I started working with herbs for self-care ten years ago. In the midst of a health crisis, fed up with suffering from migraines and overwhelmed by my early twenties, I started to practice yoga. Yoga revealed to me that I was living in a state of constant stress and so I started to seek out natural ways to calm down and care for my body. The first herb I ever used intentionally for healing was chamomile. That was ten years ago and it’s been a wild and wonderful journey since. I started making tea blends for myself, then for potlucks, gatherings and for my yoga students. Every time I’d share a tea, faces would light up and people would ask me questions about the plants. I felt I was collaborating with the earth and spreading knowledge of this ancient tradition.
It’s taken me years to bring this line to fruition. In celebration of the launch of the line, I'm excited to share with you some of the reasons I felt called to start selling herbal teas.
Drinking a cup a high-quality herbal tea is one of the simplest forms of self-care. Water, high quality herbs and some form of fire. That’s pretty much all you need to make a cup of tea. It takes just a few minutes to do and is enjoyable and nourishing. Herbs such as Nettles and Oats are incredibly mineral and vitamin rich. Many herbs have calming and digestive effects, some are mood-lifting and some support and build our immunity. All that said if you are drinking herbs for their nourishing qualities or even simply for their taste, the quality of the herbs is key. Most commercial teas, spices and herbs are grown with high levels of pesticides that counter the positive effects of the plants. The quality of the soil in which each plant was grown is also important. If the soil has been stripped of nutrients, the plants will not be vital.
I am spice lover, a lover of rich aromatic plants, fragrant blooms and grassy leaves. As I evolved as an herbalist and began crafting my own blends I began to feel disappointed in the herbal teas served at my favorite restaurants and coffee shops. Most tea companies focus on green and black teas and don’t quite understand how to blend herbs to bring out the subtle flavors of each plant. Many commercial herbal blends are overly fruity or flowery. Herbs are my passion and I have been working with them for ten years. I use leaves, flower, spices, peels, roots and berries in my teas and all within a delicate balance so you can experience each plant. In doing so I created a line that redefines the herbal tea experience.
Drinking hot herbal beverages stimulates our digestive fire and metabolism. In Ayurveda, our gut is the seat of our health. Want to live a long, happy, healthy life? Keep your “Agni” up. Agni is the biological fire governing metabolism, the creative inner flame at the core of our existence. Drinking hot herbal beverages kindles Agni. When Agni is strong food is digested, toxins are removed from our gut and we grow stronger. Our body is able to extract nutrition from the foods we eat and turn it into fuel for our cells.
The commercial herbal tea industry is a MESS. We are drinking teas that are “antioxidant” and “calming” in bags that are made out of plastics, treated with pesticides and filled with “natural flavors.”
Have you recently had a cup of tea in a luxuriously “silky sachet”? This new type of tea bag has become incredibly popular. Such mesh bags are made of plastics, generally out of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and food grade nylon. I personally don’t need science to tell me why this is bad idea. Beyond the issue of environmental responsibility I just don’t want plastic in my tea. That said, I did some research. What I found is that these plastics have both a “melting point” and a “glass transition point.” The “glass transition point” is the temperature at which certain materials in the plastic start to break down. Both PET and food grade nylon have a glass transition point, aka breaking down point, that is lower than the temperature of boiling water. While we don’t know exactly what might be leaching from these plastics yet I personally don’t need to know. There are simply better ways to brew a cup of tea.
I wish I could say that paper bags are a safer option. While there are some responsible companies in existence, a great deal of the bagged teabags on the market are made from paper that has been treated with bleach and a chemical called epichlorohdrin. Epichlorodrin is used in epoxy resins and as a pesticide and has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA.
Beyond the issues with teabags many of the big commercial tea brands are selling herbs that are covered with pesticides. Published test results of Celestial Seasonings and Teavana teas show an alarming number of pesticides on the plants, levels that exceed U.S. Federal limits. One of the pesticides that was found in Celestial's Sleepytime Kids Goodnight Grape tea is Propachlor, a known carcinogen and reproductive and developmental toxin. While not wanting such pesticides in our teas is an important consideration, I believe a more significant consideration as a consumer is the effect these pesticides are having on the farmworkers who are in the fields harvesting the plants. These are the people most directly affected by these toxins. (For more on this, check out work currently being done by Earth Justice).
In America we are beverage obsessed. Whether your on the Kombucha or the Coca Cola side of the spectrum, one thing is clear: we are all sipping away on something besides water a great deal of the time. We have a 42.5 billion dollar beverage industry, an 113.5 billion dollar beer and spirit industry, a 60 billion dollar soft drink industry and a 4 billion dollar coffee industry. Single-use plastic bottles line the walls of most bodegas and a good portion of Whole Foods. Most of these packaged drinks are sweetened with processed sugars. By selling herbal teas I am offering an healthy alternative. Herbal tea is versatile; you can serve it hot, chilled, sweetened, neat or as a frothy chai. You can serve it in beautiful ceramic tea pot at a party or throw a tea ball into a ball jar or thermos and enjoy a high quality beverage on the go.
Brewing organic loose tea connects you to nature. When you ditch the wasteful tea bag and scoop a spoonful of herbs directly into your teapot or cup you get a chance to smell, see and touch the plants. As you brew the tea, you see the herbs expand and open in the water. The whole process is a sensory experience that connects you with the earth.
Herbal tea tastes better when brewed this way because the aromatic oils are properly extracted. I work with many aromatic plants such as spearmint, cardamom, cinnamon, anise and lemon balm. What makes these plants aromatic are these essential oils in them; these oils contain many of the health benefits of the herbs. These oils get released when the tea is steeped. Brewed in a teabag much of this oil gets trapped in the paper or plastic mesh and then thrown into the trash.
Making the transition to loose tea isn’t hard to do. It’s all about getting some simple tea gear. A couple of ball jars and a stainless steel tea ball or strainer is really all you need. (You can find some in my online shop or at your local kitchen supply store).
There are a few companies that do sell good quality paper bags. I use these for the samples I provide with my teas. If you seek them out make sure they are free of epichlorohdrin and bleach. When you are on the go fill up one or two of these bags or a couple of tea balls and stash them in your handbag or backpack. While some bodegas and deli’s charge about 25-50 cents for a cup of hot water, it’s still a fraction of the cost of a cup of non-organic deli tea. For those of you that become loose tea addicts like me, I intentionally choose lightweight packaging so you can have the option of tossing the tea tin into you bag and have it on-hand when traveling the globe.
I hope all this information serves you well. I look forward to sharing my handcrafted brews with you and hope you will join me in the movement to reclaim herbs and our relationship to them.
PHOTO ESSAY BY EARTHJUSTICE.ORG
“The Toxic Secret of California’s Salad Bowl, Dangerous Pesticides a Way of Life for farmworkers”
“Beverage/Drink Industry Statistics.” Adams Business Media Research. February 2, 2015.
“Epichlorohydrin.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2000. http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/epichlor.html.
Frawley, David and Dr. Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2001.
Orci, Taylor. “Are Tea Bags Turning Us into Plastic?” The Atlantic. April 8, 2013.
Ziegler, Roger. “Dangerously High Pesticide Levels Found in Celestial Seasonings Teas.” Examiner.com. http://www.examiner.com/article/dangerously-high-pesticide-levels-found-celestial-seasonings-teas March 22, 2013.