Aug. 17, 2021

Marlee Newman (LOONA Seeds)

Marlee Newman discovered the world of seeds and herbs as a way to support her body while transitioning from birth control. Her experience was so meaningful that it sparked the idea for LOONA Seeds. Based in San Rafael, CA, the company offers nutritional seasoning blends that support women throughout their cycles.

In this episode, we dive into Marlee's story, her approach to product development, and how to cultivate a culture that honors women's natural rhythms.


What You’ll Learn:

[1:15] Why Marlee decided to come off birth control.

[3:29] Marlee’s dive into the world of seeds and herbs.

[5:10] The moment the idea for LOONA Seeds came to Marlee.

[8:01] It all began with a certain “everything” seasoning you might be familiar with.

[9:34] Early on, how Marlee gauged the effect her seasoning blends were having on others.

[11:05] The research that went into product development.

[12:51] An overview of LOONA Seeds’ two seasoning blends and the benefits they offer.

[15:05] Why seeds are powerhouses.

[15:33] Seeing the business evolve from serving friends to now many customers.

[16:52] How to stay grounded through the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial journey.

[17:32] Honoring and being more thoughtful of women’s natural rhythms in our day to day.

[20:37] What’s in store for LOONA Seeds as we look into the future.

[23:20] (Audience Q&A) One idea for men can be supportive to women around them during their cycles.

[24:31] (Audience Q&A) Recommendations for exercise at different stages of a woman’s cycle.

[26:11] (Audience Q&A) The benefits Marlee gets when she uses her own blends.

Links

LOONA Seeds x Spraia

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Transcript

Marlee  0:00

For me growing up, it was like, “you're gonna bleed once a month. Don't tell anyone. Don't let anyone see a tampon.” And that's it, you know, there's not, there's no talk about what's happening inside of your body and the different parts of the month and how that will affect your mood and your appetite and your, you know, there's so many things at play. And it can be like what I've come to learn, and a big mission behind LOONA Seeds is that those things are really a superpower.

Mike  0:34

This is Making Us, a podcast about makers, artisans, and creators. We dive into their story, how they approach their craft, and the meaning behind the things they make.

I'm Mike Giordani, and on this episode, how coming off birth control inspired the creator of seasoning blends that support women throughout their monthly cycles. Her name is Marlee Newman, and she's the founder of LOONA Seeds.

Mike 1:08

Hi, Marlee.

Marlee 1:09

Hello.

Mike 1:10

So your story begins with a very personal decision to transition from birth control. What can you tell me about that experience?

Marlee  1:15

I was taking the birth control pill for probably like 10 to 12 years and didn't think much of it. It's like, yeah, when you are I was like around 16 you get on the pill, it's normal, you know, it prevents you from getting pregnant. It also prevents a lot of these hormonal symptoms that we're used to when we're young and as women. So why say no? [laughs] I didn't think about it for many years, and then mostly my circle of friends, it started becoming a conversation. We’re all inching towards a more natural lifestyle. And I was paying such close attention to what I was eating and putting in my body but I was taking this pill every day and not thinking anything of it. And so I just started to investigate a little more and realized that that amazing thing that we have the option to take hormonal birth control, but it's also something that we should be, we should know about, you know, and just kind of became like, fascinated with it, and made the decision to come off the pill, which probably took like, three to six months to make that decision because it's scary. That would mean that I would be experiencing a natural menstrual cycle again, and what does that like and am I gonna have terrible symptoms? And so I was really worried and came off of it. And this was while we were sheltered in place for what, like a year. So I had this period of time where I was on such a routine for the first time and so many years, eating, you know, cooking my own food waking up at the same time, an hour to stretch in the morning, and was able to really watch my body transition. And it was just such an empowering experience.

Mike  3:12

It sounds like it's one of the silver linings from shelter in place — the space to tune in with yourself and support that change. So how did that lead you into the world of seeds?

