Published in the Block Island Times. September 2, 2014.
The beauty of Block Island can be as arresting as a siren’s call: rolling hills, salty air, the resplendent smell of Rosarugosa. It’s no surprise then how many island visitors and residents make a habit of walking along the beaches and inland paths to soak in the life-affirming sights and smells.
Johanna Ross, owner of the Island Mist store on Chapel Street, takes things one step further. While walking her three Labrador retrievers Ellie, Stanley, and Ranger on the eight acres she owns near the Island Cemetery, Ross collects plants to use in bath and body products. She sells her creations at Island Mist so that visitors can take a bit of those Block Island sensations home with them.
Johanna has spent summers on the island since she was a baby and says by the time she was ten she’d decided this would be her home. Fast forward a couple decades and we find Johanna living in New York City, visiting the island whenever possible. On those visits, she says she would take walks and sometimes gather a few of her favorite things — a clump of seaweed, beach rose petals, an ocean rock. Back in the city, “I’d sit in the tub with my seaweed and my rock and my rose petals and think of Block Island and ask myself how am I going to move out there?”
Little by little as it turns out. “I started by moving to Fairfield, Connecticut. But I did not care for that,” says Johanna, “and then I moved a little closer to Madison, Connecticut. But that still wasn’t close enough, so one day in December my husband at the time and I just got up one morning and moved out here.”
After interning with an herbalist in Warwick, Ross started to develop her Island Mist line. She still sells her first product inspired by those baths in New York: Taste of Summer Sea bath salts with beach rose petals, sea salt, and seaweed. She has continued to let the inspiration for every Island Mist product come from her own experience of Block Island.
Her Ocean Scrub & Facial Mud Mask, for instance, contains seaweed, sea clay, lavender and lemon – among other things. The Healing Salve, an oil infused with island plantain, chickweed, cleaver, and marsh mallow can be used on any skin problem from cuts, rashes and burns to scarring and stretch marks, says Johanna.
At her Island Mist store you’ll also find natural, pesticide-free bug spray, a poison ivy remedy made with island jewelweed and blackberry leaf, as well as salves, chest rub, massage oils, face mist, a “Sinus Steam Herbal Vaporizer” to open up nasal and air passages, skin toner, lip balm, body butter and pretty much anything you might desire to make you look and feel good. And, although bath and body products are Johanna’s specialty, Island Mist also sells art, clothing, home goods and the like from other artists and companies around the state. She says that some of the greatest joys of her job come from traveling around the state, meeting the people who make these products.
From the company’s inception, Johanna has been passionate about providing customers with an authentic flavor of the home that she holds dear by creating fragrant, healthy, environmentally-friendly lotions, creams, salts, perfumes, and more. She honors the island and her customers by ensuring that all of her products are chemical-, preservative-, and pesticide-free and handmade using local ingredients whenever possible.
According to Johanna, making the switch to natural, homemade products can provide the health benefits many people seek. “Bodies want to be in a natural state of health,” she says. But household items that people rely on — many shampoos, soaps and toothpastes, for example – can contain toxic elements. Island Mist, she says, provides healthy alternatives.
Johanna says that whenever she walks with her dogs and finds her mind wandering over the stresses of the day, she attempts to block out that destructive inner voice by concentrating on the senses — perhaps the smell of honeysuckle or the sound of footsteps over stone. Doing this she finds she can transcend negativity and connect more fully to the island. It may not be quite the same as these walking meditations, but the products at Island Mist do allow her customers to quite literally absorb the natural wonders of Block Island.
Find Island Mist products at the Chapel Street store, at the Block Island Farmers Markets, and online at www.islandmistnaturalproducts.com. In addition, Johanna’s Rose Hips and Lavender lines, including the Rose Hips face cream and healing salve, are now being sold at the Whole Foods store in Hyannis, Mass.