Western North Carolina Woman

a women minding their own business profile
the maid in the moon: cynthia johnston

by carolyn agosta

When I first met Cynthia Johnston in 1995, she lived outside of a small northern California town, Sebastopol, in an even smaller trailer on a large piece of land owned by another woman. A tall, strong, beautiful woman, dressed in loose-fitting, dirt-covered overalls and shirt, her arms up to her elbows in dirt, she looked like part of the land. We became friends very quickly - sharing our concerns about menopause, the medical community’s over-reaction to it, and our own ignorance about it. And we shared our dreams. Her dream was to own her own land, cultivate her own organic herbs, and create magnificent creams especially for women.

The oldest of four children, Cynthia, grew up in Southern California - its images of concrete and steel make it difficult to imagine this outdoorswoman in that environment. Her family spent summers in Northern California around the Lake Shasta area and in the Southern California desert where she fell in love with the outdoors at a young age. She explains, “I loved picking plants, berries, and wondered what other things you could do with plants. Plus I always found Native American history and folklore fascinating - how they used pine for baskets, what their medicines were. I still have a keen interest in their culture.”

She describes herself as the “odd” one in the family, the “hippie,” with more interest in spending time in the woods than in the city. Her two sisters are twins. Her brother was also a twin but his twin died shortly after receiving her first infant shots. Following conversations with her mother when Cynthia was in her early 20’s, she remembers wondering about this apparent “coincidence". It only increased her desire to learn more about natural remedies rather than chemicals - which in her mind may have cut short her sister’s life.

Her study of herbs began with healing herself. She explains, “I began studying on my own in 1974 as a means of eliminating the drugs for asthma that kept me hyper, lacking sleep, and on edge for most of my life. I was worn out and had had it. My first book was purchased in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, The Herbalist by Joseph Meyer. My next purchase was Jethro Kloss' Back to Eden which helped me begin creating remedies like teas and tinctures.” She continued studying on her own until her move to Northern California.

“When I lived in Sonoma County, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with some of the world’s most renowned herbalists.” In 1989 at the California School of Herbal Studies, founded by Rosemary Gladstar, she spent two years training with Gina Banghart - studying folk uses of herbs, as well as learning how our ancestors used herbs for prayer, cleansing home and body, and how to wild-craft herbs in the forests and mountains. Cynthia explains, “I started shopping in natural food stores years and years before because I wanted an alternative to the commercial stuff on the market - exotic smells, different oils, etc. And I definitely wanted to stay away from preservatives. The class guided me to start making my own face creams - the first creams of my design. It was a relatively easy process, even for someone with little knowledge. There is no reason to pay 75 dollars for ¼ oz of a cream that won’t do anymore for you than all the wonderful plants and oils one can whip up in the kitchen.” During this training, she developed her first product, Radiant Rose Cream.

In 1991 she began a one-year course of study on Clinical Herbalism with Amanda McQuade Crawford. This course focused on using herbs in a medical setting, teaching Cynthia how to take a detailed patient history, how to assess a combination of diet and lifestyle, and then how to formulate a treatment of herbs for the patient. The training involved follow-up work which included monitoring blood pressure, temp, and so forth.
This latest training led to a position with Dr. Lois Johnson, an MD. Cynthia became her medicine maker. “I was the person in her office who whipped up her tinctures, salves, and creams. She would say, ‘I want a cream with wild yam & vitex for a vaginal salve,’” Cynthia explains. “I added the comfrey for its healing properties. VitalVulva was born. Then we decided to make a wild yam cream for hormone balancing.”

At the time, Dr. Johnson prescribed Premarin® to her patients who needed assistance in balancing their hormones - until a patient brought her a pamphlet explaining the origin of Premarin®. (Premarin® - a so-called “natural” hormone replacement - is made from pregnant mare’s urine.)
Premarin® was marketed in the 60’s as the “miracle drug that will keep ‘our’ women from becoming dried up old sexless hags.” [Feminine Forever by Robert A. Wilson M.D.,F.I.C.S, F.A.C.S. F.A.C.O.G 1966, Evans (with Lipincott); N.Y.]
An article published in Life magazine depicted a photo of two hands together—one old and one young—holding a Premarin® pill. Yet there never were any true double blind studies (where neither doctors nor participants knew what they are taking) conducted on Premarin® or the combination drugs. The only true study ever performed in the 60’s was done on men and discontinued when the men began to develop breasts.

