There are plenty of fun little classes in NYC, where you get a quick and cursory lesson in some sort of craft, a two-hour long diversion meant for the dabbler, for entertainment.
This is not what the NY Institute of Aromatherapy is about. It’s the first and only school in NYC that can turn you into a certified aromatherapist, and classes get into the intricacies of natural beauty and healing. Sure, there are classes you can take on a lark where you learn how to make organic soap, fragrance, hand sanitizer and more. But on the evening I tried out a class* on herbal infusions, I was surrounded by students who were far from giggly and lighthearted. Many of them are repeat students taking classes toward a certification. This is serious stuff, not for cute dabbling, but for people avidly pursuing the craft.
The classes are held in a small storefront in the East Village, a small white room with a dining table and white shelves stocked with mason jars, pumps, oils in brown jars, glass cookie jars filled with mysterious wafers, balls, bars, and powder, glass droppers, and double boilers at the top. It is orderly and enticing, like a good witch’s den.
The school’s founder, Amy Galper, is an industry veteran, having launched one of the first luxury organic beauty brands back in 2003 (Buddha Nose), and consults with beauty brands to help create some best-selling products. Galper is a natural beauty, no makeup needed, with a bright and charismatic demeanor. She speaks clearly and slowly about the nuances of medicinal properties of several plants, so that the students – all in their late 20s to mid-40s, can take notes.
She explains where she gets her herbs (a small farm in Vermont that hand-harvests them for peak freshness), and which herbs are local to New York (yarrow, echinacea, arnica). I personally came on a lark, but I am getting sucked in. Every statement from her sets off a furious round of scribbling. She passes around fresh echinacea to smell, then calendula. There are murmurs of appreciation from around the table as she shows off the color of this and that herb.
She’s open to questions and side tracks, and we start to fall behind on time discussing drying techniques. She speaks of plants’ personalities, how arnica differs from comfrey. She pulls out the brand of olive oil and sunflower oil she orders for infusions, then demonstrates how to decant the infused oil and separate it from the herbs. We file forward with our little bottles to receive some green plantain weed (not to be confused with the edible plantain from the bodega) that we can use for mosquito bites, small cuts, and rashes.
I fall into conversation with the woman next to me as she fills larger jars with comfrey, over which we pour either olive or sunflower oil for infusing over the next few months. She has taken the base certification, the soap class, and now this class. She’s trying to learn enough to make formulations for special needs kids. Another woman who graduated from the school announces she’s seeking votes for her beauty company that she’s pitching to Martha Stewart’s American Made.
After two hours, we leave with a notes on how to infuse our own herbal tinctures, a jar of infusing comfrey, a small jar of plantain weed-infused oil, and a relaxed state of mind.
I highly recommend trying out one of Amy’s workshops, especially if you have a dream of starting your own natural beauty company. There’s ones like Introduction to Essential Oils, a day-long intensive on botanical perfume, how to make fizzy bath bombs, more.
But if you want to try out some of her products without taking a class, you can stop by the store during the day to buy an infusion, butter, or aerosol. The welcoming store is located at 530 East 13th Street in the East Village.