Meet the Woman Behind Tea Brand and Social Enterprise Hackney Herbal

With more and more people switching on to the benefits of community gardening and investing in our natural world, Hackney Herbal, a social enterprise and tea brand combining both of those things as well as supporting mental health initiatives, is the kind of project we want to shout about.

Back in 2015 Nat Mady founded Hackney Herbal as a means to educate people on the health and wellbeing benefits of the herbs growing in private and public community gardens. That quickly turned into workshops, including a six-week course with the Centre for Better Health, growing herbs in various plots around Hackney and selling tea made from the herbs to fund more projects in the community. It’s the kind of circular initiative we should all be getting excited about.

So we sat down with her to talk which herbs do what, how to keep motivated with little resources, and the herb she can’t live without.

Tell us a bit about yourself and Hackney Herbal?
I’m Nat and I’m the founder of Hackney Herbal, a social enterprise that uses herbs to promote wellbeing. Through my involvement with community gardening projects I saw that there was a great interest from people to learn about herbs and also that there was a wealth of knowledge relating to herbs from different countries and cultures. I also witnessed first hand the profound effects that urban gardening could have on people’s wellbeing. I didn’t want the project to have to rely on funding and saw that there were abundant supplies of herbs in community gardens, public spaces and people’s homes that could be harvested, turned into herbal tea and sold to raise funds to run community activities. We now grow and sell herbal teas and run workshops where the profits are reinvested into community wellbeing initiatives working in partnership with a number of mental health charities.

What or who are you inspired by?
Without wanting to sounds too cheesy, I find nature really inspiring. The way that it adapts and responds and manages to thrive in even the most hostile environments is something that is truly inspiring.

What do you love about your job?
I love being able to work with lots of different people on a variety of projects. No two days in my week are the same and so I never get bored!

Tell us about some really stand-out collaborations or highlights so far?
This summer we worked in partnership with City and Hackney Mind to deliver a herb gardening course, which was really successful. We also did some fun herbal stuff down at the Adidas studio on Brick Lane as well as a couple of festivals teaching people how to get creative with herbs. We are always up for a collaboration as it helps us to raise awareness about the power of herbs!

How do you keep motivated?
I have so much admiration for others around me running social enterprises that create huge impact with very little resources. Seeing other people working in this way really motivates me. The people who I work with in the community and all our partners, supporters and volunteers are what drives me to keep doing what I’m doing.

What are your top 5 everyday herbs for health and why/what they do?
1. Lemon verbena is one of the most fragrant herbs that I grow and makes a lovely tea to have at nightime to help relax and unwind.
2. I like using rosemary essential oil to help me focus and concentrate when I’m working late.
3. Calendula infused oil forms the basis of all my homemade skincare products like lip balms, soaps and creams.
4. In the summer I love picking roses from the garden and putting them in little vases all over the house.
5. Yarrow is an essential herb for anyone who is accident prone. I use it a lot for cuts and scrapes and it forms a crucial element of my herbal first aid kit.

The one herb you couldn’t live without?
I couldn’t like without marigolds (calendula officinalis). It’s such a versatile herb and really easy to grow. As well as being an edible flower we also use it to make an infused oil for skincare products. It’s also just so cheery to look at in the garden with its bright orange flowers!

What do you collect?
As a gardener I have a bit of an obsession with secateurs and garden snips!

Your favourite item in your collection?
My favourite pair is one that was given to my by a dear friend for my birthday, they’re an antique and I still need to get them sharpened!

Where do you call home?
Hackney! Although I feel completely at home when I’m in the countryside, lost in the woods somewhere or exploring.

Favourite places for eating and drinking there?
Hackney has some great food spots; I’m a big fan of Vietnamese food as I spent some time living in Hanoi. Tre Viet on Mare Street is a great spot!

Best green space in the city?
Hackney Marsh is an amazing place to explore and its right on my doorstep!

Describe your perfect Sunday off?
Having a swim at the lido (London Fields) followed by brunch. Pottering in the gardening. Meeting friends for dinner or going to the pub.

If not doing this, where would you be?
I probably would have fled the city and be living in some remote village somewhere or maybe working on a sunny farm.

Who are the guests for your dream dinner party?
The cast of The Good Life. I think watching that at a young age had a lot to do with how I turned out.

What’s one piece of advice you’d tell your younger self?
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember to celebrate achievements along the way and not be too critical of the things that were outside of your control.

One piece of advice for someone wanting a career change or to go out on their own?
Be prepared to work really really hard, but if your are following your dreams and passions this will come naturally. Trust your instincts and believe in yourself!

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