Q&A With Leilani from "Wild Bruja"
Leilani is the (hilarious) human behind Wild Bruja Apothecary. Her handmade products range from fresh plant extracts and infused herbal oils, to medicinal salves, herbal syrups, oral care, and an ever growing range of all natural amazingness. Her magnetic energy and hilarious instagram stories take us along on her plant foraging experiditons, her latest epic soup recipes, and her latest creations (like natural makeup!).
Leilani is one of those people that just gets it, so I was super keen to pick her brain and share a Q&A featuring her wisdom. Needless to say, she does not disappoint!
Q&A With Leilani from "Wild Bruja"
1. what time is your alarm set for?
Thankfully I am so grateful to be able to set no alarm whatsoever. I view sleep as an essential nutrient for my life. I gain so much insight into my health by paying close attention to my sleep cycles. I can tell what I need more of or less of by when and how my body naturally wants to retire and wake. I’ve also noticed that immediately after I wake up I have this overwhelming feeling of clarity, and can very easily envision exactly what it is that I need to do.
It’s been such a game changer to not be required to set an alarm. My partner and I utilize blackout curtains in our sleep space, consciously keep blue light away after the sun sets, use bedding fabrics made of natural and chemical-free materials, and actively limit the usage of electronics in our sleep space. We have found that these practices allow us to achieve a deeper quality of sleep that we both need. It has also brought to light how deeply we are affected by artificial light, sound, and chemical-laden laundry detergents when we travel. I do not force myself to sleep if I am not tired, and if I feel like being awake in the middle of the night, I roll with it. I feel extremely lucky to have learned just how essential sleep is to my overall health and mood, as well as the clues my body has given me regarding the consumption of caffeine.
2. what did you have for breakfast?
I’m not a big breakfast person. That is to say that I do not generally wake up with a big appetite. Lately I have been making smoothies with frozen organic spinach and wild blueberries. I’ll throw flax seeds, pepitas, almonds, walnuts, blackstrap molasses, yogurt, and maple syrup in there most of the time as well. Also either half an avocado or sometimes a little ghee. If I don’t go the smoothie route, I rock local pastured eggs, some kind of veg (usually spinach, dandelion greens, or asparagus), and include sauerkraut and a big spoonful of plain organic yogurt.
3. what are you currently working on to better your Self?
Lately what has been helpful for me is actually a quote that I heard from Tony Robbins which is, “get out of your head, or you’re dead”. I guess to me that means not trying to figure out every last detail of why another person said or did something “to” me. Realizing that everyone is dealing with their own shit, and that it’s not up to me to solve anyone else’s problems or to make others feel better by changing my reactions or natural responses.
I used to beat myself up for reacting in certain ways, second guessing the approach that I took, and that was just a huge waste of time. You will never make another person happier by altering yourself for them. If anything, authenticity allows us to learn and grow much more efficiently- even if it’s more difficult to deal with or uncomfortable in the moment. I have also learned that compassion is usually the best approach unless someone is directly threatening my safety. I used to be more inclined to judge and criticize, and now I realize that everyone is at a different point on their own journey. I don’t have time or energy to argue with people or to try and change anyone’s opinion. I spend far less time worrying about what other people think or do and just focus on really trying to hone in on how I can show up and stand in MY truth.
Live and let live, but setting boundaries so that I am able to take care of myself in the way that aligns with my needs to be the healthiest version of myself possible.
4. what book do you think everyone should read?
Her concept of the “Three Traditions of Healing” (the Scientific Tradition, the Heroic Tradition, and the Wise Woman Tradition) really illustrated some unhealthy ways that I had viewed my own health in the past. She explains how the Scientific Tradition aims to fix/fight, the Heroic Tradition aims to clean/punish, and the Wise Woman Tradition aims to nourish. This concept helped me to let go of anger, blame, and negative self-talk/habits and allowed me to understand that simply aiming to fully nourish myself could and should be at the forefront of how I approach my own self-care and health. It allowed me to shift my mindset from “I shouldn’t” or “I am not allowed to”, to “I want to include this, and this, and this”. It is more about what I can add to my glass to fill myself up with goodness as opposed to feeling like I was constantly needing to pour myself out or keep my hand over the glass.