Marlee  3:29

I wanted as I was making this transition away to support my body with food and herbs, to help minimize these intense symptoms as I was adjusting. And to just feel, feel that I was I was supporting my body during this like pretty major shift. And so I learned about a method called seed cycling first, which is women have been doing this for years, but it's just now becoming popular again, you basically eat certain seeds at certain times in the month, and they have the nutrient profiles that can help support our natural ebb and flow. So I yes, started experimenting with seed cycling. And then was also learning about these like amazing herbs that are supportive. And a lot of culinary herbs like rosemary or fennel, that I didn't know much about but came to learn are also really supportive and can be supportive at specific times throughout our cycle, took this deep dive and was taking online courses and you know, reading all the books and it really led me to start creating this this product.

Mike  4:49

This is my first time hearing about seed cycling, and it's interesting that there's a whole practice around this.

Marlee   4:54

Definitely, yeah.

Mike  4:58

Can you take me back to the exact moment when the idea for turning this into a business really came to you?

Marlee  5:10

I was hiking actually in Redwood Grove, Redwood National Park, north from here, and it's so serene and you like big, beautiful coastal redwoods and had such just clarity of mind. And I think after being this was March of 2020. And so I was working in the travel industry, as was my partner, he had just been let go, I had just been like, half let go. So there was a lot, it was this big kind of transitioning moment. And on this hike, I just my mind felt clear. And I am very much an ideas person. So it's not peculiar to have ideas pop up, right? I'm sure you can relate. So I think I yeah, this idea popped up for me, like, okay, what if I took everything seasoning that made it healthier and supportive and started thinking about it, but I think I've gotten kind of used to brushing off most ideas. There's just so many and but this one's stuck a little more. And I just, I think it felt like it was a problem, I was having my own life and something that felt really meaningful to me. And it felt attainable, because I was like, Okay, I can like picture the first couple steps to get something like this started. So then, as an ideas person, like sharing your ideas with someone is a big thing. So in that moment, I'm like, okay, I'm gonna tell, tell my partner, Matt, see what his reaction is. And I shared with him and I was really surprised. He was I mean, he's always supportive. But I was surprised how it clicked for him too. And he was like, “oh, this is, that's a really great idea.” You know, and, and then I had like, a couple more hours on this hike to let it sink in and thought that I would get home and it would kind of be another. My normal process is like come home, google it, find who else is doing it and then decide not to do it because someone's already doing it.

Mike  7:24

[laughs] I do that all the time.

Marlee  7:24

Right? And I googled around, I was like, no one's exactly doing this. So why not? And I'm working like five hours a week right now have the time. Like now now is the time for me to dive in and go for something like this.

Mike  7:41

You know, in a moment like that there are so many reasons to pull back and not take that leap. So I love that question. Why not? Why not do it? You mentioned that this idea felt attainable, and you could picture how to get it going. What were the first steps that you took?

Marlee  8:01

Yeah, so I was and I am a big fan of Trader Joe's everything seasoning? Are you familiar?

Mike  8:10

Oh, yeah, I love their seasoning.

Marlee  8:12

It's so good, right? And I was using that every day on my eggs and toast and you know, just so you can truly sprinkled on everything. So that was really, I was like, I want to create that but upgraded with the seeds and herbs that I've been learning about. And so it felt so simple. In my head, I was like great, I'm just gonna like mix them together. And so I bought the first step I took was buying a bunch of Trader Joe's everything seasoning. And I would mix that with the seeds just in different proportions. And then I would feed them to like partner and have him do taste test. And you know, like slight differences in salt, and how many seeds and I wanted to grind the seeds because they're easier for our body to digest some of the like small seeds, like flax seeds. And so just starting making all these mixtures, and it was really fun. I was just ordering online, it was very much experimental. And from there, I'm dwindled down to my favorite, my favorite recipes and then I sent out to like a group of friends that I knew would give me like real deal feedback and you know, would like pick up on tasting notes and, and really, really dive deep with me.

