Plant Principles 101:
The Value of Choosing Pure, Botanical Teas, and Thinking Twice about Sprayed-on “Natural Flavors”
Meaningful Connection & Wellness
One of the most important qualities Artemis Teas & Botanicals brings to your cup is our careful attention to the well-being of both humans and the earth. While humans have understood for millenia that a balanced relationship with the natural world is vital for our survival and wellbeing, it’s nevertheless helpful to know that modern research confirms that our experiences of meaningful connection with the natural world are indeed fundamental to our health, wellbeing, spirituality, and survival (Louv, Richard. The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder ).
The proof of this basic principle is evident everywhere around us: how many of us struggle with chronic burn-out, anxiety, nervousness, and depression—in large part because we are forced to dart from one thing to the next, hardly without pause, and to do our best to meet or exceed the countless expectations that our children, spouses, friends, co-workers, employers, and friends have of us? There rarely seems to be enough time to stop and notice the special nuances of seasonal change happening each day all around us. We may struggle to find time to plant a garden, play with our kids at the park, walk barefoot on grass, rest our bodies on the ground and gaze quietly at passing clouds, or enjoy the gentle sound of the wind mingling with grasses and leaves.
In other words, the frantic pace of our lives can often make the possibility of connecting with the natural world in any meaningful way feel tricky. Yet, the remedy for so many common ailments and imbalances can be found either by more exposure to the natural world, and/or by the regular use of simple plant medicines. My own experiences have proven to me, time and again, that a cup of soulfully-crafted botanical tea can seriously help ground and re-balance me.
Richard Louv, author of the bestselling The Nature Principle says that we require “patches of nature for our mental health and our spiritual resilience”; this is indeed what tea can be in our daily routine: a small patch, or space, in which we experience nature. The colors, textures, scents, and tastes of the plants have a special ability to remind us of essential parts of our selves—some parts that may feel distant, or even lost to us. In a small but very meaningful way, tea can bring the natural world into our homeplaces, workplaces, playspaces, and our community-spaces.
The Importance of Taste
Recently, I introduced a few new teas that are finely-tuned to the tastes, scents, and experiences we commonly associate with spring and summertime (Chelidon and Kalliste). If you taste Chelidon, for example, with some care and mindfulness, you may taste light, savory notes of almond, toasted oat, and marscapone; vegetal notes of fresh snap pea or tender sweet grass; floral notes of early violets, fresh orchid, jasmine buds, and raw honey; and maybe fruity notes of strawberry, orange sherbert, and mulberry. These flavor notes come from the actual plants in Artemis blends, and are not artificially applied to the plant materials. I choose not to spray our tea leaves or botanicals with processed flavorings because these flavors seriously distort and disguise the natural flavors of the plants.
Taste is a critical sensory tool: it provides us with a vast spectrum of critical information about the safety and value of a substance; and, it can also be a specific trigger for healing or disease in the body (bitter tastes stimulate healthy bile release; sour flavors reduce systemic heat in the body; sweet tastes stimulate healthy tissue growth, however too much sweet can lead to obesity . . . )
So, it matters that sprayed on flavors are, in truth, an inexpensive sleight-of-hand. They are manufactured in a chemistry lab, deliberately designed to override our logic by forcing our brains to draw connections between these chemicals and certain fruits, flowers, and even times of the year.
Let’s look at one of the most prevalent “natural flavors” used in the American food and beverage industry: strawberry. “Natural strawberry flavor” is not at all like real strawberry flavor. The chemical flavoring is more like a super-abundance of strawberry sweetness that vastly exceeds the sweetness nature provides in an actual strawberry. The flavor of real strawberry is delicate and suggestive to the nose, and it seems to blossom and expand on the tongue when warm, and freshly picked—at once tart, tangy, and sweet. It happens to be a very difficult flavor to capture and replicate in concentrated form. You might be surprised to discover that most typical strawberry flavorings are comprised of nearly 50 different chemically derived and processed ingredients!
However, if we go back several decades, we’d find that a majority of “natural” strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla flavorings were made from a brown, slimy substance made by the beaver’s castor gland—which is found adjacent to its anal gland. Not joking. Castoreum was used for at least 80 years as a natural food flavoring, though now it is too costly (and ethically troubling) to use in the food industry. It is still used in the fragrance industry, however.
