Sweet Spirit Apothecary on plant intelligence + magic

Sweet Spirit Apothecary 'North' perfume oil

I first met Demetra after having approached her about writing my first piece about her  we met up and ended up spending a couple of hours talking yoga, music and everything in between. At that time, she was just beginning to experiment with the making of natural products and potions. Fast forward a year and a half, Sweet Spirit Apothecary has become a local favourite and regular of the handmade market circuit. 

This time, I got to sit down with Demetra in her and her partner's enviable cabin on the Eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg  and on New Year's Day, no less. This time around, we again neglected business in favour of fluid conversation and frozen lake exploration. No loss there.

In all seriousness, Demetra is a lady made of magic dust. Her products are as incredible as her spirit is genuine. Read on. 

Sweet Spirit Apothecary Studio

Did you ever think you would be the owner of an apothecary?

No, I never thought I’d be making skin care or using essential oils  but I’m not surprised either, as I’ve always been busy making something, some form of art. I’ve always been interested in the natural world and its teachings. And I’ve always been into skin care and just taking care of the body, either through yoga or healthy eating  or whatever  just a more holistic point of view. So, no, but I’m not surprised, and I’m happy that I’m on this path.

Sweet Spirit Apothecary frozen Lake Winnipeg

How did it all start?

About three years ago I was living a very hectic life, and it was great, but I was a touring musician and was going from city to city to city and feeling pretty exhausted and depleted  lots of giving out my art and just kind of feeling like I needed to slow down and find a home. And at the end of my last tour I met my now partner, and he had the same vision for life. We both didn’t want to live in the city and we both wanted to slow down and become more connected to nature and spirit. And within nine months, we had sold his house in Winnipeg and had started looking for a place  we just looked at a few cabins an hour north, found one we liked, and moved an hour north of Winnipeg to a cabin on the lake. 

Also, I grew up on a farm, so I was always into gardening and nature and plants and felt very connected to the earth and the cycles, and the seasons, and the sun, and the moon and everything like that. So, I kind of really felt in tune with those things again, and very inspired by my surroundings. And was kind of reassessing my entire life and my 20s and how disconnected it seemed... and I just started fermenting vegetables and making things out of the trees and resins for different medicines and tinctures  and then it gradually evolved into skin care. 

I just began experimenting and studying and I just became obsessed with the healing properties of herbs and plants  I researched and read and when that door opened it was like opening Pandora’s box. I just felt so inspired and I had so much life in me to make these things. And I just believe so much in the healing power of plants  I don’t think putting chemicals on our skin is the solution ever. And just realizing that our entire body is an organism and its not separate from our surroundings, and that what we put on our skin goes directly into our bodies  our skin is an organ  and if our skin is unhealthy, the rest of our body suffers just like if one of our organs is unhealthy.

Sweet Spirit Apothecary Magic Balms

What gets you up in the morning?

If I’m in a good healthy place of motivation and inspiration and I’m feeling aligned with myself (which is usually, but not always!) I’ll wake up before the sun rises. I find that the time before the sun rises is very sacred to me and it’s important that I take at least 15 minutes if not more to sit in stillness as the sun is rising, and set my intentions, give thanks, meditate, and just remind myself of my purpose here and just say a prayer. So that gets me out of bed early, but what I’m excited for is  I often feel like there is so much inspiration coming from every avenue. Often the first thing I do is go to my piano and start singing  and a song will just come.

From there, if it’s before a market or just a really busy season, I get really excited about what I think people will be really excited about. I don’t know  if it’s the solstice, and I want to use herbs and things that help with the winter solstice and letting go of things and being in solitude and turning inward  I’ll make a ritual mist or an oil that has those intentions and uses the plants to help one go within. So those things make me excited. This is so magical! When you open that door of possibility, its just purely infinite inspiration. There is so much we can do with plants.

Sweet Spirit Apothecary crystal pendants

Do you believe plants are magical?

