Isabelle Ranger is an herbalist, forager and teacrafter in the Sea to Sky region of British Columbia and is the owner of Namasthé Tea Co. Her diverse French Canadian, Celtic, Scandinavian, Southern Inuit and Native American heritage brings a very unique perspective and depth of knowledge to the world of plants and to the teas she creates. Isabelle began crafting teas for clients while working as an herbalist in Mt. Currie in 2000 and went on to create Namasthé Tea Co. in 2007. Isabelle and her partner Cédric work together to handcraft small batch teas and tisanes, many of which include wild foraged ingredients they gather with great care and respect in the forests, mountain meadows and bogs of British Columbia.
I was immediately drawn to her teas the first time I tried them and intrigued by her deep connection with plants. After following along on social media and drinking her tea for many years, I was delighted to finally meet Isabelle this past winter. So I was just a little excited to be able to head out foraging with Isabelle and Cédric early this summer (on a very hot day) to get a glimpse into the work they do and experience the magic of the bog and forest with new eyes. It amazes me how so many of the plants and ‘weeds’ that surround us are powerful medicines. Seeing the natural environment from the eyes of those who are intimately connected to the land also makes me realize how disconnected I am from the world of wild plants and plant medicines and how I long for a deeper connection with the plant allies that surround us. I was deeply humbled by Isabelle’s depth of knowledge and her reverence and intuitive connection to the plants. She is connecting, taking only what she needs and tending to the plants in such a way that they will thrive for generations to come. If only we all shared such a kinship and cared for the natural world with such care and integrity.
After adventuring out with Isabelle and Cédric, I will cherish every cup of their tea even more deeply after seeing the thought, care and energy that goes into crafting every batch. Tea for me is a ritual, an opportunity to slow down and take some time for myself. It is a simple yet profound form of self-care. I love the diversity in teas and tisanes and the significant influence they can have on the body, mind and spirit. It is a beautiful thing to be able cultivate a particular feeling in the body and mind with the type of tea you choose to blend and brew. A spicy cup of chai in the morning for a little energy and digestive fire and a calming cup of chamomile to relax before bed is perfect medicine to me. Feel free to put on the kettle, make yourself a cup of tea and settle in to learn a little more about Isabelle and Namasthé Tea Co. in the interview below.
Interview with Isabelle
Tell me about your journey to becoming an herbalist and your decision to dedicate your life’s work to working with plants as medicine. Where did your deep love of plants come from and in particular your love of tea and tisanes?
Plants called to me early on as a child. I was fascinated by folk and wise women who knew more about plants around us and how to use them for ailments. Others called them ” vieux remède de Grand-mère” but something resonated with me and I wanted to learn more. Milkweed latex for warts was one of the first a woman at camp taught me.Then wintergreen berries was to some a sure poison yet a delight to others, so i tried some and was amazed! Then I started questioning the validity of the fears, unknowns and when we strayed off the wild path as humans. I was drawn to the Celtic mysteries, occult and shamanic as a teen as well. My room was a real jungle of plants and I carried crystals in a medicine pouch on me each day at school. Then at 18 I moved to Whistler to skateboard and snowboard, my other passions. I was reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and was so drawn to the rich west coast plant life. The plants were calling and I wanted to learn their language, know them all and how to use them. I discovered the coolest book The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody and my mind was blown away that all these weeds were in fact very medicinal and their applications countless. I had found my calling at 18. I did not know it was even a possible as a path but knew deep down that was what I would dedicate my life to learning and sharing. I wanted to start a small company making salves for skateboard injuries. The original product was called “Heal All.”
Then I started learning survival foraging, body work, energy work, essential oils, doula and had my own first home birth in 1998 and then I studied herbalism. I was pregnant at 22 and learned a lot and put many herbal remedies to practice during my pregnancy. A special tisane for anemia made by Hope at the Herbal Sanctuary in Vancouver, made of nettles, burdock, yellow dock and rose hips saved me during pregnancy. My midwife had found that my hemoglobin was so low at 99 and needed to be at least 108 for a home birth. Within a week that tea did it by sipping 3 cups a day. I was blown away by what a simple remedy did in a week, what iron supplements for 7 months could not. My body simply did not absorb them whereas it knew herbs at a cellular level. I delved deeper into herbal medicine books and ancient lore.
I went to Langara for a 3 year consultant herbalist course taught by Don Ollsin and Rowan Hamilton. We learned more foraging, plant attunements, pathophysiology, materia medica and consulting amongst other skills. I started making tinctures and selling them to classmates and helping them out as I had a knack for it all. Then my teacher suggested we start an herbal school together on Saltspring Island where he would teach and I would run the apothecary and blending. Well life has its own plans and I moved back up to the mountains from my short few years in Vancouver studying. I opened my apothecary in Mt.Currie in 2000.
We had a co-op of wild women working there on our respective paths. Joanne Gerard started The Healing Cuisine and went on to become Gisele Bündchen and Tom Brady’s personal raw food chef and teach classes. Shelby Reid was studying TCM and offered Tui Na and acupuncture treatments and now runs a clinic on West 4th Ave in Vancouver. Michelle Fulford, an amazing woman made some amazing buddha bowls and bannock and started studying herbalism, music and RMT. I was finishing herbalism school, foraging and blending teas. I starting a foraging network, buying local botanicals from folks around Mt.Currie. I was healing myself through ceremonies with Lil’wat friends who were preparing for Sundances. Maxine Joe was a student of Morgan Wells and working in the apothecary part time. It was a magical time in our twenties learning, healing, growing and sharing.
What do you love most about your work?
Foraging out of the forests, bogs and meadows is my favorite. Blending these into tisanes, teas and remedies and then sharing these fabulous concoctions is what I love most.
