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When Roe V. Wade was overturned in June – a statement that still feels horrifying and surreal, particularly in 2022 – I found myself looking to doctors of Chinese medicine and herbalists for guidance in maintaining health autonomy and community care in the face of dystopian governmental realities.
In addition to writing for TQE, I’m in graduate school, studying to be a doctor of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture – naturally, herbs and alternative healing modalities feel approachable to me. (I actually first met Elix’s founder, Lulu Ge, in one of my herbalism classes.) This is not the case for most women.
Most of us are implicitly taught that hormonal birth control is the only option, and that period pain, mood swings, and irregular menstruation are normal and inevitable parts of having a uterus. Losing the right to a safe and legal abortion underlined that feeling of powerlessness. I wanted to facilitate this conversation between Lauren Haynes, founder of Wooden Spoon Herbs, and Lulu Ge, founder of Elix, to shine a light on the accessible (and potent) world of medicinal herbs. In this conversation, we cover everything from the truth about hormonal contraceptives to herbs that will kick debilitating cramps and mood swings for good.
Lauren Haynes: I'm Lauren Haynes, clinical herbalist and founder of Wooden Spoon Herbs. Wooden Spoon Herbs exists to make herbalism fun, approachable, and delicious. We really want to help people understand that using medicinal herbs doesn't have to feel overwhelming. In fact, you're probably already doing it.
Lulu Ge: I launched Elix in 2020, and my entire reason for creating this company stemmed from my own roller coaster journey in trying to understand my hormone health and wanting more holistic, natural ways to heal. Our mission is to empower women to become their own best healers. We want to encourage our community members to build their own ritual when they take their herbs, spearheading a “menstrual wellness” movement.
Lauren, what is your own personal relationship with herbalism? And Lulu, with Chinese Medicine and herbs?
LH: I have been studying and working with herbs for the past decade, and went through a formal training with a fifth generation registered herbalist in Alabama. My relationship to herbalism is really my lifestyle – using whole plants and herbs throughout my day in different ways, for different things. Herbs support me and I rely on them for my well-being! It's fun and cool to know the world is full of practical magic like flowers that calm you down.
LG: When I stopped taking birth control in 2016, I experienced debilitating menstrual pain during the most pivotal time in my career. Over-the-counter painkillers failed me, and my OBGYN advised me to go back on synthetic hormones. So I consulted my grandfather, who ran the hospital in Hunan, China, where I was born. He helped me find my way back to Chinese herbal medicine, which lowered my inflammation, rebalanced my cycle and finally started healing my body at the root, from within. That was the birth of Elix.
Health autonomy and knowledge – and in particular, women’s health – is more important now than ever before. I’d love for our readers to understand how herbal allies can help them to feel more empowered about their own health and senses of well-being. If you were to build a foundational at-home herbal arsenal, what are some “beginner herbs” you recommend?
LH: We actually have an Herbal Starter Kit! It has all of my herbalist-curated basics: Fire Cider, medicinal mushrooms, magnesium, and our Herbal Coffee, which is an adaptogenic plant-based coffee alternative. All of those are great places to start! And otherwise, just start in the kitchen or garden. Simple, familiar herbs like sage, rosemary, lavender, and even onions and garlic are among my most oft-reached for medicinal allies.
LG: Our hero product, Cycle Balance, does the work of personalization, sourcing organic herbs, and then boiling them down individually to extract the maximum phytonutrients from each herb. We also have a variety of wellness formulas that anyone can use to get started. Ginger Aide is our pure and potent blend of ginger, which helps with symptoms such as nausea, and Daily Harmony, is a clinical-strength organic blend of hormone-balancing herbs and adaptogens that reduce the effects of stress & anxiety to help you feel your best every day.
In a similar vein, for those who are total newbies to herbals and tinctures and powders, can you give us a crash course on how these are intended to be consumed?
LH: As a clinical herbalist, compliance is the biggest hurdle to helping people! However YOU will actually take an herb is the right way to do it. Need to put your powdered ashwagandha in a batch of chocolate chip cookies? Do it. Need to get your vitamins in sugary gummies? Ok, well it's better than not taking them. Don't psych yourself out, and find what fits into your lifestyle.
LG: You can add Elix formulas to your favorite water, tea, kombucha, smoothie, matcha, or even yogurt! There’s no wrong way to take it. In general, we suggest enjoying our tinctures with a squeeze of honey and lemon to complement the herbal flavor. I’d also recommend enjoying your herbs in your favorite morning beverage about 30 minutes before breakfast, but if you have sensitivities to vitamins and supplements, then it’s best to take your herbs with food.
Do you find that consumers are overwhelmed by the wide number of botanical and adaptogenic options available? How can consumers learn about which herbs are right for them, and if companies are following good sourcing practices?
LH: I think a brand's origin story is so important, along with how long a brand has been around. Looking for brands that are founded by herbalists or functional medicine doctors is a really great way to cut through the noise. Wooden Spoon is not only herbalist-founded, but also staffed by multiple knowledgeable herbalists (and we conduct ongoing staff trainings in herbalism and compliance). As for learning what herbs are right for you, I recommend reading some beginner books – here is a great list we compiled – and learning herbs slowly, one at a time.
