Issue 9.1: February/March 2006

The Genie in the Bottle

story by Catharine Lo
photos by G. Brad Lewis

 

“Everything I’ve done I’ve loved,” says Sharon Warren. The sixty-five-year-old organic alchemist is sitting contentedly on a bamboo couch as she talks about her many paths—from Canada, through India and Nepal, to Bali, Dubai and countless other exotic locales. A cloud of lavender envelops her as she speaks; behind her, the view stretches for miles, across verdant forests, all the way down to the ocean.

Sharon is wearing green floral-print capris as she talks—perfect, I think: Green the elemental color of nature and flora the primary source of Sharon’s connection to the world. For the past ten years she has been operating her hugely successful aromatherapy company, Warren Botanicals, from this property high on the Kona coast of the Big Island; she ended her world travels when she stepped off the plane in Kona fifteen years ago and realized she’d found her home. And here, on her land in Hualalai, nature is the consummate host. The central room of Sharon’s split-level house is defined by fire, air, earth and water: One wall features a majestic lava rock fireplace; another is a living waterfall that flows when it rains. Cathedral ceilings and skylights project space upward, but the main attraction is outward to that breathtaking view. Outside, the land is dotted with meditation gardens and aromatic varietals that include blue ginger, Japanese tulip, Himalayan bamboo and night-blooming jasmine. Strings of purple orchids twist up tree trunks.

“I love beauty. Especially the beauty of plants and flowers,” Sharon says, describing the one constant that has spoken to her soul. “So it’s not odd that I would make products that would create beauty—a space that everyone wants to come to.”

While Warren Botanicals is a relatively new chapter in Sharon’s life, organic alchemy is not; at twenty-one, as a young woman back in Toronto, she was already making potions for family and friends. “I’ve always loved plants and communicated with them,” says the self-described flower child. Warren Botanicals was born—unwittingly—thirteen years ago when a Hawaiian kahuna, or priest, asked Sharon to create a detoxifier that he could use to anoint people. She created the elixir, then offered some of it to the guys at her gym (who referred to her, affectionately, as Merlin). It immediately cured their ailments—no more shin splints, no more sore muscles—and the next day, they were waiting for her to find out just what this potion was and how to get more of it. At the time, it was unnamed, existing just in a little vial marked with a sticker that read “detox.”

Sharon decided to call it Muscle and Joint Relief. Its popularity grew rapidly. The publisher of Muscle Magazine got his hands on some and wrote about its effectiveness. The bicycling team from British Columbia won numerous medals at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and credited their wins to the powerful elixir. A Japanese lab analyzed the formula—comprised of twenty-two essential oils with more than 4,000 active components—and declared it one of the cleanest substances it had ever assessed.


 

Today Muscle and Joint Relief is a mainstay of Warren Botanicals, one of several products in its Relief line, which Sharon calls “the heart of the company.” The Relief products are so popular that after 9/11, people from New York called to request them for the city’s firemen: the peppermint-eucalyptus Respiratory Relief, the tangerine-lavender Stress Relief, the tea-tree-aloe After-Sun Relief to treat burns, Muscle and Joint Relief for pain.

When things work, word gets out. It wasn’t long before high-end luxury spas came knocking at Warren’s door to ask her to formulate their signature spa lines. Today, Warren Botanicals outfits forty-seven resort spas worldwide, including the spas at the Fairmont Mauna Lani Orchid, the JW Marriott Ihilani and the Hotel Hana-Maui. To create a signature scent for a spa, Sharon goes to its location and sits on the land for at least four days—she does this, she says, to learn the land’s consciousness. It is something she takes seriously: She has even spent the night on new flows at the volcano to really feel the earth’s mana. She then invokes the essence of the place into the product. For example, the Hotel Hana-Maui’s body butter contains sandalwood, ginger, vanilla and coconut to evoke the earthiness of the hotel’s setting. For the Fairmont Willow Stream spas, Sharon created a purifying line with the oils of vetiver, cypress, lemongrass, ylang-ylang and spikenard—an essential oil to represent each of the five elements: earth, wood, fire, air, water.

She has an extraordinarily gifted nose. “I know the world through my sense of smell,” she says. “When I’m smelling something, I know its whole story.” Plants talk to her, she says. “When I sit down in the lab,
I hear every single thing I need to make the product. I hear the sounds of each oil, and when I put them all together, it’s a symphony of high notes, middle notes, low notes.”

Aromatherapy has been around for a long time. Perfumes were found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. In Biblical times, the wise men brought myrrh and frankincense to the baby Jesus. In Greece and Rome, citizens bathed numerous times daily, soaking themselves in fragrant oils that kept their skin from drying out. India’s ayurvedic practices call upon herbal remedies, and aromatherapy has always been an integral part of Chinese medicine. It was the Arab chemist Avicenna who figured out how to extract plant and flower oils through distillation, the most common procedure by which essential oils are derived today. Essential oils come from all parts of a plant: flowers (for example, chamomile), woods (cedar), barks (cinnamon), leaves (eucalyptus), roots (spikenard) and fruits (orange).


 


“Essential oils are the most concentrated form of plant medicine on the planet,” explains Sharon. “Plants and nature shift our energy. Chemicals don’t open our body’s aura. They shut it down.” On a psychological level, her goal is to raise the frequency of the human body’s consciousness. “Our minds are relentless. They just drive us crazy. When we go in nature, that stops,” she says. “This is really important, because this is what plants do for us. They make us feel lighter. Plants don’t heal you. They raise the level of your consciousness so your body can heal itself.”

It can take a lot of plant to yield a very little bit of oil, making many oils extremely costly. According to Sharon, 2,000 rose petals go into a single drop of rose oil; she buys it from Bulgaria at $15,000 a kilogram wholesale. Fortunately, only a few drops are necessary to bring about the desired effect—and the desired effects are plenty: Lemongrass, for example, purifies the body, nutmeg increases energy, gardenia promotes peace, ylang ylang is an aphrodisiac, and on and on.

Sharon formulates her medley of aromas in a minimalist laboratory on the lower level of her home. They’re then brought upstairs to a workspace adjacent to her garage and mixed with the product’s carrier ingredients—usually grapeseed oil or a creamy emollient. Depending on its ultimate function, she might enhance the mixture with therapeutic elements like menthol crystals or textured ingredients like coffee that act as exfoliants.

What Warren Botanicals really produces are delightfully tangible memory banks that can be accessed by a single whiff. “You can’t help but be in nature in Hawai‘i. So vacationers automatically have their frequency raised, and therefore they feel good… People living in the city go home and put [the fragrance] on, and they’re there again. You can’t touch all the people in the world, but when you’re in the bottle, you do. It’s like music—when people hear it, they’re uplifted.” She ponders for a moment. “Yes, that’s exactly it,” she continues, her eyes sparkling. “I’m in the bottle!” HH