Desert Pampering

Taos company offers body products that revolve around sage plant

Date June 16, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


Toni Leigh Spies fell in love with high desert sage the minute she saw it growing wild around her property south of Taos. As an herbalist who had studied Ayurvedic medicine and western herbalism in California, she had never encountered desert plants before moving to New Mexico in 1999.

Spies researched the plant and learned that American Indians traditionally used sage internally and externally to treat a number of ailments. She sent samples of it to Sandia Labs to test the plant€™s level of toxicity and found it was safe.

€œNobody was using sage as the main ingredient in bath and body products, so I decided to make sage soap,€ she explained. €œTo my amazement, the sage soap was a hit. I became known in Taos as the sage soap lady.€

Sage is the basis of the wide range of products Spies has formulated for her company, Desert Blends of Taos. After introducing the community to her soap, Spies put together sage body oil and bath salts. With a $3,000 grant in 2000, she launched Desert Blends€™ professional labeling and packaging system and began selling body oils, bath salts and soap at a Taos health food store.

Business has been skyrocketing ever since then. €œWe€™ve been growing at about 30 percent a year,€ she said.

Spies moved to Taos to enjoy a rural lifestyle after her daughter left home to go to college. She didn€™ plan to start a business. It evolved out of her love for herbs and for Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient sys tem of health care native to the Indi an subcontinent that is designed to achieve balance and harmony of mind, body and spirit.

€œWe are in a Vata climate, meaning dry, windy, desert, cold conditions,€ she explained. €œAll of my products are designed for this kind of climate.€

Desert Blends€™ line has increased through the years and now includes products for bath and body as well as spa treatments. In 2003, with the formulas for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lip balm, bath salts and lotion perfected, Spies began packaging them in 2-ounce bottles with the hope of selling them to hotels and inns. Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe was one of her first accounts.

€œOur guests really enjoy these products because they€™re natural and handcrafted,€ said Anne Warner, assistant general manager at the inn. €œWe€™ve been putting the 2-ounce bottles in our rooms ever since we opened five years ago. Larger bottles are sold in the lobby of the office. We€™ve had people who aren€™t staying with us call and ask us to send some of the larger bottles to them.€

Although sage is the predominant ingredient in each bath and body product excluding the lip balm, there are many other oils and herbs in the mixtures. The shampoo has jojoba oil as well as extracts of white nettle, pine, burdock, rosemary and ivy. The body lotion contains oils of jojoba, avocado, sesame, grapeseed and apricot.

Most of the plants used are either gathered in the wild or purchased from farmers and suppliers of organic products. All of them have been ethically grown and harvested, Spies said. She buys hand-milled blue corn for the mineral skin treatment from a local pueblo and clay for the facial and body masks from a supplier in the Four Corners area.

€œI can€™t always certify that everything€™s organic, but I can say that everything is made with good mojo,€ she added. €œA few years ago, I used to say that our products are mixed with love.€

Spa products, which were put together with help from an Accion New Mexico loan and introduced in 2005, are tailor-made for each spa according to their desires and needs. Her clients include El Monte Sagrado in Taos, Sunrise Springs in La Cienega and Hyatt Regency Tamaya at Santa Ana Pueblo.

€œInn of the Five Graces will be opening a spa soon, and we€™re in the process of designing formulas especially for them,€ she said.

Bath, body and spa treatment formulas are concocted in the company€™s 2,000 square foot factory in Taos with help from several part time employees. Spies says her business is functioning at 20 percent of capacity, which leaves ample room for growth.

€œI€™d like to actively market out of state,€ said Spies, who is selling some of her line to 24 Whole Foods stores throughout the Rocky Mountain region. €œI€™d like to introduce our line in the broader Southwest, like Scottsdale and Sedona.€

Desert Blends

WHERE: 130 Bent St. in Taos

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week