The other huge conceptual takeaway of that book was that life is not a line or a circle, but rather a spiral that you can travel backward and forward on. If you need to go back in time or forward, you can! Allowing yourself to let go and fall into the spiral of life. That was huge for me. Like life is a trust fall, and I could just trust it and fall back knowing that for better or worse it WILL catch me. There is no other alternative. That you do not need to try and hold on because life will support you.
Also the concept that disease can be an opportunity to change and/or be an opportunity for deep healing or even death to occur. That our problems and diseases can be our allies and that they are our body’s way of signaling to us what we have been missing or truly need to nourish. That there is no shame in getting sick or in dying. That death is a part of life, that everything in life wants to be useful, and the concept of “I eat you, now you eat me”. Really understanding that I am nature, that one day nature will eat me back up, and so it all goes on and on along the great spiral of life. I will be nourishment for something when my body ceases to be alive, and that I can honor life by being nourished by life while I my body is alive.
Healing Wise took away a lot of fear, allowed me to acknowledge bullshit patterns of self-hate, and made me realize that all forms of life are in it together. One is not better or more important than another. I am forever grateful for that book.
5. what is your favourite way to sweat?
I used to joke around that I never sweat. I could run, work out, hike, whatever, and I just wouldn’t sweat much. I also hated hot tubs or saunas. I felt like I was overheating or like I couldn’t breathe. Then I went to my first hot yoga class and holy shit did I sweat! It was like my body was finally able to, and it felt amazing. I could feel afterwards that my skin was softer. I felt like I was losing a lot of minerals though, so I stopped going. Also, I didn’t appreciate the punishment aspect of it, a few demanding instructors, and the nasty cold essential oil-soaked towels that they put over your forehead (which ultimately just took me right out of my meditative state that I had just “earned”). Honestly, I just prefer to lay in the sunshine. My body tells me when I’ve had enough. So, I guess just let me have some sun. I have a hot body constitution, so if anything I prefer the cold to sweat-inducing conditions. I’d rather bundle up than be too hot.
6. who is one of your biggest inspirations?
Susun S. Weed. I have learned so much from her work. She has really made the world of herbal medicine accessible to so many people, and has helped me to embrace myself so fully without blame, shame, or guilt.
7. what is the last thing you purchased?
A queen-sized wooden bed frame. My partner and I have slept on a futon topper on the floor for about 5 years, and I guess it was finally time to get it up off of the floor a few inches. Am I an adult now?
8. what is best advice you've ever received?
I dunno. I feel like I’ve had a serious lack of good advice in my life. I’ll go with “expectation is the root of disappointment”.
9. what is something you can’t live without?
Time alone in nature.
10. what does a typical dinner look like for you?
A nourishing soup full of veggies and herbs fat and free range chicken. Over and over and over. Haha.
11. what is on your night stand?
A glass of water, a wooden coaster, a hair tie, a lamp that’s shaped like a pineapple, and toe spreaders.
12. if you could only have one (for the rest of your life): chocolate, or avocado?
Avocado. Honestly I have never been a chocolate person. It’s too bitter and tannic. I love white chocolate though. I am a lover of fat. I would take fat and salt all day. I could (and do) take a bite of a stick of butter any time. I love ghee, bacon, and good olive oil. An avocado with a sprinkle of sea salt for the rest of my life sounds delightful.
A Deeper Dive
1. How did you get into herbalism? …and tell us the story of Wild Bruja!
Herbalism totally 100% found me. I had absolutely zero knowledge of or interest in herbalism until about 5 years ago. I guess to fully understand where I was at mentally when I found herbalism, I’ll need to give a bit of backstory. I’ll try to summarize.
I spent my entire adult life from the age of 18-31 in the city of Chicago making art and music. I was involved in more projects than I could count, and never even gave myself a moment to sit still. I was also an emotional rollercoaster. I had so much creative energy inside of me, but I was always self-sabotaging. Looking back I can see that my strategy was to preoccupy myself so that I didn’t have to face certain truths. My twenties were plagued with depression, self-abuse, and dangerous relationships with food, alcohol & marijuana. I was trying really hard to be the person that I wanted to be instead of the person that I truly was. I was a closeted lesbian who was married to my best friend who was a drummer and fellow nerd. He really was my best friend, and I genuinely loved him.
