The aromatic pine needles that crunch underfoot are one of best parts of a hike through the forests of northern Minnesota. For Rachel Banken, founder of Well Rooted Teas, those pine needles are also a key ingredient for her Up North herbal tea blend.
“It’s very hard to find local herbal tea—most are sourced from India or [other parts of] Asia,” Banken says. “This is a true tea that’s celebrating Minnesota botanicals and sourcing from local sustainable farms.”
Well Rooted Teas ties together several threads of Banken’s life: an upbringing in Iowa as the grandchild of farmers, a love of plants, an academic background in public health, a stint in the Peace Corps that sparked an interest in building community. Her passion for the environment is also an important component of her business plan, with 10 percent of profits donated to local organizations that advocate for environmental causes.
Another way Well Rooted Teas promotes environmentalism is in the local and sustainable sourcing of the herbs, roots, leaves, fruits, and berries that make up the company’s nine different blends, with over 90 percent of ingredients coming from within 100 miles of the Twin Cities.
“It’s important to be as local as possible for two reasons,” Banken explains. “One, a small environmental footprint, and two, to promote and celebrate local agriculture.”
The vast majority of the herbs and botanicals are sourced from local organic and sustainable farmers. They're not all licensed organic—a pricey process—but do go above USDA organic certificationrequirements, according to Banken. "They’re people who love their land.”
Many of the plants in these tea blends are native to Minnesota and could conceivably be foraged. However, as Well Rooted Teas has expanded, Banken's focused foraging efforts on the handful of ingredients that can’t be purchased, like the Eastern white pine needles in the Up North Blend and staghorn sumac berries for the Autumn blend.
“I do all my foraging on private land with permission,” Banken says. “I forage from abundance, where nature isn’t going to miss it. I never forage more than 5 percent—I don’t want to make a dent.”
If drinking pine needles plucked from the woods sounds a bit a strange, know there are actually some nutritional benefits. According to Banken, pine needles are high in vitamin C and were used by Native Americans to treat scurvy. (“I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t like it,” she says of the Up North blend. “It’s developed a cult following.”)
Like Eastern white pine needles, many of the ingredients in Well Rooted Teas’ blends are selected for their nutritive benefits. “Something like red clover—we’ve all seen it in our backyards,” says Banken. “It’s a source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C—it’s very nutrient dense. Elderflower and elderberry are powerhouses for building immunity. Tulsi [also known as holy basil] is an adaptogen, what that means is it helps your body rebalance...it’s commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine.”
Do all of those good-for-you ingredients actually make for a satisfying beverage? “I balanced the different blends with things that are powerful but also taste good,” she explains. For example, the Calm blend relies on softer medicinal herbs with a pleasing taste, such as lavender, milky oats, and tulsi.
The best-selling blend is Focus, which offers a crisp caffeine-free boost. “It’s a good entry tea, nice and pepperminty. The licorice root softens it a bit and gives it a hint of sweetness,” she says.
Banken will be selling (and sampling) tea at the Mill City Farmers Market every other week this year and will make several appearances at the Kingfield Farmers Market. A schedule of farmers market dates is available on her website. Well Rooted Teas are also available online and at several local specialty stores and cafes including France44, Seasoned Specialty Foods, Northern Coffee Works, Seed Cafe, and Sift Gluten Free Bakery.
“I’m trying to get in more coffee shops and restaurants,” says Banken. “I love that I serve the teas [I sell wholesale] in two-pound tins that I reuse, so it’s zero waste.” She notes that by the end of summer, all of the bags she uses for her teas will be compostable, and compostable labeling is in the works.
“Even if you’re not a tea drinker, give it a try,” she encourages. “Stop by the farmers market booth for a taste before buying. It’s a way to be good to your body and help the environment.”
Well Rooted Teas