by Erin Kirkland
Interior Alaska winters are famous for temperatures that fall into the double-digits-below-zero category. Between November and March (and sometimes longer), people are indistinguishable for the layers of clothing worn to cover exposed skin and everything, from truck tires to fingertips, has a propensity to freeze solid. This dry, cold section of the 49th state sees less snow than it does plunging temperatures, but most residents wouldn’t have it any other way, counting themselves fortunate to live a frontier-like lifestyle that above all things, embraces winter with raucous enthusiasm that belies any early season grumbling.
Alaskans who make their home in Interior communities like Healy, Fairbanks, or North Pole know that winter sucks moisture from the atmosphere in blasts of cold air that make eyes and noses burn. Humidifiers run constantly in homes and businesses, and kids carry lip balm in their pockets to remedy the red, chapped mouths that come from playing outside, even at 10-below zero. While layers of clothing do wonders for keeping bodies warm on the outside, it’s the dry that becomes a little hard to bear, inside.
The idea of skin care products specifically tailored to those living, working, and playing in cold, dry climates has not been lost on many an entrepreneur. Attend any bazaar or fair around Alaska and you can bet legions of itchy, scratchy customers who swear by the natural ingredients will be flocking to buy their preferred brand of balm, lotion, or ointment. One, Alaskan Earth Mamas, grew out of a single mom’s dream to “nourish through nature,” offering a combination of herbalism and local ingredients that not only soothed the skin, but the soul as well.
Monica Mazakis, a native of New York and student of natural medicines, essential oils, and herbals, was actually looking for something to help her own dry skin. Not wanting to lather up with ingredients she couldn’t source herself, never mind pronounce, Mazakis simply wanted to help herself heal. “I began to read everything I could on herbs, oils, and holistic wellness, and started making my own products for use at home,” she said. “But in 2007, a retail store I worked at asked if I’d create a few products for them.”
Alaskan Earth Mamas was born in 2008, and Mazakis is proud of her line that features ingredients she and her son, 8, have gathered together. “I grew up on a farm in New York,” she says. “Living off the land and nourishing our bodies through nature was just instilled in me. So sharing that love of nature and its gifts is terribly important for our family.”
Each spring, Mazakis, her son, and a pack of friends gather and harvest cotton buds, rose petals, rose hips, raspberry leaves, horsetail, and chickweed to make a bountiful harvest of tea blends and salves. To culminate the experience, some stick around for the after-harvest party, a celebration of both a successful forage and the arrival of spring. Even local gardeners and farmers get into the act, supplying herbs for teas and salves, making it a true community effort.
What’s ahead for Alaskan Earth Mamas? Big things, says Mazakis. “I’m hoping to build a complete holistic wellness platform as I incorporate body work therapies into my product line,” she said. “Yoga, spa treatments, tea and a good book in front of a fireplace after a busy day…I’d like it to be a co-op format where other local enthusiasts, teachers, and healers are able to offer their services in partnership with our products.”
And when short winter days become long winter nights in this northern corner of the world, Mazakis and her team will be ready and waiting.
Alaskan Earth Mamas
Find them on Facebook for up-do-date information and product availability.
Order: (907) 750-9911
Products: Organic tea blends, soy candles. Body care: Shea Butter Body Cream, Moisturize and Heal Lip Balm, Sea Salt & Sugar Body Glow, Mother and Baby Body Care Packs, Soothe and Heal Pain Relief Balm. Mazakis also makes an herbal-based insect repellent for buggy summers.
Erin Kirkland is editor of Outdoor Families Magazine and author of Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.