Shailene Woodley's Natural Life

The star of "Divergent" and "The Fault in Our Stars" delves into her zeal for sustainable living and herbal remedies - and how she cultivates her unshakable peace of mind.
Shailene Woodley's Natural Life
Pin it Jeff Lipsky

Gray, blustery weather would send most people running from the beach, but not Shailene Woodley. In fact, the 22-year-old actor—clad in denim shorts and a striped shirt—is completely in her element as she performs a series of unprompted cartwheels, first for fun, then again for the camera. And despite the frigid breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean, Woodley gleefully splashes her feet in the surf, tilting her head back and breathing in the salty air. Her deep love of nature shines through immediately, but as the afternoon progresses, it’s clear that she relishes not just being outdoors, but also the general spontaneity and unexpected pleasures life can bring. “Right now, we’re in this beautiful house in Malibu, and we just had an awesome photo shoot on the beach,” she says. “In the next moment, I might be spending the night on some random person’s couch, and that’s amazing, too. It’s about being present and surrendering to what’s in front of you.”

Despite her relatively young age and her adolescent-centric breakout roles (first in The Secret Life of the American Teenager and The Descendants, more recently in The Spectacular Now and Divergent), the Southern California native displays the kind of quiet confidence and clarity that take most people their entire lives to achieve. “Living in a state of fear makes no sense,” Woodley says. “If I have X number of days to live, I am not going to live them in fear. Where’s the laughter in it? Where’s the joy?” This seize-the-day ethos drives Woodley in both her personal and professional lives: She chooses work that’s meaningful to her, then uses her A-list clout to spread a message of compassion for her fellow humans and for the Earth.

Her greatest epiphany came courtesy of her latest role as Hazel Grace Lancaster, the 16-year-old, cancer stricken protagonist of the film The Fault in Our Stars (out June 6). “While filming, I met so many young people who either had someone close to them die of cancer or who had a tumor in their head and were so excited to meet me, then passed away a few weeks later,” Woodley recalls. “That experience was the biggest wake-up call I’ve ever had.” But it’s far from the only revelation that’s shaped who she is. Here, she delves into her zeal for sustainable living and herbal remedies—and how she cultivates her unshakable peace of mind. Watch the behind-the-scenes video of Shailene at the Natural Health cover shoot!

NATURAL HEALTH: What first sparked your environmentalism and passion for nature?
SHAILENE WOODLEY: There’s one defining moment that I’ll never forget: It was an incredibly windy day and I was walking through the quad of my public high school, which is surrounded by pine trees. There were hundreds of pine needles swirling around in the air, and I looked down and scattered across this huge grassy expanse was all of the trash left over from lunch— plastic bags, soda cans, that kind of thing. And something just clicked when I saw the juxtaposition of the ignorance on the ground against the beauty and freedom in the sky. That’s when I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to this, because there’s something really wrong here.

NH: And how did that evolve into your current philosophy?
SW: As a teenager, I started researching factory farming and genetically engineered foods and agriculture, and I found myself asking, “What’s the point of environmentalism if we keep separating ourselves from nature?” The message was, “We’ve gotta save the Earth!” when in reality, we are nature and we are the Earth. As human beings, we’re just another creature. But luckily, we’re gifted with consciousness and a mind that can manufacture change. If we plan to save the planet, we have to start with ourselves.

NH: Have you influenced your friends’ habits?
SW: All of them live that lifestyle already, so I’m fortunate. We joke that our conversations sound like a Sh*t Wild People Say video. We were foraging for wild leeks in Maine last year, and one of my friends said, “Does anyone want the rest of my rhizome?” And we all cracked up, thinking that only here and with this group of people would someone ask that question.

NH: It’s cool that you’ve learned to eat directly from the earth like that.
SW: People have told me my thinking on this is kind of post-apocalyptic, but I think it’s important to be a sovereign human in today’s world because there are so many things we don’t know. Take GMO foods—I don’t necessarily think they’re great for us, but I could be wrong; we just don’t know yet. Regardless, the fact that we are not allowed to know what’s in our food is huge. For me, having my basic necessities covered and being able to take care of myself is reassuring. If the power goes out, I know how to make a fire and where a water source is and how to find my own food.

NH: You’ve said that filming The Descendants in Hawaii brought a new appreciation for living naturally. Why is that?
SW: Hawaiian culture is so laid-back. A local told me that on some freeways, they have a minimum speed limit because people get ticketed more often for going too slowly than too fast. It was special to experience that when I was 18 because I grew up in L.A., and I’d been used to one particular paradigm of living. The abundance of traditional Hawaiian culture is magnificent. It’s a lot of connection to the land that we don’t have in the “my ego, my mind, my this, my that … ” way of thinking. I heard that in the Hawaiian language, ha means breath, and when you say Aloha to someone, you’re really saying, “I’m breathing so that you can inhale my spirit, and when you exhale, I’m inhaling your spirit.” It’s true recognition of another person’s soul and entity.

NH: What piqued your interest in herbalism?
SW: When I started researching agriculture in America, I thought, People say meat’s bad for me, but so are vegetables because of pesticides, but I can’t afford organic. Ahhhh! So I decided to research what Native American cultures ate in Southern California, as well as other indigenous cultures from around the world. I found that not only were they hunter-gatherers, they were also healers who relied on the plants around them. I thought that was really profound, so I started learning about all the wild plants in my area, as well as all of the wild medicines that I could gather and create for myself. I was in control of my body, and I could feel what was happening. It was eye-opening.

NH: Which herbs are part of your regimen?
SW: One of my favorites is stinging nettle. She—I always think of it as a female plant because I take it when I’m about to start menstruating—is especially good for women and full of vitamins and minerals. I fill a little less than a quarter of a mason jar with nettle and add boiling water until it reaches the top. Then I seal it, let it sit overnight and strain it and drink it in the morning. There’s something very special about seeing a plant and turning it into a tea or infusion or tincture versus taking pills.

NH: Any healthy eating habits you think have helped you thrive?
SW: I listen to my body. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m really tuned in to what it needs. Sometimes I can go weeks at a time without eating meat because all my body wants is vegetables and rice and not much protein. Then I’ll go through other times where for months on end I just need red meat or chicken or eggs right now. Our bodies are constantly changing, so if you were to eat a certain way forever, I don’t see how that could possibly be right for you.

NH: Has sustainability played into your style?
SW: I know nothing about fashion, so when I do the red carpet, I’m fortunate to have a stylist who’s one of my best friends and knows me inside and out. I’ll only wear things that’ll be reworn again and again, and the jewelry I use is my own or a friend of a friend’s. In my personal life, I shop at thrift stores and exclusively buy used items. The only thing that might not be used is shoes; those are a little harder!