Mike  9:34

How did you go about figuring out the effect that the seasoning blends were having, especially in those early days,

Marlee  9:42

I leaned a lot on these friends that I had sent the product to, and I asked them to use it throughout their cycle and basically report back, like, “do you notice a difference? How's it feeling?” For me, it was huge because I was in this stage of coming off the pill, when often our hormones are very out of whack. And so I got to watch my body adjust as I, as I use the blends, month to month. And of course, something that I came to grips with and has and has been one of the biggest challenges is a reminder that, like, there is no easy button. You know, especially when it comes to our hormone health and our endocrine system. It's like it's very complicated. Often it's a combination of lifestyle diet. There's a lot of things at play. So the objective is not for LOONA Seeds to be a cure all of course. But it was really cool. I started getting feedback from from friends and from other people who were in a similar transition to me coming off the pill or, you know, postpartum that they like they were noticing a difference and feeling really good.

Mike  11:05

Wow, that’s awesome. Yeah. So at the same time that you were getting this feedback from people using the blends, from what I know you were also getting up to speed on the research in the field, right? Can you speak to that side of the process?

Marlee  11:20

I was setting up consulting calls with different naturopathic doctors, dieticians, and people who really specialize in women's health. And with a focus on food, I was able to find experts from different backgrounds. And that was important to me. So I connected with one doctor who specializes in Chinese medicine and knew a lot about traditional Chinese herbs. And I connected with another woman who specializes just in culinary herbs. And it was such a cool part of the process to really learn from them like okay, in your area of expertise, like what are your if I want to create something yummy and beneficial, like what comes to mind. And also, if I want to create two different blends one for the first half of our cycle and one for the second half of our cycle. What herbs seeds, nutrients come to mind there, you know, and, and I was just like taking notes through all my calls with people and then kind of had this big document to see where there was overlap. And then of course, okay, well what's gonna taste good, you know, and and was able to experiment with what they had suggested add them to these little Trader Joe's blends I had been making and, and and like really see it come to life that way.

Mike  12:51

Being at that intersection of theory and practice when you're creating something new… it just sounds exciting to me.

Marlee   13:09

Right? I know.

Mike   12:51

Okay, so let's dive into the blends. How do you describe what's in them and the benefits that they provide?

Marlee  13:09

So LOONA Seeds is is centered around providing a lot of these key nutrients that our hormones need throughout the month in an easy and delicious way that we can just sprinkle on our food. So how we do that is we've got two different blends that are catered towards the first half and the second half of our cycle. And the first half of our cycle. That blend is full, super nutrient dense. It's full of herbs like dried nettle leaf and kombu sea kelp. And it's got pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. And it really supports our body as we're bleeding during our menstrual cycle. And after as our energy starts to rise, hormones start to rise. supplying a lot of these key nutrients like magnesium, zinc, iron iodine to to support our body during this pivotal stage. And then the second blend is for our luteal phase. And this blend is more centered around herbs and seeds that that support healthy digestion and our anti inflammatory so we include herbs like rosemary that are high in antioxidants, phenol and fenugreek seeds that are great for our digestive system. And then the key seeds are sunflower seeds and sesame seeds which support our liver function and are also high in nutrients like magnesium and zinc. And yeah, they're it's all the beauty of it is it's all food based and gentle so you don't have to worry about overdosing exceeds, taking the perfect amount. It's really just this easy way to like sprinkle in nutrients.

Mike  15:01

isn't it wild how there's so much nutrition in these tiny seeds?

Marlee  15:05

Yeah, seeds have to have the nutrients to be able to grow into this big plant. So they're packed, they're like little powerhouses. And that's been one of the coolest things is just learning how I'm like, why aren't we doing this more? Why aren’t we sprinkling seeds on everything? They’re just so easy to add on top of our food, and so yummy and provides so many so many key nutrients for us. And I think they're just magical.

Mike  15:33

Yeah. I never thought about seeds that way before. That's super interesting. What has it been like for you to see the business evolve from serving those initial friends and in that test group to to where you are now?

Marlee  15:53

You know, when I first launched the business, I had so much support from friends and family, which is so amazing, and sweet. But of course, imposter syndrome kicks in, and you're like, they're only buying it because you know, they want to be nice, and no one likes it. And then when I started to get orders from like, random internet people, it's It was so exciting. And yeah, really cool to be like, Oh, my gosh, this person somehow landed on our page, read what I had to say and decided it was worth investing their money. And that's a big deal. Because I know when I make decisions like that, a lot of thought goes into it. Me too.

