Inuit herbal teas to help fund Nunavik cultural centre

A new project that’s part culture, part business: the marketing of Inuit herbal teas.

By JANE GEORGE

MONTREAL – Traditional Inuit herbal teas may soon be on the market, thanks to the public’s enthusiasm for a new line of tea from Nunavik.

Avataq, Nunavik’s cultural institute, has been quietly distributing its herbal teas and moving ahead with plans to bring these brews to consumers.

At the recent Katutjiniq Conference in Kuujjuaq, delegates were able to sample a variety of herbal teas, which included such choices as Mamaittuqutik, Qisiqtutauyak, Ukiurtatuk, Paurngaqutik, and Arpehutik (Labrador, ground juniper, Arctic blend, crowberry and cloudberry).

“I always had herbal teas with elders,” says Avataq’s executive director, Robbie Watt. “So I said, ‘Let’s give this a try’.”

Last summer near Kuujjuaq, Watt and Peter Abraham gathered 30 kilos of commonly found plants used in traditional Inuit teas.

As a guide to their harvest, they relied on Avataq’s booklet on Inuit medicine, which includes a section on herbal teas.

From the plants, Avataq staff were able to make 70,000 tea bags. A company near Montreal produced the different blends and bags, packaged in a variety of bright colours, depending on their type.

So far, the new teas have received rave reviews.

“People are already calling to see where they can buy them,” Watt said.

At the recent trade mission to Greenland, Nunavik’s delegation handed out samples that generated a surprising amount of interest. First Air and hospitals in Nunavik are also eager to carry the new product.

But tea lovers may have to wait just a little longer before the teas are available at their local store, because this summer, Avataq wants to investigate their medicinal qualities.

Watt said a limited, controlled harvest of the plants used in the teas would also be carried out.

“We don’t want to ruin our environment,” he said. “We want to identify a piece of land and see how we can harvest the plants without destroying the land.”

To date, Avataq’s teas have required only a very modest investment of money, but now the federal government has promised financial help. A business plan is also in the works.

All these developments are very pleasing to Watt, who wanted to breathe new life into the financially–strapped Avataq when he assumed its leadership two years ago.

“It’s all turned out so well,” Watt said.

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