Conscious cuppa: Which tea company puts its faith in herbs?
Sebastian Pole, co-founder of Pukka teas, doesn’t just head up a sustainable business. He’s a renowned herbalist, who’s written a defining guide on how to use herbal tea to support your health. Forget weak flavoured dishwater, Pole’s commitment to helping people with herbalism is centred around the role of a great cup of tea.
Fri 24 Mar 2017
Pole has spent the last 16 years developing the Fairtrade company Pukka, known for its vibrant tea blends and more recently high quality supplements. But he’s not just obsessed with making the perfect cuppa. He’s also a practising herbalist with a surgery practice where he still sees patients. It’s often in the prescribing of blends for people that he finds ideas for Pukka’s broad range of teas.
“Plants have the ability to help our senses to feel more awake, they make us more sensitive to the world and when they’re of good quality, we become more of who we are, even if just a little bit,” he says.
In his comprehensive pantheon to herbal tea, ‘Cleanse Nurture Restore’, Pole talks through the science behind the perfect mix of plants, his dedication to Ayurvedic principles and shares recipes for energising, detoxing, relaxing and nourishing - using everything from chamomile and cinnamon to seaweed and spirulina.
“I’m aware that most people aren’t aware of the wonders of herbs,” he explains. “The book doesn’t just list recipes but introduces people to using herbs for self-care - it’s less about using them when you’re ill but staying healthy every day to help us live longer and happier.”
Herb’s the word
“Herbalism is the history of how we’ve looked after each other,” explains Pole. “It’s only in the last 50 years or so we’ve moved away from using them to look after our daily health. Herbs play a powerful part of helping us stay healthy and to reach our potential. They’re not the only things of course, diet and exercise are important, but not using herbs is like missing out an ingredient when making a cake.”
Our modern diets often only use herbs to add flavour when cooking and we’ve distilled the number of herbs we use to a small handful that have comforting familiarity. Pole’s book encompasses hundreds of different plants and their benefits, it stews his decades of knowledge of blending plants into an easy to swallow tonic, that’s guaranteed to have you reaching for the teapot.
The strengths of herbs can vary considerably and often have more of an effect when used others
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“Despite the clean living revolution we’ve had in the last few years, herbs have been left out of the journey a little bit - there’s more to herbs than basil and chia seeds. Most of us have a very British suspicion of how powerful herbs can be, but they can add immense benefits to your daily diet.”
Some of the benefits are starting to be embraced. Recent crazes for turmeric and matcha have seen people start to incorporate herbs and spices into more than just stir frys, but this is just the tip of the leaf of what can be harnessed to help improve our health.
“It’s an exciting time in the world of herbs, there’s more integration in cutting-edge natural medicine and lots of trials are taking place to look at the role of herbs and plants in replacing traditional antibiotics,” explains Pole.
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Making a Pukka cuppa
The role of a cuppa is the perfect way for Pole to encourage people to interact with his true passion, the power of herbs. He fell in love with traditional medicine after spending time in the Indian Himalayas in his 20s and returned from the country to study with some of the best Ayurvedic, Chinese and Western herbal healers. He met co-founder Tim Westwell in 2001 and they realised that the humble cup of tea was the perfect delivery method for getting more herbs into people's daily lives.
“A cuppa is a good moment to be still and reflect on your family and friends,” explains Pole.
His take on tea is that it can be distilled to become a mindful experience, an oasis of calm in a busy day, and he takes the responsibility of making sure each Pukka cuppa is a good one very seriously indeed.
“We make sure we’ve done the best we can in the background making sure the ingredients are the finest we can grow and that they've been sustainably sourced to give people the best moment we can,” he explains.
So how are herbs farmed?
Pukka pride themselves on using medical grade herbs and plants to make their teas and supplements. Every last leaf is farmed organically or gathered from sites that are certified as FairWild. Over 50 of their ingredients come Pole’s spiritual home of India.
“25% of all herbs come from the edges of the world, they’re grown on the physical margins of the world and harvested by some of the most marginalised communities in the world,” he says. FairWild guarantees that not only have the plants grown in the most organic conditions and are harvested sustainably but the harvesters and growers have been fairly paid for their work.
Pukka’s commitment to its farmers and growers keeps a percentage of its staff, 20% of whom have a degree or PHD in plant science herbalism, on the road for weeks at a time.
“Some of our growers are a 10 hour drive from the nearest airport but we’re committed to working in the cleanest areas and respecting the tradition of growing medical grade herbs. Basically we’re all total herb geeks. But it can be a challenge. In Georgia where liquorice grows, it’s harvested in six year cycles, so the key thing is to make sure there’s enough investment in future crops, working with the government and landowners and helping to keep the communities that work with the crop going. It’s incredibly specialist and the people are entwined with their crop.”
Back at Pukka’s carbon neutral HQ in Bristol, the essential oils from plants and herbs are extracted in the most sustainable way possible, using CO2 in a process that gives the brand seriously pure concentrations to use in its teas and supplements.
Plants for the planet
It’s no good helping people and not the planet as well. Pole has overseen Pukka becoming a B Corp company, it uses only renewable energy to make all of its teabags and all of its teas and supplements are Fairtrade or FairWild certified, even down to the organically produced string on the teabags. It’s also a member of 1% For The Planet, which sees 1% of all revenue donated to various environmental causes.
“Our commitment to supporting wild and organic farms all over the world offsets our transportation costs,” explains Pole. “We want to have a carbon neutral supply chain by 2030 but where most of our carbon emissions come from is actually our customers boiling their kettles. Making cups of tea accounts for around 60% of our carbon footprint, so we’re trying to help people become more aware of the importance of having an efficient kettle and converting to renewable energy.”
Herbs to try this year
Expand your herbal horizons further than parsley or peppermint. Here are Pole’s top three herbs to try.
Sebastian Pole explains why shatavari is one of his favourite herbs
Ashwagandha is my favourite herb as it helps strengthen people’s nervous systems and can help balance hormones such as insulin and thyroid. It’s name means the strength of a stallion, helping people to take challenges in their stride. Discover more about ashwagandha here.
Its name literally means the plant with 100 roots and is also known as the woman who had 100 husbands. It’s a major aphrodisiac and can help boost fertility and regulate menstrual cycles. Shatavariis easy to grow and it’s very effective quickly.
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