High Garden Tea, Not Your Ordinary Tea Shop
By: Jessica Ivy Hunt
Photo: Jessica Ivy Hunt
Just off of Fatherland Street in East Nashville you’ll find a Harry Potter land called High Garden Tea. The door doesn’t even have time to fully close before your realize you’re not inside a typical tea shop complete with pretty dishes, crumpets and fruity tea flavors.
Sage fills the air. Silvery-gray bundles sit around for sale throughout the store. Vials of honey are for sale. Empty glass vials are for sale too. Scents of honey, lavender and cinnamon linger. Father John Misty’s song, Strange Encounter, plays low in the background. The song fits the esoteric environment of herbology.
Hand labeled alphabetized mason jars line up across wooden shelves. Along one wall inside the jars are dried plants and herbal supplements. You might not find Amortentia, the most powerful love potion in the world, according to J.K. Rowling. Though you will discover ingredient upon ingredient. You might find just what you need to create the love potion.
In the shop, secrets to ailments await. The issues people face, like afternoon lows can be remedied here. Boosts of energy, shots of stamina and aphrodisiacs are waiting on someone to buy them. Vitex, Rose Hips, Maca, Saffron, Ginseng and Ylang Ylang. The list goes on. Under each label the health benefits are present.
A wooden picnic table that looks like it belongs on the forest floor sits centered right in front of the dark wooden shelving. A scale sits on top of the table. Customers are free to scroll through the library of herbs. They can pull them down off the shelves, measure and weigh or they can ask for assistance.
On the other side of the store more wooden shelving holds mason jars full of tea grains. Very similar to what’s on the other side of the store. Except a tree root and trunk comes from the bottom of the shelving.
Two more picnic tables linked together in the center of the room. They remain empty in the early parts of the week, but on weekends the tables fill by midday. The sun’s beams barrel through the open window. It creates an enchanted forest look.
The teas inside the mason jars are recipes created in store. Hangover Cure, Muscle Ease or the Warrior Blend. These could be considered Pepper-Up Potions also known as magical restoratives in the book of Harry Potter.
The owner and herbologist Leah Larabell created the East, Nashville famous teas. Her husband Joel did all of the carpentry work inside. If you catch Leah in store, you’re likely to find her perched over by the picnic table. She’s usually explaining the benefits of specific plants to customers while crushing, tossing and packaging herbs.
When Leah was a girl she encountered chronic urinary system infections, which led her on a search for alternative methods of treatment. While on the lookout for something other than antibiotics she found Pipsissawa, a Native American woman who would be the answer to her prayers.
“I found an amazing Native American woman, Pipsissawa, who showed me several plants that are made into a tea and drank regularly to prevent urinary issues as well as battle any bacteria if present. I was so amazing and excited about the obvious difference it made in my life, I began studying under her and have not stopped since.”
She grew up in Cowan, Tennessee. The town meets the foothills of the Sewanee Mountain. Appalachian folk who took the traditional herbalist path live all around. Growing up in the environment eased Leah into taking the plant approach. Turns out the humble plant solved her chronic issue.
Leah, petite and spirited encountered a tall guy named Joel Larabell during a back yard cookout years ago. The two would eventually marry. Hence, where she picked up the last name Larabell.
The couple had a lot in common from the start. He held an immense appreciation for teas and the fact that he was from “God’s country” made him a sure sell to, Leah. He understood her love for nature and plants. A love spell between Joel, Leah and nature would soon develop.
Joel, raised in Boyne City, didn’t spend all of his time there. Throughout his childhood his family did a lot of mission work around the world. In the midst of these travels Joel found a love for tea and the unity it brings.
After dating for some time the couple joined in matrimony. They brought their ideas and dreams together. The tea apothecary in East Nashville bloomed.
“High Garden is intended to represent the level of which we respect the plant family.
We hold them to the highest regard in all ways.”
Aside from their passion for nature and creating teas and tonics the owners showcase some other entrancing pieces and people in store. A wooden spoon the size of a grown man’s face hangs from a nail. Underneath, another jar full of wooden spoons and some knives sit.
Joel, an avid spoon carver, takes responsibility for carving all the spoons lying around. He wears his hair in a center-parted ponytail. Two strands hang in his face; long and dirty blonde. His smile; warm like sunshine. He grins eager to help with any question. He expressed the importance of preserving your wooden spoons.
“You should clean your spoons with lend seed oil.”
Joel laughed and mentioned he makes several spoons a week. Eventually he would like to conduct spoon-carving classes. His spoons are sold for $10 a piece in the store.
Anyone intrigued by carpentry or woodcarving, as an art should step into the store. High Garden could be considered a showroom of Joel’s fine skills. He constructed the shelving, the tree bark cashiers counter and the trees on the inside of the store.
Joel and Leah don’t run the store alone. They have a few employees who work for them when they are gathering plants at the farm or working on their newest extension. However in order to work for them one must acquire a unique skill. It takes more than the ability to make tea to work for the powerful nature couple.
A native Pennsylvanian and employee to High Garden, Wes Wojtowica, extracts mushrooms and carves into some. Extracting means turning the mushroom into powder. The Tennessee mushroom powder can be purchased in store. Another oddity sitting around would be the Tennessee mushroom carved by Wes. It goes for $80.
Wes shared that when he isn’t in the store he is out at the farm finding, picking and extracting mushrooms. He picked up the mushroom carving craft when he realized there were some mushrooms he didn’t want to eat or extract.
Not everything lays around for sale. Some things hang. Look up above the shelving and over the shop. Twenty or so dream catchers the size of a hand’s palm hangs. Leah makes those when she isn’t studying herbs.
Another employee, quiet and reserved with a light complexion opened up about her hobby. Krista Kazmerzic, shared her story of learning to ferment vegetables. She started by making Kombucha, a beverage produced by fermenting yeast and bacteria with fruits, vegetables and tea.
“I just had so many vegetables on my farm and I didn’t know what to do with them so I started making Kombucha. I had cabbage, rutabaga and squash and I just started doing it. It’s what I’m good at.”
Most of the products created by the employees including a whole slew of other ingredients can be purchased at High Garden. Maybe there aren’t any Peppermint Toads or Pumpkin Pasties, but there are some Snicker doodle cookies in a jar next to the checkout counter.
“I’ll run to Kroger and pick up some more of those cookies.”
The one employee who claimed not to have any special skill set spilled the beans on the cookies. She routinely picks them up at Kroger. They aren’t homemade. Joel and Leah didn’t have their hands on them in any way. Nothing mystical about those cookies, but they are really good with a cup of hot tea. You can get five for $1. A package of the snicker doodle cookies go for that price at Kroger but if you buy them there you wont experience the same obscure afternoon tea.
The owners and the employees of the teashop expose compassion and love for what they do. The shop’s aurora exudes ease and peace. Someone will greet you with a warm smile no matter what time of the day you visit. If you enter during a busy hour, even then someone will stop to check on you. As High Garden Tea develops a cult-like following the Larabell’s stay busy working on opening their second High Garden location in the spring.