Ruthie Hayes practices the art of herbalism from her home in the wooded hills of southeastern Pennsylvania, in a cabin located on her family’s farm in Harmonyville. It is here that Ruthie creates gorgeous, wholesome, healing herbal products, including tonics, salves, elixirs, bitters, and more. We caught up with Ruthie to learn more about her start, her heritage, and how traditional herbal medicine can fit into our modern lives.
I began to feel the pull towards herbalism in 2009 after my grandmother passed away. My Nana, Miriam, lived on the farm with us and was responsible for a large, prolific truck patch that yielded produce and cut flowers. The day she passed, I was planting an evergreen sapling and vividly remember my movements going in slow motion. It was like being able to hear a different frequency for the first time. I was acutely aware of every detail of the roots and rocks, how the soil felt and smelled, and how I splayed the sapling’s roots out in the hole before I committed them to the Earth. As I patted the soil down around the sapling’s roots, it felt like a “coming home” to green things, as if this was my welcome to their world.
How long have you been practicing herbalism?
I’ve been seriously studying herbal medicine since 2012, first as a folk herbalist. I began casually reading well-known herbalists’ blogs. Then in 2013, I completed a year long foundational course in homestead herbalism taught by Susan Hess, who introduced me to the Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. I live near the heart of PA Dutch country, so learning about their traditions felt familiar and new at the same time. Words like electuary and galactagogue seemed to call out from down a long dark corridor; memories beckoning from deep in my cells. Medicine making seemed to come naturally to me and was immensely fulfilling, like my hands were performing a long-forgotten task.
I spent the next few years consuming as much information as I could get my hands on from teachers like jim mcdonald, 7Song, Matthew Wood, Rosemary Gladstar, Kiva Rose, and Richo Cech. I read their blogs, watched their youtube videos, bought their books, signed up for their newsletters, went to lectures, and continued to make and grow medicine. But still, I hungered for a deeper relationship with the plants. I decided to further my education and pursue becoming a clinical herbalist, and in 2017 I graduated from Thomas Easley’s Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. I was taught how to use nutrition, sleep, and stress management to bring balance to the body and how to work with herbs to support these processes and increase vitality.
Since graduating from The Eclectic School, I’ve been focusing on developing the formulas in my product line, seeing clients for wellness consultations, as well as massage. As a bodyworker, I love integrating herbs into each client’s session. My online apothecary has also been doing really well, and for the past couple of years, I’ve been reconnecting to my Celtic roots by offering what I call “Gathering Boxes”, inspired by the festivals in the Celtic ritual year. Each box has a unique collection of remedies containing herbs and sometimes a ritual item that have to do with that festival. Introducing herbs to people in this way not only helps them to re-remember their ancestral ways, but it also helps them to reconnect with their own landscapes by bringing plants into their every day.
Tell us about the herbal products you make.
I get so much joy from growing, harvesting, and creating remedies with my green allies. I use as many herbs from my own garden and earthspace as possible, as well as organic alcohols and oils and locally sourced honey and beeswax. I make everything from bitters, tinctures (simples and custom formulas), elixirs, salves, creams, facial serums, facial toners, face masks, hydrosols that I distill myself, oxymels (a vinegar and honey based remedy), cordials, loose incense blends, massage oils, and more. My most popular products are probably Fuego Cider (my own award-winning recipe for fire cider) and the Peach Wineberry Tulsi cordial simply because they are so delicious. You can find both at your neighborhood Kimberton Whole Foods.
Who is “Hylde”?
Without really understanding all of her medicinal uses, the first herb I connected with was Elder. The protective arch of her boughs, how her creamy white umbels turn into berries of the darkest purple, and the accessibility and generosity of her medicine. She is largely responsible for setting my feet on the green path, so I lovingly refer to her as my mentor herb. When I was trying to think of an herbal business name for myself, I wanted it to reflect my love for Elder and my Danish heritage, so I looked up the word for “elder” in Dansk, which is “hylde “. “Great!”, I thought. It’s got an old-world sound to it. So, I put “mother” in front of it to give it a nurturing feel, having no idea at the time that there was a connection between the two. Some time later, I was reading one of Matthew Wood’s books and he speaks of the Hylde Moer. I thought, “This is actually a thing?!” Another trip to the internet revealed all lovely folklore surrounding The Little Elder-Tree Mother, and I knew I had serendipitously chosen the right name.
What do you wish people knew about herbalism?
Plant medicine is so much more than the reductionist way we’ve come to think about healing (take x remedy for y complaint). When we integrate myth and story into its use, plant medicine can fulfill a greater need within us. This means acknowledging body and spirit as inseparable and interdependent beings. Too often in medicine, they are addressed individually and almost never by the same practitioner as if the spirit can be winnowed away from its body in an overly intellectualized attempt at relieving symptoms. It’s that same hard, driven way of thinking that has divorced us from a certain level of presence in our bodies and it’s also prevented us from engaging in conversation with our ecological surroundings. I refuse to be complicit in a paradigm that preaches “conquer, colonize, and capitalize”, that treats our beloved Earth as a commodity and not a sentient, life giving being. I absolutely do not consent to being a cog in a machine that’s engineered to render us orphans of this planet, estrange us from our own bodies, and divest us of enchantment, ecstasy, and wonder. So my act of sedition is herbalism.