Monday, October 31, 2011

HELPS Wellness Teas: Taste and Quality of Herbs

This post is inspired by reading a review of HELPS Teas Organic R&R on Nicole's blog Tea For Me Please. I received a packet of samples from the HELPS brand (owned by the Pharmadus company) at World Tea East. If you want to read my full reviews (I have posted 4 and plan to eventually review all of them), you can read them on RateTea's page on HELPS wellness teas, although frankly, I recommend not reading those reviews and instead just catching the summary in this post:

Nicole was particularly harsh in her review of the R&R (rest and relaxation) tea, but, unfortunately, my reaction to these teas was similar. I haven't posted my review of this specific tea yet, but I've been quite disappointed by the quality of the blends from this company. They range from bland to undrinkable. At $5 for a box of 20 tea bags, such quality is completely unacceptable and is going to spell certain doom for this company in the marketplace.

On the R&R Blend:

Lemon balm is one of my favorite herbs: I drink it frequently, and I know what it tastes like. I've grown it, for years now, harvested it at different times of year, dried it, and brewed herbal tea from both the fresh and dried leaves. You can see a picture of it sprouting in spring of 2010, in my old blog post Four Herbal Teas You May Not Know About.

Passionflower, too, I've sampled on its own, and although it's more "herby", I also find it to have a more-or-less pleasing aroma, and a distinctive one too. Most people I know who have smelled passionflower describe it as strong smelling, but pleasant.

When herbs are bland:

When normally aromatic herbs (like lemon balm and passionflower) don't smell strongly aromatic, it's usually a sign that they're not fresh, and this is often a sign that the active ingredients that would promote relaxation are probably largely lost or decayed as well. Our society unfortunately often creates a strong pressure to drink things because they are "healthy", even if they taste bad. But our senses of taste and smell serve the purpose of ensuring that we only eat what is truly healthy...why ignore the messages that our own bodies and minds are telling us? If our senses tell us that the ingredients are not fresh, chances are, they are not fresh, and will provide little in the way of "health benefits".

This is not to say that all things that are good for us taste great. Some medicinal herbs are strong tasting, bitter, or have aromas that some people find unpleasant. But when you know what an herb tastes like when fresh, as I do with lemon balm and passionflower (and in these two cases, most people generally seem to think they both smell and taste quite pleasant as herbal teas), and your senses are sending you other signals, it's usually a sign that something is wrong.

The "right" ingredients are not good enough:

I think the combination of lemon balm and passionflower for a relaxing medicinal blend of herbs is a sound one in terms of being science-based and also having the potential to taste good. But the Pharmadus company needs to step up their quality control and use better herbs as ingredients if they want to be successful. If you want to drink a blend like this, I would recommend buying these herbs in bulk from a reputable herb company like Mountain Rose Herbs, if you want this sort of blend. Or, better yet, grow these herbs yourself!

I hope this post is not coming across as too harsh to the HELPS brand or Pharmadus company. I always want each company to succeed, and to do so by having a high-quality product. HELPS is obviously doing something right, as they seem to have picked herbs for their medicinal or wellness teas (and not just in this example) that are backed by solid science, and also that have the potential to taste good. But this product is simply not there yet. I recommend for this company to go back and re-think and re-design these products, perhaps starting by sampling herbs provided by other companies that focus on freshness and taste. And let this post also serve as a warning to any company thinking of launching a line of wellness teas...the quality of your ingredients is of paramount importance! People are not going to buy your product just because you tell them that it is healthy.

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