Pomegranate flavoring provides another useful example. A professional flavor chemist explains that in order “to build a pomegranate flavor, [she must] bring out items like davana oil, maltol, cognac oil, l-linalool, alpha-ionone, rose oil, bitter orange oil, ethyl acetate, iso-amyl acetate, tannic acid and benzaldehyde” in order to evoke a taste that most mimics the “dry, astringent, sour, fruity and woody” flavors of a real pomegranate (Susie Bautista, “Pomegranate Flavor.” flavorscientist.com. Oct. 18, 2016).
Added flavors are an easy way to add powerful flavors that mimic nature, without the need to add the real thing.
Among the many problems with processed flavoring is that they encourage us to associate these flavors with the real fruits or flowers they are meant to replicate—which makes the real flavors and scents of these plants seem weaker and less appealing to our tastebuds. Or, simply unnecessary to go out and experience in their actual form. Susie Bautista described real pommegranates as “too messy” to eat, which is what spurred her to design a pommegranate flavor that could be enjoyed without the hassle of eating the actual fruit.
The complex layers of flavor that mingle in each cup of Artemis tea are simply the tastes and aromas of pure botanicals and carefully-crafted tea leaves—tastes that have everything to do with where a tea plant (or an herb) is grown, under what conditions, how the plants are harvested, prepared, and dried, and what their medicinal functions are.
As with wine and coffee, the tastes of certain regions, elevations, soils, and microclimates; and, of specific oxidation, withering, and roasting processes, are all on display in a fine tea—even in a fine botanical.
Thus, a soulfully hand-crafted botanic tea, free of sprayed-on flavors, can indeed be rich with the nuances of a time, place, and season. It can provide a small, reconnecting experience of nature; and, it can help us to learn the actual scents, tastes, and healing properties of the plants around us. Ultimately, drinking pure teas and botanicals can be as grounding, refreshing, and calming as pressing one’s bare feet upon a lush patch of green grass, or the soft, brown earth.
I hope you will allow Artemis Teas to be a meaningful part of each day, for you and for your customers. Enjoy a freshly brewed Artemis Tea over ice, relax, and enjoy drinking real tea with purpose.
A Nebraska Flood Relief Blend: 2019 Limited Edition
“Chelidon” is the Greek word for “swallow bird,” the beautiful passerine whose arrival home each March signals the end of deep winter and the beginning of spring. The swallow is an ancient symbol of hope and renewal, particularly to farmers. However, swallows often return home to find their nests ravaged and destroyed by fierce winter storms, and they must quickly set to the task of repairing and rebuilding.
To weary sailors, the swallow is a celebratory sight, signaling that dry land and safety are, at long last, near.
Chelidon blend is built upon a unique and captivating handmade oolong by an award-winning Master Tea Craftsman and teacher in Anxi, Fujian who practices a zero-impact farming that is beyond organic. He cultivates a huge variety of tea plants in order to increase biodiversity on his land, and preserves native tree cover, ensuring his land along with the land of his neighbors upstream remains free of pesticides and fertilizers. This particular Tieguanyin is a greener, more modern style oolong, grown at an elevation of 1000 ft. in a complex ecosystem that imparts completely unique flavors and textures to the tea plants.
Tieguanyin requires complicated artistry to produce, and is therefore one of the most sought after tea varietals in the world. It is also known as “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” after the Goddess Kuan Yin—“The One Who Sees and Hears the Cries of the World". Kuan Yin has a thousand loving arms to better stop the suffering of those around the world; and eyes, placed in the palms of her hands, help her to better see all those who may be in need.
Chelidon blends this rare Tieguanyin oolong with healing botanicals: white mulberry, strawberry leaf, osmanthus flower, Saint John’s Wort . . . . White mulberry helps to slow the breakdown of sugars in the gut so that they are absorbed more slowly into the blood, and is used to treat and prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Strawberry leaf is nutrient-dense, and gently tones the digestive tract. Saint John’s Wort gently wakes the liver and lifts the mood from the depressing dregs of winter; and Osmanthus flower tones the stomach while encouraging the loss of winter-accumulated body-fat. Chelidon is rich with vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin C, Selenium, Zinc, Iron, Calcium, and Manganese.
Dominate healing properties: weight loss, detox, digestive health, bone-fortifying, liver and kidney health.
