I’m harnessing nature’s power

We continue our new series looking at the rise in the development of small-batch hand-crafted alcohol-free drinks. Today Kate Ryan talks to April Danann.
I’m harnessing nature’s power
April Danann

“YOU know how people ask us as teenagers what are you going to be when you grow up? I’d close my eyes and say ‘I don’t know; I just see herbs!’ I could never get beyond that, I just saw fields of lavender and herbs.”

To dream of endless fields of lavender and wildflowers as a child was at odds with what externally April Danann thought her career should be, and for a while was: a food scientist.

And for everyone who has ever dreamed of being an artist, swapped it for a high flying career only to burn out and reinvent themselves as the artist of their childhood dream, it teaches a valuable lesson; one that comes better later than never — listen to your instinct and follow your dreams.

April Danann — Nature Rebel, is a herbalist and medical intuitive, and at the core of all that she does is a fundamental belief that food is medicine and wild plants and herbs, in particular, are nature’s powerful apothecary just waiting to be unleashed.

April’s reputation has grown out of her speciality in making Apple Cider Vinegar, the first in Ireland to be made from her successful capture of wild yeasts to cultivate a Mother (or SCOBY — symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) which ferment her barrel-aged apple cider vinegars. Soon her attention turned to Kombucha, a fermented drink traditionally made from black tea, and the very thing preventing her from pursuing it.

“I had been making vinegar for years but almost given up on making Kombucha because I believed it could only be made with black tea. I’m a herbalist, I’m caffeine free so I don’t drink black tea or coffee so I put it aside as something I would not be able to make because of that limitation. Until one day I woke up in the morning, and I don’t know if I had had a dream or a vision, but I just said ‘Hibiscus and Rooibos’!

April immediately set to work, and into an old French Burgundy oak barrel, she poured hibiscus and rooibos; eventually, after two years, producing the Mother starter culture to make her version of a caffeine-free Kombucha — rechristened as Herbucha. That same barrel has continued producing the mother culture ever since, with April topping it up to feed it every now again. That was six years ago!

“The Rooibos and Hibiscus lends a reddish-pink colour to the SCOBY, different to the usual brown or white from those with a tea base. It grows a little differently too — I’ve had it tested and it’s about 30% lactobacillus. The rest is wild yeasts and other healthy guy bacteria.”

April Danann
April Danann

HERBUCHA NOT KOMBUCHA

April explained: “It’s extremely important for me that there isn’t any caffeine in my Herbucha so that it’s child-friendly and suitable for everyone. Ultimately, anything I make, I make with my family in mind.

“The name came about after a chat with my EHO, noting the drink isn’t technically a Kombucha because I don’t make it with tea. The only word I could come up with was Herbucha, and she agreed, because that’s what it is: it’s fermented herbal tea, not fermented black tea.”

April ferments the tea for a month using the double-ferment process.

“I ferment the first time with one or two flavours, pour it off, change vessels (always glass), and ferment a second time with another starter which has a different flavour, such as a syrup. I’m big into herbal syrups because it’s a great way to preserve the foraged harvest, and it’s the sugar in the syrup that triggers the second fermentation, feeding the bacteria and developing flavour.

“To me it’s like creating a wine; over that month I am developing flavour — it’s my sole concern. I want the Herbucha to roll across your tongue, picking up hints of rose, a highlight of elderberry, and a deep tang of warming clove.”

The focus for April this year is bringing two of her most popular flavours of Herbucha out into the world of retail, whilst maintaining her market stalls in Skibbereen (“the best market in the world”, says April), People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire and, from the end of February, Kilkenny.

“I like to try and put something wild in each batch of Herbucha to reflect the seasons. It’s slim pickings this time of year, at the moment its mainly gorse, but when things start to come out in bloom I’m out picking.

“My two main flavours available from shops are my Light Herbucha flavoured with ginger, camomile and mixed berries; and the Dark Herbucha with elderberry, clove and rose. I’m looking for the medicinal value in the ingredients I use. Ginger and camomile is good for your digestion and nervous system; clove is anti-parasitic and a digestive aid; elderberry boosts your immune system. I play around with flavours as much as I can and that’s what I sell on the stall at the Farmers’ Markets. It’s a great test bed for trying out new flavours!

“My approach is really simple: it’s growing in nature, it’s not going to hurt you and there’s no alcohol or chemicals — even the water is pristine here, a spring fed well and chlorine free. I just want to raise people’s awareness that the nature around us is good for us.”

In the six years of growing and developing Herbucha, April has grown in confidence with it, largely from the reaction of her loyal following and learning through them how they incorporate Herbucha into their lifestyle.

“I have a lot of customers who don’t drink alcohol who buy Herbucha for the weekend or for special occasions and nobody questions them: their glass is full, everyone else assumes they are sorted for a drink, so there is no hassle. They tell me that’s so important to them, especially in Ireland with the history of drink culture, but Herbucha helps you get away with it! It’s fizzy from the double fermentation method, and pairs really well with alcohol or not, but you can have something really good for you either way!”

2019 holds in store for April Danann an opportunity to reach more people with her refreshing drinks and natural approach to healthful living through her growing network of retail outlets.

For now, Herbucha can be picked up at Quay Co-Op in the city; Organico in Bantry and on-tap at Twig refill shop in Clonakilty. Alternatively visit her at one of her weekly markets where you can pick up your Herbucha fix by the litre and meet the Nature Rebel herself!

For stockists and news of upcoming fermentation workshops see www.aprildanann.com

Next week as part of this series, Kate Ryan of Flavour.ie talks to My Goodness.

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