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Medicine Bag 01 : Emily Erb, Anna Morton, and Emily Imbrunone



01 Emily Erb, Anna Morton, & Emily Imbrunone

Our Interview Series begins with a conversation between the women of Leaves and Flowers. On a warm afternoon in September, co-founders Emily Erb and Anna Morton, along with their manager, Emily Imbrunone, reminisce on the beginnings of the brand and how the company came to be. Other topics include, their favorite herbs, a memory of being made a cup of tea, and what's inside their medicine bag.   

Why did you create Leaves and Flowers? What were your initial motivations and inspirations for starting your company?

EE  At the time, I wanted to do something that was my own. I felt I needed to prove myself in some way but I also knew that I didn't want to embark on something alone. I wanted a collaborator. When I met Anna, I immediately recognized her ability to draw people in and I was really enamored with her. I wanted to come into her world. The fact that she was another female, there was a softness there and I felt that together we could create a business and work environment that could feel sustainable. Prior, I'd been in a lot of industries that were very masculine and I felt I needed to harden myself to succeed. When I met Anna I was in the process of reimagining my work and what it could be. I hadn't been in the Bay Area for long (maybe 4 years) but I could see myself staying and making it my home. I had a yearning to weave community and work and nature together and deepen into this place. I hadn't done that since I left home at 18. The idea of a tea company held all of my desires, and could also be an offering to others to feel better in their bodies and invite presence.
AM  All through my twenties I had a low grade feeling of anxiety. I felt surprised at how overwhelmed I felt trying to be an adult person; to be reliable, responsible, to find something I was interested in professionally. But in the year or so before starting Leaves and Flowers, I was beginning to be more intentional with my decisions and pursue things from my heart, not for anyone else. Similar to Emily, I knew I needed to start my own business. I was having a hard time working for other people, finding my motivation and stick-with-it-ness. I didn't feel qualified to start my own business in any capacity, but I also knew to be involved in my work the way I wanted to be I needed it to come from a deeper place. I was studying plants at the California School of Herbal Studies when Emily and I met. I went to the school thinking I would pursue aromatherapy or perfumery since my grandfather had been in that world. But as I was there, I realized I was drawn to the plants in their aliveness, their wholeness, and interested in finding a way to both preserve and experience a plant's essence, unadulterated. Infusing plants in water really is the purest way I've found to ingest and interact with a plant's energy and spirit. Somehow through conversations with Emily at that time we landed on the idea of starting a tea company. Looking back the way it all happened felt very guided, as if Leaves and Flowers always wanted to be. 

Emily Imbrunone, you joined our team in January 2020. Tell us how you first learned about Leaves and Flowers and where you were in your life when you took the position.

EI  I first discovered Leaves and Flowers in 2016. I was living in Michigan but visiting California for the first time. I was at The Mill in San Francisco and they had packages of Leaves and Flowers tea for sale. I bought one for a friend for her birthday. It was a year later that I moved to the bay area. Leaves and Flowers tea was everywhere. I would buy your tea from The Gardener. I worked in coffee at the time. Coffee was always my first beverage, but I was also starting to take note of what felt good in my body and what didn't. Your tea was always something I could drink throughout the day and feel good. I was looking to leave my coffee job where I was a manager and someone at my work sent me your Instagram post announcing that you were hiring. When I saw the post I just knew it was meant for me. I came to interview and everything felt so nice and easeful. I knew even then that this would be a longstanding job for me.  


What do you want people to know about Leaves and Flowers that they might not know already?

AM  I don't think people are aware of how long we've been around. We're coming up on our 10-yr anniversary in January 2024.
EI  I don't think people realize how small of a company we are, and all women. 
EE  A word that comes up for me when thinking about this question is energetics. Within what we do, we are very much focused on the energetics of the plants. Apart from their medicine and flavor, plants hold energy. They can soothe, uplift, support etc. We take this into account with the herbs that we source and how we formulate a blend, always being aware that these plants, though dried and preserved, are very much alive and wanting to be in relationship with us. And then, regarding the energetics of the company, as we've grown we've made a lot of changes to uphold the positive energy that will sustain us personally within the business.
AM  I'm so glad you brought this up, Emily. I think you're speaking to something that has emerged over time. We always had a strong sense of what we were offering, but how to talk about it has taken time. Impeccable sourcing has been our ethos, as well as upholding the flavor and beauty of the plants, but in that, the way we blend has always been an energetic and intuitive process. It seems that we're just finding a way to talk about this more. 


Do you have a current favorite herb, and why?

EE  This summer I was using Fennel Blossoms a lot, mostly for culinary purposes. I would sprinkle them on ice cream or on top of baked fish. But going into fall, I've been drawn to Nettle. I've been feeling a little depleted and Nettle is so nutritive. I've been doing an overnight infusion and adding Tulsi. As for tea, I've been on a Matcha kick. We've been sampling some new Ceremonial Matcha varietals because we are launching a new Matcha later this year. The energy of Matcha helps me focus and feel energized without the agitation that coffee brings.  
AM  Rosemary is a plant that I've been drawn to lately. I do the same walk many times a week and it fascinates me how suddenly a plant will pop out and I'll see it everywhere, on the walk I've done hundreds of times. It's not that the plant hasn't been there, it's just that I haven't noticed it. I've been seeing Rosemary everywhere lately and picking sprigs to bring home. To me, Rosemary feels like a mother herb. I'm a new mum and have been feeling that as a new mother I need a bit of mothering myself. I feel like Rosemary is here for me, to mother the mother. Rosemary is also a main ingredient in our Turmeric Wellness tea. One of my favorite infusions for the season.
EI  Lately, I've been liking Peppermint more than usual. I've been drinking it in our Serenitas Infusion. It helps me stay focused and present. The energy of Peppermint is both calming and uplifting, and I've needed that energy in my life recently. 