LG: When looking for a new supplement, we encourage our Community Members to keep 5 questions in mind: How is it sourced? How is it manufactured? How is it formulated? How was it researched? How is it supposed to help?
We use a process called decoction, which is the process of extracting fluids from plants and herbs by boiling them in water. It is the oldest, cleanest, most natural way to get precious nutrients out of plants. Liquid supplements are easier for the body to break down and act faster than pills, powders, or gummies to disperse their healing properties throughout the body. Additionally, our formulas are based on the Traditional Chinese Medicinal practice of “pattern diagnosis,” using a holistic strategy to create a custom formula that will heal the root cause.
And now, the question I know our readers will want answered from you, Lauren: which herbs or formulas do you recommend for stress or anxiety? For energy and focus? For depression?
LH: Our bestsellers are Anxiety Ally, for anxious moments, and Rose-Colored Glasses, for mood-boosting. I definitely love those and lean on them! I love any nervine for stressful moments: chamomile, rose, lavender, motherwort, linden, skullcap, passionflower. For energy, focus, and longer term stress, I would turn to stimulating adaptogens like ginseng and cordyceps.
Often, it feels like we’re all funneled to conventional hormonal birth control as our only option for preventing pregnancy, with little information about other options that might be available (not to mention a lack of transparency around the potential side effects of hormonal birth control in different bodies/individuals). At the same time, we’re almost socially taught that irregular periods and extreme PMS symptoms like migraines and painful cramping are normal. In reality, these symptoms are indications of imbalance.
LG: One of the main challenges facing our community is the systemic sexism of our current healthcare system that creates the need for her to become her own health advocate. A majority of current “solutions” to chronic care are full of varied health side effects and the cultural conversations seem to put responsibility on her. (Gender bias in medicine, especially as it relates to pain treatment, has been heavily researched and documented.) There is a lack of research and understanding around how contraceptives affect most women. And rather than investing time and resources towards education and sustainable healing, doctors continue to push the options they know.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard from countless members of our community about how it took them years to get a doctor to finally believe that the pain was real and deserved medical attention. One Elix community member from Oklahoma shared how she went to 20 different doctors over a 6-year period before finally receiving her endometriosis diagnoses - and, even after the diagnosis, Elix was the first thing she tried that helped her “get out of bed and function” on the days of her period.
Lauren, what formulas can you recommend to support menstrual health and ease PMS symptoms? How do those herbs work?
LH: I'm in love with our Cramp Control formula (formerly Menstrual Magic). It's got cramp bark for quelling spasms, yarrow for easing a heavy flow, motherwort for anxious feelings, and wild yam as hormonal support and as an antispasmodic. It's specifically formulated for when you're menstruating, or having mid-cycle discomfort. If you're looking for something to take daily to support hormone health, I'd steer you to our Adaptogen Balance, which helps balance overall endocrine function.
And Lulu, how do Elix’s herbal formulas work to combat menstrual irregularities on both sides of the spectrum?
LG: The Elix Health Assessment was developed with our medical advisory board. It asks 60 questions about individuals' cycles, current state of health, and overall wellbeing to uncover the root cause of their symptoms and recommend the best herbs to help them heal naturally. Our members receive a tailored herbal blend of 11-17 different herbs synergistically blended in pure and potent organic liquid tinctures formulated to support the inflammation and hormonal imbalances that could be triggering their symptoms. From the woman dealing with extreme mood swings due to PMDD, to the girl who has horrible cramps, our personalized formulas are made specifically to treat her symptoms.
How do you incorporate herbs and tinctures into your daily rituals and busy life?
LH: I'm such an herb-head! I take herbs all day long. I make big batches of nettle and red raspberry leaf tea that I drink throughout the day, I take Fire Cider every morning for blood sugar and digestive support, and then I'm always taking flower essences on top of that. My favorite herbs right now are rose and raspberries... Fruit totally counts as an herb, right?
LG: I start every morning with an herbal tea or latte. I never leave home without my Daily Harmony (as an afternoon energy and mental clarity boost) and Ginger Aide (to improve circulation and minimize inflammation). I also practice acupressure techniques to help maintain energy levels during busy days and breathwork to help find mindful moments wherever a packed schedule (or travels) might take me. We have a ton of resources as it relates to these lifestyle practices on our Instagram, as we hope to encourage our community members to find pockets of peace when they take their herbs. We love seeing how our community builds their own moments!
Are there any self-care practices you swear by?
LH: Laughter, gentle exercise, acupuncture, and healthy fats. Rose-Colored Glasses daily!
LG: A fellow founder friend (Ellie Burrows) trained me on vedic meditation and it’s been a constant part of my morning routine. I also practice the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) method of “eating the rainbow,” and incorporate TCM into my beauty routine: I love the guasha and jade roller tools from my friend Stephanie’s brand, Mount Lai, and I’ve recently become obsessed with Lanshin’s scalp simulator, which doubles as an acupressure massager for your head!
By caring for my mind, body and soul, I can bring my full self and positive energy to building Elix with love and intention so we can help more people discover the healing potential of Traditional Chinese Medicine and become their own best healers.