The owner of Homegrown Herb and Tea on Congress Street, Richards has been blending teas and sharing healing wisdom from her sunlit tearoom on Munjoy Hill since 2006. Although she offers some familiar tea blends, such as Jasmine Gunpowder Green and Keith’s Craving Black English Breakfast, she also carries calming infusions that have been creatively labeled: the Flower Child, Holy Tea, the Teacher’s Pet.
Originally from New Sharon, Richards began blending her own teas while in college. She became intrigued with the healing possibilities of plants after a friend gave her the gift of an herbal encyclopedia. “I would have an ailment and I was fascinated with looking up what herbs might be helpful to my ailment,” says Richards. “Then I would get other herbs to mix with it, because alone they generally tasted terrible. Then I would look up the medicinal value of those aromatic pieces. I started blending flavor with intention.”
Richards’s practice follows the principles of Ayurveda, an ancient healing system from India. “Ayurveda is really about reflecting on what your body is expressing,” says Richards. “What do I look like? What do I feel like? What is my body doing in terms of illness? Not just, I’m coughing, but am I coughing wetly, or dryly, or is my congestion in my head?”
In Ayurvedic medicine, there are three doshas: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Each dosha has a specific set of physical and emotional characteristics. “If you compared someone of the Vata type (skinny, cold, dry, and light) to somebody of the Pitta type (warm and moist), Pittas tend to be affected through very fiery expressions,” says Richards. “Things like rashes, hives, allergies, and digestive issues.”
Richards blends teas with these principles in mind. Many of her formulations do not have tea leaves in them, and thus are more accurately described as tisanes. Richards’s Vata Grounder, which is available seasonally at Sonny’s Restaurant in Portland, is a blend of chamomile, St. John’s Wort, and dried lemon peel. Her Mama-to- Be-Tea contains red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, nettles, oat straw, chamomile, rose petals, spearmint, ginger, and lemongrass.
While many of the ingredients that Richards uses have specific healing properties, the leaves of Camellia sinensis have broad-ranging health benefits. Teas are rich in the potent antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and have been associated with lower risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Teas, most of which naturally contain some amount of the stimulant caffeine, also contain the counterbalancing and calming amino acid L-theanine.
Perhaps it is the L-theanine, which calms us, or the EGCG, which protects us against disease, that keeps us reaching for our favorite tea. Or maybe it is the social aspect of sharing a warm beverage on a chilly Maine day that sends us scurrying for the nearest tearoom. The reasons we love tea are numerous, and specific to us as individuals. For me, it is the opportunity to reconnect with my daily life through the elements of metal, water, fire, wood, and earth. The agony of the leaves is a reminder that life is in a constant state of transformation. A perfect cup of tea provides a point of momentary stillness in a busy world.
Courtesy of The Maine Mag