Most definitely, yes. I think all life is magical. And there is a mystery to why we are here and why plants are here and why the whole planet exists, and the solar system, and the stars... it’s all pretty magical if you think of it. And it’s so fine-tuned and orchestrated and it’s meant to work together in harmony. Plants do just that  they take what they need and give what they need, and they surrender. They’re self-preserving, they self-heal, they share, they sacrifice. They’re like artists and they’re entrepreneurs. They have an entrepreneurial spirit. They move, they evolve, they grow, they change, they reach for the light, and they do everything they can do continue their growth. And there is so much we can learn from that kind of spirit.

Sweet Spirit Apothecary New Year's day Sunset on frozen Lake Winnipeg

What are you most obsessed with right now?

I’m obsessed with putting plant oils and essential oils in the form of a serum that I make on my face and in my hair and all over my body. It’s winter and even in summer I’m obsessed with covering my whole body in all of these really beautiful, healing plant oils. My skin loves it and my soul loves it. There’s nothing greater than just straight up oil  like argan oil, and rose hip oil, camellia seed oil, sea buckthorn oil… essential oils have so many properties  they’re antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal  and they’re intelligent. I don’t know how to explain it. They work with your skin  this goes back to the magic. Every single plant has a system… if a lavender plant gets hacked off from being harvested, it produces this volatile oil that has all these properties to heal the wound because it got cut. So, when we put this on our skin, the oils know what to do, they know where to heal us, they go into our bloodstream, they go into our organs and they do what they can do to regulate our systems. They work with our natural intelligence. So, it just helps regulate everything  just keeping everything in check and in order. That’s the intelligence of plants  when we use natural things it helps us tap into our own inner intelligence.

So, obsession is oils everywhere and serums. They literally make you glow, and they heal the skin from the inside out it’s not like a temporary fix  they can actually change your skin over time.

Sweet Spirit Apothecary Demetra Penner

Why is this work important?

It’s something that’s always on my mind when I’m working at anything  is this work important? Do I believe in this work? Can I stand behind this work? Because I don’t really ever want to end up doing work that I’m not 100% passionate about and I don’t feel like benefits the world. Right before you asked this question, I had a mini breakdown about seeing the refugee crisis and all of these other problems in the world  just thinking about the world in the large scheme I’m like, “What am I even doing? Shouldn’t I just go to the other side of the world and work with these people that need help? Shouldn’t we all just stop what we’re doing?” But it’s not really where I’m gifted. I find that my gifts are more in creating and art and making a statement and creating change there. I have to remind myself that what I am doing is fruitful.

The work is important because it works on many different levels from a very just basic skin care level… there’s nothing better that we could put on our bodies than plant based products. On a superficial level, it’s important that we have healthy skin, because it makes our whole body healthy, it works holistically.

Second, aromatherapy is very powerful. And i had no idea it was this powerful until I smelled my first essential oil only three years ago. You just don’t even realize how smell is a sense like all of our other senses  we’re very affected by music and by what we see  and smell is one of the biggest ways we can affect our experience of the world. There are so many essential oils that work on depression, anxiety, sluggishness, oils that can stimulate you so you can find your creative side  just feeling moody, or irritable. There are just so many ways that they work. That’s all very interesting me to me too. I like making healing oils for the skin but I always like to use oils that heal the skin  and then I blend them synergistically to create something that works on a specific issue. I had oil called Moon Song that works with the throat chakra and with the energy of expression and of being true in this world.

So ,for me this isn’t just about essential oils — it’s about a whole new way of life about going within. Coming into the world from a more centred place of freedom, knowing, health, and humility. So, it is very important work to me and it goes along with everything else that I do, teaching yoga and teaching people how to go back to their breath and to that place of stillness. It’s important for me to have this entrepreneurial spirit, it’s good for me to constantly be thinking of new things to make that are aligned with the seasons and aligned with the heart and to better myself and challenge my growth and challenge what i’m capable of. This whole business started with mason jars and handwritten labels and was a couple of basic products  when i see how it’s grown, its so beautiful to me because it just grows every week and it's become its own thing, and it’s keeping me in this world. I’m sustaining myself through being myself — and from being my best self  and that’s very liberating and empowering.

You can connect with Sweet Spirit Apothecary on Instagram, and at the Osborne Farmers' Market storefront (383 McMillan Ave.) 

Photos by Demetra Penner and Sarah Carson.