Making Shampoo from Plants in Ubud

“Just keep stirring and squishing the mixture together by hand until it feels soapy and there you have it – your own shampoo,” the instructor said.

Within 10 minutes, bubbles were starting to show up between my fingers and my hands began to feel slippery dipped into my mix of hisbiscus leaf, aloe vera, flowers and water. I have made my shampoo from plants.

As someone who has been living in a concrete jungle, surrounded by supermarkets where I can literally get anything I need, plants and their utilization as natural replacements for everyday products are not things I’m familiar with. You could give me a leaf and I would describe the texture to you but would not understand how it can be used in a recipe or for medicinal purposes – let alone for a natural replacement of my daily-use beauty products.

I came to Ubud Botany Interactive (UBI) and attended their Beauty Products Class with that amount of knowledge – or lack thereof – about how the plants I see around me could be used. After about 3 hours, a lot chopping and grinding and stirring, I left with a bit more knowledge of it and the realization of just how impactful natural substitutes to chemical beauty products could mean for the world I live in.

Located in the small road of Jalan Kajeng, Ubud Botany Interactive is the brainchild of Mbak Dewi, a farmer’s daughter who went on to get a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in the field of Botany. Her passion for plants and her immense knowledge about them combined with her desire to give back to the Balinese farmer community which she grew up in led her to start Ubud Botany Interactive – a small business based on a sustainable model which creates and sells food and beauty products made solely from natural ingredients as well as teach others about the many uses of plants.

The minute I first arrived at Ubud Botany Interactive, I felt this warm, welcoming vibe from the shop which had shelves of their products on two sides, a sink on the other, and a huge table in the middle for classes. Mbak Dewi’s team – Mbak Kadek, Kak Dhika, and Mbak Dewi herself – introduced themselves to my mother, my sister and me and ushered us to our seats. A cup of herbal tea (healing tea, as Mbak Dewi likes to call them – and she meant it because that tea was detoxing) and a small plate of salted nuts await us on the table as well as a centerpiece of essential oils, flowers, and plants. Typical kitchen equipment such as a knife, a chopping board, mortar and pestle, as well as a bowl were also already set up on each of our work stations.

We put on our green aprons and had a flower attached to our ear and then the class – led by Dewi herself – began. Honestly, after months of taxing and intense classes in university, switching gears to a much more relaxed yet still insightful class in Ubud was what I needed and it was that class that I got at UBI. The entire 2 hours of the class passed by quickly with the chattiness of the entire UBI team, jokes being thrown, Dewi’s absolute patience as an instructor and her willingness to repeat herself to make sure we understand every bit of the process, and laughter all around. We even carried on past the duration of the course since we had so much to talk about, which they kept telling us they were fine about.

The goal of the course was to complete four products: a shampoo, a body scrub, a sunscreen, and a boreh or Balinese traditional tiger balm for sore muscles. We were given the printed copy of the recipes to write notes on and when I first looked at it, I thought “huh, this should not be too hard to accomplish physically.”

Note to self: never underestimate what processing ingredients by hand using a mortar and pestle for hours would do to the arms.

I’m not going to reveal the step-by-step breakdown of each process to you. You’ll have to earn that knowledge yourself by going through the class and the absolute arm workout that it was. However, I will tell you that they all require you to fillet-cut a lot of aloe vera, squeeze some leaves, and grind ingredients like clove, ginger and rice together until they are fine grains (extremely fine grains to the point they’re almost liquid, mind you.) The process was definitely messy and quite taxing for the arms, but everyone in the UBI team will help you out at any stage if you need it.

My arms just gave up at the process of making the boreh because I just couldn’t smash the ingredients until they were refined and Mbak Kadek immediately stepped in, breaking the mixture down in minutes. Oh, and she was smiling the entire time of working on the mixture! Goes to show that Balinese women are freaking strong.

 

Although the process of making each plant-based beauty product was definitely exhausting, it also made me appreciate them more and makes me understand why they are priced at a higher range than chemical products. It takes a lot of human effort to transform the raw ingredients into ones usable for washing hair, moisturizing, exfoliating and healing soreness and with the rise of urban development, these ingredients are becoming increasingly scarce to obtain as well even though they’re much better for the environment.

Throughout the class, we are also asked to customize our products and made them fitting with our nature as well by picking our favorite essential oils as the scents. The aroma of the products themselves was already wonderful as is – smelling like cake dough and coconuts and herbs. However, adding a touch of our favorite natural scent to it made each product feel truly ours. These products and the essential oils we add to them might also reveal a little something about ourselves – like the shampoo mixture’s final color which apparently revealed our true internal aura color after we add our essential oil picks to them!

Another cool thing about how the products are all made from plants is that they’re all edible!

Yes, you can eat your own shampoo and sunscreen!

One of the most awesome things about the class was that the entire time, Mbak Dewi encouraged us to try our products – on our skins as well as on our tastebuds. Most of the products tasted like soothing aloe vera, a cookie dough (which will be a more dominant taste if you add cacao essential oil), or coconut granola bar. The shampoo felt really smooth on the skin and the sunscreen had a similar texture to that of your typical body butter on the screen. The scrub was easily my favorite product! It was pretty rough on the skin and took a bit of time to harden into a face mask, but once you wash it off, you’ll love how smooth your skin feels.

When the class ended, I took off my apron with a bit of pride for creating my own beauty products and a lot of humility after going through the process of making it and learning so much about nature and plants and the life of Balinese women. There was so much knowledge in such a short amount of time and presented in a manner that was super fun.

If Mbak Dewi’s goal was to share that passion for plants and nature and sustainability in choosing products to me, then she definitely achieved that because I came away realizing that there is a need for businesses – especially those in the beauty and food scene – to consider the impacts they have on nature in their process and as a customer and a consumer, my choices can play a part in encouraging businesses to be more sustainable.

Most of all, I learned a lot about how to truly execute that sustainable way of running a business as UBI was designed to be one just that by Mbak Dewi. She only uses ingredients supplied by local farmers for all her products. For packaging, she uses recycled glass bottles from trash collectors. For shopping bags, she uses bags made out of scrap paper which local children craft. Part of her proceeds go to the improvement of her community and ultimately, the business is incredibly fair trade and local which is truly impressive.

As I waved goodbye to the UBI team and thanked them for a truly insightful day, I carried the products and the scrap paper bag encasing them with pride because by joining UBI’s class, I was part of an improvement of local life in Ubud, which felt really good. Though the products unfortunately didn’t last too long (about 1 month maximum – having no preservatives and all) and one bottle broke on the plane ride home, the knowledge I obtained during the class would definitely remain for a much longer time in my mind.

Ubud Botany Interactive Kajeng St. no. 32Ubud 80571, Indonesia | Open: 9 AM to 5 PM | +62856 3719 259

Beauty Product Class costs Rp300.000 per person and includes the 2-hour class, products you get to take home with you, recipe for each product, photos (taken by the awesome Kak Dhika), healing tea, and snacks.

(Disclaimer: this review contains my honest opinion on the place. No payments, no affiliations, nothing. That’s how good this class was!)

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