A Brief History of Salt, Rosemary, and the Hotel Jerome

by Sarah Villafranco, MD /

What do salt, rosemary, and an old hotel have in common?  Not much - until now.  We are so thrilled to have recently launched the Osmia Spa Series at Aspen's Hotel Jerome - a spot so rich in history that it has inspired us to do a little extra homework!  So, use the sweet illusion of a few extra minutes in these longest days of summer to teach yourself something about these three things that don't normally go together.



Let's start with the salt.  Not just any salt.  We are studying pink, Himalayan salt. This gorgeous stuff comes from the Punjab region of Pakistan, and is hand-mined, hand-crushed, hand-washed, and dried in the sun. There's no app for that.  The salt is harvested from the world's oldest salt mine, in some of the world's youngest mountains.  Its pink color comes from iron oxide, naturally present in small amounts.  It's packed with lots of other skin-plumping minerals, and, in our Himalayan Body Buff, we use the super-fine grains to give a gentle yet effective exfoliation, leaving your skin sublimely smooth.  

But, wait.  How did the salt get there in the first place, if there's no ocean in the middle of the Himalayan mountains?  She's so tricky, Mother Earth. There WAS an ocean there!   Long ago (like, really, extra long ago), a shifting of tectonic plates caused the mountains to elevate, and they trapped an inland sea.  Over time (like, a LOT of time), the seawater evaporated, leaving behind huge masses of hard-packed salt.  The salt remained untouched until 1849, when a very bright Englishman figured out how to tunnel in and extract half of the salt from the earth, while leaving the other half there to support the walls of the mine.  Clever fellow. I bet his house had a TON of those pink salt lamps, huh?



Can't you almost smell it from the photo?  That fresh, invigorating, purifying scent we all love to have lingering on our fingers after making roasted potatoes or vegetable stew?  If you love the smell of fresh rosemary as much as we do (and if you don't, something might need adjusting in there - it's akin to not liking chocolate or sunshine), then you will not be surprised to learn that it has tons of uses in aromatherapy and skin care.  Of course, that's why we chose it for our Rosemary Body Mousse - to encourage healthy skin, enhance nail growth, provide mental clarity, and improve tissue circulation.  But, did you know that rosemary has a history almost as gripping as Game of Thrones?

Rosmarinus officinalis - the very name means "dew of the sea".  There are two, equally romantic explanations for this dramatic title.  The first is that the plant is native to the Mediterranean, where it can fairly thrive on only the salt mist thrown off by the ocean waves crashing against the cliffs.  The second theory is that rosemary was seen draped around the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, as she rose out of the water from whence she came. Hamlet's Ophelia referenced "rosemary, for remembrance", and the herb is still used in weddings and funerals to remember those who are not present.  Hungary water, the first European perfume, was made with freshly distilled rosemary oil.  Hospitals burned rosemary as a disinfectant, and the essential oil was even used to treat gout.  Hmm - did the romance fade when I said gout?  Game of Thrones has gross stuff, too.  Don't get squeamish on me now.


Finally, let us tell you a bit about this amazing Aspen landmark.  Forty years after the pink salt mine operation began in Pakistan, the Hotel Jerome opened its doors in the (somewhat smaller) mountains of Colorado.  The silver boom was quite booming when Jerome Wheeler, co-owner of Macy's, decided to open the swankiest spot west of the Mississippi.  It was the only hotel with running water, plumbing, AND electricity, and, for a brief time, rivaled the most posh European hotels.  It was THE place to see and be seen.

Sadly, the economy changed, and so did the town and its needs.  The only hotel to survive Aspen's "quiet years", which included both World Wars and the Great Depression, the Jerome did so by becoming, at times, a boarding house, a temporary morgue, and the only spot in town where you could get an illegal splash of bourbon in your vanilla milkshake.  After half a century of scraping by, the J Bar finally started to hop again.  Celebrities like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Lana Turner, and the Eagles have all frequented the Jerome, though none of them so much as Hunter S. Thompson, for whom the J Bar was a second home. Now, after a well-executed renovation in 2012, including the black felt cowboy hats worn by the staff, the hotel is back to uber-posh status.  The apres-ski hour is alive and well in the J Bar, and the recently opened Hotel Jerome Spa is a tiny, lovely oasis in the buzzy Aspen scene.  

So, until you can venture out to this beautiful spot in person to feel the history and opulence for yourself, take a look at our new Spa Series products.  They, too, have a beautiful, complex past, and will leave you looking and feeling like a Dothraki queen who just had the door held open by John Wayne, himself.  

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“….Dothraki queen…..” I see what you did there! Now I love you gals even more than I already did!

Kaida on June 21, 2015