So many higher-end body products and beauty products promote themselves with the latest hyped ingredient (argan oil, açaí berries), a "green" gimmick (boxes that sprout seeds if you plant them!), or the name-dropping of a celebrity (or celebrity spouse) as creative director. On the other hand, Arghand soaps and body oils possess an authenticity that puts all those mere trend-followers to shame. Arghand is a cooperative in Afghanistan; it was founded by Sarah Chayes, a former National Public Radio reporter, and its members craft their wares from locally-grown materials. Arghand works closely in a fair-trade relationship with farmers in the region, and its member-workers are justly compensated for their labor. Moreover, the project offers all its participants an alternative to the local opium industry.
Mountain Herb is one of seven soap blends offered by Arghand, and its ingredients give a good idea of the raw materials that are used in the cooperative's products: hemp oil, black cumin, pomegranate seed oil, and wild mint essential oil. (The pomegranate, one of the region's legendary crops, offers restorative, anti-oxidant properties; hemp oil keeps skin soft and hydrated.) The soap's cold-pressed oils and steam-distilled plant essences have been blended into a gentle base of palm and coconut oil, which is hand-milled and hand-molded before it's cured. Each piece of soap looks like a stone, or a polished chunk of marble, irregularly shaped and smooth to the touch. Mountain Herb soap is veined with darker shades of green and brown from its cumin and hemp oils.
And how does it smell? A new "stone" of Mountain Herb soap smells gives off a cool, minty aroma. In the shower or bath, after it has been wet and starts to give off lather, it exudes a distinct note of cumin. If you're someone who enjoys cumin-inflected fragrances, you'll savor this spicy, pungent scent. If cumin isn't a note that you typically wear, you might be startled by its peppery-earthy, slightly sweaty, personality. This definitely isn't a typical squeaky-clean soap fragrance! Cumin can be an acquired taste, and this Mountain Herb blend is an easy way to sample it and then wash it away. (The scent fades a few minutes after use.) Personally, I've been enjoying it in this soap format. My perfume choices tend to be more sweet and floral, so this cumin-y experience is a bit of a change for me. It has a purging, clarifying olfactory effect, just as the soap is so thoroughly cleansing (without being harsh or stripping).
Other soaps and body oils from Arghand incorporate sweet almonds, damask roses, artemisia, and anise seed into their formulas. All the products share an intriguing "back story," they benefit a good cause, and — most importantly — they're high-quality items. They're even presented in a simple but gift-worthy fashion, wrapped in bands of distressed ribbon and labeled with sweet illustrated tags.
Note: image is by the author.