‘A cup of tea symbolised everything we believed in’

Pukka Herbs' co-founder and master herbsmith Sebastian Pole believes a simple cup of herbal tea has the power to reconnect us with nature. We ask why herbs (and Stevie Wonder) bring him happiness, and why he’d like to share a brew with Jeremy Hunt

Pukka Herbs' co-founder and master herbsmith Sebastian Pole believes a simple cup of herbal tea has the power to reconnect us with nature. We ask why herbs (and Stevie Wonder) bring him happiness, and why he’d like to share a brew with Jeremy Hunt

Drinking a cup of tea can’t change the world, can it?

A cup of herbal tea could certainly help. It could be the first step on the ladder to finding out more about Ayurveda and perhaps, even yourself. It’s a lot to expect from a cup of tea but at the very least it’s a guaranteed good moment in the day. If we can turn our day into a succession of good moments, then we can turn a good day into a good week and a good week into a good month. Hopefully even a good life.

Sebastian Pole, master herbsmith and Pukka Herbs co-founder

Your story involves time in Asia ‘falling in love’ with the wonder of plants. How did your journey with Pukka begin?

My love for traditional medicine and plants was ignited following a period in my early twenties spent travelling in the Himalayas. After returning to the UK to study Ayurvedic, Chinese and Western herbal medicine, I began teaching yoga and practicing herbalism. But I had more ambitious plans to awaken people to the wonders of herbs.

I wanted to create a business centred around mutual benefit, one where everyone who came into contact with it would profit; sensually, healthily, ecologically, socially and financially.

When I met Tim Westwell, my business partner, we both had a burning desire to make a positive change to the world. We decided to create something that symbolised everything we believed in; a cup of herbal tea. Not just any cup of tea mind you, but an incredible cup of herbal tea that supported vital health and conservation as well as providing a moment of bliss in the swirling pace of a crazy world.

Pukka Herbs helps farmers to grow and collect plants sustainably, conserving and protecting vulnerable species

Why are you so passionate about reconnecting people with herbs?

In the beginning, we wanted to create circles of benevolence so that everyone Pukka touched benefited: grower, supplier, manufacturer, staff and our customers. But the real motivation for all this was to get people using herbs. We wanted to bring a little bit of nature’s garden into people’s lives. We wanted to help people reconnect with their herbal heritage where plants are a central part of their health and wellbeing.

We want something as simple as a cup of herbal tea to be that catalyst that connects you with nature as a whole. And in connecting with nature as a whole you will connect with yourself.

We wanted to help people reconnect with their herbal heritage where plants are a central part of their health and wellbeing

What’s your everyday involvement in Pukka?

On a practical level, my role to create and blend our teas and supplements has remained over the last 15 years. From going out in the field and working with our growers to blending teas in my kitchen, I remain hands-on with tea making process, from crop to cup.

I’m also very lucky to head up a team of trained herbalists at Pukka, who work hard to ensure we are developing and researching the best ways to benefit health and wellbeing through the incredible power of plants.

One of my most important roles is to remain a guardian of our ethos and values, making sure that protecting people, plants and planet informs everything we do. We are growing at a really exciting rate and our team and consumer awareness is increasing too. What was important to Tim and I when we set up Pukka needs to remain at the very core of the business and be present throughout this evolution.

Pukka Herbs works closely with farmers and growers in more than 20 countries

All of your products are organic. Why was that vital to you?

Ever since Tim and I started Pukka, we’ve been passionate about connecting people and plants. All of the herbs we use at Pukka for our teas and wellbeing range are 100 per cent certified organic by the Soil Association. But, for Pukka, organic is more than a badge or buzzword: organic is our religion.

From the fields where our herbs are grown in sustainably managed, certified organic projects, to the organic string we use on our tea bags, everything has organic principles at the core.

Properly grown organic herbs taste incredible, there’s no doubt about it. But organic means more than great taste and fewer chemicals. We love organic thinking because it means giving back what we take out during our time here on planet Earth. It’s a holistic way of living and being that matches our own guiding principles of living with respect for the world around us.

For Pukka, organic is more than a logo or buzzword: organic is our religion

What makes you feel alive and positive?

Sitting in gratitude marvelling at the wonder of life makes me feel alive. You also can’t beat a good groove to Stevie Wonder.

Ethics are clearly important to Pukka: your collaborations with Fairtrade, FairWild and Fair for Life stand out. But does being ethical make good business sense?

Being ethical doesn’t just make good business sense, it just makes sense. We know that the choices we make at Pukka have a big impact on our staff, suppliers, customers and the planet. And so we intend to make those choices wisely, with awareness.

Realising that we could contribute to conservation through commerce was a lightbulb moment for us. It seemed clear that if nature has more value ‘alive’ than ‘dead’ then we will protect her. That’s why signing up to 1% For The Planet, donating 1 per cent of our annual turnover to environmental causes, was a no-brainer for us.

Pole says that “sitting in gratitude marvelling at the wonder of life” makes him feel alive

In terms of business sense, we realise that by paying farmers and collectors above market price for the herbs we use at Pukka we can help protect the dwindling ecosystems. By making organic farming practices worth more than soil-destroying conventional methods we can incentivise conservation of the earth.

What are your favourite herbs and why?

My favourite herbs tend to be ones that are adaptogenic. Adaptogenic herbs have a normalising or balancing effect on the body and mind, reducing the negative changes that can happen in your body in response to stress. Research shows that adaptogens can help improve energy, reduce fatigue, reduce anxiety, help people feel more positive, and improve focus and attention, among other benefits. To be classified as an adaptogen, a herb must also have no known negative effects. My favourite adaptogens are ashwagandha, shatavari and turmeric.

If you could share a cup of tea with any three people in the world, who would they be?

My wife, (my favourite tea lady); Scilla Elworthy – I’d love her insights on peaceful change – and Jeremy Hunt, to discuss how herbal medicine can be available on the NHS.

Images: Pukka Herbs