Hackney Herbal specialise in creative workshops and events which connect and inspire people around the extensive uses of herbs. We interviewed their founder, Nat Mady, who shared her inspiration behind using herbs for the greater good; for health and improved wellbeing within the local community.
WELLBEING THROUGH HERBS
HERB USES AND GROWING TIPS FROM NAT MADY OF HACKNEY HERBAL
Can you tell us about Hackney Herbal?
We grow herbs in a patchwork of sites around Hackney creating unique herbal tea blends. The profits from our work fund our nature-based community activities supporting people to improve their mental health and wellbeing in Hackney. This includes wellbeing gardening courses, social gatherings and volunteering opportunities where local people can come together, learn and be inspired.
What made you decide to start a business based on the power of herbs?
When I first moved to Hackney I joined a community garden and it was here that my interest in herbs developed. After spending time in the garden I began to understand the positive benefits of bringing people and nature together in a creative and social way, to learn about plants. At the same time I recognised that there was a wealth of plant-related knowledge across Hackney and that people were keen to talk about their native plants. This excited me and presented an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the area through the plants that people used culturally. I decided early on that I wanted the project to develop into a social enterprise whereby we could generate some income to fund our work and run community activities that were free for people to attend without the reliance on grant funding. I noticed that around Hackney, herbs were growing everywhere - in public, private and community spaces. I saw that there was so much value in these plants and had the idea to harvest some of them to turn them into herbal tea blends that we could sell to fundraise for the project. And so Hackney Herbal was born!
Do you have any tips for people growing their own herbs, or how people can get involved in community gardens?
Herbs are great to grow in urban places because they do very well in pots, so you don’t need to have a garden to have a go. Our top tip for growing herbs in pots is to use a soil mix of half topsoil, half compost and remember to repot your plants every few years to keep them healthy. Place them where they will get the most sunlight and remember to keep them well watered in the Summer. Harvesting herbs promotes new growth so don’t forget to pick them. To find a community garden in your local area a good place to start is Capital Growth - they have a map on their website so you can easily find your nearest project.
You use Falcon enamelware at Hackney Herbal. What’s your favourite product and what do you use it for?
We love Falcon teapots and a day rarely goes by at HH when we don’t use one to brew up a herbal blend. We also take them out with us when we do events as they are so sturdy and robust. They form an essential part of our event kit when we run Communi-tea Parties which bring people together from our local community to celebrate herbs. You will often see me cycling around Hackney with one of them attached to the strap on my rucksack! The teapots also double up as a lovely vase when we are displaying fresh herbs.
Can you describe or give tips on the best places to eat, drink, source ingredients in your local area?
We are really spoilt for choice in Hackney with a very diverse foodie scene but here are some of my favourites:
Food for All is one of the first places I bought dried herbs from. It’s a tiny independent health food shop but has a huge selection of loose herbs so you can take your own containers to fill up.
Re-fill shop Bulk Market is a good place to package-free ingredients. They have their own DIY beauty section with everything you need to make your own cosmetics including oils, waxes and essential oils.
Over in Hackney Wick where our garden is located is Grow - a canal-side bar, kitchen and creative space. They have a great programme of music and events and you can find a nice selection of our herbal tea blends in their cafe.
If you like your drinks seasonal and locally foraged, Scout is the place to be. Their experimental menu changes in line with seasonal shifts and they have a big focus on sourcing ingredients from local growers and foragers.
There are so many good Vietnamese choices in Hackney but Tre Viet on Mare Street is my favourite. It was one of the first places a friend took me when I moved to Hackney. You can’t beat it.
Do you have any unusual herbal combinations you can recommend?
As you can imagine experimenting with herbs is a big part of our work over at Hackney Herbal. Creating bespoke blends for clients means I get to spend time being creative by mixing up new combinations. One of my most recent creations is a blend to support the immune system made from a mix of Echinacea, Holy Basil (Tulsi), Thyme and Liquorice. I’m still tweaking with the quantities to balance the flavours but I’m going to be drinking this blend to help rebalance the body after a busy summer season and as a remedy to ward off seasonal colds.
Photography: Emily Munster, @emilymunster
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