This summer has been somewhat bizarre weather wise, so news that Content store was running Summer Well-Being Festival cheered me up like the sun does when it finally makes an appearance after a rainy day. The event that drew my eye almost instantly was the one run by Michael Isted, founder of The Herball.
The event was showcasing Michael’s talents and amazing knowledge of botanicals and we were in for an aromatic treat, with the mixture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails that Michael mixed up for all the attendees. When I entered the store the front counter was covered with bottles, plants, glasses, tincture bottles-like a herbalist lab but with a wonderfully sweet disposition.
Michael, a handsome guy with a perfectly enviable tan, greeted us all personally, even though he was in the process of mixing the first of many cocktails that were to follow in the course of that evening ( yours truly made the mistake of driving to the event so mid-way I was sitting on a chair, mentally sulking at myself and vowing to come car-less to the next Herball event ).
Michael has a luxury beverage industry background and is currently studying herball medecine at the Westminster University. His knowledge of herbs and plants is facinating and very insightful and he spins truly facinating stories about the importance of plants and herbs, their medicinal benefits, seasonality and importance of paying attention to what it is actually that you eat and drink.
Our first cocktail of the day ( you truly needed to be there to see how Micheal creates the drinks-it’s like an exquisite mixologist masterclass with a twist ) included home-made rose syrup with honey, lavender eau de vie from a wonderful supplier in Alsace ( it contains 45% alcohol and is matured in steel barrels for seven years ) and Bach flower wild rose remedy ( this remedy works on many levels and is particularly known for its anti-depressant qualities, as well as balancing female hormones ). The twist was that the cocktail was cooled down not by ice but by a large rose quarts which has been kept in the freezer for a while-so you get the energetic benefit and the coolness but no dilution of ingredients, unlike when you add the ice. Michael topped it with champagne and a spray of lavender. The drink itself had a very refreshing, light feel to it, almost waking up you senses and savouring the moment of discovery.
Michael doesn’t work with a specific plan or a recipe book, instead he moves intuitively, prefering to see where his herbal and flower adventures take him.
What followed the first cocktail was a beautiful juice, the like of which I have never tasted before-it had a really sharp freshness, like a gust of sea air ( without the saltiness ) after a motionless day. Michael mixed fresh apple and lemon juices with plantaine, nettle ( the best time to pick it is actually April, so if you are picking it now, make sure that the shoots are the new, young ones ), red clover, elderflower and sweet honey and some other flowers that I didn’t know ( all of the recipes will be available via Content blog ). I have a Philips juicer which is big and powerful but Michael says that rotating juicers kill some of the vitamins, by way of heat rotation and says that he has had his Oscar Vitamax juicer for several years and it is still his trustworthy companion.
Then came the freshly made Elderflower cordial with freshly pressed rhubarb ( this juice really changed my mind about rhubarb ) with Highgate’s Sacred Gin, frankincense, yarrow and Cassis Eau de Vie. Michael is often ‘guided’ by the Flavour Bible Book, as well as Flavour Thesaurus, which help to make ‘very quaffable drinks’. Elderflower and yarrow are actually good for skin in generally and also for the times when a cold is rearing its head up. I also learnt that St. John’s wart is one of the best herbs for skin conditions like eczema and can be applied topically, after being infused in a carrier oil, like jojoba or sunflower.
Listening to Michael is absolutely fascinating, he is funny and knowledgeable in equal measure and was happy to answer any question thrown at him, which made everyone present happy and united not just by great drinks, but wonderfully insightful conversation and laughter.
Next came Herball Martini made with mullein, St. John’s wart and nettle. Alcohol actually helps to extract goodness from plants ( different constituents from plans to be more exact ). And the giant Martini tumbler contained frozen crystals to further improve the energetic content of the drink. One of the special things that I realised during that wonderfully laid back evening was that The Herball juices and cocktails, while highly quaffable and also educational for your taste buds, deserve to be properly tasted and savoured, trying to make out the ingredients. The drinks carry the sophistication with them that makes the experience of drinking special and enjoyable, like deconstructing a dessert that you wont have on a daily basis.
Now imagine The Herball Hot Chocolate, slightly spicy with maca ( for energy ) and clove-it really adds a kick to the already delicious sensation and makes it go further. Michael also creates and sells teas-two of which are available at Content, called Of Herbs ( greener and earthier in its taste, it makes you feel more grounded ) and Of Flowers ( in its creator’s own words ‘elegantly uplifting’ with the added calmness of Roman chamomile flowers and lavender ). Each blend is unique, using the freshest British flower and herbs, expertly combined. Michael knows every ingredient going into the tea combination and next year the tea will be completely different. For now, with each cup of his tea, even if it’s the same packet, you will get a different taste every time. The tea manages to capture nature at its best and most potent, when flowers and herbs are at its nutritional and energetic peak, thus benefiting your well-being enormously. On the day of Content event, Michael went our early in the morning and gathered fresh flowers and hers and grass for the concoctions that he would make for us later. We even got a chance to look at some of the flowers in a completely different light.
One of the things that intrigued me was the apron that Michael was wearing, dark mossy green, with the stitiching over the deep pockets. It turns our that he has fresh dry flowers and herbs there-he gave us all a little beautiful camomile flower, that came from the depth of one of those deep pockets, to take home and steep in hot water-the end result was a very mellow and calming cup of camomile tea, that soothed nerves and senses before bedtime ).
As the evening came to an end and each one of us left the cosily bright Content premises, into the dark and rainy night, I felt reflective and energised, in the knowledge that I just met and learnt from someone who has an extraordinary knowledge of botanicals and who teaches you to appreciate the goodness of nature and going back to the simplicity of your roots-after all, as the wise man said, nature knows best. Who can argue with that?
www.theherball.com ( website coming soon )
In the meantime you can keep updated with The Herball news via Twitter or purchase his teas from Content