I caught the end of Saundra Kamman’s soda-making class at the Portland Homestead Supply. It was a full house, people of all ages leaning forward in their seats to carefully measure and pour ingredients into bottles. There was an excited chatter circulating the room as participants tasted the sodas they had just concocted. When I stepped in to taste the freshly made ginger ale, I gasped in delight because it was overflowing with the undiluted power of ginger, the tangy balance between spicy and slightly sweet.
The ginger ale recipe created by Saundra Kamman capitalizes on the natural properties of ginger, bringing out its incredible taste and health benefits. Saundra, an extremely creative herbalist, teaches both the soda-making and herbalism classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. She recently launched her own business, HerbN Tea, that is dedicated to supplying the Portland community with health-benefiting loose-leaf teas, herbs, and balms. Kamman also runs a community supported herbalism program, and another program that helps fledging gardeners to support Oregon’s bee population by planting bee-friendly herbs. Check out the interview below to understand more about Saundra’s incredible work supporting the interconnectedness between herbs, the health of our bodies, and the health of the planet.
How did you get involved in herbalism, and who helped you learn skills along the way?
I grew up as a gardener and was growing a lot of my own foods, as well as my own herbs. I always wanted to know more about what I was growing. While on sabbatical for a year in Northern California, I met a woman in one of my dance classes who is an herbalist and has her own school modeled after her teacher Michael Moore. I started taking herbal classes. I really enjoyed building this relationship between what is growing in the garden and what herbal creation I can make in the house, whether it’s a tincture or tea or soda or mead.
You took herbalism classes in Northern California?
Yes, at the Northwest School of Botanical Studies. I did it backwards. I took lots and lots of classes and advanced classes, then I went back and took the professional herbalist program. I already had many herbalist hours and experience, before getting the certification.
When did you launch your own business?
HerbN Tea was started, officially, about a year + ago. I began teaching classes and perfecting my recipes. Now I sell my own organic loose leaf teas, as well as healing balms, lotions and body butters.
What has been one of your biggest challenges of having your own business?
I have had my own business a couple times before, so I knew what to expect. The hardest part is the balance. You are now doing everything. You can hire other people to help, but it’s pretty hard to do when you’re just starting. So later you’ll hire PR people, marketers, etc. I had the good fortune that I am also a professional graphic designer so I designed my website and everything else. I find that a lot of people are really into natural medicines and herbalism now, but I think it still takes people a little while to get from the idea of taking something like a medication or a tincture to drinking tea everyday for its medicinal values. Part of why I’m doing what I’m doing is because I want people to not just try to deal with things when they get sick or older or ill, but rather to be more preventative by practicing herbalism every day. That’s really important to me and is why I teach the classes and sell herbal teas and products. Hopefully it sticks with a few people.
What is one of the number one things people can do daily as a preventative step?
The hardest thing to do in our culture is to stop to take time to take care of yourself. People will come to me and say, “What do I do about this problem?” I can give them a tea or herbal tonic, but they actually have to use it daily. So my longtime goal is to open a tea shop where people can go in, get the tea, sit down, and make it a daily ritual to take care of themselves. I think the biggest thing people need to do is make, whatever time it is, fifteen minutes or one hour a day for themselves, where they slow down. For me, it is sitting down with a cup of tea, ruminating and processing. This actually can help people deal with stress and anxiety, which is one of the biggest issues in our culture. If you can take some of that pressure off yourself everyday by sitting down and letting go, that is essential. All of the stress builds up in our bodies and when you don’t let it out it starts to create illness.
I saw on your website that you do community supported herbalism (CSH). This is something I haven’t heard of before. Can you speak to how widespread that idea is?
It’s growing in Portland. I’m definitely not the only one doing it. When I lived in California, it was huge, so I don’t know if it’s just because there are more herbalists there, but they are already doing it on a larger scale. It’s the same idea as a CSA, but with herbs. The shares arrive quarterly. You get whatever is made from that season’s herbs. Fire cider to boost immunity, teas or tonics to boost low energy, honey for coughs & colds, it depends on what herbs are the right ones for that season. A share consists of a combination of herbal remedies to help you get through the next season.
Can you buy shares individually? Could you give us an example of what would be in the winter share?
Yeah, you can buy them individually or for the full year. There are large and small shares. In the winter share, I tend to do a warming tea, something like a chai or a red rooibos, and then typically an elderberry honey, which is great for building your body’s natural immunity. You can take it every day in tea or in your cereal or just have a taste. It helps people stay healthier, which is a long-term goal. Also included are tonics, honey, herbal balms or oils, and lip balms. More details on the website. www.HerbN-Tea.com
Explain your Community of Gardens + Bees Program and how you became inspired to start such a unique program.
