According to Merriam-Webster, “Uber” is a German word that means “to an extreme or excessive degree” (that’s right, it doesn’t mean a car service worth $70 billion), and the word “herbal” refers to “a book about plants especially with reference to their medicinal properties.” As Elizabeth Bretko, the owner of Uber Herbal in Grants Pass, Oregon, explains, “Herbal refers to something that really tells the story of the plant. It’s like the collected folklore.”
Elizabeth opened Uber Herbal in 2012, selling her herbal concoctions at the local farmers market. Then, in April 2015, she opened a tea shop, tea bar, and production kitchen in downtown Grants Pass after a successful Kickstarter campaign. At Uber Herbal, a small, but growing operation, Elizabeth wears every hat.
This isn’t Elizabeth’s first time at the entrepreneurial rodeo. Before Uber Herbal, Elizabeth ran Heartsong Herbal Brewing Company, where she brewed and bottled hot-pepper-infused natural energy drinks and crafted masala chai for cafés, restaurants, and grocery stores. Although Heartsong closed in 2008, interest in her spicy chai didn’t wane. So, she set up the Uber Herbal tea bar, tea shop, and website, and now she’s preparing to launch a wholesale operation.
Grants Pass is a town of 35,000 people in Southern Oregon near the Siskiyou Mountains. It has a robust farming community—which is ideal for Elizabeth, who created Uber Herbal because it combines her love of organic gardening and herb wildcrafting. She’s committed to sourcing ingredients from Oregon herb growers, but she also imports nonlocal ingredients such as organic spices from around the world to get the right mix of herbs and spices for her creations.
Elizabeth has spent the past 20 years working with plants and learning how to use them. “I obsessively look for old recipes and love learning what people originally did with the plants that we still have,” she says. Knowing the history of a recipe allows her to add the appropriate modern twists based on what we know today. One of Elizabeth’s strong suits is her ability to make strong, powerful concoctions taste good, which serves her well at Uber Herbal.
Given her decades of work as a farmer and grower, I asked Elizabeth what her favorite plant is to grow. Her answer was marigolds. It turns out that she grows and strings marigolds into garlands and sells them at farmers markets and on Etsy. In fact, she’s discovered a large market for marigold garlands throughout the country, especially for Indian weddings where the flower is a symbol of new beginnings. Elizabeth is currently tripling her marigold-growing capacity.
Uber Herbal is very much a values-driven company. Elizabeth is committed to organic and fair-trade methods because she wants the land to be healthy, she wants people to be healthy, and she wants to make sure her footprint on the earth is as small as possible.
One of Elizabeth’s specialties at Uber Herbal is powdered tea, which is made from finely ground herbs and spices. Instead of steeping a tea bag for several minutes, removing it from the water, and tossing the bag in the compost, you simply add hot water to the powder, mix it up, and drink it all. Elizabeth prefers this method because it allows you to consume the whole plant, thereby getting more of the benefits it has to offer. Elizabeth also likes powdered teas because of their versatility; she often throws in a spoonful of powdered tea when cooking a soup or making a sauce or a smoothie. In the Hatch Lab shop, you’ll find a selection of powdered tea from Uber Herbal.