With Confluence, our aim is to shine a light on ethical, sustainable, local, woman-owned and minority-owned brands. When we discovered Standing Spruce Apothecary, we knew we had found something truly special.
Owner Lesley Assu shares the story behind her brand, her products and what inspires her. Read on for the full interview.
Can you provide a short introduction to yourself, Standing Spruce Farm, and your products?
My name is Lesley Assu owner operator at Standing Spruce; a small local business located in Campbell River B.C in the community of the We Wai Kai Nation, and partially in my Home community of Haida Gwaii.
Being raised in our traditional territories I developed deep roots to
the land and sea. My passion for traditional medicine is my entirety, it is a practice shared with my family and surrounding communities. I am a loving wife and mother to two children; Daala (the rain) and SGaahlan (The yellow cedar), as well as an adoring aunt to nephews and a niece.
As I share Standing Spruce with you, I am raising the children of our family with traditional knowledge and practices . In my life these teachings were learned from my elders and at Standing Spruce's core we work to ensure we are passing down this knowledge for future generations, I develop each of my products with sustainability, and all of our future in mind .
How did the journey to starting Standing Spruce unfold?
I get asked often about how Standing Spruce came about, What started it, where did the idea come from? Plant medicine is an important part of our history, a history where our relationship to our ancestors and land are our foundation. The truth is It came from my fear, the pain of seeing my kids sick , and the immeasurable helplessness you feel while it's happening.
With every cold or rash my heart would break. Nine years ago I remembered my teachings and traditional ways; I pulled all the knowledge I had in my distant memory from my Aunty’s words, the land, books, but most of all my intuition and our elders. I went outside and collected common weeds, barks, and roots. I used what I had at home and what I could find to make medicines for my babies. In my small kitchen, in a small home, not wanting to leave my family's well being in someone else's hands, I started Standing Spruce.
LIKE THE SPRUCE ITSELF THE WORDS OF SO MANY ELDERS WERE THERE. LONG AFTER A SPRUCE TREE HAS DIED, ITS ROOTS RUN DEEP AND FAR INTO THE EARTH, SPREADING FAR PROVIDING FOR THE WORLD AROUND IT. SHELTER FROM A TALL STRONG TREE, ROOTS FOR WEAVING, AND ON AND ON.
What is the leading intention and inspiration behind the products you create?
Our Inspiration at Standing Spruce is a process. I started the company out of a necessity to help my family through skin conditions, easing symptoms like coughs and colds, allergies etc. So on one hand my work always starts with me searching for, and finding some small way I can help my family, my friends or hopefully a stranger and myself.
On the other hand, everything I do comes from what I am seeing in nature, what is calling me. Every year, and season there are plants that stand out, or that speak to me. I try to observe what nature is telling me by its abundance. What do I have? What do I see? In turn I try to connect an inspiration or Message with our vision, and how to benefit the most people.
How does your surrounding environment or home influence your brand and products?
All of our work is a reflection of our surroundings. It's a reflection of our needs, and what we see in our everyday lives. Our anti-aging salves and face oils were developed from the fields of wildflowers abundant around us. Our Devil's Club
Salve is crafted from patches I've been going back to for 30 years. Of course through hard work its anti-inflammatory devils club salve comes in handy now more so than 30 years ago. The products in themselves are a window to what we see in our every day life.
Tell us how you embody the principles of sustainability? What makes your product ethical?
Our way of life has always been built on a foundation of sustainability. We have a way of life that isn't easy for everyone. It's certainly not a first choice for most.
We built a farm and a life that was slower, but more rewarding for us in the end. All of our ingredients and products are ethically sourced. Our harvesting is done by hand on our property, and on traditional harvesting grounds using sustainable practices. By keeping in line with these practices we are not only honouring older ways and teachings, but preserving the integrity of plant life in our area.
Also, we have spent the last two years moving away from plastic packaging towards glass and metal. Our products and soap are made simply, using rain and storm water, and natural clays and dyes, every product is created with the thought in mind that everything has a purpose, and nothing on our farm is wasted.
How does Standing Spruce inspire the wild within and connect people to place?
Standing Spruce's origins came from culture, myth, and folklore. The Spirits that are tied to all things; specifically the roots of the forest, spiritual beings contained there, and our ability to touch those things. The roots of the spruce tree run far and deep, just like its medicine.
Presently while developing medicines, through the use of texture, smell and something you can feel; every facet of my product is meant to connect you to a place, a feeling, and emotion. It really is a piece of us here on the farm, a piece of our lives, and that is what I am trying to share with my clients.
For the most part I see our products as offerings in all forms. Our products are gifts during special occasions, or wedding favours, but at the same time dependable and natural enough to take camping or use after a hard day of work.
Rustic, utilitarian and functional, yet carrying something special. When I imagine my products, I imagine them as memories. Through the salt water and sand of
my homeland. I see the willows in our greens. I picture those ingredients like blessings in peoples hands, or an extension of my work and plant healing. I imagine the feeling and the joy I had while making them, the joy of carrying Something with so much love behind it.
Photos: Blue Tree Photography & Jeremy Koreski