It's called Homegrown Herb and Tea. The proprietor, Sarah Richards, a fetching thirty-something year old who appears as equally comfortable with both a shovel or a yoga mat, greets her customers, often by name, as they enter with a cheerful hello from behind her bar. On either side of her are apothecary boxes of herbs, seemingly hundreds of them, which she mixes and matches, grinds and pulverizes, while taking orders and juggling conversations. She is a swirl of motion - spinning, climbing, chopping, pouring and through it all... talking.
She preaches the Gospel of Herbs. Real herbs. Not the kind that get imported from China and are pulverized into fine powders, sit for months as they get transported from one massive facility to the next to finally end up in a pill, a spice rack or a box of stale herbal tea sold in some grocery chain. These herbs are fresh from organic growers and farmed responsibly - free of the pesticides and heavy metals that are showing up in supplements and imported herbs across the country. They are also formulated according to Ayurveda philosophy, a healing practice that posits balance as the key to health.
Unlike your typical herbal tea, Sarah creates her formulations by how herbs work synergistically with one another. She would never, for example, put a stimulant like stevia into calming blend, as Bigelow and Celestial do. Or similarly cover the stale and flavorless blends they create with overwhelming peppermint oils and other flavor extracts that have minimal medicinal value. For Richards, flavor is created organically by just the right balance of medical herbs, acting synergistically to alleviate, restore and rejuvenate.
On one side of me are two construction workers. They have developed a taste for Sarah's Herban Cowboy, a stimulating blend that includes Astragalus root, which Chinese medicine considered essential for those experiencing a deficiency of chi (life force), Schisandra berries, which are famous for their anti-oxidant properties and aide the body in recovering from stress, and Sarsaparilla root, a powerful anti-inflammatory which also can duplicate the action of human hormones like testosterone. The men claim that not only is it a robust drink, but they feel stronger and refreshed after a cup. On the other side of me an older woman nurses a book and a cup of Sarah's arthritus blend. I can smell the black cohosh, red sandalwood, slippery elm, white willow bark, St. John's wort, lemon balm, rosemary, licorice root, lavender and chamomile as it simmers in her cup. The complexity of this tea, rich in anti-inflammatory compounds as well as serotonin boosting herbs gives a delightful aroma masking the somewhat more manly smell of the herban cowboys. Next to her a younger woman with a yoga mat orders the Holy Tea, a sublime infusion of restorative herbs like holy basil, angelica, soloman's seal, gotu kola, star anise, saigon cassia and vanilla bean. She chats with a pregnant woman who drinks the Mamma-to-be-
And this is just a sampling. Behind me in the small spaces that fill the shop others sit sipping their teas and chatting. Glenn Close has recently discovered the shop and occasionally drops by with her dogs when she's in town, adding to the mix of people that come from every walk of life. And why wouldn't they? In Portland at least, herbal teas are for everybody.
Sarah's teas can be ordered online at http://www.homegrownherbandtea.com
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Homegrown Herb and Tea is an herbal tea apothecary located in Portland, Maine and online at http://www.homegrowntea.com. We serve wellness tea, Ayurvedic teas and specialty teas.