… in lip balm and more
By Gena Mangiaratti
Vermont Country Magazine
BENNINGTON — Vermonters know maple isn’t just for pancakes. Turns out, it even transcends food.
When I spotted lip balm made with “100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup” near the checkout at Vermont Country Deli, the popular tourist stop that is also my corner store, I was immediately intrigued. There’s something about the natural sweetener that appeals to my senses (It’s also of mythical origins, by the way: It comes from trees!).
Vermont Maple Beak Balm, I learned, is made by Jenny Wren, of North Bennington, called “the village” by locals. The tube is decorated with artwork of maple leaves around the top and bottom, framing a small, round bird wearing a red bandana. A visit to wrenhouse.com reveals that Wren creates needle-felted sculptures of small forest creatures such as birds and mice and chipmunks. She photographs and draws her creations in natural and whimsical settings, such as in front of a covered bridge and holding maple syrup.
“I’ve always been interested in natural products and making my own things,” Wren said by phone. “And I always made my own lip balm. After giving it to friends and family and stuff, I was encouraged to, maybe, take it further afield.”
She started Wrenhouse in 2005 with original note cards and handcrafted jewelry. At that time, she lived in Maine, so the first flavored lip balm she sold was blueberry.
“When I came back to Vermont, I was like, ‘Oh, I should do some maple stuff,’” she recalled. “And that really took off. People really responded very happily to that flavor.”
The Beak Balm ingredients are sweet almond oil, coconut oil, beeswax, avocado oil, cocoa seed butter, shea butter, stevia leaf extract, organic natural maple flavor and 100 percent pure Vermont maple syrup.
“It’s really all natural. There’s no chemicals in it at all,” Wren noted.
She said people have asked her if she makes sunscreen lip balm. She does not, because she would need to add chemical additives as a sun protectant. “Those chemical additives are really not the best thing to be putting on your lips, because what you put on your lips is going into your body.”
Wren said she uses her product herself, sometimes smearing it on her chapped knuckles.
“This is all very skin-safe, natural stuff that you can feel good about putting on your skin.”
I have found that my tube is lasting for a while — yes, because I haven’t lost it, and nobody has sent it through the wash — and also because it works well. After using it, my lips aren’t chapped … until another run of dry weather or nose-blowing. Beak Balm has a light taste and scent of maple, too. I asked Wren if there are any healing properties in the maple.
“Maple syrup is a natural product. It has trace minerals and stuff if you ingest it. I’m not sure if it does anything specific,” Wren told me. “Topically, more of what’s happening is the special blend of oils and fats that are used in my recipe are really good in terms of locking in the moisture.”
The maple lip balm and other work by Wren can be found at wrenhouse.com, as well as at local shops.
Sturdy maple coasters
Another non-food maple product I recently learned about was the artwork of Laura Greve, who grew up in the Brattleboro area and now lives in Central Vermont. Among her creations are birch wood coasters with red maple leaves lacquered on — very Vermont, and also reminiscent of the Canadian flag.
“I was lacquering coasters one day, and I was like, I should put leaves inside of this,” Greve said, adding lightheartedly, “One of my nephews literally uses them as a hockey puck. They’re very sturdy.”
Her work, which also includes candles and pebble art — images put together with small rocks and other elements from nature — can be found and ordered via her Facebook page, “Greve’s Grove Art.” She also makes appearances at Vermont craft fairs.
Some of her coasters include birch bark hearts placed in the middle of the maple leaf.
“It was an idea my sister actually had, kind of like, ‘My heart is in Vermont,’” Greve said.
The mighty maple can be functional art, too. If you have a spare $20,000, Taftsville artist and craftsman Andrew Pearce will personally pick Vermont maple burls (those knobby sections of tree trunks) to create you a one-of-a-kind coffee table. His hand-turned maple bowls cost way less. Check them out at andrewpearcebowls.com.
Up in Middlebury, Maple Landmark (maplelandmark.com) is making all manner of toys out of maple. As durable as they are functional, these quaint and natural items make for a gift that will stay out of the landfill, where so many plastic junk toys end up.
For an item enjoyable for any age, Vermont Woodshop’s Randy Crossman turns native Green Mountain hardwoods into heirloom quality pieces, such as his maple carousel. Using hand planes, scroll saws, steam bending and hand chiseling techniques, Crossman employs old techniques to produce modern gifts, signs, toys and games, many from the maple. Visit vermontwoodshop.com to see Crossman’s puzzles, sleds and cutting boards.
Of course, if these maple-y things aren’t doing it for you, you can always go back to the syrup (vermontmaplesyrup.com, a Vermont Country Magazine sister company, isn’t a bad place to start).
Gena Mangiaratti — whose first name is pronounced “Jenna” — is arts and entertainment editor for Vermont News & Media. When not newspapering, she can be found running, drawing and writing fiction. She lives in Brattleboro with her cat, Theodora.