“We were absolutely horrified when we learned about Premarin®!” Cynthia shares, “So we did a bit of research into what hormone balancing really meant. Did women need estrogen or progesterone? Which would balance her hormones best? Why did estrogen seem to work? What were the benefits? As a result of our research, we decided to create a wild yam and vitex oil base to cover both the estrogen and progesterone issues by supplying the body with the tools it needed to pump up existing hormones. We use creams because when swallowed, most of this potent component is destroyed. Whether progesterone or a wild yam cream, it is more effective to use it topically.”

Cynthia began making what they hoped would replace Premarin® for most women. She studied, experimenting with blends, and ending up with a final product that was so much more than she’d initially hoped. And ProMeno was born. Over the past ten years, it has evolved into an even finer, more balanced product.

In 1995, her recipes and formulas in hand, Cynthia ventured out on her own. A local store had heard of her formulas and asked to stock them. MoonMaid Botanicals was born.

In the early days, Cynthia created handwritten labels; now beautifully printed labels adorn lovely, sensuous creams - exquisite, chemical-free, and smelling heavenly. Since that time, she produced more creams that have gained popularity - Radiant Rose Face Cream, Dandelion Cream, VitalVulva, Calendula Cream, YeastFree Ointment, Breast Balm, and OuchOintment.

While researching the possibilities of purchasing land in California, it became apparent that the prices were too high. “I really wanted to grow my own herbs, wild yam being a subtropical plant I thought Florida might be a good location. However, Florida was way too hot,” she explains. “That move led me to the Great Smokies where wild yam is a native and easy to grow … along with all the other herbs I use, like comfrey, calendula, goldenseal.

“While I grow some of my own herbs, I also have a couple of good suppliers out west. I believe in using organic or wild-crafted herbs and only making small batches to insure freshness. My ingredients include only the purest essential oils and flower essences. Grapefruit seed extract and vitamin E are the only preservatives in these products. All of this attention to detail gives the finished product a quality of elegance. Handmade allows small companies like MoonMaid to offer unique things you won’t find anywhere else.” Cynthia further explains that she prefers supporting smaller companies - despite the fact that she might pay a slightly higher price - she believes the quality makes it worthwhile. And she seeks out women-owned businesses as much as possible.

Not everyone has the time or inclination to create their own products, so Cynthia is happy to create them. It’s one of her passions - she loves creating, designing, and making balanced beautiful products - sharing mother earth and all her precious jewels with women. And she takes great pride in her work.

“I am so grateful that I have found something that I believe in and can do for the good of women, for the good of the planet. I offer an honest product. The empirical nature and power of the plants give them the ability to feed our bodies. The Radiant Rose cream nourishes the skin. The skin being our largest organ in the body, it stands to reason that it needs feeding. OuchOintment is made from arnica, calendula, St. John’s Wort, comfrey, and lavender. The combination of these healing plants imbues this ointment with antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory qualities, as well as astringent, and soothing healing properties. Comfrey will “knit” up so many wounds - even bones according to folklore. The comfrey in VitalVulva gives it its incredible ability to heal this tender area where so many women have problems. ProMeno is designed to offer an herbal alternative to progesterone creams. As an herbalist, I am drawn to using the full spectrum of the plant, not just one component.”

For all of these reason’s Cynthia continues to have a strong following among women - women totally committed to her beautiful products. It hasn’t been easy. There is a lot of competition from some very large companies for the “pocketbook” of the female population. In this fast-paced society, we want, faster, cheaper, easier. It’s a popularity contest and whoever has the most money and therefore the greatest ability to attract the attention of the unsuspecting woman “wins.”

Cynthia urges women to read labels, understand what they are buying and don’t fall for the glitz and PR. Learn about what is best for you and when you find it, stick with it until wisdom or something better shows up.

Note: MoonMaid Botanical products are available in Asheville at the French Broad Food Coop and Greenlife Grocery. You may also order them on-line at
[ moonmaidbotanicals.com ]

Carolyn Agosta is a free-lance writer, an energy healer, and the author of The Baby Boomers’ Menopause Handbook, Making Your Own Choices through the Other End of Puberty.
[ healinggardenworld.com; menopausebook.org ]

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