Wooden Spoon Herbs is a boutique herbal medicine line infused with the soul of Southern Appalachia, where its founder, Lauren Haynes, was born and raised. A rich sense of local tradition and empowerment through grassroots self-sufficiency inform the ethos of her apothecary. Lauren’s deep connection to the land she grew up with can be felt in every herbal blend, which is comprised of locally foraged, traditional Appalachian plants. Wooden Spoon Herbs boasts a myriad of medicinal modalities, including tinctures, salves, creams, sprays, and syrups.
I spoke with Lauren about how her Tennessee upbringing inspired her path to herbalism, what’s unique about traditional Appalachian plants, Wooden Spoon’s nourishing “Breast Butter” cream and “Prebiotic Digestive Powder,” and more.
What about your Tennessee upbringing and those local herbs made you want to become an herbalist?
Herbalism leans so heavily on different systems, like Chinese medicine or Ayurveda, and sometimes the local tradition gets lost. When I started learning about the biodiversity of the Appalachian region and how special our plants are, I looked for a way to incorporate that into my herbal practice which was blooming at the same time. It was built from the desire for a sustainable life or a self sufficient life, things like fermenting and sourdough baking. I found a teacher, Phyllis Light, who is a wonderful 5th generation Southern Appalachian herbalist. I realized there was this rich tradition of using Appalachian plants for healing, that that was its own system. I wanted to represent that in the market and I also wanted to provide that medicine for people who might not have heard of it. Just like anything, herbalism has its fad herbs and fad techniques, and I want to represent where I’m coming from. It’s really close to my heart.
What’s special about traditional Appalachian plants that makes them the focus?
A lot of our plants don’t grow anywhere else in the world, or grow only in Appalachia and China. When all the land on earth was one continent, they were along the same latitudes. Due to glacial movement a lot of those seeds got spread to Appalachia and areas of China. The similar climates and geographies preserve those same plants. A lot of times we will have analogues of plants used in Chinese medicine. People typically rely on the certain constituents of herbs, like essential oils, for their medicines. Since it’s so hot where I live, the North Georgia mountains, the heat just evaporates those volatile oils, so you can’t really rely on those as the medicinal constituent of the plants. A lot of herbs that we have are astringent. We also have a lot of bitter herbs. So we learn how to use these different plants in different ways.
We’re treating symptoms and people with different parts of the plants. It’s a really beautiful system of medicine that works with herbal energetics, matching people’s energies with plants, like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. But it’s also a little bit different. There are different tissues, different tastes, different diagnostic tools. It’s also really special because it’s a real convergence of cultures. It’s very transparent in where it’s coming from. It’s a blend of Native American medicine and West African medicine and Scots-Irish medicine, which are the communities that built the south. Those were all the people sharing information with each other, the poor and the oppressed who couldn’t afford medical care from a doctor.
That notion of empowerment through self-care is evident in the “Breast Butter” cream. Can you speak to how this cream supports breast health?
I feel that people are having a lot of breast health issues right now for a couple reasons. We have so many xenoestrogens in the environment, which are chemicals that mimic estrogens in the body. They come from things like plastics, pesticides, etc. Also, there is a cultural taboo of taking care of our reproductive organs and sexual organs. I think it’s really important right now to take care of ourselves as much as we can.
The “Breast Butter” is made with a base of herbal oil to move the lymph, and that application encourages massage, so the effect is two-fold. Lymphatics don’t get as much attention as a lot of other body systems do in modern education, so people don’t realize that your breasts are full of these lymph ducts. Lymph is like the sewage system of the body — things get dumped into the lymph to get cleansed out of the body, and the only ways to move it are to thin it with herbs or to exercise. It doesn’t move on its own. So we have to exercise and use herbal lymphatics to move our lymphs. Your breasts are full of lymph ducts. Calendula, red clover and violet, which are in the cream, are some of my favorite herbs for moving the lymphs. You can use the cream on your whole body.
Tell us a little bit about the Prebiotic Digestive Powder. What makes it so effective at facilitating healthier digestion?
The Prebiotic Powder is formulated with rooty herbs that are rich in resistant starches, which provide food for your gut flora. Burdock is amazing for nourishing and protecting the liver. Marshmallow is fantastic for lubricating all the tissues of the body, and elecampane is a bitter herb that nourishes mucus membranes like the lungs and digestive tract. And like I said, all of these contain vast amounts of inulin, a resistant starch that these little bacteria buggers love to eat. So when you’re working with rebuilding good gut flora, if you populate your digestive tract with bacteria that then starve and die it’s self-defeating. Lots of foods have resistant starches, too, like potatoes and root veggies.
What are some of your favorite herbs that you’ve worked with?
I’m having a love affair with red root. It’s not a very popular herb, and not really in the market. It’s called red root when you used the root and new jersey tea when you use the leaf. The root is this astringent sweet beautiful crimson root that is a really wonderful lymphatic. It’s also really good for sore throats, anything you can use astringent and sweet herbs for. The leaves were used during the Boston Tea Party because they tasted like a fine black tea. I know a lot of people say that about different herbs, that they taste like tea, but this one tastes amazingly like a delicious tea. I just moved to where I live now, New Georgia, so I’m really looking forward to seeing all the spring herbs come up in the fall. I love all of the Appalachian spring ephemerals, lady slipper, trillium, bloodroot, dogwood, wild hydrangea. Anyone who’s around.
How did you come up with the name Wooden Spoon?
The idea behind it was that wooden spoons are simple tools that you can make by hand for free. It’s about using what you have and making your life a little more self sufficient by using what’s around. Kitchen medicine.