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BUSINESS PROFILE

Easing discomfort the natural way

Couple produces skin-care creams using natural ingredients and ancient formulas

BUTTE FALLS -- When Ray Stevens got a bad case of poison oak years ago, his wife whipped up a lotion to soothe his irritated skin.

I made a cream that is a combination of over 36 natural healing ingredients, Linda Stevens recalled. A lot them we just gathered around our place here. It worked.

That self-reliance on home-grown remedies has evolved into Bare Necessities Health and Skin Care Products, a business the Stevenses began out of their home two decades ago.

Their products -- about 70 -- are now sold by mail year round, and at outdoor markets beginning early in the spring through the fall. The products cost from $5 to $20 each.

The outdoor markets is where we have met most of our customers, she said. From there, it has spread by word of mouth. They like the product and continue to order.

They now get letters from throughout the country complimenting them on their products, she noted.

While they caution their formulas are not prescriptive and they don't claim any cures, they firmly believe in the natural path to health.

But we're not into high production, Ray cautioned. We're more into helping individuals.

For Ray, 55, and Linda, 51, who have been married for 30 years, the interest in natural remedies comes naturally.

My grandfather was a medicine man, explained Linda, who hails from Maine, where she said her maternal ancestors were American Indians. As I grew up, my mother told me about her father, who helped people get well with herbs.

Of course, he was kind of laughed at because that was when they were trying to get rid of the natural medicine, she added.

We do a lot of Native American formulas, added her husband, whose grandmother was a member of the Cherokee and Kiowa tribes.

Plants were used way, way back in our family, he said, noting that an uncle taught survival in the U.S. Army during World War II.

In addition to studying home remedies handed down over the generations, they also turned to books, becoming certified herbologists.

We've studied health and nutrition all our lives, she said, noting she originally began experimenting with various natural remedies after skin irritations she developed as a child could not be cured by conventional medicine.

I love to sun bathe, she said. So I started making suntan lotions. When we needed a repellent, I made that.

Our different creams do different things, she said, noting that includes everything from burns to psoriasis. We have just about everything you could imagine. We make a foot cream. We have a cream for bee stings.

A mixture of calendula, olive oil and beeswax is used for sore muscles. There is a healing salve which has antifungal properties, she said.

They even offer a natural deodorant.

The mixtures are created in a state-licensed kitchen near the house.

Come the warmer months, they search the local forests for raw products.

We wild-craft when it warms up, she said of gathering raw materials in the local forest. Right now, the herbs aren't up. Certain herbs, like wild yarrow, we propagate.

They also buy a lot of herbs, such as ginseng, she said.

And we have people who propagate some plants for us -- echinacea and other things, Ray added.

While they acknowledge there are those who frown on Mother Nature's remedies, they shrug them off.

They are the ones who wouldn't stop at our booth anyway, she said. People who get to know us and try our products, they come back for more.

With society's growing uncertainty about the next millennium, which is set to begin less than a year from now, the couple believe more people will return to natural products, Ray Stevens said.

A lot of people are looking at going back to these simpler things.

Ray and Linda Stevens make and market herbal remedies from their Butte Falls home. The couple use old recipes from their American Indian ancestors and formulas they have developed themselves. The products are manufactured in a state-licensed kitchen near their house. - Photo by Jim Craven