Can you share a memory of someone making you a cup of tea? What about the experience was memorable or special? 

EI  I remember when I first started at Leaves and Flowers in production. In the afternoon one of you (Anna or Emily) would make tea, and there was often also chocolate, which I appreciated very much. It was a small thing, but this afternoon tea ritual was so special to me. 
EE  This question takes me back to my childhood. My family was a coffee family, coffee all the way. Tea was not a part of the daily routine, but my mom would make me tea when I was sick. The tea was the comforting, soothing thing that she would offer. It was always the best gift to receive when I wasn't feeling well. As an adult, I think of certain times people have made me a cup of tea and it brings me that same feeling. If anyone wants to get me to fall in love with them, just make me a cup of tea. 
AM  Years ago I lived for a summer in Sausalito with a Danish woman, Marianne. She would drink tea every morning out of a beautiful cast iron teapot, and without asking she would always pour me a cup. I loved that. Receiving a cup of tea without asking - there was something so nurturing about it. It made me feel welcome, cared for, and she also turned me on to exceptional tea. 


What are you most excited about with the business this season and coming year? 

AM  I see us telling our story more, and this is exciting to me. I don't know why we haven't done it more in the past. I think in part because of our personalities, a bit reserved, but I feel like we're moving into a new place of confidence and generosity with what we're doing and have a deep desire to share and connect. I'm eager to see what that brings. We also have a couple collaborations coming up later this fall and early next year that I'm excited for. The first, with a special herb company based in Greece. 
EE  I agree with you, Anna. I'm both excited and appreciative of what we've created with our company over the years. And I'm eager to connect with people. We have this authentic business that feels special. I want to share it and our story, and offer more events in person this coming year.
EI  I'm also excited about in-person events this coming year. They are always generative and inspiring.

The interview series title, Medicine Bag, comes from the notion that we all keep a collection of people, plants, objects etc. close to us, either physically or symbolically. What do you currently keep in your medicine bag? 

AM  Ram Dass. Without fail, his intelligence and humor (mostly his humor) always cuts through whatever is in the way of feeling my heart. For years now he has been my constant teacher. I wish I could have met him when he was alive. In my medicine bag there are also two plant allies that I've carried with me for awhile: Lemon Verbena and Rose. I have had what feels like a love affair with each of them, and have experienced their direct communication and guidance many times over. Other things in my medicine bag - the energy and intelligence of Water. The protection and wisdom of the Oak Tree. 
EE  In my medicine bag there is a pendant. It was given to me by a few special women who know me well and hold me in my truth. They also challenge me when I go off course. These women are my mirror to help me return to myself. The pendant is a pale pink stone. It's said that there is an energy within it that is nurturing and compassionate. The stone reminds me of my work in what I'm trying to cultivate for myself, not just give to others. In my medicine bag is also the scent of white flowers. I recently bought an enfleurage made with magnolia flowers and fresh jasmine. It feels warm and sensual and yummy. When I put it on the flowers envelop me. Other things - cold ocean water, also grasses. There are all sorts of native grasses in California. Sometimes the light in the grass just stops me in my tracks. I keep the energy and beauty of these grasses in my medicine bag. 
EI  Roses hold a lot of meaning for me and are definitely in my medicine bag. Ever since I moved to the bay area I've always lived by a rose garden. Whenever I feel overwhelmed that is where I go. Growing up, my grandfather had a rose garden. I loved going there as a child. It was always my safe place to go and be, to be surrounded by roses. What else? My cat, Paolo. He's very needy but it's sweet to be loved unconditionally by an animal. I would also say biking. I got into biking during the most unstable year of my life. I would go on bike rides to cope and feel free, and still do. 

How are your senses engaged with the current season? If you could could create a sensory capsule of this moment, what would you include? 

EE  During this time of year I'm aware of light and shadows. Visually, I'm prompted to slow down because of the shift in light. With the sun sitting lower the blue of the sky changes. In my capsule - blue and gold tones. Crisp air. Warm sun. Porridge. Figs. Bean stew. Poetry.
AM  I notice the colors in nature shifting. I don't live in a place where there are super vibrant fall colors, but I still take note of what is happening with the plants. All of nature is settling, bringing energy into its roots. I feel this in myself as well. It feels easier for me to draw inward this time of year. In my capsule - the smell of our first fire in the wood stove. Squash. Ginger tea. Early morning baths. Sunbathing in a sweater. The color orange. And if this season had a sound, I think it would be a hum. 
EI  I love the sunsets, they are especially colorful this time of year. For me, fall feels like more of a fresh start than spring. I enjoy establishing new routines and schedule. I've noticed I'm more reflective which makes my journaling practice more effortless. I love the feeling of being all bundled up in my favorite jackets and sweaters. Also, long walks while listening to an audiobook or podcast, baking, and crisp apples.

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