Dominate taste notes: Strawberry, orchid, and ambrosia honey, with tender notes of sweet grass, jasmine, and savory cashew milk. Delicious hot or iced.
Once upon a time, Byzantium was one of the most powerful cities of cultural convergence in the world. It was where the greatest, and most fabled trade routes in the world crossed and connected, where the East and West met and blended, and where vital ideas were shared that would eventually give birth to the European Renaissance.
Byzantine Art is especially iconic, probably most easily recognized by of its use of flat, two-dimensional images embossed upon shining gold backgrounds. Think of those flat images of Mary and baby Jesus, or the Saints, with rich, shining gold discs radiating behind them. When I think of Byzantium, I think of the rising sun, a blaze of golden domes, Lord Byron, and the poetry of W.B. Yeats: “A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains / All that man is, / All mere complexities, / The fury and the mire of human veins . . .” (“Byzantium”). Meaning, the architecture, the sublime Art of that golden city transcends the fleeting chaos of human life, and touches upon something truly spiritual, timeless, and enduring.
Artemis Teas’ Byzantium botanic tea is inspired by this timelessness and beauty, and by this important melding of art and ideas. The black teas highlighted in this blend embody the ancient art of tea-making in Asia, as well as the ancient art of Western herbalism. Akin to the city, our Byzantium tea brings together ideas, traditions, and plants of East and West in a golden botanic formula to awaken the mind and body, arouse curiosity, and thoroughly satisfy the palate with its rich notes of milk chocolate, wild clover, and ripe cherry shot through with the faintest hint of Eastern spice . . .
Byzantium is a perfect choice for breakfast. Its caffeine content is more robust than other blends; however, the herbs in this formula provide their own beautiful magic: they awaken the body and mind by arousing the the various organ systems from their nightly stupor, or from a general sluggishness and inaction. Red clover is a gentle lymphatic herb that moves lymph, and helps cleanse the blood. Safflower petals delicately warm the blood and increase circulation.
What makes this tea particularly rare, however, is its use of both uncommon, and uncommonly fine black teas. One of my very favorites is our Laoshan Black Tea, grown in Shandong Province, China, on a small 15 acre family tea farm situated at the base of a Taoist Holy Mountain. Ocean mists naturally shade the growth of this tea, and the consistently cool weather of Northern China gives this tea its uniquely sweet, chocolatey aromas. The tea is entirely hand-picked, then left to oxidize in the sun for three days, after which it is promptly gathered and hand-finished in a small family workshop. The finished tea leaves are deep black, delicately curled, and glossy, and yield unique notes of chocolate brownie, pumpkin, minerality, cinnamon, honey, and ripe cherry.
In addition to our rare, Laoshan black tea, Byzantium also shines with our gorgeous, organic Yunnan Golden Buds. China’s Yunnan Province has been producing teas for more than 1700 years, and one of its very finest offerings are its Golden Buds. This tea is easily identified by its rich golden yellow hue, and the downy fuzz or fine hairs present on every bud. The tea buds are golden because they do not yet have much chlorophyll in them, and instead are rich with antioxidants. The aroma is rich—reminiscent of cacao, vanilla, honey, and resinous wood. A refined palate might detect aromatic notes of leather, moss, or wicker, and the brew is a rich amber with deeper notes of sweet molasses and malt. The tea is prized for its aromas, its lack of bitterness or astringency, and its ability to stimulate without causing jitters.
Byzantium Taste Notes: toasted marshmallow, milk chocolate, wild clover, honey, and ripe cherry, with a delicate hint of Eastern spice.
Health profile: Rich in isoflavones; beneficial for skin health, blood purification, and cancer prevention. Avoid if pregnant or if using blood thinners. Byzantium is formulated to gently awaken the lymphatic system, warm and stir the blood, and stimulate healthy liver function.
In the 12th century, Hildegard Von Bingen, a powerful female leader of the Church who was also a mystic and master Herbalist, coined this word. It means “vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure, or growth,” and Hildegard used it to refer to or symbolize “spiritual and physical health,” often as a reflection of the divine revealed in nature. The more I work with plants, the more intimately I have come to understand this word. It refers to a lush, green vitality we feel in our cells and spine, and that floods our hearts, brains, and body when in the proximity of plants. It is a gift of our relationship with them; and, once established, we can feel it even when we simply are thinking about them. Veriditas is like the feeling of falling deeply in love with all that grows greenly—all that vines, climbs, twists, and roots down. It is an experience of longing for the vital earth, and a desire to be contiguous with it. I am sharing it because it is the word that guides the work I do at Artemis Teas & Botanicals, and that urges me to create special botanic blends that capture and share, in various small ways, my own experiences of veriditas, in the hope that they will resonate in similar ways with you! In all ways, may you be well.
