Infused with chaparral leaf, hops flower, usnea moss and echinacea flower, Super Salve is a soothing balm for whatever ails you—from dry, chapped skin and insect bites to jellyfish stings and abrasions. It’s a number-one seller for New Mexico-based The Super Salve Company, but its story stretches back across the Colorado Plateau to Flagstaff, Arizona.
“My late husband was a Grand Canyon river runner, “ explains owner and founder Denise Tracy, who grew up in Flagstaff. “He asked me to come up with salve to help river guides and guests deal with foot fungus that comes from being wet for days at a time.” Having recently graduated as a clinical herbalist from the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine in Bisbee, Arizona, Tracy experimented with ingredients, finally brewing up the fresh-scented herbal salve. It did the trick, and before long, the balm was a must-have item for Northern Arizona’s river runners and hikers—and launched Tracy into the skin-care business in 1990.
However, Tracy’s roots in herbalism run deeper than her salve concoction and her studies at the Bisbee school. She and her sister, DeeAnn—who has her own natural skin care line, Peak Scents—grew up in the business. Their mother, Phyllis Hogan, is a well-known Southwest ethnobotanist and co-founder of the Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association. Hogan, a native of Tucson with a background in sociology and anthropology, began researching how native desert people used plants for their healing properties in the 1960s. Being a self-declared counterculturist, Hogan began learning about herbs from a Mexican curandera, or healer who uses folk remedies, as well as Native American medicine men while living in a small desert town in central Arizona. There, Hogan started Winter Sun Trading Company, a retail shop offering herbs and tinctures, as well as Native American art. before moving the store to Flagstaff in 1978, where it remains today, located in the downtown historic district.
Tracy spent her youth at her mother’s side, gathering herbs from forest and desert, visiting Native American communities and attending healing and spiritual ceremonies. “Growing up with herbs and the Native American community had a huge influence on me,” says Tracy. “I saw how these people reacted to the herbal remedies, and that made an impression on me.”
A few years after Tracy first formulated Super Salve—in the back of her mother’s store—she and her husband moved to a plot of land he owned outside Mogollon, New Mexico, in the midst of the Gila National Forest, setting up shop in a historic building. At first, she ran Super Salve as a mail-order business. “We didn’t have electricity when we moved there,” Tracy recalls, “and the nearest post office was 20 miles away, but somehow we made it work.”
After 30 years in business, Tracy’s Super Salve has become a major employer in that small town, but she no longer has much time to pick herbs and plants herself. “We blend and package everything here,” she explains, “but we now have people who grow for us. I buy something like 1,000 pounds of comfrey and calendula a year, so just the sheer volume makes it impossible for me to do it all myself.”
In addition to Super Salve, Tracy has expanded her offerings to include body creams and lotions, facial cleansers and masks, sunscreens, baby-care products and more, all with natural ingredients, using cold-infused plant oils, without artificial fragrances and chemicals. She’s also looking into adding a CBD oil line.
In the meantime, Tracy’s Super Salve is still numero uno on her product list, having spread well beyond the river guides and hikers who initially swore by its soothing, healing properties. “It’s popularity spread by word of mouth,” says Tracy. “Our first users were the best advertising. That salve has brought us to where we are today.”
Super Salve and other products from the company are available at Amusespot.com.
Our Favorites? The Calendula Lip Balm, Arnica Liniment and the Combo Cream. Kylie Jenner swears by the Mimosa Blossom Dream Cream. This is good stuff, folks. At extremely reasonable pricing.