Leigh Joseph harvests wild ingredients in the forests, estuaries and subalpine meadows near her home in Squamish, B.C. In a large woven basket, she carefully collects wild rose petals, rose hips, yarrow, cottonwood buds and stinging nettle, which she’ll later dry and process into oil infusions and powders for her skincare and apothecary brand, Skwálwen Botanicals.
Joseph is trained in ethnobotany – the field of study exploring the relationship between people and plants – but her own relationship to the natural world is rooted in her childhood. A member of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation, Joseph remembers visiting her great-uncle Chester and great-aunt Eva in the Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) First Nation, where she picked vegetables from the garden, fished in the river and helped hang salmon in the smokehouse. “Those experiences helped guide me on this path of connecting culture, plants and health,” says Joseph, who also goes by her ancestral name, Styawat.
After completing her Master of Science in ethnobotany at the University of Victoria, Joseph moved to Dawson City, Yukon, where she launched her small-batch brand in 2017. She started by making her own salves and tea blends as gifts, eventually selling them at holiday markets. Now, her Skwálwen line includes facial oils, toners and masks, all made in her home workspace in Squamish (where she returned two years ago), using ingredients foraged in sustainable, respectful ways. “Skwálwen is a Squamish word that speaks to the connection between mind and heart, and how we move in the world,” she says.