TRESCOTT TOWNSHIP, Maine — Nearly 20 years ago, Heidi Herzberger was not feeling well so she brewed a cup of herbal tea to make herself feel better.
“I couldn’t help but think,” she said, “that if this tea was going to make me feel better, wouldn’t it make sense that a special restorative tea could make plants better? I decided to create that tea.”
It took her 12 years.
Today, at 71, Herzberger is operating a thriving fertilizer and tea business from her home: Heidi’s Plant Pep. She sources her dried herbs from five small family farms in Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania; she employs another person besides herself and her husband, Dan Halter, and is planning an expansion this spring into a new greenhouse under construction.
Herzberger has always lived a life close to the land, beginning in her father’s garden in Germany at age 4. She became an herbalist, used herbs and cultivation throughout her 43 years of teaching at Montessori schools and was the herbalist at Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire for 20 years.
She worked her own gardens, lectured on herbal concoctions, and gave packets of herbal teas she blended to friends for holiday gifts. Her kitchen, gardens and greenhouse were filled with medicinal and culinary herbs.
When her children had an injury, she used comfrey to help the skin heal quickly. If anyone had a cold, they hung their heads over a steaming bowl of camomile. Had she lived in the 1700s outside of Boston, she may have been drowned as a witch for her extensive herbal knowledge and homeopathic remedies.
“I look around and I think I can’t really do much about the environment by myself,” Herzberger said. “But I can do this — create a product that enhances the soil, the very earth. It starts with one person.”
In her home greenhouse, Herzberger began experimenting with combinations of herbs that she knew would benefit both garden and houseplants — nettle, mints, calendula, coltsfoot, comfrey and others.
“It wasn’t that I wanted to create something that would create a large showy plant,” Herzberger said, relaxing at her Trescott Township homestead. “I wanted to create a stronger, healthier plant and put something back into the soil.”
She serves up her secret recipe of herbs in large tea bags, which, when each is combined with five gallons of water, makes fertilizer — a natural, organic tea that Herzberger said enriches the soil while strengthening the plant.
Herzberger said there is a clear difference between her organic tea fertilizer and commercial offerings.
“We are slowly learning that bigger isn’t always better,” she said. “[A commercial fertilizer] grows plants with large, moisture-laden cells that attract insects and disease. Nothing goes into the soil or the roots of the plant. With Plant Pep, the plants grow tiny, strong cells that create a robust plant and the soil is nourished.”
Mary Sahut wrote to Herzenberger that she had conducted an experiment with a group of children in a New Hampshire summer program last year. The children planted vegetables and fed some Plant Pep, some a commercial fertilizer such as Miracle Gro, and did nothing with the third group. “Miracle Grow plants grew bigger, but we got better produce — both in taste and quality — with Plant Pep,” Sahut wrote.
Feeling she is a making a difference propels this septuagenarian. “After all, if you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you be?” she joked. “It was a long journey from idea to experiments to market. In the beginning, I provided the tea in a simple brown bag and told customers to put it in a sock in water.”
Now, Heidi’s Plant Pep contains 21 herbs and green sand from New Jersey (an undersea mineral deposit) in a recipe Herzberger calls “a bit secret.” It smells sort of minty and she thinks it may be the only plant-based fertilizer on the market. She also sells four types of tea for human sipping and an herbal blend for cooking.
Plant Pep and Herzberger’s line of culinary teas and spices can be found at www.heidisplantpep.com or at her home at 430 Wilcox Road in Trescott Township, Jordan’s Gardens in Machias, Northern Tides in Lubec and The Commons in Eastport. She may be reached at 733-4688 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.