Laura Eby
Laura Eby

Local Ingredients: Laughing Lichen’s Bush Magic

A Yellowknife forager has built a thriving business selling products sourced from the land.
Amy Maund’s soaps, teas, salves and other products are sourced in the NWT and northern B.C., and processed on the Ingraham Trail

On a cold and rainy day earlier this fall, EDGE headed up the Ingraham Trail to visit the home of Amy Maund, founder of Laughing Lichen Wildcrafted Herbs and Teas. After our recent foraging exploration around the Frame Lake trail system, we wanted to speak to someone making a living off of the fruits of our land.

After arriving, we briefly took shelter from the rain while Maund inspected a tray of Labrador tea leaves. Then we entered her home, which was rich with a comforting blend of soothing, familiar smells: spruce pitch melting on the stove; dried herbs laid out on a table; aromas of barks and berries drifting in from the porch. A steaming cup of her Chaga tea, which Maund claims has kept her cold- and flu-free for the last couple of years, was served,

Maund grew up in Yellowknife, where foraging and a connection to the land were essential parts of her childhood. Her mother made natural dyes from lichen for weaving projects, while her father Gary always had a few ravens around, ever since he rescued one in its infancy. “We’re an interesting bunch. We were always in the bush, always making things.”

The bush is her ‘constant happy place.’ After spending years studying ornithology, organic chemistry, ethnobotany, biology, veterinary medicine and wildlife rehabilitation at UBC, Maund knew early on that her career path would have to combine the freedom of being outdoors, the creativity of making her own stuff, and the independence of being her own boss.

So when she felt she needed a break from her studies, she thought there might be genuine potential in the herbal salves and soaps she’d been selling at markets and craft fairs to help fund her schooling. With the assistance of government grants and local business owners, she’s now turned that potential into a full-time living; two years after her modest beginnings, she can barely keep up with market demand.

“People are learning. There is a growing movement toward more sustainable economic development, and wildcrafting is definitely becoming more popular,” she said. But this increasing popularity is happening while there are few regulations in place for wildcrafted products, and Maund feels a sense of responsibility to both the environment and her customers.

“I have a really high standard. People trust me,” she said. “I’m manufacturing a product that uses plants that are harvested ethically and sustainably.” These ethics include ensuring that her products are sourced from unpolluted areas, and that customers clearly know the origins of the ingredients, which isn’t always the case. “You can purchase a capsule of vitamins of dandelion root from an herbal store or the drugstore, and you have no idea where that came from.”

Maund currently spends at least six months of the year on the land foraging (with the help of her spouse, friends, and family) between northern British Columbia and the NWT; the other half is spent in the kitchen creating and processing her products. From January to March, they’ll typically harvest mushrooms and tree fungi; March to May is spent in B.C., gathering barks, nettles, and spring plants for salves; May until September is in the NWT for herbs, berries, fungi and lichen; October to November is mushrooms in Northern B.C.; and December is often the busiest time for processing and filling orders. They currently sell their products from 32 retail locations across B.C, the Yukon and the NWT, as well as through their online shop. Maund is not planning a storefront operation any time: “I learned early on that there is no way I could have this type of business and have a storefront, because we have to be in the bush. That’s what makes me happy.”

Her best-selling products are the salves, each with their own set of feel-good properties. Highbush Cranberry Muscle Rub (from ‘crampbark,’ used to treat muscle cramps); Balm of Gilead (for insect bites, mild rashes, chapped skin, and superficial inflammations); Spruce Pitch Salve (a natural analgesic and antibacterial salve for eczema, fungal infections and wounds, psoriasis and eczema); Devil’s Club (an adaptogen that ameliorates pain and inflammation caused by arthritis).

As the business grows, Maund aims to continue learning, while fostering knowledge sharing around wildcrafting in the North. She has facilitated and participated in workshops in Northern B.C., where youth and elders shared and learned about the healing properties of local plants. A few of her students have branched out to make and sell their own products. She hopes to hold similar workshops here.

“There’s a whole market in your backyard that you can use. You just have to learn how to use it,” Maund says, encouraging Northerners to read up on local plants, get outside, ask questions, and learn from each other. With one general note of caution: “When in doubt, leave it in the bush.”