Ken with arms full.
Soapy with her eponymous dog shampoo.
Humble beginnings • "We started in 2002—we’re older than Facebook," Ken Gilberg said, noting that his wife was between jobs and initially just wanted to make a gentle soap for herself. She started experimenting with recipes in 2001. She handed out samples to some friends and started taking orders. They were accepted to the Best of Missouri Market at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and suddenly the brand they were making in their kitchen seemed viable. But DeFreece soon went back to practicing corporate law, so Gilberg, who worked in advertising and marketing, took over the day-to-day operations. "I said, 'I’ll take your soap and sell it,' and she was happy with that, and I believed in how great the product was," Gilberg said. Eventually, they had to move the business out of the kitchen. Initially, the operation shifted down to the basement, but "then I took up the whole house, so we needed a shop to manufacture. So we found this place next to Skif International, and I love having Nina (Ganci) as our neighbor. People come to take a tour of our shop, and we indoctrinate them on the products," Gilberg said. "It’s worth the visit for the smell alone … and most come just to meet Soapy. We’ll have 25 preschoolers in, and they’ll just surround her, and she’s great with them. She loves the attention." Everyone uses Herbaria, of course, and because of Soapy, there’s a special dedicated dog-care line. "So many people and pets have these skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and so many conditions that are triggered or aggravated by chemicals and preservatives and colorants and things in the products at the store that we shouldn’t use," Gilberg said. "It’s not trivial. There’s evidence of a link between eczema and asthma, and people tell me that their doctor has been giving them steroids when sometimes you just need something benign to put on your skin."
“You can mess all you want with fancy chemicals, but nothing will get you cleaner than good old-fashioned soap and water. At least that's what they claim at Herbaria, the soap factory and emporium on the Hill. Nearly a decade ago, husband and wife Ken Gilberg and LaRee DeFreece started making soap in their Kirkwood home from all-natural ingredients (palm kernel, soy and olive oils, shea butter, and oatmeal), scented with essential oils derived directly from plants and flowers. They started to sell the soap at farmers' markets, craft fairs, and gift shops, and through mail order. They were so successful that, a year and a half ago, they opened a shop/factory on the Hill. Since then, they've expanded their soap repertoire to nearly 50 scents and added a host of other all-natural products, including shampoo, deodorant, and even ant repellent, which smells most deliciously of cinnamon. In a neighborhood chock-full of restaurants, small groceries, and bakeries, it would be presumptuous to claim that Herbaria is the best smelling store for blocks around, but if forced to do a ranking, it would surely come close."
"The delicate fragrance that wafts from inside the [store] is nearly as welcoming as Ken Gilberg, soap maker, as he opens the door to visitors and extends a hand in greeting."
"The soaps smell grand and leave a light scent on your skin. I had no breakouts, dry skin, or adverse reactions (nor did my friends who I’ve had try the soaps). The Eucalyptus Mint is extra nice when you’ve got a case of the winter sniffles. And the Jojoba Shampoo bar is unbelievable for shaving, washing, and even washing my hair! I’ve used a few shampoo bars and they’ve always left my fine hair as stiff as straw; the Herbaria Jojoba bar left my hair soft and very manageable, not stripped."
"I highly recommend you check out Herbaria, a little soap company on The Hill where scents of lavender and peppermint win the sensory battle of a ten-foot section of the charming streets, leaving you clammoring to get into the door for a better whiff...The cool thing is, they give tours of how everything is made and are completely welcoming...I love that every product is made independently and free of chemicals—we're talking pure vegetable goodness here...This isn't just any soap, people."
"Wowee Kazowee! I am in love. Upon entering the store my senses were greeted by a bouquet of fruit, flowers, spices, and herbs. It was just the pick-me-up I needed on a cold, grey December afternoon.
So check out my new favorite, Herbaria. I hope it becomes one of yours too."
"This is the best soap out there, especially if you have sensitive skin… I have tried many of the soaps and have loved them all. I am scent sensitive, but with these quality soaps, you don't have to worry. They are made with high-quality essential oils. They are great for acne and other skin problems. Give them a try and you won't go back to store-bought soap. For pets with allergies, the pet soap is a godsend. It is nonirritating and easier to use than liquid pet shampoo. I have also tried the Jojoba shampoo soap and this is great if you are traveling or like backpacking because you can use this on your entire body including hair and also for shaving. Try it and you'll be hooked too. If kept out of direct water each bar last much longer than any other store-bought soap."
"Herbaria soaps are all-natural, cruelty-free and made with food-grade vegetable oils. (That's right moms and dads, you can wash your kids' mouths out with soap and feel good about it.) Their lather gives new meaning to the word luxurious, and they don't irritate even the most sensitive skins. My stepdaddy, who has contact dermatitis, is addicted, as is the spousal unit, who since he's found Herbaria soap calls himself the less-greasy guinea from New Joisey. As for myself—I won't stop until I've got the Herbaria monkey on all of my friends' and family's backs." -Frau A.
"Ladies and germs, and genuine germy germs, I introduce you to Herbaria soaps. Herbaria soaps come in many fancy flavorful scents however I do not recommend you taste them as tempting as they might sound (i.e. Chocolate Mint Cobblestone) as they are for olfactory pleasure and obviously not for the taste buds. :)
"Herbaria soaps are completely vegan (yay!) and are made with olive, hemp seed, and avocado oils and complemented with shea butter—the perfect ingredients to leave your skin super duper smooth and soft. All of their soaps are scented with natural essential oils from sustainable plants and flowers."
"When the package of soaps arrived at my door, my kids wanted to sniff and try each of them. The Sassafras Birch was the clear favorite. Sarah and Naomi both loved its sweet and warm root beer scent!
"I personally love how nicely the soaps lather and clean without stripping my skin. My favorite has been the Almond Green Tea bar which feels nourishing, has a smooth texture, and is a sensual soap to use. This soap left my skin feeling smooth and smelling delicious!"
"The peacefulness of this bar of soap was so pleasant, it made me not want to leave the shower. For the last week, I have been showering until the hot water is all used up. I know I should be conserving water, but I really couldn't help it. It was like I was under some sort of spell. The smoothness of the bar slid effortless over my skin, the lather.... full-bodied and perfect for drifting in and out of mindless daydreaming and even better for shaving. The Almond Green Tea was a true delight for both the skin and the senses. Green tea, to begin with, has a calming effect on me, and then throw in an almond scent and you have a very calm bar.... maybe that's what I would have called it: CALM BAR, although people might read it as clam bar. No, no no good. Smells nothing like clams."
"Try this soap! If you love herbs and scents it is really special."