I started playing in a band with all women, and it just so happened that everyone was out and proud. Being able to not only feel comfortable with my sexuality but more importantly accepted and understood by my peers for the first time ever was life altering. The more I accepted myself for who I truly was, I more I realized that true happiness was completely dependent on honesty and authenticity. I couldn’t be ashamed or afraid for one more single second. It would kill me. I knew that if I wasn’t going to be honest about who I was, that I would be unhappy forever and be living a lie. That wasn’t fair to me, my husband, or my family and friends. That wasn’t the life that I wanted for myself.
I left my husband which to this day is still the hardest and most painful thing that I have ever been through. We still talk, which I am so grateful for. Anyway, I felt like I was living in a new body that suddenly hurt everywhere. It was the strangest thing, but in the two years following my divorce and move to Tennessee, I felt so fucking broken, like I had no idea what I was, what to do, or how to be in the world. I had loads and loads of physical pain for the first time in my life. My identity was suddenly different, yet I knew I was the same.
I shaved my head and stopped wearing makeup. I felt so much less pressure to fit into this box that I had put myself into which felt really freeing, yet I no longer had the validation from men to boost my self-esteem (which I now know was something that I leaned on). I played with expressions of gender and paid close attention to how I was received by others based upon how I looked. I was experimenting with my newfound “lesbian” identity, but ultimately what I realized what that I just needed to wear what made ME feel comfortable. If I wanted to wear makeup, I would. If I wanted to wear a skirt, I would. If I wanted to look butch as fuck, I would. Soon I no longer felt as though I needed to fit into a feminine box, or a masculine box, or a lesbian box. I rejected the whole box.
I wasn’t straight, or queer, I was just Leilani. In fact I even take issue with the term “lesbian” which defines me as only being attracted to women which wouldn’t be entirely true either. Anyway, I started making my decisions based upon what I wanted as opposed to how I thought I’d be received or appear to others. It was really painful, but ultimately completely empowering.
I fell in love with an amazing woman and we moved to Tennessee to make a documentary about food and food politics. Long story short, we ultimately decided to abandon the project but found ourselves starting a new life in a new state with very few friends and very few obligations. It was a complete rebirth. I had time, space, and instead of navigating the city streets of a concrete jungle, I was navigating the trails and natural landscapes of Tennessee. I was nannying part time, and started making my own body products. I opened up an Etsy shop called, “Leilani’s Homespun”. I made deodorant, lotions, basically anything I wanted to control the ingredients of and that I didn’t want to have to buy at the store. I found Katy Bowman’s work, and began making natural movement in nature my main form of nourishment. I would wander trails alone for hours. I would have intense cries. I began to open up in a way that I had never even given myself the space to do before. I got rid of my furniture. I stopped sleeping with a pillow. I started going barefoot and learning how to squat. I broke myself down to the most true version of myself. I was becoming some kind of wild woman. I liked it. I was in pain all of the time, but I intuitively knew that I was moving in the right direction. Suddenly nature was my church. A day spent outside was deeply nourishing. I had nowhere else to go. I had my own house with my partner and a big backyard with a creek. There were barred owls in my backyard. When I was alone with nature, I felt the most “me” that I ever had. I made fires. I watched the clouds, the moon, the rain. I felt free in nature. Zero influences from culture, no labels or rules, no agenda, just raw living. I began observing my surroundings in an entirely different way. I witnessed the changes in plants and animals through the seasons. Slowly over time the repetitive thoughts and stories began to quiet, and just existing was enough.
