Artist Interview: Lauren of Wooden Spoon Herbs

     Lauren Haynes is the owner of Wooden Spoon Herbals and a good friend and member of the Plant Family. An herbalist hailing from Tennessee, she uses locally foraged herbs to blend together her remedies . She is a big advocate of using local small medicinal farms to source her herbs. She recently underwent a big change in her company and has a whole new look! I am so happy to be able to introduce her to those readers who are unfamiliar with her products, and to be able to interview a good friend! 

I am also so in love with her soothing cream, and rose petal green tea! The cream is a thick consistency which keeps me moisturized for so long! And the green tea is perfect to make into an iced tea to beat this summer heat! And maybe to make into popsicles?! 

Hello Lauren! Thank you for doing this interview with me! As part of the Plant Fam, I am so happy I could interview you today. Its amazing to have a community of herbalists/business owners we can bounce ideas off of and have as a support system. 

What got you started on this path? Were you always interested in plants in general?

 

I have had a deep love of all living things since I was a child. I have memories of asking my parents if I could bring home marigolds from Home Depot just to have something new to nurture and befriend. I was also obsessed with animals. I had a dolphin file folder that I filled with magazine clippings about my favorite endangered species, and couldn’t wait until I was old enough to volunteer for Greenpeace and buy organic milk. This combined with wanting to be a witch, just knowing magic was real, created the person I am now. I never changed. I still watch reruns of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and it’s still great and very real.
This herbal journey, however, began as the result of a self-sufficient mindset (feminism and diy punk played a large role), a desire to help and empower others, and learning about backyard medicine. I worked at a health food store where I was introduced to the concept of tinctures, and then a serendipitous visit to a local used bookstore provided all the curriculum I needed to begin. A friend let me sell herbal medicine at her art studio holiday market, and people were ready for it. They were hungry for plant medicine. A year and a half later, here we are.

How do you feel your home town in Tennessee has inspired your brand? Do you use a lot of local herbs in your products?

Tennessee is who I am; it’s in my blood. My family has been settled in the area I grew up in for over 5 generations, and probably more. My blood, my heritage, is entangled with the landscape and the plants around me. This bioregion (the ridge and valley portion of the Appalachian Mountains) is technically a tropical rainforest - hot summers, mild winters, impossibly humid. The Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest in the world, and carve out some really special geographical configurations: lots of coves, lots of “hollers”. These coves and hollers have acted as protection for certain plants, plants like trillium, bloodroot, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild hydrangea, dwarf iris, wild geranium, trout lily. These plants are my favorites, known collectively as the “eastern woodland medicinals.” The mountain I live on, Lookout Mountain, is literally the most southerly Appalachian Mountain. We have all of these plants, and then about an hour south in Alabama and Georgia you start to get into the pan-American plants - plants that grow from the Southeast United States down through Brazil. It’s a really special area. So, to source nettles from Estonia, or red raspberry leaf from Bulgaria seems crazy to me. Because we have so many medicines here and, yes, we have all the weedy herbs too.
When I started Wooden Spoon Herbs, it was in effort to transform my local plants into medicine. All of my botanical ingredients are harvested with my own two hands, or purchased from farmers and amazing wildcrafters that I work with directly. They are all in the continental US, and mostly in the Southeast. My most exotic ingredient is moringa powder (in the Super Green Protein Powder) and it is grown for me on a female-run cooperative farm in Miami, Florida.

I know you recently went through a gorgeous new rebranding (congrats! it looks amazing), how do you feel about this modern resurgence of herbalism and where do you feel you fit in? I know we have talked about this before and also amongst the plant family about balancing your own interpretation with packaging, and traditional herbalism. I think its amazing that we can take the foundations of herbalism and build upon that with our own unique take on it. I think you have done an amazing job!

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Thanks, Ally! I see the resurgence in the visibility of herbal medicine as cyclical. You see it about every 20 years in the mainstream consciousness, in the 70s, in the 90s, and now. For us herb nerds, it’s an everyday thing; it’s part of life. I definitely think it’s amazing that we have the Internet now and this wonderful way to connect with people, to be self-employed, to sell our creations. 
My rebranding was something I did for myself. I knew how much love went into the herbal preparations that I am creating, and I knew that my level of visual art skill didn’t match what I wanted the package to look like. Working with a graphic designer was one of the most fun projects I’ve taken on. It also allows me the freedom to get new eyeballs on herbal medicine. Maybe there are some people who are looking because it has a pretty package, and then feel the herbs changing their lives. This is what I’m after. I know the herbal community is behind me, and I want to extend that relationship to any and everyone.
I never want to compete with anyone, and though can be hard not to feel pangs of jealousy, I think the young herbal community has done an amazing job of turning what could be rivalries into family (shout out plant fam!). I want to represent the young, serious herbalist who has fun with her work, and also represent the bioregion of the Southeast. How cool is it to be able to trade formulas with plant witches from all parts of the country? So, so cool.

