A cup of herbal tea: the tonic to better mental health

Health and Well-being
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10 years ago Nat Mady was working as a structural engineer and dabbling in gardening as a hobby. “I joined the local community gardens as I was living in a flat and didn’t have a garden,” she recalls. “Through that I saw the benefits those spaces provide for people living in urban areas.”

This triggered a process that would send Mady down a whole new avenue both personally and professionally. Several years down the line she co-founded Hackney Herbal, a social enterprise specialising in creative events which explore the beneficial uses of herbs, as well as promoting mental health and wellbeing within the local community.

Mady had seen up close the benefits of working with plants and wanted to pass this on. “I was not enjoying my work and feeling quite depressed,” she says.  “I also had a nasty bike accident and when I was getting over that the garden was a place that I felt safe – it really helped me in getting better. Plus, you could really see how people change when they get into a garden. It changed my whole career path and had a huge impact on me.”

Starting in 2015, the company set out on a mission to show people how to incorporate herbs into their lifestyles for health and improved wellbeing, as well to create more value out of the herbs that were being grown in private, public and community gardens. With support from Power to Change and utilising multiple sites they now have around Hackney, they create and sell unique herbal tea blends.

The money raised from selling these then goes towards free community activities. These events and activities have included: Herbal Craft courses at the Centre for Better Health, training and education, and community workshops for both adults and children.

The impact on people has been multifaceted, from providing people with skills and knowledge to do things independently, to creating friendship groups and providing a place of solace for people with varying health issues. “A lot of our referral pathways are focused around mental health, as well as social prescribers, so it’s people who maybe don’t have much of a social network or are feeling isolated,” she says. “Even setting up a WhatsApp group for people has created real peer support – giving them a way to connect over shared interests outside of the sessions we run.”

Even COVID has provided some unexpected benefits on top of all the obvious difficulties. “We were worried about doing things online,” says Mady. “It’s the complete opposite of what we try do but it’s been really nice because some people who may face barriers getting up and out of the house have been able to participate. We’ve been able to support people locally by delivering material kits and running Zoom sessions. Because it’s so focused on the local community, if someone has no interest in going online then we’ve been able to cycle over to them and have a doorstep chat for half an hour.”

However, this hyper-local community project has managed to travel even further to touch people’s lives during lockdown. “We’ve had people from all over the world join us on Zoom sometimes,” says Mady. “That’s been really nice, it feels like our community has expanded even further, and so moving forward into the future we’re going to continue doing things online on top of outdoors and in-person activities.”

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