Life on the wild side: why being in nature is soup for the soul
The digital world is our modern-day bird song: a constant chatter of pings, rings and real-time alerts. Amid all the noise and distraction, it can be tricky to remember that we humans evolved in the wild open Savannah – millions of years before we first heard the immortal word ‘smartphone’.
One person who knows this connection well, however, is Dr Sally Gouldstone, conservation expert and founder of Virgin StartUp company Seilich. Sally’s business model revolves around natural skincare products sourced from the wildflower meadows that surround her home in the Scottish Lothians.
“I’ve always loved nature. It's always been part of me,” Sally tells Virgin Red, whom she’s partnered with to deliver botanical workshops that members can access using Virgin Points. The sessions give a fascinating insight into our connection with nature, rooted in Seilich’s vision of a circular economy – whereby profits from the brand are reinvested back into seeding more wildflower meadows.
This is Sally’s own way of creating renewal after a 20-year career in global conservation where she saw first-hand how natural systems were collapsing. “We're not separate from nature. We are nature. It’s incredibly powerful,” she says. “We need to spend time in green space to meet our basic human needs.”
Here’s how, and why, we can, and should rebuild our ties to the natural world.
The outdoor landscape relaxes us
Numerous studies show how even a short amount of time in nature can help us unwind and de-stress – with a potent effect that Sally herself is quick to recognise. “I can't be trapped inside for any length of time. My husband jokes that I'm like a caged animal,” she says. “He’s like, ‘just go for a walk!’ Even if the weather’s really awful, I have to get outside.”
Although Sally spends a lot of time in the farmed landscape of her business just outside Edinburgh, she also likes to retreat further into the natural world. For example, with wild camping in remote woodland every few months to recharge her batteries even more. This calming power of nature is a change she observes in clients, too.
“People come to my workshops thinking that they're going to get some practical skills, like learning to make their own skincare or infused oils,” she explains, “but I don't think they expect this experience of just being in nature and really calming down.”
“My customers always seem quite surprised, especially in the summer months, when we just go and sit outside in the wildflower meadow with cups of tea and blankets. We sit and chat, or listen to the birds for a while, and people are amazed how calming it is. They say things like, ‘Oh, I didn't realise that I needed this’, or ‘I didn’t know how fast my brain was turning over’. It's really nice to introduce people to the natural rhythm of life outdoors.”
Nature has amazing healing qualities
While nature generally is soup for the soul, Seilich’s harvest of natural skincare products show just how we can leverage the power of nature in our own self-care routines. Sally’s wildflower meadows are a wonderland of unsung potential, and she’s constantly discovering new botanicals and ingredients with hidden benefits.
”Take wild carrots,” Sally says. “I make infusions out of the roots that we’re all familiar with, but this is a vegetable that also produces amazing flowers on top. I distil them straight from the meadow and turn them into essential oils, and they have the most incredible effect on the skin.”
“The combination of the wild carrot root and flower together has been mind-blowing,” Sally continues. “I get the most amazing comments from customers talking about the quality that comes with the wild character of face creams and cleansers.”
The unexpected magic of wild plants is “something I wasn’t really expecting” in launching Seilich, adds Sally. “I’m from a scientific background. I want to know all the scientific compounds of ingredients, and then I’ll come up with some formula that’s based on the facts. But the great thing about wild flowers is that there are all these unknown properties. It’s been a really exciting journey for me to discover what they are.”
Being in nature helps us retap our roots
“It seems strange that we don't understand how important nature is to our health because we evolved in green spaces. It's our natural habitat,” says Sally. “What’s not natural is being indoors in these clean, sterile settings. We’re missing the chance to sense all these amazing colours and aromas, and see life unfold with wet peaty earth, and all the insects, bees and butterflies around us. When we're taken away from that, of course we're going to struggle at some level.”
Children today, for example, spend twice as long looking at screens as they do playing outdoors, while over 60% of adults now spend less than five hours experiencing nature per week. It’s this mis-balance that Sally addresses head-on with her work in wildflower sustainability.
“Finding that connection and understanding [with nature] is important,” she says. “It’s a basic need that we should nurture and learn more about. Just as we have to eat, breathe and take some exercise, we should also spend time surrounded by plants and trees.
When we go outside, Sally says, “the smells, the sounds, the colours” of outdoor scenery – they all combine to produce a vivid sense of restfulness that comes from being grounded. “What's great about nature is that it forces you to slow down and be present,” Sally explains. “If you put your phone down for five minutes and go and sit under a tree, your mind will start to recalibrate. You might start noticing a little bug on the bark and you just follow it in a trance, or you’ll observe the way the sunlight filters through a canopy of leaves. Nature is incredibly powerful: it’s about creating feelings of safety and belonging.”
Find out more about Seilich’s sustainable beauty products and workshops. As a member of Virgin Red, you can also treat yourself to one of Seilich’s wildlife friendly handmade cleansing sets (4,100 points) or take part in one of Dr. Sally’s DIY botanical extract or skincare workshops (both 8,200 points) and be inspired by the Scottish meadows first-hand. Here’s to a life more wild.
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Images: With thanks to Dr. Sally Gouldstone and Shutterstock