How important is it for herbalists to work with the seasons and use whats around them to create herbal medicine?

It’s imperative for good medicine. I think half of the beauty of living natural comes from that satisfaction in feeling the cadence of the seasons. No one needs to eat a watermelon in January, you know? Of course, we can dry our herbs so they’re there for a rainy day. And even if someone is sourcing everything from Mountain Rose Herbs, they still need to know to stock elderberries in winter, and sassafras in the spring. If we’re going to be hyperlocal in our food scene, then we need to extend that to herbalism as well. Amazing medicine grows in everyone’s front yard, no matter where they live. I promise.

Where did the name Wooden Spoon originate from?

Honestly, scrolling through Instagram. I had another name that I had settled on, but I didn’t love it. My boyfriend John was really excited about it though. He helped me pick it out. I scrolled past a picture of beautiful wooden spoons all together in a jar, and it just hit me. It made so much sense. Simple, down-to-earth. Wooden spoons: what I cook with daily. Kitchen medicine. Handmade medicine. Handmade everything. Wooden Spoon Herbs. And then I was nervous to tell John, but as soon as I did he knew it was the right name.

Do you have a great community of herbalists in Tennessee? Or have you sort of ventured at this alone?

At first I felt all alone, just my books and podcasts and I. I didn’t know anyone else to talk herbs with. But as I deepened into my studies the community just kind of appeared. Now we have an amazing, growing herbal community. We even have an herbal tea shop and apothecary about to open in Chattanooga! Funny story, I actually cold-called my friend Ali who works with herbs, before I met her, because her phone number was listed on her Facebook. I was like, “Um.. Will you teach me about herbs?” She took me into the woods and showed me some really beautiful places.

What are some of your favorite herbs to work with? What grows locally near your studio?

Oh my gosh. So I just moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee proper up to Lookout Mountain. Chattanooga is in the valley and I lived in the middle of downtown. Our cottage now is surrounded by blackberries, sumac trees, mayhaw trees, black haw and cherry trees, and a forest of pine. There’s a river that’s just thickly lined with Joe Pye Weed and wild hydrangea. There’s nettle and pippsisewa and partridgeberry and Solomon’s seal. It’s magical.
My favorite herbs to work with are any of the native medicinal herbs. And, of course, rose. I also love goldenrod because it’s so versatile and often underutilized. It’s great for drying up mucous and also for UTIs. So many things. I am always drawn to things that I haven’t heard of using before. When I found out how powerful violet is, I just tripped out on that for so long. People need to know these things.

I love how transparent you are with where you source your ingredients and your passion in using local farms and small businesses like yourself to source your amazing herbs. How important is this to you and for anyone else who might want to get started in a little kitchen herbalism? Do you look for this when you buy from other brands as well?

I definitely look for this when I am buying from other brands, because I want to support them and this kind of supply chain. But last year I was at a Rosemary Gladstar workshop, and she was just like, “Don’t be a snobby herbalist.” Which is so true. I advocate buying herbs at the farmer’s market and growing easy ones like peppermint and oregano, because these acts create relationship to the land and it’s stewards. You need to have relationships with the plants  you work with, on some level. At the same time, I think everyone needs a well stocked herbal pantry and should buy bulk amounts from good suppliers, like Mountain Rose for example. I think a happy medium would be supporting your local herb shop. Buy bulk from them.

Besides your beautiful new packaging, is there anything else exciting you are working on? Any secret tid bits you can let us in on?

Well I just moved to a cabin in the woods, so I am really excited to explore our new land. There’s a river, the Little River, which is one of the rare rivers that starts and ends on top of a mountain. Lots of endangered and rare species up here. So I am excited to dive deeply and get to know all these new plants more closely.
Business-wise, I do have some exciting things in the pipeline at the moment! Some are secret… But one I can let you in on is that I am experimenting with distilling hydrosols and essential oils from Southern plants. That’s all I’ll say for now, but by next year I should have that product line in the works. I have an amazing survival skills friend on the mountain who has already begun experimenting, which is a really special and unique project to work together on.

 

Thanks so much Ally!