Coffee Rites: Michael Van der Linden of Linden Botanicals

 
 Michael Van der Linden at home in Denver with coffee, books, and teas.

Michael Van der Linden at home in Denver with coffee, books, and teas.

Before Brandon and I knew that Michael was planning to launch Linden Botanicals, we thought he just took the most amazing vacations ever, and we had serious travel-envy. We still do, but our travel-envy expanded into excitement when we learned his trips had been to source farmers and cultivators for his new business, Linden Botanicals. Linden Botanicals sells a selection of herbs curated with extreme care and research for their ability to optimize health and well-being.

Michael's story of how and why he decided to launch his business is as interesting as his travelogues, and we're thankful he took an afternoon to sit down with us for coffee, tea, and conversation.

How did you become a Coloradan?

I was a transplant. I came here from Connecticut because my kids came out here first. They said it was great, and now I’ve been here about six years. 

 Michael finds Phllanthus Niruri growing in the Amazon in Peru on a sourcing trip (2016).

Michael finds Phllanthus Niruri growing in the Amazon in Peru on a sourcing trip (2016).

 Brewing Woodsong Coffee beans for espresso at home.

Brewing Woodsong Coffee beans for espresso at home.

When and why did you found Linden Botanicals? 

Linden Botanicals was founded out of a passion for helping people optimize their health. I had Lyme disease 10 years ago. It took four years to get over it, with three years of antibiotics that did nothing. I found Phyllanthus Niruri, a plant from the Amazon rainforest known for aiding kidney health. Lyme disease can affect every system and get into your central nervous system. Phyllanthus Niruri originally helped me with a kidney stone (Phyllanthus Niruri’s other name, Chanca Piedra, means “stone breaker”), so I did a lot more research and learned it could also be helpful for the Lyme disease – there are more than 1,000 studies done on this plant.

You can make the tea like you would drip coffee using the powdered plant. Tea has a number of health benefits and I use it daily. For example, I drink a mix of Phyllanthus Niruri, Terminalia Chebula, and Cistanche Tubulosa before going to the gym. Terminalia Chebula is good for your joints; it helps support cartilage. Cistanche Tubulosa is a good support for bones and muscles. I use a ½ teaspoon of the mixed extracts in a cup of blueberry juice. You could use water or another juice, that’s just my preference. 

 Michael displays loose leaf tea from his shop.

Michael displays loose leaf tea from his shop.

Where are your herbs sourced from and how did you choose which to sell? 

We chose very carefully and set out to keep our selection narrow, only choosing plants with research and science behind them. We have nine plants, and Phyllanthus Niruri was the first one we selected because of my experience with it. The rest were selected after careful research to be sure they are effective and safe. I wanted plants that would repair the body’s systems. Where the plants come from and when they’re picked all make a difference, too. You want to be sure you’re getting the real plant that’s the best quality of its type. Phyllanthus Niruri comes from Peru, in the Amazon. Cistanche Tubulosa is found in Mongolia. Terminalia Chebula is from a tree in India. Just like with grapes, the terroir matters for their phytochemical value.  

We visited the countries and growers we were interested in sourcing from before choosing. The point of visiting is to get to know the people collecting the plant and drying it. Having tea or coffee with a grower is a great way to get to know them. We wanted to be sure that the process would be fair for everyone involved with growing and sourcing the plant and that every plant grown was organic and processed in FDA-certified facilities. Some companies pay workers a fraction of a penny, so meeting with the entire supply chain is important to ensure workers are getting fair wages. In Peru, we explored the Amazon jungles to find Phyllanthus Niruri. In India, we went out into the fields and met members of women’s cooperatives. We’re trying to be conscious of the whole process while providing education to customers about the plants and their benefits. They’re not just tasty teas. Drinking teas from these plants is all about optimizing health.

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What’s your favorite travel story from sourcing the plants? 

Our recent trip to Morocco. That trip will result in some new products that we don’t have for sale just yet. Morocco is a good example of our sourcing philosophy. We went with an open mind to learn from the local traditions. The information we learned has convinced me to add argan oil to our lineup. It has a nutty flavor and can be used as a carrier oil for other herbs – our use will be very different from the hair products you may be familiar with. The trip was amazing. The people were all so friendly and inviting. Plus we got to ride camels out into the dunes of the Sahara Desert, drink Moroccan mint tea, camp in the desert, and see the Milky Way without city lights in the way. 

 Michael on camel back in the Sahara Desert, Morocco (2017).

Michael on camel back in the Sahara Desert, Morocco (2017).

 Michael at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India (2017)

Michael at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India (2017)

You’re an artist in addition to an herbalist. What kind of medium do you work in? 

Almost any medium, but I’ve been concentrating on visual musicabstract animation. The skills I developed in algorithmically assisted art have led me to some interesting ideas for public artworks, which, by being fully interactive with the audience, would take on a life of their own. My favorite piece is always the one I’ll be working on next. 

View another of Michael's pieces here, and note this is our daughter's favorite, as she's dancing to it as it plays.

What would you recommend to someone new to herbal teas? 

Well, Phyllanthus Niruri is nearly always my prime recommendation. It supports so many key body systems that nearly anyone can benefit. Terminalia Chebula and Cistanche Tubulosa would be great for someone training for a marathon or just looking to supplement their exercise program to protect their bodies. I’d remind someone interested in starting to drink herbal teas that the teas should be combined with getting enough sleep, exercise and nutrition – eating well and cutting out things from your diet and life that make you sick. If those three things are in order, then the right herbal teas will help you.  

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What are your coffee rites? 

Every morning I make my girlfriend (and business partner) coffee in the espresso machine. It’s her incentive to come downstairs and get started with her day. I myself drink tea throughout the day; it’s something I grew up with and there’s a strong connection, for me, between tea and my mother. Her favorite was Earl Grey, which was also mine before Phyllanthus Niruri.  

 Michael on a boat on the Amazon in search of Phyllanthus Niruri (2017).

Michael on a boat on the Amazon in search of Phyllanthus Niruri (2017).

If you could have coffee or tea with anyone, who would it be? 

There are so many people to choose – the last person on Earth? Or 1733, Johann Sebastian Bach, so we could talk about the coffee that inspired him to write the Coffee Cantata. Its libretto is about a young girl trying to convince her father to let her drink coffee.
 

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