Mike  16:36

It is a big deal. When a stranger buys from you, you're like, “whoa, this is real, right?” I mean, the whole process is an emotional roller coaster. And it's tough sometimes to stay grounded through it all.

Marlee  16:52

Right. I know that's such a process, which is, I think just takes practice and reminding myself, it's all about the customer. Like it's not really about us. It's like what, what does it feel like when this person opens their package? And what does it feel like when they're using it every day. And I think those have been the coolest moments when I've gotten to hear some of that feedback and remind myself that this is people are enjoying it. And I don't need to get so wrapped up in my own little world of, you know, sensitivities.

Mike  17:32

That's a really good point. All right, taking a step back here, this conversation has helped me realize just how little I know about women's experience with monthly cycles and how I've grown up without learning even the basics around this. When I think about your work, it seems like at the core of what you're doing is educating people and creating more integration between the inside and the outside world. So I'm curious… What would it look like to honor and be more thoughtful about women's natural rhythms in our day to day as a society?

Marlee  18:17

Yeah, it's so cool to think about, right? It's like, “Ooooh!” There's a lot of learning, and talk going on about a method called cycle synching, which basically involves just that, like, every phase of your cycle, there are four phases, honoring what's going on in your body and adjusting your lifestyle and your food and exercise to that phase. And so but if you're living a normal life, it's hard and phase four to just like, skip work for a week, you know, and journal. So, um, I think in a perfect world, I think finding a balance where Yeah, maybe you're not skipping work during during your luteal phase when when you need more alone time, and you need to turn inward. But you're, you're having calmer mornings, and you're journaling and you're drinking tea, rather than coffee and finding little moments to honor. What your body's doing during each of these phases, I think would be really cool. And if it if it was more commonplace to say, “hey, I'm not gonna come into work today because I'm going to take a mental health day and, and have some time to reflect and I'm, I'm in a part of my cycle where that would be really beneficial.” And I could, you know, yeah, it's like so hard to imagine doing that, right. People would be like, “Really!? Come on.” But it's it's such a different experience when you're going through that. So I think the more that it's part of a conversation and the more we all get comfortable talking about it and Learning, maybe we will we will get there.

Mike  20:03

Right. Yeah, it sounds like there's an opportunity to start normalizing this.

Marlee  20:09

Yeah. And it can make you, I think leaning into it more, if we have the time to turn inward when that's what we're craving, and we're able to turn outward more when that's what we're craving, you're bringing more when you are social or at work, you know.

Mike  20:28

Okay, back to LOONA Seeds. I've got one more question before Q&A. How do you see the company evolving into the future?

Marlee  20:37

I think in terms of products and the direction I want to head I think a lot about different blends for different different periods of a woman's life. So you know, it's funny right now because I'll have some pregnant women reach out and I, almost every food or product, it's like, consult with your doctor, if you're pregnant. No one really wants to mess with, with the world of pregnant women. Because there's, you know, you don't want to take any risks. But I would love to be able to create ones for pregnant women, specifically for women, postpartum menopause, like these different stages of our lives when when things are changing so much. That is the long term goal. And I think to really stay anchored in approachable, approachable products that are easy to work into our day to day. I think in the world of wellness, it can be very intimidating, and you feel like you can't really enter if you don't know what that adaptogen is, or if you you know if you're not able to be on the perfect protocol and following the perfect diet. But the hope is to really have this be like one, one step toward towards balance in your wellness routine.

Mike  22:11

We'll be back right after this.

[Break]

I wanted to take a moment to tell you a little bit about Spraia. We're a brand new company based in Fairfax in Marin County, California. We’ve created an online marketplace that brings you products that are made locally, and helps you connect with makers in our community. You’ll find LOONA Seeds there, along with hundreds of other products that are all handcrafted, and made in small batches, I bet you'll find something there that you'll love that you didn't know existed that makes a great alternative to some of the big conventional brands we tend to buy every day for things like food, skincare or home products. I think every dollar we spend on small, independent businesses helps make our community stronger and better. As one of our listeners, that code MAKINGUS gets you 10% off your purchase at Spraia.com.

