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Consulting the tea leaves: The Secret Garden offers up magic potions that taste good and do a body good 

"The Tea Lady” Kirstin Sherritt lives two remarkable lives: Her waking hours are spent alchemizing healing herbal remedies at her lush, open-air tea and herb shop, nestled along bubbling San Luis Obispo Creek. Then, there’s her nocturnal life.

When Sherritt dreams, the greenery of her world melts into a vivid, sunset-streaked kaleidoscope of sienna, crimson, and gold. She soars through time and space on the wings of a hawk, her totem animal.

If lucid dreams are what you seek, I suggest visiting Sherritt at her little tea shop, aptly named The Secret Garden. There, you’ll find the craftswoman working among rows of mystical glass mason jars filled with loose leaf tea, herbs, and spices. I sat down with her on a windy afternoon in the garden. Refreshed by the crisp breeze, she divulged a few of her most exciting concoctions. As I came to find out, each jar represents countless hours of experimentation and loving care. 

click to enlarge THE ALCHEMIST:  The Secret Garden Owner Kirstin Sherritt sells remarkable all-natural teas, herbs, and spices out of her open-air shop near SLO Creek. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS
  • PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS
  • THE ALCHEMIST: The Secret Garden Owner Kirstin Sherritt sells remarkable all-natural teas, herbs, and spices out of her open-air shop near SLO Creek.

The “When Sunbeams Find You” blend is a fitting example of Sherritt’s quest for healthy, delicious, hard-working concoctions. An earthy, floral mixture, the tea promotes restful sleep, more colorful dreams, and blood purification. Inside the glass jar you’ll find a universe of pasture alfalfa, ashwagandha (good for stress support), mugwort, California poppy, rose, lavender, and mace (the outer shell of the nutmeg pod), among other natural ingredients. SLO’s “Tea Lady” boasts more than a dozen years of nutritional and herb-focused study.

“I’m always deepening my craft, and I am inspired by what my customers are asking for,” Sherritt said. “Right now, people are stressed out and anxious, and they can’t sleep. The cool thing about herbs is that each has a primary function as well as secondary. With both its sedative and blood purifying properties, this tea really takes care of you over night. I also blended this tea to protect your dream spirit, so that if you’re an outrageous dreamer like myself, you can hang in and be able to enjoy your dreams more and glean the wisdom that your subconscious is telling you.”

Each tea has its own “secret element,” or “third property,” and although Sherritt’s customers don’t always know about this level of care she puts into the product, it’s there.

“That’s what people are always coming back for, even if they don’t realize it,” she said. “There are so many layers to making true holistic tea.”

click to enlarge THE GREEN LIFE:  At The Secret Garden, herbs, spices, and teas are blended together to create delicious remedies that soothe, energize, and inspire. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SECRET GARDEN
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SECRET GARDEN
  • THE GREEN LIFE: At The Secret Garden, herbs, spices, and teas are blended together to create delicious remedies that soothe, energize, and inspire.

As you may have garnered, The Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop is so much more than a “tea shop.” Upon walking through the twisting iron gate, you’ll smell the scent of fresh cut flowers brought by one of Sherritt’s many friends (they’re always bringing her flowers or some other trinket to add to the garden). A loyal customer recently helped patch up the roof.

“The garden has this positive vibe and people get inspired and feel good about the garden,” Sherritt said. “It’s amazing the kind of love and generosity it inspires in people.”

In the garden, the sun cuts through bright green foliage, warming the very marrow in your bones. Whether you’re sleepless, lethargic, achy, or just looking for a delicious cup of earl grey crème, Sherritt has a jar with your name on it. The shop has been serving local folks for 11 years, moving from its original Garden Street location to its, more secluded spot in 2009.

The locales may have changed, but Sherritt’s teas are always pure, organic, sustainably sourced, and in some cases, wild harvested. They come from all over the world, and it’s Sherritt’s job to curate the very best for her loyal customers.

“I juggle about 10 mom-and-pop distributors that travel the world and make their own relationships with farmers and cooperatives,” Sherritt said. “One company may have the best sarsaparilla, while another has the most brilliant, bright red, fragrant rose petals. It’s surprising to many to know where some of the most common herbs are best grown.”

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SECRET GARDEN
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SECRET GARDEN

For example, Sherritt sources her chamomile from Egypt, where the flower buds grow up to four times the size of those found anywhere else. Needless to say, her 400-jar inventory is expansive and truly top-notch. That means you won’t find a “back room” with old teas that have gathered dust on a shelf.

“Nothing’s been sitting in bags or boxes,” Sherritt said. “The tea has basically made the journey from the source to the jar to your home, giving it a much longer shelf life. Tea never goes bad, but it does lose essence and vitality.”

Every month, Sherritt replenishes her entire tea stock with a fresh supply. Popular teas (black, green, and chai, for example) are always available, but much like certain wine vintages, each batch is a finite resource that echoes the growing conditions in its country of origin. It’s “tea with terroir,” if you will. Think about that next time you dunk a mass-produced mystery bag into your mug.

In comparison, Sherritt’s teas are bolder and brighter, with more fragrance and flavor.

“Tea is sensual; the first thing you see is the vitality of it. Even though tea is dried, you can see the care that has been taken from seed through harvest through processing,” Sherritt said. “The cut is important too, and I am super picky about that.”

The shop offers a rotating list of new and interesting tea offerings (she loves stumbling onto something different and exciting), an ever-changing list of hand-crafted combinations, and culinary herbs, as well as essential oils, tea-making accessories, and locally sourced natural products, including All Good balms and salves. The way Sherritt sees it, she’ll be there in the garden as long as folks need her.

- TEA TERROIR AT YOUR FINGERTIPS:  The Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop is located at 740 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo. For more information, call 544-4372 or visit organicherbshop.com. -
  • TEA TERROIR AT YOUR FINGERTIPS: The Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop is located at 740 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo. For more information, call 544-4372 or visit organicherbshop.com.

But before you go calling her a “healer,” take a good look at the dried plants she works with. If you ask her, these are the true healers of the world, and they deserve most of the credit. Sherritt just makes the fragrant formulations more delicious and—most importantly—accessible to everyday people.

“Healing, for me, has never been a disciplinary, regimented way of thinking. For me, it’s about creating potent, cleansing herbs that are flavorful, fun, and tasty,” Sherritt said. “I really believe that if you are drinking something for a remedy purpose, it should taste good. I want it to have some variety, and I want it to satisfy. This way, you’ll want to drink them every day.” 

Hayley Thomas is still searching for her totem animal at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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