From a childhood on the rugged Scottish coast, to seven years in Cyprus and now settled in Lewes, where she raised five children and set up her business – Amanda Saurin – apothecary, perfumier, homeopath, doula – on her wild life…
“I live in a very old timber-framed house in central Lewes – it is one of the black and white variety built in 1542. It’s right underneath Lewes Castle. I live here with my husband, two of my children – Oscar, 18, and Floss, 15 – our cat Monty and dog Kip.
I would love to say it’s clutter free and totally clean and tidy, but it’s not. There are always bits of plant lying on the sides, filling jars or hanging from beams. The floor often has a light covering of dog-chewed detritus (he is still young and has a penchant for shoe chewing) and there are books everywhere.
For such an old house it’s quite light. But all the walls are wonky and the floors dip horribly in the middle. Hanging pictures is entertaining; they always lean out from the wall rather like an artistic plumb-line.
It smells of whatever I’m experimenting with although now I have a proper workshop in Plumpton, it smells less and we have gone beyond every surface being covered with products – I don’t miss the days of saying to whichever child was around “pass the potatoes from under the sofa”. We have reclaimed the cupboards!
We have a beautiful courtyard with flowerbeds, ancient brickwork, flint walls and various chairs. My favourite is a covered bench, which I can sit on even when it’s raining.
Behind the house and up a little private path we have another garden known fondly as ‘the lottie’. We have a fire-pit up there and chairs for lolling on. I intended it to be a productive garden but after years of spiky grass in Cyprus (where we lived for seven years), the children dreamt of a lawn with soft grass to lie on – I succumbed, they were right.
I spent hours looking for treasure, old bottles, bits of china and anything else preserved in the muddy sand
My childhood was spent in Scotland. When I was young we lived in Fife on the banks of the Firth of Forth. My days were spent at school in Edinburgh, which involved a car journey, a train across the Forth Rail Bridge, a bus and then a walk uphill. I was very fit. It was rather ‘Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’.
My weekends were such a contrast, I loved to climb down the sea wall onto the muddy beach – I spent hours looking for treasure, old bottles, bits of china and anything else preserved in the muddy sand.
We had a Newfoundland dog – a huge and gentle soul, I went on very long walks with her up into the woods and across the fields. Being outside by the sea, wild and free, was where I felt most at home. In fact even now when I’m grumpy, my children ask if I need to be taken to the sea…
I think I was always interested in plants and trees, but having a childhood largely spent outside exploring was pivotal in fostering that interest. In common with almost all children I spent a great deal of time making potions from leaves, petals and bits of the garden which in the moment smelled amazing but after a couple of days in a jam jar lost all appeal (I’m much better at that now).
Apothecary is an ancient profession bringing together a knowledge of plants and how best to extract their therapeutic properties. As a professional homeopath and plantswoman, I have worked with plants for over 30 years.
My homeopathic training was four years of intensive study, added to that I have grown and used herbs all my adult life interchanging homeopathic remedies for herbal preparations where the ailment suggested one was more suitable than another. The pleasure of it is that I never stop learning.
I have a homeopathic practice in Lewes and see patients – in fact many of my favourite A.S APOTHECARY products come from making balms, distillations and butters for patients.
I’m also a birth doula and have attended many births over the years in the UK and Cyprus – homeopathy and herbs formed an essential part of that work. In fact clary sage, that I grow to make an essential oil, is quite fantastic during labour.
Perfumes are a natural extension of what I do. We think of perfume as simply adding scent but natural perfumery is so different to the chemical laden offerings generally produced.
As a distiller, I have the most beautiful essential oils I have made, I understand their mood enhancing benefits and combine them to produce perfume that lifts the spirits. They are gentle and quiet, there is no scent trail and they transform on your skin as you wear them.
I started playing with scent whilst I was living in Cyprus – I worked with an excellent herbalist there who introduced me to many of the oils and resins used by the Sufis. It was a journey into spice and rich rounded scent, the Sufis I met in Cyprus and Egypt have been incredibly generous with their knowledge and supplies of exquisite oils.
