Lauren Haddad-Olivet and I "met" via Instagram a year or two ago and I admired her photos from day one. For months, we went back and forth with the typical "heart-ing" of pics and occasional comments, but it wasn't until I posted a photo of a friend and myself during a Swedish midsommar celebration that Lauren and I began our correspondence. Turns out we both spent time working on a farm outside of Stockholm called Rosenhill. We missed each other by a year, but the mutual adoration of the place sparked one of those magical, online friendships. Lauren currently lives in Switzerland and runs The Soaked Bean. The meals and concoctions Lauren creates ring deep with tradition and what she calls, Forest Medicine.
I hope you enjoy the wonderful wisdom and offerings Lauren has to share in this interview. And as always, thank you for stopping by.
How do you explain your work to people?
The simplest version is that I’m a holistic nutritionist, herbalist and cook who makes medicine with food and plants, gives workshops on kitchen and forest medicine and offers one-on-one consults.
I spent many years living and working on farms and am really interested in regional and traditional foods, eating in rhythm with the seasons. I’m a writer, too, of non-fiction, like the essays on my blog, and of fiction. So there’s definitely a more involved version.
I like to think that I work with story medicine, as an intermediary between the plants and the public, a guide over the bridge to remembering the old ways, helping to repair our relationship to the natural world.
How and when did you start practicing herbalism?
When I was nine or so, I remember my Iraqi grandma picking leaves from a grape vine that grew underneath our raised deck for dolma (pickled grape leaves stuffed with rice). I grew up in the Suburbs with a capital “S”, with parents who’d been raised in the city, and this was the first time I witnessed a relationship between a plant and a person.
There was that moment of remembering, and then many of forgetting. My sophomore year of college I was reintroduced to this kind of relationship via New England Literature, at an immersive educational program in rural Maine. I spent that summer working on a blueberry farm in Maine and, while I was in the field harvesting potatoes, I stepped on a bee. The farmer I was working for promptly guided me toward a patch of plantain, instructed me to chew it and apply it to my sting. There it was again, the relationship between plant and person; this time as a remedy.
After that, my interest in the plant world really (forgive the pun) blossomed. I took a course in Ethnobotany and spent more time on farms, learning about regional plants and folk medicine. In 2013 I moved to a really magickal community in northern Michigan. I met my friend Emily, who’s an herbalist, and was introduced to a community of medicine makers and plant people. It was there that I made my first tincture and really got to know the plants.
When I was cooking at Rosenhill (Ekerö, Sweden), food as medicine seemed to be so ingrained in the culture, where as in the States it’s definitely more of a trend that is just starting to become a part of our daily lives and somewhat glorified. As an American working using medicinal food and herbalism overseas, do you come across any challenges?
Switzerland (like any place, really!) has a rich history of kitchen and forest (and mountain!) medicine. Unfortunately, in the city, a lot of these traditions have been forgotten. As with so many other places in our global economy, the gaze has turned elsewhere. Traditions have been traded in for convenience. Generally, I think Americans are more open to learning (or relearning!) something new. One of the challenges here has been convincing people that these forgotten traditions are actually really valuable!
Folks in Switzerland are just opening up to the idea of vegan, plant-based, “superfood”-y diets (which I, personally, find extreme). So things like quinoa and raw “cheesecake” have just made their way here. I’m out here singing the praises of the potato, the patch of backyard nettles, chicken feet and eggs. It’s not as sexy as avocado toast or an acai bowl, but I think folks are slowly seeing the beauty in eating regionally.
I welcome all my workshop participants with a mug of broth as a way to speed up this initiation into traditional, regional foods.
How do you practice self care? Do you have any daily practices that you utilize?
I’m a really cerebral person so it’s important for me to do things that are grounding, more body-based. I stretch for fifteen minutes or so every morning and every evening, try to take a walk along the river or in the forest every day, do a little yoga, a little dancing. I’ve really learned that this is the most important aspect of self-care for me. Movement!
I also try to take a long, hot, herbal-infused bath at least twice a week. I light a single candle and sit in the half-darkness and silence. The lack of stimuli is so soothing for me with my more high-strung (ahem, Gemini moon) nervous system. I love using a blend of oatstraw and calendula, rosemary and white pine is also really lovely, sometimes I’ll toss a few wild rose petals directly into the tub. Rubbing herbal oils onto my body, particularly the soles of my feet, after a bath also feels really good and grounding.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
Lately, I’ve been so inspired by my friend Laura Schälchli, of Sobre Mesa. She’s a cook, teacher and organizer of workshops and dinners in Zurich. Her work is so original and playful (an upcoming cooking workshop is called “Leaf to Root”, whole vegetable cooking, and a past dinner was based around using blood (!!) in cooking, a way of whole-animal eating I’d never even considered).
My friend Carol Laughing Waters introduced me to the work of herbalist Loren Cruden and I’ve been scrambling to get ahold of all of her books since. Medicine Grove has become one of my favorite herbals. Her materia medica includes plants planetary and directional correspondences, which I think is super rad.
My friend Khajdia is a cook who recently moved to Tunisia and her insta-feed is always filled with so many delicious things. She documents not only the (beautiful) finished products, but also the process, which I really appreciate (and would like to see more folks doing!). She’s a kitchen witch, for sure. Using products from her garden, the markets there. She’s seemed to tap into an endless source of inspiration in her kitchen and it’s just really wonderful to witness.
I’ve also got to mention that I’m always inspired by my parents, who have more energy than anyone I know, and my sweetheart, who sees the world through such a rosy lens. Very grateful for them!
I’m sharing my father-in-law’s recipe for Pot au Feu. It translates to “pot over fire”, and is a one-pot meal that is a great introduction to making food medicine; it’ll have you feeling like a witch over her cauldron, in the very best way.
Pot au Feu
For the meat:
You could either use a couple of cuts of oxtail (the one with the marrow bone in the middle) or as much tough meat (like beef shoulder) as you’d like with a few marrow bones
For the veggies:
I like to use the following, but what you use is really up to you! (What you have on hand, what’s in season in yr region). Use this as a guideline, but feel free to veer as much as you’d like.
2 of each of the following: carrots, leeks, onions, turnips and parsnips
4 potatoes, peeled
1 of each: celeriac, peeled and rutabaga
also, a handful of cloves and dried bay leaves
Slice beef shoulder into chunks. Add meat and marrow bones (if using oxtail, just add oxtail whole) to large stockpot and fill w/ cold water. Put on high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, take off heat, drain water and remove meat and bones from pot. Wipe pot clean.
While meat and bones are boiling, chop all the vegetables, except the onions, into big chunks -- you want them to be roughly the same, big size (remember, they're going to cook for a few hours). Peel your onions and stick the cloves in the skin (the onion is your pincushion, the cloves are your needles).
Add vegetables, meat and bones into stock-pot. Cover with cold water. Place on stove and heat on high until comes to a rolling boiling. Skim surface for impurities, then lower. Cover with a lid and simmer for 2-3 hours, checking every so often to see if your meat is tender. Once tender, serve!
Serve with lacto-fermented pickles, grainy mustard, course salt and a chunk of sourdough bread.
It will keep in the fridge for 4 days, if well sealed. Otherwise, it freezes well.
All photos were taken by or belong to Lauren and Lucas Olivet