As an herbalist and a gardener, I know how important bees are. I’ve been involved in Portland Urban Beekeepers. Every month I go and learn from all of these people who have been beekeeping for so long. So much fascinating information. We really need to do something to support the bees because we are creating huge problems for them. If we don’t do something, it’s going to affect everyone and everything. I’ve already been gardening for many years with pollinators in mind, using things in the garden that can promote their health. Bees basically go out there and get what they need for their own health, you just have to provide them with the possibilities. We’ve been seeing huge numbers of dwindling bee populations, and that’s within the beekeeping community. So we also have to think about all the native bees that we aren’t keeping tabs on. There are thousands of varieties of bees. Basically, they are solitary bees so no one is paying attention to them. The idea of this program is to encourage people that want to start a garden or that already have a garden to plant more bee-friendly plants. They have to agree to not use herbicides or pesticides in their gardens because those can greatly impact bee populations. There is a small fee for the program, but I basically volunteer my time. The fee is to buy seeds and dirt, but mostly it’s because I find that if people have to make a small monetary commitment, they are more invested. I wanted people to be really serious about being a part of this for multiple years. One year is fine, but a lot of the time you plant and the garden you are building is not instantaneous, particularly because I encourage people to start with organic seeds. We start all of our own seeds for the group. Hopefully, in a couple years, everybody has a great pollinator’s garden and it’s just overflowing with beautiful plants and flowers. I started this program because a lot of things that are good for the bees are actually good for herbalism too. It all fits in together perfectly.
Are there available spaces in your program right now?
Initially, I set this up to have a limit of a certain number of people, mostly because I was afraid everyone would want to do it all at once. What I’m realizing is that the group will continue to grow because once people are established, I have more room to start helping new people become established. I see myself as continuing to do this forever, even if there are only a few people interested, it’s better than nobody else doing anything for them. It’s interesting because the bee crisis has been popping up more in the news, and there are a lot of people getting involved in helping the bees. Because awareness has changed, it’s not quite as critical as when I first started this program. Previously, I felt like not enough people were aware of the issue. Now, the issue is becoming more well-known with people gravitating towards it because they feel like they want to do something.
What are the best bee-friendly plants?
Oh, there are so many! A lot of the plants in the sunflower family, not just for bees, but for a lot of different pollinators and birds as well. Calendula and borage flowers are also great. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned, particularly about honey bees because they live in hives as opposed to individuals, is that you need larger stands of plants.
So you would need not just one borage plant, but twenty borage plants. Not just one lavender plant, but many. Basically, the bee’s little scouts will go out and find their optimal place. If somebody has a big field of something, they’ll tend to go there instead coming all the way to my house for one plant. Bees fly up to five miles from their hive so they will go that far if they need to go, especially if there is something delectable, but they’ll tend to stay a little closer to home.
What is your favorite summer suggestion for tea and what are its properties?
I’ve got two answers for that. My first favorite is year round. It’s the Eyebright tea, and it was formulated to be nutritive and delicious. You can drink it every day. Long-term, it helps you feel better, and promotes health and vitality. The Eyebright has vanilla, rooibos, mint, and just a tiny touch of a few other herbs. It’s great hot and iced. I recommend that one. I also have a number of different mint teas that are really great for the summer because they are really cooling.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
I think it’s exactly what everybody is moving towards. Even if they’re not gardening or growing their own herbs, they are using them and cooking with them, like today’s class, making their own sodas. It’s a way to get out there and have something fun for your kids, like these bubbly sodas. They are not made with corn syrup; they’re made with honey or brown sugar and fresh herbs. That way kids get fresh ginger ale or root beer, and the parents can control how sweet it is. So the kids are getting the benefit of the flavor without all of the crazy hype of the sugar.
Do you sell the sodas?
I do not sell the sodas. I just teach people how to make them. You can come to the Mississippi Farmer’s market on Thursdays to try a few sodas..
How does HerbN Tea support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Is HerbN Tea a part of any collaborative projects?
I am part of a committee that has started the Mississippi Farmers Market. Our mission was to create a market for small and start up businesses. Traditionally it can be harder for small, new businesses to get into larger farmers markets and they typically have a larger booth fee than our market. I am also a vendor at the market. My goal is to test my products and teas to see what people gravitate towards and respond to their feedback. The market is the perfect blend of diverse vendors, location, and community. The market is Thursday from 3 – 7 pm, June – mid October.
For those interested in growing herbs in their backyard, what is your best advice? Any pro-tips? Are there specific herbs that thrive in Portland?
I actually have a blog on Tumblr, and I have that exact blog post from earlier in the spring. Some of the easiest, best to grow, and most useful are calendula, which is a bright orange flower in the marigold family, peppermint, any of the mint family, yarrow, but not the hybrid yellow/pink one, the white variety, which is the native variety. But you should go look at the blog because it will show you what to grow and how to do it.
What is HerbN Tea’s next step? What is your vision for HerbN Tea ten years down the road?
The biggest long-term plan is to open a tea shop that also sells herbal products. It’s basically about supporting people to improve their health through a delicious cup of tea without maybe even knowing it. Customers would come in to enjoy a really good cup of tea, and long-term, if they kept coming back, it would improve their health. I formulate teas for flavor but I also add nutritive herbs, herbs to adapt to stress and herbs to boost immunity. Creating a habit or daily ritual of drinking tea would help long-term with everyone’s health and vitality. I really think that you can’t prolong someone’s life, but you can improve the quality of their life. So that’s the goal.