Why is it important to you to use locally foraged ingredients in your teas? What inspires you most about foraging in the Sea to Sky region?
Commercial grade botanicals are often okay but never as potent and fresh as locally foraged. You get the deep connection to the plants, their environment and their medicine from foraged herbs that you cannot get from commercial dried herbs. It is like communion and awakens a dormant part of us inside that has been handed down for generations. You can select and harvest the botanical first by asking its permission, then with care to take only what you need and can process to receive the medicine. It is an ancient healing ritual that is often not taught in books and herbalism courses. It’s teaching reverence and attention to detail and builds a relationship with plant allies that are powerful and last a lifetime. Lifelong companions.
In what place do you feel the strongest connection to nature and to yourself?
The lush forests, mountain meadows and bogs around the sea to sky are sacred and beautiful. Every moment I am in awe and wonderment of the whole. This inspires me so much and I get many ideas while foraging with my life partner Cédric. He is just as passionate and loves to make medicinal beers with these. Showing our children how to forage is also a deep inspiration. They are the perfect height to see and train their minds to spot mushrooms and plants and to learn to respect nature and only take what they are certain is safe.
The bog is a power place of connection to my ancestral Labradorian Inuit roots and some of my all time favorite botanicals and berries reside in the wise sensitive bogs. The moss carpeted forests are also so magical in the mountains, straight out of a Tolkien scene. I am at home amongst plants everywhere.
Where do you find inspiration when creating new tea/tisane blends? What does your creative process look like?
My creativity is connected with the moon cycles, astrological cycles and the cycles of plants. My extensive library of old books at home also inspire old new ideas and experimentations. As I delve into medicinal information of an old plant ally, new layers peel back and I get so excited to share this. I also love ethnobotany, stories, language and latin. The blends come to me or the plants call out to me. It is all intuitive.
Like art I just flow and create and then fine tune the details in small batches, then cup it to adjust if need be. Our team cups many herbs and teas each week. This helps develop our palate, nose and appreciation for their unique aroma and taste profile. We eat a lot of wild plants out there foraging as well. Then it is making them palatable to folk as some do not like the medicinal taste of astringents and bitters unless in beers.
You seem to have a particular affinity with Tulsi, as it shows up in many of your tea blends. What is it about this herb in particular that you love?
Tulsi is an adaptogen which only a few select plant are which means they help you adapt to physical and mental stress. It is also an immune stimulant, digestive, radio protective, blood sugar regulator, cholesterol balancer, protects the heart, antioxidant, helps fights cancer, great for skin and the list is long. So many reasons to love Tulsi! It is sacred and rightfully so as Holy Basil is revered and has been used medicinally in India for millennia. I studied in part Ayurveda in school and a seminar with Vasant Lad. I also practice yoga including Jyotisha, Sanskrit and philosophies for years. Tulsi Devi is said to purify the space surrounding it and we have been growing it in Pemberton and saving their seeds for over 7 years. The bees also love Tulsi and will go to her above any other plants and it is amazing to see. It holds a special spiritual space in our hearts and many of our teas.
What is the feeling you most want people to experience when they drink your teas? What are you hoping to communicate through your teas?
I want people to feel deeply nourished, cozy and soothed from our teas. Deep sense of well being or Hygge. They act on so many levels from emotions, mind, body and spirit. Their actions work on many body systems to gently and efficiently promote well being.
How have plants played a role in your own health journey?
Plants as food and medicine are vital to my daily life. My health journey is an on going ritual where my skin is my barometer of life, stress and diet and plants are my teachers. I always have to keep plants close by. I am sensitive to many chemicals, perfumes and cleaning products which is why we never use ” natural flavour” because they mimic nature even if they are lab made and I am allergic to them. As above with the anemia tea they are instrumental and vital to my daily well being. I drink tea everyday and eve. It is a constant in my life.
Wildcrafting is an ancient practice that requires tapping into the wisdom of plants. How has working with plants in this way helped you to trust your own inner wisdom and knowing? What is the most important lesson you have learned from nature and plants in particular?
Plants can teach us much if we slow down, trust and intuitively connect with them. We learnt shamanic plant attunements but anyone can practice to just hug a tree and communicate with plants. They talk back in many ways if you tune in. Our bodies know what we need and plants have evolved alongside us for millennia, so our bodies know these well. They must be respected as some can kill you, poison you and make you ill so proper ID and education are key. But the ones we all truly need are the easily identified weeds from the waysides that are potent but gentle like dandelion, burdock, chamomile, nettles, roses, plantain, yarrow, oatstraw, mints and so on. Start there in your garden, grow a plant that calls out to you. They always come to us when we need them and often we just don’t listen, see or hear them. Pay attention and try to see what they are trying to teach you. We all have an ancient heritage of working with plants and so reawaken your senses and start working with them. Your inner knowing will grow with practice then you will begin trusting.
Plants are life. They make the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat, the nectar for the pollinators, food for animals, the wood for our housing, many fibers for our clothing, grains for distilling and medicines for health. They are of the greatest service to all living beings and great teachers of selflessness.
Home kitchens are foundational to health and wellbeing. How do you use food as a tool for wellbeing in your daily life?
Food is my medicine and medicine is my food. They are one. It all starts in the kitchen and simply working with culinary herbs can be a great place to start. All these culinary powerhouses are tried and tested not just for taste but medicine as well. That is why they are such a part of every cuisine.
A big thank you to Isabelle and Cédric for taking me out and sharing their passion with me. Amazing to see the work they have carved out for themselves. While it is very hard work, it is pretty beautiful to call the forests, bogs and meadows of B.C. your office. A recipe for cattail and cucumber salad with cabin tea infused vinaigrette inspired by my day with Isabelle and Cédric can be found here.