Healing Herbal Teas author and Seattle-area tea maker Sarah Farr shares her approach to her craft and her favorite suppliers for sourcing ingredients.
Authors of Storey books come to us in a variety of ways. Often the first introduction to an author is through an unsolicited proposal submitted by the writer or their agent. Other times, a book idea originates with one of our editors who then goes looking for a potential author with expertise in the topic. But in the case of Sarah Farr, it was her tea that got our attention first. I became such a fan of her monthly herbal tea subscription, Birds Eye Tea, that I decided to see if she would be interested in writing a book. Luckily for us, she agreed! In Healing Herbal Teas, Sarah shares many of her recipes, along with her blending secrets for achieving both fantastic flavor and specific health-boosting properties.
I asked Sarah to give us a bit more background on her approach to herbal tea blending. — Deborah Balmuth, Publisher
What inspired you to start creating your own tea blends? When?
The earliest tea blends I made were more like spice blends. I was going to college in Hawaii and working part-time as a cook, where I discovered the aromatic plants of the tropics. I started making spice blends that could double as teas, using combinations of spices, nuts, and dried fruit. These early blends were more like food than tea — for example, I created a blend with ginger, dried papaya, coconut, star anise, and cinnamon. I also made my own masala chai with ingredients purchased from local spice farmers or at the natural grocer.
The minute you begin investigating the wisdom behind specific spices from different regions around the world, you inevitably end up in the realm of herbalism because each spice has a medicinal action that is well-rooted in ancestral knowledge. I’ve spent the last ten years trying to recapture some of this lost knowledge by reacquainting myself with the herbs, foods, and medicinal plants that grow easily where I live in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve learned to farm medicinal plants and I’ve become an ecologist along the way.
I got serious about tea-making six years ago when my sister, Becca, inspired me to switch from being a holistic chef to joining her in her startup tea business. Becca studied at the California School of Herbal Studies and began her company, Harbor Herbalist, making several therapeutic tea blends for her local farmers’ market. Shortly after I joined her, Becca went to midwifery school and I decided to keep on making teas and to build Harbor Herbalist into a sustainable business.
The transition from chef to tea maker was one of the smoothest shifts I have ever made. Herbal tea is one of humanity’s earliest forms of medicine and remains popular around the world today. I feel blessed to be working in a field that has so much connection to human evolution, culture, health, ecology, and ritual. Plus I get to continue deepening my own knowledge and connection to the earth and my community.
What is your favorite blend?
I don’t have a favorite, but I really love nourishing teas that have a touch of spice and a floral aroma. So, for example, I like teas with nettles, oats, linden, maybe some skullcap and raspberry leaf, mint, cinnamon, cardamom, and rose. Earthy and grassy herbs with lots of minerals and vitamins coupled with aromatic spices and a touch of floral make a perfectly balanced tea for where I live and what my body needs each day.
What inspires you to create a new blend — do you start with a particular or favorite herb? A specific healthy or body need? A taste inspiration?
It really depends. During the spring and summer I am inspired by what is in season. In early spring, I become super excited about nettle and make far too many teas with nettles. Early summer is when chamomile starts to flower and I want to use chamomile all the time. Often during the growing season for Bird’s Eye Tea I make teas based on what I am harvesting or to address seasonal transitions. In winter, I create teas that help the body manage the added stress that results from cold weather, darkness, and immobility.
I also spend a lot of time learning about physiological imbalances and chronic health problems. This is an ongoing learning process. As I learn more about disease processes and research the actions of herbs, I slowly develop greater insight into how I can make specialized medicinal herbal blends the support an individual’s healing journey.
For people who might just be delving into the world of herbs and herbal teas, knowing where to find the herbs can be a challenge. Are there any suppliers you trust and would recommend?
When sourcing herbs that I can’t grow or wildcraft myself, I work with more than a dozen different companies, mostly for black and green tea and tropical species. I have tried to learn which specific herbs have the best quality, sourcing ethics, and I try to source from farming cooperatives as much as possible.
Zach Woods Herb Farm has incredible, super high quality products. On Pacific Botanicals’s website you can see which herbs are grown on their farm and which are sourced from domestically or from other countries and choose accordingly. I love Oregon’s Wild Harvest. Their farms are amazing and they use biodynamic organic farming practices. I have only bought a handful of different species from them and when ordering, you have to ask which species they grow and which they source from other farms. Mountain Rose Herbs is the most popular distributor for herbalists because they try to source responsibly and test all their herbs and spices for quality and purity. There are other companies like Frontier Coop that try to source fair-trade certified herbs as much as possible.