It's time for Q&A. You submit a question, and today's maker will answer it.

Q&A Participant   23:20

Hey, Marlee, it's Joseph here from Irvine. So my question is this: what’s one thing that I can do as a man to support a woman close to me, as they're going through their cycles?

Marlee  23:35

I think just learning along with us, you know, like you were saying, you didn't learn all this growing up. I didn't either. And I think it's so cool for men in our lives to be to have interest and curiosity and not there to not be that taboo and to be able to talk about it and learn and and then honor what, what you want. I think for a long time, the association with being hormonal is bad, right? Like you're having mood swings and blah, blah, blah. But the other side of that coin is you have deeper intuition certain times of the month and you you have the space to reflect and set goals for the future. And I think if you share that with the men in your life, they can help you lean into it, and honor that.

Q&A Participant   24:31

Hi Marlee, my name is Jessica. Your blends are great. My question is: do you have any recommendations for exercise at different stages of our cycle? It'd be nice to get your thoughts. Thanks.

Marlee  24:43

Yeah, thank you. I would say just movement, like making a point to move every day and throughout our cycle that can look it looks different. So during menstruation at the beginning of the month, It might be slower movement and yoga or walking more gentle. And then after our menstrual cycle or after menstruation, it could be this is when we're starting to like build up to that I feel great moment. So you have more energy during that follicular phase. And you can get into more intense exercise, maybe running or a high intensity workout weightlifting. And during our military phase, the same thing build up, that's when you have the most energy. And then after that point, you enter the luteal phase where you can bring it back down again and kind of work into slower, less intense movement, maybe pilates, yoga. But I think the best rule of thumb for for exercise, at least for me, is just trust what your body's telling you what you're feeling, if you wake up, and it's like, no, you're sore, or you don't have the energy, then do something slower. But making a point to move every day is, is a good rule of thumb, for me at least.

Mike  26:07

Awesome.  I'm gonna take that advice for myself, too.

Q&A Participant   26:11

Hi, this is Rachel from Fairfax. So I imagine that you use your own product and wanted to hear what it does for you, and what you get out of it. Thank you.

Marlee  26:20

When I use it, it's like this little moment of supporting my body throughout the day, you know, I think that that's been a central part of my mission from the beginning is that, like, we can't, we can't get everything right. You know, like, some days, we're gonna eat pizza and enjoy it, you know, and then other days, you're gonna have like, a perfectly balanced meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and just this idea of balance, and not putting so much pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly. But to have to have fun with it, I think, has been a big part of the mission. And I think and I hope that that's what's getting people to connect with the brand and to order again, is that they are, it's both delicious and functional for them. So they're seeing hopefully seeing a difference. And they're connecting more deeply with their body, they have to look at each blend to see decide which part of their cycle they're in which that alone, you know, if you're like sprinkling on your eggs in the morning, that's something that you're just not doing day to day otherwise. So you're looking and you're thinking, Oh, I am about to ovulate. Like, maybe that's why I'm feeling this way. I'm feeling really good, or, oh, my period is a couple days out. Like, that's why I'm feeling this way. So I that's one of my favorite things about about LOONA Seeds is that he it causes this deeper connection. And I think appreciation for what's going on inside our bodies.

Mike  28:12

Well, I learned a lot. Thanks for joining us, Marlee.

Marlee   28:17

Yeah, thanks, Mike. This was so awesome.

Mike   28:24

That's Marlee Newman, from LOONA Seeds, based in San Rafael, California.

Mike  28:29

One of the things that stood out to me about Marlee is how intentional she’s been about defining the company’s vision from the very beginning — this idea of helping women tune into their natural rhythms.

Mike  28:42

You can find a full transcript and notes from today's conversation on our website, MakingUs.com.

There you're also able to submit questions for future guests. We'd love to have you be a part of our Q&A. Again, that's MakingUs.com. We have new episodes coming out every couple of weeks, so if you like what you heard today, go ahead and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks so much for listening to Making Us. See you next time.