I had unintentionally worked through a lot of “my shit” through what I can only describe as “nature therapy”, and one day, this crazy looking flower appeared. I had never seen it before. It was purple and white and had all of these curly looking things coming off of it. I had to know what it was. It was like an itch that I had to scratch. Not only that, but it was as if I could hear its voice. It wouldn’t let up. I looked at it for maybe 20 minutes, and studied it. I connected with it. I took a photo of it and looked it up when I got home. Passiflora incarnata, Passionflower. Wow. Ok. I read more about it. When I reached the part about its medicinal properties, a lightbulb went off in my head. More than that, some weird connection was made deep within me and I knew that this plant was speaking to me that day, telling me that it wanted me to take it inside of myself to see what would happen. I know it sounds totally crazy, but after that day I had the ability to communicate with the plants. Something opened. I opened. I could feel them and hear them as if they were a person sharing with me directly.
Trust me, I also thought that maybe I was going crazy, or that maybe this was some sort of PTSD… Nevertheless, I continued. I discovered that one could make extracts from the plants, and I found out how. I went back to that plant on a hot summer day. It smiled as I approached and it knew why I was back. It knew everything. I asked it if I could harvest it and make medicine with it and it almost laughed at me and said, “Duh”! I harvested it and thanked it and made my first tincture. 6 weeks later I tried it. At the time I was experiencing excruciating body pain, low back pain, and insomnia. I was still going through the physical effects of all of the emotional pain I had been in over the past few years. One night before bed, I took a dropper full of the extract that I had made with it. I had NEVER worked with herbal medicine before. Suddenly, I felt a shift. Over the next 20 minutes I felt my nervous system relax, the tension in my lower back released some, and I felt tired. I laid down and went to sleep. I woke up the next day with the kind of headache you get when you sleep too much.
I knew two things: One, this medicine affected me. Two, I took too much. The next day I took a few drops in the morning when I felt tense. It helped. I kept taking a few drops here and there and I couldn’t believe that this medicine that I HAD MADE with the plant that I HAD TALKED TO was HELPING ME. I have been obsessed with plant medicine ever since. From there I checked out every book on herbalism that I could find at the library. Any book on plant identification. Any book on wild food. Any book about plants. I found Susun Weed’s BlogTalk show, I found other herbalists on Instagram, I found community. Homesteaders, off-grid livers, farmers, local makers, movers, shakers. I integrated all things nature into everything I did. I made so many extracts and tried them all. Vitex changed my fucking life. My cycle was finally tolerable and more than that, healthy! I became so nourished by all of the things that were happening during this time. I transformed my shop into an herbal apothecary, and began sharing plant medicine with friends and family. The rest is history.
2. What is one of your favourite plants, and why?
St. Joan’s Wort, St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum. So many reasons. It is literally sunshine in a bottle. It’s deep red tincture and oil is a savior in so many ways. It helps beat the blues, and is an incredible antiviral. If you apply its deep red oil to your body after a hot shower it is the most deeply nourishing nervous system reset ever. It helps with all forms of body pain in my experience. It is an absolute joy to be in the presence of in person. It grows in beautiful places. I helps so many people. It is the definition of a people plant. I love it so fucking much. It has helped me so many times. Too many to count.
3. What is one of your most memorable moments in nature?
One time I was with my friend Diana, and we were talking during a hike. She was describing some woes: many of which Passionflower can come to the aid of. She asked me how we could find some. She said she wished she could. I told her, “you know, in my experience, if you ask a plant for help, ask it to appear, sometimes it does”. So, we locked eyes and hearts and collectively really called Passionflower in. I said, “Ok, you go look over there, and I’ll go look over there”. Within 40 seconds we had BOTH found passionflower. No joke. Diana and I made a tincture with that very plant material right there on the trunk of my car, and she took the whole quart jar home. It was fucking special. I have soooo many more stories about the magic of the plants.