One of my favorite stories is that of Circe in Homer’s The Odyssey. Maligned as a self-indulgent and dangerously coercive “witch” and “sorceress” for over 2000 years by male poets, scholars, philosophers, and critics, I find Circe to be one of the most fascinating and misunderstood female characters in Western literature and culture.
If you don’t know her story, here is the briefest of summaries:
When Odysseus, travel-worn, weather-beaten, and heart-weary washed up on the shores of her island, Aiaia, Circe took him and his men into her Great Hall and fed them. However, she added a potion to their food that turned the sea-men—all but Odysseus—into swine. How insensitive of her! Right?
What few bother to notice about the story, however, is its larger context, and that Circe’s reasons for transforming Odysseus’ crew are ultimately just: her magic is a form of divine punishment, or warning, for the mens’ crudity, bestiality, and ignorant disregard for and objectification of both Nature and the Feminine. Consequently, a more contemporary understanding of Circe’s story and role in The Odyssey shows us a fascinatingly complex and compassionate woman: indomitable, equanimous, independent—and, a divine force of balance between masculine and feminine energies.
(If you want the full story, you can find it literally at the heart of The Odyssey).
Her medicine grounds the mind by integrating it more fully with the nervous and circulatory systems—into the deeper centers of knowing that exist in our bodies. In other words, the medicine of Circe is about helping people become more present to the soft animal senses of their bodies. Her medicine helps enliven the senses and our awareness of ourselves as physical beings. Her craft is about balancing masculine and feminine energies within the individual, as well as within the world beyond—and in doing so, she helps create psychic wholeness, physical restoration, and a life-manifesting creativity.
Featured Herbs in Artemis Teas’ Circe blend:
damiana- reconnects us to the honest, simple intelligence of our bodies, and helps renew our trust in the sacred language of sensation. In doing so, damiana helps us feel safe in the world once more.
The medicine of damiana is used to widen our physical awareness and to teach us to listen from our hearts.
The energetics of damiana are focused downward, helping us ground ourselves and reconnect to the earth. For this reason, it is used to treat pelvic blood stagnation because it increases warmth and blood circulation to the pelvic area and reproductive organs. Damiana has been used for centuries as an aphrodisiac, but perhaps more precisely it is an herb that helps focus, “tone,” or cultivate desire. Damiana heightens sensory capacity, increases physical awareness, and promotes feelings of wholeness by helping reconnect mind and body.
Damiana is also used as a deeply soothing nervine, which means it is soothing and restorative to the nervous system, helping to interrupt the body’s stress responses and feedback loops by redirecting the nervous system into a state of relaxation.
mullein - there are several plants that scholars have suggested are the sacred “moly” plant that Hermes offers Odysseus before the hero makes his way to Circe’s hall. The moly plant is crucial to the story of Odysseus and Circe, because it alone provides Odysseus “protection” against Circe’s herbal potion—against her magical debasement of a disordered and unruly masculine. In other words, there is something about the sacred moly plant which helps strengthen and re-order Odysseus’ unruly masculinity—enough so that he alone does not succumb to the power of her potion.
Some herbalists, Matthew Wood among them, believe the sacred moly plant was a mullein plant. Mullein grows extremely tall and rigid—a very phallic plant—though it also possess the opposing qualities of softness in its basal rosette of large, silvery leaves. Wood suggests mullein as a remedy for conditions where sharpness has impinged on softness—or where an unbalanced and aggressive masculinity threatens or attacks what is “feminine”—nature, animals, plants, women . . . Thus, mullein would indeed be an appropriate remedy to balance and strengthen Odysseus in preparation for his meeting Circe as an equal.
Artemis Teas Circe blend brings together ancient and traditional herbs to tell our minds and bodies alike a story of wholeness—a story about the restoration of balance, focus, and determination; a story about the reintegration of masculine and feminine into a more potent and powerful unity.