Beverages

Local farmer brews up plans to expand holy basil tea business

John Strickler - The Mercury Boxes and tea bags from the holy basil plant made a golden and fragrant hot or cold tea.

John Strickler – The Mercury
Boxes and tea bags from the holy basil plant made a golden and fragrant hot or cold tea.

Visit website to follow Jubilee Hill series

The Mercury newspaper completed a series following farmers David and Wendy Ryle through the growing season of their small East Coventry farm. The series illustrated changing agricultural methods that promote sustainability and entrepreneurship. Photo supervisor John Strickler and Fit for Life reporter Michilea Patterson followed the Ryles through the farming season. Read all the stories in the series by visiting pottstownmercury.wix.com/homesteadfarming.

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

EAST COVENTRY >> Although winter is coming, it’s no time for local farmer David Ryle to hibernate. He plans to turn up the heat on his herbal tea business during the cold months so he can expand production next spring.

“The more it’s grown, the better it does,” he said speaking of the tea he fell in love with several years ago.

Ryle has been drinking holy basil tea for five years; ever since he learned of the herb’s health benefits while working in a Massachusetts medicinal garden. The native Indian herb, also known as Tulsi, is a Hindi deity, Ryle said. It acts as a stress reliever and helps strengthen the immune system.

When Ryle and his wife Wendy started a small organic farm called Jubilee Hill three years ago, it was only natural that holy basil be planted. He then started making his Steep of Faith Teas products. The tea can be served hot or cold. The Ryles sell it year round through online orders on their website www.jubileehillfarm.org and at local stores such as Kimberton Whole Foods.

Next Steps Forward

John Strickler - The Mercury The drying process begins as David Ryle hangs bundles of the holy basil clippings.

John Strickler – The Mercury
The drying process begins as David Ryle hangs bundles of the holy basil clippings.

As this year’s farm season came to a close, Ryle and his wife have some decisions to make. They had reached the threshold of what vegetables and holy basil they could grow on their small farm. Just as he was asking the question ‘what’s next?,’ there was a new job opportunity. He was hired to manage the Kimberton CSA in Phoenixville, a 10-acre certified organic farm. The new job made it easy for Ryles to decide to expand the holy basil tea production and make plans to start producing honey.

“Now we can look back on the season and say it was really a springboard for what’s coming next,” Ryle said.

Over the winter, Ryle will prepare soil beds for holy basil plants while growing less of the other produce.

“This year I grew something like 1,800 holy basil plants. Next year is going to be 10,000,” he said.

Instead of just 12 soil beds for the herb, he will have 70 plots on which to grow the holy basil. Once planted in the spring, Ryle said the plants will be on “autopilot” because they grow really well when left alone.

Ice, Ice Baby

Another way Ryle would like to expand his tea business is by selling a bottled iced version of the herbal drink.

“There’s a lot of iced tea out there but it’s almost all black or green tea,” he said.

The holy basil tea has a very distinct taste that will be make it popular as a separate iced beverage, Ryle said. He said not only is the flavor unique but it has several health benefits since it’s made with holy basil herb. He’s ready to have his own brand of holy basil iced tea to be sold in stores.

Is it Coffee or is It Tea?

Along with the holy basil tea, Ryle will also start producing more of his sacrébrew which is named after a French expression — “sacrébleu.”

“It’s a caffeine free herbal coffee,” Ryle said.

The coffee-flavored tea is made with holy basil, roasted dandelion root and other herbs. Ryle has already been selling the beverage in limited markets but would like to expand production. The sacrébrew is steeped for 10 minutes then it turns into the same color as coffee. Tea drinkers will know they’re drinking something special that reminds them of coffee and coffee drinkers will experience a tea that taste a lot like cup of Joe, Ryle said.

“It’s really earthy and slightly bitter. It’s just like you would expect coffee to be like. It’s really rich and very, very flavorful,” he said.

Adding Honey to the Mix

John Strickler - The Mercury A honey bee flies toward the flower of the holy basil plant pollinating the plants.

John Strickler – The Mercury
A honey bee flies toward the flower of the holy basil plant pollinating the plants.

After Ryle increases the holy basil production on the farm for the teas, he hopes to start making honey as well. Just as there is clover honey, Ryle wants to create holy basil honey. He said the bees love the herb and can be seen all around the plants once they’ve grown. Producing honey has a lot of pieces to it so Ryle will get started this February.

Ryle will need to find a source for hives and get all the other equipment together so the bees will make their home on the farm. He said honey is a “new venture” for him so it’s about educating himself on the process. Luckily, the Kimberton CSA he manages also produces honey.

“Over the winter, I’m hoping to get some real hands-on experience so I can just make a lateral move to doing that here (Jubilee Hill Farm),” Ryle said.

The Best is Yet to Come

Ryle said by partnering with the Kimberton CSA and expanding the tea business, he’ll be able to provide more produce to more people. He plans to broaden the tea sales and make the products available in more stores.

“We definitely want to meet the local demand but we also want to do more regional work in the North East,” he said.

Ryle said he and his wife are excited about starting the next steps to expand their tea business.

“We’re excited for the changes that are taking place. We feel like it’s a step in the right direction and maybe a move toward a more sustainable approach to agriculture for us,” he said.

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