When I worked at the Botanical Garden, I would often pass through the giftshop to look at the books… and teas. I would often leave with a box of Inuit herbal teas called “Northern Delights”. These were a staple to my tea collection and became usual gifts for friends and family. What I loved about these teas was that they were made from wild plants harvested in Nunavik, the Northern part of Quebec, by Inuit communities. Well, last week, I got to meet with Jeannie Oh at Avataq and she gave me a much broader and larger appreciation for these little tea bags. Let me take you with me!
First, it’s important to know that the herbal teas are actually the tip of the iceberg of a much broader project. In fact, Northern Delights Inuit Herbal Tea is produced by Avataq Cultural Institute, an Inuit owned non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and advancement of the language, culture and identity of the Inuit of Nunavik.
Among many of Avataq’s projects was one that documented all the wild plants that were used in traditional Inuit medicine. Through this project, several trilingual plant guides were published, and they explained the different uses for the great variety of plants that can be found in this northern region. Flash forward a few years later, and the idea of creating a commercial Inuit herbal tea product that draw upon the knowledge of Inuit Elders that featuring Nunavik wild plants were born.
The goal of the Inuit herbal tea product is to provide an opportunity for the Southerners in knowing, sharing, enjoying and enriching their discovery of Inuit culture and heritage. All profit generated from the sales of the herbal tea goes back to assisting Avataq in operating the cultural programs. The project also hired local Nunavimmiut (the people of Nunavik) in harvesting and drying the traditionally used plants to make the herbal teas. Five plants were selected and this is the birth of the Northern Delights Inuit herbal teas. Let me take you through each of these wonderful blends.
The Labrador tea blend is rich and very relaxing. This plant is rich in vitamin C and was traditionally used for breathing problems and as a general health booster. It’s incredible to think that such a modest and common plant has wonderful properties.
The Cloudberry tea blend is quite energizing and was traditionally used a tonic. This plant has a rich and layered flavour that is soothing and energizing at the same time. I love to drink this tea when I’m studying or correcting because it really helps me sustain my work.
The Ground Juniper blend is my favourite. Juniper is quite an intense plant with a complex aroma that changes in intensity as you drink it. It has quite a distinctive flavour that can remind you of a soft mint or light bergamot. I love to drink this when I’m working on something complex because I feel like it helps me focus and stay on task.
The Crowberry blend has the most amazing violet colour which goes great with its crisp flavour. I love to make this as an iced tea during the warmer months because of it’s beautiful colour. Its flavour is very fruity and reminds me a little of blueberries or jam.
Finally, the Arctic blend feature Small Labrador Tea is the spiciest of them all and will please cinnamon lovers. This is the perfect herbal tea for a cold Fall evening spent sharing stories.
I love that each one of these blends features plants that are used in the traditional Inuit herb lore. It is so important to preserve and promote this knowledge in every culture as it holds so much history and possible solutions. Another thing that is great about the teas is that because they are Avataq’s baby, they are made with a desire to involve and give opportunities to the Inuit communities. Each batch of tea is harvested by hand and dried by the local community, and the transformation process is closely overseen by Avataq to ensure that it respects fair trade and equity principles.