4. You’ve said that “herbalism is activism,” please expand on this (amazing) concept.
One of the emotions I recall experiencing soon after discovering the power of plant medicine was anger and resentment for not knowing about it sooner. I was angry that children were not being taught about the plants. Why were we being taught all of this bullshit in school when all of this nature medicine was out there in its many forms? Angry that people spent their hard earned money on pharmaceutical drugs and on doctors visits, paid hefty insurance premiums and co-pays. Angry that I grew up with Tylenol and Advil instead of Elderberry and White Willow Bark. I felt failed by society, failed by my elders, angry at men for claiming stolen lands and waging wars. I felt deep ancestral pain for the plant knowledge that had been lost, even systematically suppressed. I felt swindled, cheated, furious. I desperately longed for community, for lost nights in front of the television instead of storytelling by a fire. After the anger, I felt a sense of determination. I realized that it would be up to us to change the paradigm. That WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for. That the intuitive knowing that nature is the healer was engrained in us as humans and that I was not alone in these feelings. I realized that herbalism, even though it is the most obvious and direct source of healing that humans can have, is foreign to so many Earthlings. That to work with plants over modern medicine is considered outside the norm, or crunchy. I saw the lawsuits that medicine makers were being faced with while big pharma was getting away with ruining lives while simultaneously filling up their pockets. I saw that the safest and most effective practice of working directly with plant medicine was considered “alternative”. When I told people about what plants were capable of, they rolled their eyes and reached for the Icy Hot. It’s an act of activism to make medicine with plants because it is doing what is safe and right over doing what is popular and potentially harmful. Whole plants affect whole body systems. Drugs have specific actions and side effects. Many of which compromise the health of the whole person. A true herbalist asks questions about the whole person before suggesting a plant remedy. A doctor sees someone for a short time and treats symptoms. People deserve better. We ARE nature, so isn’t it obvious that nature has a level of intelligence that we should be able to look to and trust? I am so grateful that we as a species have figured out modern medical solutions such as surgery and in even some cases, drugs. However when people are sick BECAUSE of the drugs, well then things have gotten out of hand. There is no reason why we should be suffering or have our quality of life compromised because of drugs. Therefore, it is an act of activism to speak out against the overprescription and unnecessary prescription of drugs when herbalism offers a safer, more holistic approach. If we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, than it is up to US to reclaim the plant knowledge, decriminalize the use of plants as medicine, and hold greedy companies accountable for destroying the lives of humans. Enough is enough. We are nature, and from what I can see, it is what we all long for the most. It is the missing piece of the puzzle. We are not machines. We are not patients. We are people with compassion, needs, and feelings. We require clean air, clean water, fertile soil, nutritious food. If we do not return to nature and embrace it as our healer and our mother, we will meet our demise. That would be a shame and a waste of extraordinary potential and love.
5. What role does wild food & foraging play in your day to day life?
I feel supported by it. I see my lawn as the grocery store that I do not need to get in my car or spend money to utilize. Food and medicine are seasonal, and right outside our door. Each new plant I meet is an opportunity to meet a new friend. Mushrooms are deep nourishment and immune system medicine. There is so much to find, explore, and learn. Life is always exciting when your eyes are open to the natural world.
6. What was one of your craziest/ most experimental wildcrafted creations of all time?
Well, wildcrafted food can turn to shit just like store bought food can if you prepare it wrong. Haha. There have been many ferments that have gone awry just due to not knowing wtf we were doing. I feel like I’ve had more snafus trying to make body products more than anything else. Yeah, I dunno. I’ll try and make something and it won’t be the right consistency or texture. I feel like failure is a great teacher though, and is essential to any sort of future success.
7. What advice do you have for someone who is new to the concepts of wild food, but is interested in trying foraging for themselves?
Get curious about the plants. Spend time with them. Ask questions. Go to the library and check out books on what grows locally where you are and start going outside and looking. Don’t eat anything that you aren’t sure of. Take classes. Talk to other people who are already doing it. Let nature be your teacher and get quiet and humble enough to be taught, learn, fail, and get back up. Leggo your ego, and don’t take more than you need.
8. What is simple herbalism recipe that someone can try at home?
Go outside, and sit with a dandelion for 20 minutes. Nibble on the leaves. Slowly eat the flower. Something will happen inside of you. You’ll see. ;)
For something a tad more advanced, collect dandelion flowers from a place that hasn’t been sprayed by evil chemicals, fill a glass jar with them, and fill to the top with apple cider vinegar. Let it sit in your refrigerator for a few weeks, strain, and use that mineral rich flavorful dandelion vinegar on a salad. That’s it. That’s herbalism. Scary, huh? ;)
Connect With Leilani
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