Honouring Medicine And Pagan Traditions

Words By Lesley Assu
Photo By Bluetree Photography

Introducing the Family and Animals of Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary.

On the territory of The We Wai Kai nation, the original peoples of this land have harvested medicines on Vancouver Island for thousands of years. Willow, Devil’s Club, Bald-Hip, and Nootka Rose have been used for washes, arthritis, and driving off negative energy. The lush land of British Columbia is full of supernatural beauty that is rich with history and can provide what we need simply by looking for it and asking. Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary has always been part food, part self-care, part family, and all medicine.

My name is Lesley Assu or “TaaskiinguungJaats”—lady of the Singing Sands—and I am a Haida woman from the Rotten House People of Haida Gwaii. Alongside my Celtic/English husband, Jamie, we raise our daughter, Daala—The hummingbird of the morning—and our son SGaahlaan—the yellow cedar.

Our farm consists of a herd of heritage cattle who continually provide healthy, ethical meat for local customers. We also have runner ducks and chickens for farm eggs that are available by the roadside. In the summer, we harvest honey from our beehives for our family’s sweet tooth and its medicinal properties. Our days are a family effort with no chore staying with one person. This teaches our children empathy, love, and the importance of working together.

Our daughter, Daala, is fearless like her dad and most women from our motherland. She regularly corrals and chases cows on her quad in the rain; helps her dad run the excavator; rides her homemade zip line; or makes videos of her father tending to or catching swarms of bees. SGaahlan, on the other hand, prefers chasing ducks, picking plants with mom, or a very slow adventure with our retired lab, Tucker, and our dachshund, Arlo. My responsibility on our farm is to teach everyone about plants and our surroundings: how plants come to us when we need them; how to hear what they tell us; what is growing in abundance; and what needs respect and space, such as dangerous or poisonous plants.

Our family’s homesteading journey has been about hope, love, self-sustainability, traditional medicines, and, most of all, teaching our children about the magic held in the territories in which we live and share. Having grown up with a weak immune system and suffering from skin conditions, I couldn’t bear to see the same issues affecting my child. Daala’s issues as a baby started with a cough that developed from store-bought candles, and eczema and other rashes appearing from allergies. I took all the knowledge I had gained in my upbringing and we started ethically harvesting and foraging to create our first and most successful product. Made on stovetop with foraged flowers and herbs, our calendula salve has been a mainstay. I’ve used it on all our family’s children for bites, rashes, psoriasis, and scrapes. Our second product was a lung balm to quell a cough using regularly disregarded driveway weeds. Our salves are made from local beeswax, dried fruit, barks, and herbs.

My husband, Jamie, and I were both raised outdoors. As a little girl, I dipped porcelain cups into pots of herbs simmering on our family’s stove. These herbs were there to help with digestion, pregnancy, or aches and pains. I lived in childlike awe of the moon and stars, collecting roots and stems to prepare our fall and winter stores. Our homesteading journey has inspired us to reconnect our community with old-world practices and to the relevance of traditional solutions for current problems, such as eczema, psoriasis, and simple skin care. Hopefully, through the stories infused in our products, we can bring families closer to nature.

Ten years ago, we started this farm as a dream. As a family, we believe celebrating holidays in the old pagan ways connect us to our history and, more importantly, our ancestors. During Samhain or Halloween, we celebrate with pumpkin harvests that feed us and our animals; autumn spicy cinnamon, root, and oil blends to warm and relax the body; Jack-o-lanterns to guide the spirits; and burning crackling cedar or bonfires. During Yule we celebrate by hanging Christmas balls to represent the planets around the sun, and white spell candles or bay leaves for peace and well wishes. For the equinox we celebrate by harvesting apples, and we practice burnings, candle lighting, and feasts.

Through our work at Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary we wish to return a little tradition to people’s homes so they can form their own connections to the past and make their own memories. We offer a simple alternative to commercialized hallmarks that have become popular over the last few decades. I wish I could say I had a favourite product, but the truth is we make them with so much thought and love that they are all my favourite. Our products incorporate the ocean, the trees, the land, and medicine.

Our vision for Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary came from craving a life where work was harder but more appreciated; a life with a greener footprint that was still affordable and accessible to the people living and working so close to us. Part of the goal was for our farm to be a living reminder of our past as human beings, to have a delicate, symbiotic relationship with our animals, while still holding firmly to our mixed cultural practices and our hopes for the collective future.

Valuing sustainability, we filled our farm with chickens and livestock breeds that were popular hundreds of years ago before large-scale farming became the norm. We’ve made up a small fold of heritage cattle, mainly Highland and Belted Galloway. Grass feeding, slow growth times, and yield have brought these animals out of favour, and we wanted to do our part for their conservation on our homestead. These breeds are often more compact, and most heritage breeds are functional and dual-purpose, meaning they provide their owners with both sustenance and materials for making clothes. Sheep are used for meat and wool, cows for meat and milk, and chickens for meat and eggs. This deepens the human-animal bond.

Despite the less cost-efficient yields, the empathy and love that comes from growing together with our herd—such as birthing lambs—and the responsibility that comes from caring for livestock is more rewarding than anything we’ve ever experienced. Our hard work and love for what we do has allowed us to expand from frontdoor sales and small craft fairs to a small studio shop and a sizeable farm shack carrying eggs, preserves, summer fruits, and produce.

Here we are ten years later, and few things have changed. We are still married, our life lessons keep coming, and we feel ever blessed and lucky to have the support of our community and landscape. We are grateful for the people who visit or pick up breakfast or ritual materials. Making small-batch products, we aim to share the smaller things that carry more importance, patience, and knowledge from a simpler time.




Category: Volume 4