I am so fortunate to have been able to turn my passion into a business whilst still maintaining the integrity of what I do. I suppose for me, it was a case of very slowly joining all the dots – I love plants, I am an experienced therapist, my patients benefited from all the products I made for them. I moved to Cyprus and my eyes were opened to what was possible in terms of oils and scents and so from there, I honed my skills, offered the products more widely and after returning to the UK began to create a brand with a superb team to help me.
I think the reason that it is successful is because I have never been tempted to drop my therapeutic standards, I approach the making of every product as if it is for a patient – I am concerned more about the value of it on the skin than the profit.
I believe in a different kind of beauty business – where the emphasis is on creating beautiful, strong, healthy skin rather than making women feel undermined by promoting the idea that ageing is a defect that needs to be fixed.
Additionally, our work is utterly transparent, people can (and often do) come and visit the farm, they help pick the flowers, share coffee and cake and become involved in the process. I love the flow of ideas that visitors bring and we are always glad of help planting out or picking – we have a lot of flowers.
I think a viable business comes from making with care and attention to all the tiny details. It’s not about big profit, for me business is about doing something well that benefits people, plants and the environment and which feeds the soul and stimulates the mind.
As children get older, with a little training, they become excellent baristas I’ve discovered
My eldest son Fergus was 30 recently, I can’t quite believe it – the years have flown by. Connie is 27, Bell is 25, Oscar is 18 and Flossie is 15. Funnily enough I feel as though they look after me as much as I look after them. They are all fantastic and I feel so incredibly proud to be their mother.
At weekends I like sitting in bed reading, it is a rare luxury. If one of the older kids have stayed the night they make me a coffee and bring it into my room with some toast. As children get older, with a little training, they become excellent baristas I’ve discovered.
In the busy growing season, I will work for part of the weekend – the plants demand a lot of attention, and picking and working with them at the right moment can’t wait. In the winter it slows down a little and I’ll often meet my kids for coffee, go for a wander into town, out for a walk, catch up with friends or go to the sea to watch the waves.
There are two things I think are critical when raising children. Firstly, when your kids are small, make time for yourself. Get someone to look after them for at least two hours a week, in that time all domesticity is banned, you must go and do something that is pure pleasure for yourself. This is so terribly important.
Secondly, create lines of communication with your kids from the start, have periods when nothing is arranged and you can all just chill together. Boredom fosters communication. This is important because when children are little they will express whatever is in their head and you can create the conditions that favour discussion.
Later however, when they are teens and beyond, you can’t control when they want to talk or indeed if they want to talk, but if you have always listened to them, if you really know them, they will find their own moment to talk and you will understand when and how to encourage that.
I plan to continue chipping away at the prevailing beauty paradigm that only flawless skin will make you attractive, powerful etc
I often say that I’m on an organic amble, I don’t have a strategic plan but every autumn the seed catalogue arrives and I spend countless hours musing on what else I can grow and what wonderful products I can make with it. I have a ‘flight of fancy’ book for my more ambitious ideas and gradually I plan to get round to doing them as money and time allow.
I’ve been very fortunate to have some great on-going collaborative projects with the Isle of Harris Distillery and Glyndebourne Opera House. Through these I’ve been able to explore new landscapes and develop specialist products – I plan to do more of that.
I also plan to continue chipping away at the prevailing beauty paradigm that only flawless skin will make you attractive, powerful etc. and that we must all strive to look much younger than we are because through that we will meet the man of our dreams, get the best job, have the cleverest children and so on… It is a narrative that creates and then compounds insecurity.
In contrast, natural and sustainably sourced skincare has at its heart a philosophy that we should celebrate our skin and support it to be the best it can be. It’s not about conforming to a stereotype, it’s about putting something on our skin that feeds, nourishes and protects.
It’s also about doing no harm – using the very best natural ingredients, making products mindfully and with care and encouraging women and men to create rituals of skincare that make them feel really cared for. It’s about trust between us – the makers, and you – the clients.”