Local Heroes #44 - The Herbalist Brings Botanicals in Synergy

We’re delighted to feature The Herbalist in Bucharest, a thriving project on savory concoctions sourcing high quality herbs that will enhance your food or drink.

Published by Oana on 03/02/2016

Welcome to the green side. We got herbs. Dubbed as an aromatic extract, The Herbalist is a blend of 42 different botanicals that will change the way you drink. We promise.

Co-founder Diana on the left.

We were lucky enough to cross paths with Diana & Alex, the two founders, while at a local instameet a few months ago. Alex crafted some savory cocktails using his signature herbal extract and we got to try them out. Instant gratification; we were SOLD. The aftermath? We’ve been yearning to hear the story behind the brand ever since. Here it is.

Hi there. Can you guys share a bit about your background? What drew you to the world of herbs?

Hi guys. We come from different backgrounds - Alex has been working as a bartender for more than 10 years and studied Herbal Medicine in London, whilst I studied Fashion Communication and Photography.

The world of herbs has always been strongly related to the world of bartending. Alex got himself immersed into the history of liquor-making and this is how he ended up reading about monasteries. Liqueurs, vermouths and amaros were all made in monasteries with roots, plants and all sorts of other botanicals. I joined this world later and while he was more interested in the history and developing recipes, I was more attracted by the visual potential of this world.

How did you come up with the idea of The Herbalist ?

The story evolved naturally: the more we talked about this, the more we were thrilled about a potential project. We started doing research on recipes, start-ups, packaging, markets. The Herbalist was a name Alex liked to use for his home-made bitters even since we were in Bucharest and therefore, we decided to keep it.

Over time, our roles in this project have become blurred: I have been helping Alex with making the extracts and he often got involved in the brand’s visual identity.

What goes into creating an aromatic botanical mix? What inspires you?

The inspiration always comes from so many different sources. I continuously read century-old cooking books and pharmaceutical texts. Usually, anything nature-related, from our Sunday trips to Hampstead Heath to holidays at remote monasteries in Romania, are a huge inspiration to me.

The Herbalist extracts are natural flavourings made from a blend of roots, herbs and plants. They can be used in cooking, baking and cocktails to give depth to your recipes. They are widely known as bitters in the bartender’s world. Our formulations have an old-school, monastery style approach: we use no colouring, sugar or essential oils.

The process of making The Herbalist extracts is complex. Long story short, I make single and compound herbal tinctures (different botanicals macerated in alcohol) which I then blend with spring water, port wine, honey and hydrosols. They both have a wonderful natural colour and smell amazing, if we may say so ourselves.

Alex, what distinguishes or defines your way of being an artisan?

It all comes down to one thing: work ethics. Both Diana and I spend a lot of time procuring the best ingredients that go into The Herbalist and making the actual extracts. None of us likes to take shortcuts, be it with growing the business or when developing the recipes.

Diana, could you share some personal tips on brand communication and what worked best for The Herbalist project?

Definitely. Even though we have not had too much time for The Herbalist since I studied for a full-time MA degree in Photography and Alex worked quite a lot, we have managed to test a few things. From our experience, small events that involved other communities worked best.

I assume you are a duo of many interests, besides The Herbalist. Tell us more about your life, apart from your herb business.

We travel and go out as much as possible. It is very important for us to stay connected to the food and drink industry. We often visit local markets, art galleries and museums and try to meet people from various backgrounds every day. We are both in love with artisans and the way they present their craft.

Having just graduated from an MA in Photography from University of the Arts London, I also work on my own projects which have nothing to do with The Herbalist. Alex, on the other hand, is fully involved with the bartending world and research for new products.

Could you share a story of a customer where the experience he or she had using your product has put a smile on your face?

We were at Fortnum and Mason store last Christmas, where The Herbalist is stocked, for a sample session. Our table was beautifully arranged with Petri dishes, some botanicals we use in The Herbalist and fresh herbs. Part of the whole experience was for people to have a smell of the extract. One tourist girl did not understand she was supposed to only smell the sample and she simply drank the whole thing instead. Her first reaction was: “I was not supposed to drink it, right?”

Even though it is not harmful to drink The Herbalist as it is, the extract is super concentrated and it is supposed to be used in dashes only, so her reaction definitely put a smile upon our faces. At the end, she, her friends and the two of us just started laughing together, so that was definitely a fun and unusual experience with The Herbalist.

Any bright plans for the future?

We just moved back to Bucharest for a while because we are planning to open a cocktail bar here. It is going to be easygoing and super friendly with plenty of delicious, seasonal drinks, so stay tuned for updates.

All in all, we dearly treasure The Herbalist – the brand, the people, the story. Did we forget to mention ‘the product’?  Pretty much anyone with a sense of taste would love it. Smell. Sip. Revel in.

- Oana  - 

Images courtesy of Diana Anghel, Ileana Sebe (zwei), Roald Aron.

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