Artisanal LA has become a proving ground for food and drink related concepts that demonstrate a commitment to local, sustainable and handmade philosophy. From April 16 – 17, event organizer Shawna Dawson gathered more than 90 vendors in a vacant space on the top floor of Santa Monica Place. Attendees got their first tastes from tenants at The Market, a 45,000-square-foot, multiple booth venue that opens on May 20, and several other concepts could easily achieve breakout status as well. Each artisan has a story, and we have eight tales to tell, including an herbalist.
King’s Road Apothecary Rebecca Altman has been working as an herbalist for three years and chose Artisanal LA to debut her line of teas, elixirs, tinctures and salves. Many of the herbs she uses are “wildcrafted” in Southern California and she develops formulas in her “little workshop, with the help of some magic elves.”
You locally source ingredients?
Yeah. About 90% are locally sourced. I spend a lot of my time hiking, and gathering herbs, and I’ll drive up to about 150 miles to get something, and then the things that aren’t local – I have herbalist friends all over the country, so we’ll send things to each other.
What’s an example of a recent sojourn that you took, and what did you find?
My herbes de California mix. It’s like herbes de Provence, it’s really popular, and I use this because I prefer the taste of it.
What are some of the herbs?
It’s got black sage and white sage, both of which grow locally in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s got monarda; it’s called bee balm, the’s the colloquial term for it. It grows in one mountain range in California, at the eastern end of the Mojave Desert, so I drive there to gather it. It’s got rose petals from the local wild roses, and it’s delicious.
What would you use herbes de California for?
I use it on poultry, actually, on all meat. I made lamb chops with it a few days ago. It’s heavenly.
As far as developing the different teas, what was your thinking?
They’re medicinal teas, so I use herbs that are effective for whatever it is that’s needed, and then depending on which one, I’ll add things to make it taste better.
What about Concentration Tea? That helps you focus?
Yeah, it really helps you focus. There’s gota kola and rosemary, both of which increase circulation to the brain. All of these things have clinical trials that show that they work as well, and I’ve been using them for quite a few years now on clients, so they’re very effective. It’s gentle. When you take a Vicodin and a couple hours later you feel like you’ve been knocked out. None of these things are going to knock you out. Well, valerian would knock you out, but for the most part, it’s not like you’re getting hit over the head with a brick. It’s a very gentle thing. Rose elixir, when people take it, I think most people, when they take it, you can see people go, “Oh.” It’s like they visibly relax and their eyes kind of change a bit. So you can tell it has a definite affect.
What would you like to see happen with the company?
I’d like a little herb shop, a little community herb shop that isn’t like – you know those dinky health food stores that smell like granola – I don’t want it to be like that. I want it to be somewhere where people are comfortable saying, “I’ve got this on my arm, look at this.” Or “My son’s got the flu,” and I can whip up a formula and send them home. I guess people used to get treated by the village herbalist, except we don’t really have villages anymore, but I wouldn’t mind having something like that again, where people feel comfortable going when they don’t want to go see a doctor and be given antibiotics. I’m not against – I mean I use a western doctor – but there are certain things that I can do as well. It would nice if there was something like that in our community.
As far as what’s edible, you have the herbs de California, you have the teas…
…the elixirs are all ingestible. They’re medicinal, but they’re delicious.
How do you take them?
I take them straight. They’re made with a mixture of brandy and honey, so they’re delicious. Kids take them; they just put them in hot water to evaporate the alcohol, and it’s a really small amount. They’re really good, so I just take them straight, but kids take them in hot water.
Earlier, you were discussing the provenance of herbs…
I find it hard to believe that with all these designer herbs that you find in health food stores. There’s noni from Tahiti and there’s schizandra from China, and a lot of them are amazing, but I find it very hard to believe that God put all of the good herbs in China and said, “Ha, ha, ha, they’re going to have to wait ‘til globalization until they get the benefits.” That’s not the case. We have so many valuable herbs in our local area. When you think about evolution – I don’t know how evolution works or not, I’m not an evolutionary biologist – but before doctors had tests, there were medicine people who used the plants they had locally and cured people of a lot of things. That’s what I do.