Thirty-two-year-old Princess Cosbert’s story of how, about two years ago, she came to establish an enterprise that is beginning to make its name as a manufacturer of what is commonly referred to in Guyana as ‘bush’ tea (teas brewed from an assortment of leaves, vines, barks, berries and flowers that grow randomly in various parts of the country) is not one that you are likely to forget easily. There is, she says, a connection between the birth of Nature’s Finest, the name under which her herbal teas trade, and her recovery from an illness which almost took her life.
Her story derives from what, about four years ago, was a frantic search for a remedy for what conventional doctors and other healers told her was life-threatening illness, resulting from what she believes was her failure to “look after my health” or to heed the advice of her father, a Herbalist named Winston Cosbert, whose recommendation that she use liquefied herbs regularly was rejected on the grounds that the concoction “tasted bad.”
Princess’ was far from the first instance in which conventional medicines failed to restore good health and in the final analysis it was the sobering realization that whatever was ailing her was gradually taking her life that led her to reach for a herbal remedy. It had been a question of money too. There came a point in time when she realized that the money she had been earning from working as a Cosmetologist – which job, incidentally, she was forced to give up following medical advice that her illness might be linked to the chemicals used in cosmetology – was all being channeled in the direction of medical bills.
Princess believes that, ultimately, she owes her life to following a recommendation from her father that she concoct and consume a potion comprising ‘young’ coconut water, tomato, garlic and parsley and drink the liquid three times a day. Even then she followed the advice only partially, confining herself to a garlic and parsley ‘tea,’ which she boiled and drank. In a week, she says, the weight and hair loss that had been the clearest indicator her failing health began to appear to be in regression.
Thereafter, as far as making a living was concerned, Princess decided to look to the popular but largely undeveloped herbal tea ‘industry.’ She understood that she was attaching herself to a line of business that had already been popularized by folklore and – perhaps more significantly had been, to a considerable extent, embraced by mainstream medicine. She recalled that the ‘bush tea’ healing option was frequently attended by other diet-related recommendations, including in some instances, withdrawal from consuming meat.
Hers is a relatively simple production process of dehydrating the ingredients and afterwards, crumbling what is left to a texture that allows for brewing as tea. That is as much of her ‘trade secret’ that she would leave with us.
Her business, she says, has grown relatively quickly, driven by the personal conviction that derived from its origins and accelerated by the developments in the wider agro-processing sector that have coincided with her emergence as a small manufacturer.
Nature’s Finest, situated at 2166 Farm on the East Coast, Demerara – utilizes about a dozen local bushes, grasses and barks – including Soursop, Lemon grass, Suriname Cherry and Moringa – utilizing the small dehydrator which she has now acquired to aid the process of manufacturing the various mixes of teas now available on the local market.
The marketability of the Nature’s Finest brand has been helped by the historic popularity of what has traditionally been known to Guyanese as Bush Tea…except that these days, Soursop and Lemon grass turn up in high-quality packaging, deserving of a place on the most discriminating of supermarket shelves. Princess credits the GMC’s Guyana Shop not only with displaying and marketing her product on its Robb and Alexander streets premises but also with popularizing the product in various parts of Guyana including Bartica and Parika. Other local supermarkets including Nigel’s, Survival, and the Church Street Chinese outlet, Real Value also stock her teas.
Visions of an enterprise that eventually claims much of the potential market that derives from a traditional local linkage between bush-based beverages and good health are, for the moment at least, kept in check by financial constraints. In the meantime Princess wants to move in the direction of formal research into the healing properties which her teas might have.
There are other challenges to be surmounted too; like financing what she envisages as an ambitious marketing programme in an effort to further enhance the popularity of a product that had once been dismissed as ‘bush tea,’ hopefully to the level of the range of more exotic imports which, these days, are fixtures on local supermarket shelves. Export markets, too, are part of the vision though Princess appears to have both feet on the ground, acutely aware of the demands of the export market including product volumes and of meeting what, these days, are the demanding food safety bars set by the major markets in the metropolis.