchen or advice for a healing food, as almost all mothers do in this culture. They picked out herbs – and yes, sometimes animal parts – from local apothecaries and brought them home for their families, brewing them while explaining their work, and so ancient wisdom is passed down this way through generations.

With these women in mind, we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, made all the more relevant for us as team made up solely of women. On this day, we are reminded about this idea of a witch, and how we’ve been hearing this term used more frequently this past year, during a revival of herbalism and potion-making. It is a connection that we welcome, remembering that in many parts of the world the term “witch” carries with it a complicated history relating to the economic, social, and emotional realm of women. It was not so far in our past that witch hunts were commonplace, or when a woman taking interest in medicine and science, or displaying any signs of strength or opposition, was suspected of witchcraft and stripped of her dignity, freedom, and often her life. A word that for ages carried with it such fear and persecution, that became an excuse for distrusting the influence of women, now seems to be gaining a positive sense of mystery, strength, and power, especially as more women choose to work as healers in the new wave of botanical and herbal apothecary businesses.

We’re proud to be part of this revival, and want to honor all of the women healers who inspire us with their perseverance, knowledge, and mystical powers. On March 8th and everyday, we remember our roots as part of the historic community of strong women, of female doctors and herbalists, of female entrepreneurs, and of witches.

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Walls: Dreams from the Han Dynasty

Our spirits dwell in the early spring of old China, amidst quince blossoms and new peonies. We find our home, however, in Northern California, and while buds are starting to swell on the magnolia trees and narcissus blooms are abundant, it is still too cold to sit in the grass and get lost in the warmth of a lazy afternoon. So, for now, we look to the dream walls of long ago and far away for the springtime images and warmth we crave.

What would our dream wall be?

The Han dynasty brought with it a new art form – hand-painted folding screens depicting scenes that transported the exquisite nature of birds and flowers to the interiors of palaces and houses of royalty. Romantic and decadent, their richly layered gold inlay and intricate imagery could warm up large, cold palace halls and their fame quickly spread. During the Age of Exploration the art form traveled by trade routes and Eastern expeditions, taking shape first in Japan and then westward across the continent. By the 18th century, beautifully painted screens and walls could be found throughout Western Europe, beginning the trend of Asian-inspired motifs and imagery found in Chinoiserie, and later in the Art Deco movement.

Walls like these have gone in and out of fashion, and are now experiencing some renewed attention. Our favorite places to shop and be inspired are the exquisite, hand-painted galleries of de Gournay, or vintage wallpaper websites like Secondhand Rose. If our offices had walls like these, we might not go home.

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Mythical Scents

Flowers really do intoxicate me. – Vita Sackville-West

According to Chinese medicine, scent has its own healing power, and here in our kitchens when we open a bag of lavender or a satchel of rose petals, we know this to be true.

An arpeggio in time, some invisible intoxicant will transport you, quickly flipping through images back to the moment where the fragrance was fused to your history. Sorrow, comfort, desire, or pain, we are infused with the scents that tangle themselves in our memories and pull us back into the depths of our lives.

It must have been this, centuries ago, that the Emperor of Qianlong experienced when he first met Iparhan – the “Musky Woman” –  known throughout her land for the natural aroma of her body. The Emperor felt compelled to name her his consort. Though she refused to love him, he kept her there and showered her with lavish gifts and gardens, so intoxicated was he by the way she smelled.

What salvation did he find in her aroma? 

The myth of the Fragrant Concubine is short, and unembellished, yet its significance lies in how it has lingered. For centuries the tale has inspired painters, musicians, filmmakers and writers. The people of this story are long gone, and still we seek to capture  her essence, to find a fragrant concubine and breathe in her aroma to soothe ourselves. Each of our elixirs preserves the aroma of the plants we use – a gift to fill your imagination and ease what ails you.

 

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Heat of the Night: A Traditional Ginger Foot Bath

Here in northern California, our drought has ended, and we are grateful! The constant rain, however, has left us feeling that kind of chill that is hard to shake. Ancient Chinese medicine tells us that cold and dampness can easily enter the body in this environment, after a day walking around in the rain, with wet hair and cold shoes. So, we have been reaching into our Bulk Remedy jars of dried ginger to warm ourselves from the feet up. This remedy came to us from our founder’s childhood in Hong Kong. On chilly nights or at the onset of a cold, Jess’ father would prepare a special ginger foot bath for healing.

The strong heat in ginger acts to balance and soothe the body in the darker months governed by the slow, cool yin energy. Grown in the rich soils of Hawaii, this potent tropical root is the perfect remedy for removing cold and dampness, aiding the flow of blood, and promoting a warm and restful sleep deep into the long winter night.  

Like all self-care rituals, this is best done in a comfortable and relaxed environment. Here is our recommendation…

Prepare the foot bath. Set aside a full 45-60 minutes for yourself, preferably when you will be undisturbed. Heat a large pot of water over the stove or run a shallow bath at the hottest temperature setting. While the water is heating or the tub is filling, gather what you need to create a warm and relaxing atmosphere, and be sure to place a glass of water, soft towels and socks or slippers nearby for after the foot soak. When the water is hot, toss the satchel of ginger into the water and let it steep for 10 minutes.  

If using a foot tub, pour the potent ginger brew into the tub and add colder water for an optimal temperature, the tub should be filled to cover the ankles.  Soak your feet and ankles in the hot water for at least 20 minutes. You might feel your body heating up significantly, and some sweating is normal. As you soak, activate your senses. Luxuriate in the feel of the warm water and observe the heat spreading through your legs and into your body. Breathe in the spicy steam rising from the water and listen to the subtle sounds or gentle music around you.

TIP: If you do not have a foot tub or large enough vessel, the foot soak can be done in a bathtub while showering. Just leave the bath stopper in, and allow the tub to fill and the ginger to steep before jumping in the shower.

Have an early night.  Dry your feet, and continue to keep them warm with socks or slippers. Drink a glass of water and keep activities to a minimum. Try to go to bed early to take advantage of your enhanced restful state.

Repeat the ritual. The next morning, notice how you slept the night before, and how you feel. Herbal remedies are often subtle at first, and their effects cumulative. Try the foot bath a few nights in a row and see how it feels (it should feel like a treat at the very least!). In time, you will begin to sense when your body is not in balance, when you are chilled or have excess heat, when your digestion is sluggish, or sleep is uneasy. This is when to turn to these simple, soothing and effective practices.

Most of all, Enjoy Yourself! Happy bathing!

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To The Muses

To our muses, daughters of memory, who provoke in us a spark of longing as they cooly radiate that otherworldly spirit of passion and artistry. Shrouded in silks and golden threads, these women are the embodiment of fine Chinese art. They blur the lines between Old World and New, East and West, and so transcend time and place. We see the secrets behind their eyes and the blush in their cheeks, captivated and curious, we are inspired. . . 

May Wong, 1930s flapper 


Unknown Portrait, in the style of Giuseppe Castiglione’s “The Fragrant Concubine”  


 Maggie Cheung, In The Mood For Love, 2000 


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What is
Reorient?

fleur

We are a small botanical haven in SF, inspired by the history and healing traditions of the Orient. We’re currently taking a break from making our remedies, but continue to explore projects for preserving the beauty of this old world art form. This journal is inspired by ancient apothecary cabinets of the Orient, called Chests of 100 Seeds, full of precious herbs and hidden secrets, each one a key to a potential new ritual.

read more about us

@reorienthouse
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