Sebastian Pole of Pukka Herbs in Bristol
"We have always been 100% certified organic with the Soil Association because we felt strongly that we did not want to try and improve people's health but damage the planet's in the process. So an organic business was the only way."
Pukka Herbs was set up to provide delicious tasting and healthy organic teas and herbal remedies. With their roots firmly embedded in the wisdom of Ayurveda, organic principles and the environmental movement, Sebastian and his business partner Tim Westwell started the business in 2001. Since then Pukka Herbs has flourished and now has 24 teas, 25 staff and distributes across Europe. Sebastian formulates all of the teas to be both delicious and effective and regularly visits the growing partners they work with. Pukka Herbs has won many awards including Best New Organic Product in 2010.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
After I qualified as herbalist in 1995 I wanted to prescribe good quality organic Ayurvedic herbs to my clients. And I couldn’t, because there weren’t any around. I also loved a cup of herbal tea and was just not impressed with much of what was available to drink (remember those heady days of 'fruit' teas back in the early '90s?). So, after meeting up with my business partner and commercial brains, Tim Westwell, we launched Pukka Herbs in Bristol to meet these needs. We have always been 100% certified organic with the Soil Association because we felt strongly that we did not want to try and improve people's health but damage the planet's in the process. So an organic business was the only way. Organic farming improves everyone's health; the soil's, the water's, the air's, the animals', the people's; the whole ecosystem's. It's what Pukka Herbs is all about.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Turn off alarm, open eyes, hug wife, shower, drink cup of Three Ginger tea, settle into some yoga (briefly), eat porridge, do the school run, arrive at work. That is as typical as my day gets. I go into Pukka Herbs three days a week, work from home for one day and run my herb clinic in Bath for another. I also have to travel a lot and am lucky to have this variety in my week and life.
When I go to Pukka there is instantly more herbal tea on arrival. Then I look at the herb samples that arrived the day before. This is one of the best bits in my job; seeing, smelling, tasting and touching the herbs we buy. There is then usually a plethora of meetings with our quality control team, sourcing manager and supply chain. I hate missing lunch and so usually have some soup to keep my belly and brain going for the rest of the day. The afternoon often requires me to taste some of our recent herbal tea batches (another perk of the job). I often have to write an article or prepare a lecture and try and do this from home. As I manage the technical side of the products we source and sell I do a lot of 'deep-herbal-research' work on the species, which I love. This also means that I have to get help from the other technical people at Pukka; our herbalist, quality manager and agronomist who are an immense help and play a big part in what we achieve in deepening relations with growers and the knowledge of the plants we buy.
I have to answer questions from customers and I am consistently heartened that so many people want to find a more natural and empowering way to look after themselves and their families. There is a deep urge in society for our lives to be more sustainable; herbal medicine and organic farming offer the potential for this to happen. I love Pukka Herbs being a symbol of this and offering support to people who want this in their lives
I then go home and relax.
Organic principles: why do they matter?
Why does air matter? If we don't have it we die. If we don't follow the central organic principle of giving back what we take then we will perish. In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of living, rejuvenating our health is at the heart of a healthy and fulfilled life. Organic principles follow this very same path as organic farming rejuvenates and brings renewed life to the land, the individual and the community as a whole.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
The Soil Association is the symbol and embodiment of organic integrity. They force us to be a better company by checking, asking us questions and auditing us. The Soil Association is my hope that a small group of people can help change the world, literally from the grassroots upwards.
What is your greatest achievement?
Apart from qualifying as a herbalist it has to be helping to make Pukka Herbs a success, a company with a high achieving team of staff and based on the principles of sustainability, health and ecological well-being.
What's your vision for the future?
Well it's definitely more organic. It's a world where organic is the norm in food, health and clothing. It's a world where health prevention rather than health emergency is integrated in our very social fibre. A world that is centered in respecting nature and that gives individuals the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
How can the organic market be improved?
With education; that organic food and products are actually the best value in terms of nutritional, sensual and ecological experience.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To follow your dreams.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
The organic community is my biggest inspiration. It's full of passionate and committed people wanting to make our world a better place, and actually making it happen.
What is the biggest threat to what you do?
What do you love most about what you do?
Growing lots of organic herbs that connect poor farmers with our customers through delicious cups of tea and healthful herbal solutions.
What is the key to your success?
Enthusiasm, vision and always trying to improve.
What do you find most frustrating about what you do?
European legislation and the limits it imposes on promoting natural health.
If I was Prime Minister I would...
Integrate traditional herbal medicine within our healthcare system and initiate organic growing of herbs in the UK and across Europe. This would rejuvenate farming, improve health and empower individuals to take care of their own health choices.
The world would be a better place if...
Businesses run with ecological principles were supported by government. And if we can find a sustainable source of 'clean' energy.
I'd like to be remembered for...
Helping more people to understand how to use organic herbal medicines to help them and their families have better health.
What is your favourite word?
'Pukka', I just love the sound. And it means something that is ripe, real and true. Just how I like my life to be.
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
Sharing some of our Chamomile and Vanilla tea with my wife.
To find out more about Pukka Herbs visit www.pukkaherbs.com.