Rituals with Kuji: Michael Isted

Today we introduce you Michael Isted, Kuji’s own modern day plant alchemist.

With his knowledge of Western Herbal medicine and experience in the drinks industry, Michael is responsible for the precise alchemical balance that makes a cup of Kuji not just a drink, but something magic.


14 MAY 2019

He’s concocted creative beverage solutions for some of the world’s biggest luxury brands with The Herball, but his deep appreciation of the plant therapeutic qualities and knowledge of how to most effectively harness their healing is what we find most impressive.

A key element behind the genius of our formulas, Michael always knows exactly what tincture, extract or aromatic is required to get our recipes just right. It’s his perfectionism and knack for achieving the precise alchemical balance that makes every cup of Kuji a delicious drinking medicine.

Can you tell us a little about your professional background? What motivated you to change your career path and to start studying herbal medicine?
I have always worked in food and drink but I was never truly satisfied it felt like something was missing. I remember taking one day and writing down everything that I ingested, everything that I used, then traced their roots, almost everything took me back to the plants.
We are so reliant on nature for everything, from the air that we breathe to the food that we eat. I needed to learn more and understand where we all fitted into this. I took a few short courses in nutrition & herbalism, I then studied at the College of Natural Nutrition before quitting my job and studying Western Herbal Medicine at University full time. But I’m still learning everyday.

How has herbalism affected your life?
Working with the plants has gifted me so much, it has been truly life changing. I have much more of a sense of purpose and everything makes much more sense. I don’t have all the answers but… wow (!) the plants know so much! Don’t be fooled, it’s definitely nature that looks after us, not vice versa.

For me it’s about ingesting complex plant secondary metabolites prophylactically through diet and then nurturing physical relationships with plants, getting outside making those connections. These are the foundations for a healthier life a life filled with purpose and good intentions.

The plants act as portals, they can open up a world of possibilities for you just as they have done for me. Such a dynamic and beautiful relationship, so inspirational and endlessly creative…

The plants act as portals, they can open up a world of possibilities for you just as they have done for me. Such a dynamic and beautiful relationship, so inspirational and endlessly creative…

You are known to hold yourself to the higher standards when it comes to the quality of the products you work on. What’s the biggest challenge you face with your profession in this regards?
The botanical product market is saturated – so much chaff in terms of marketing – people are just jumping in for financial gain, without any care for the nature itself. We have a rotten history of damaging plants reputations, just look at tobacco, wheat or sugar. We mess around and manipulate them into something they were never supposed to be and then when it all goes wrong, we demonise the plant.

We would like THE NOURISH to become a platform where people can share their knowledge and learn about various all aspects of self-care and wellbeing. What are the most common questions you get asked about your profession?
The question most often asked about herbs is “what do they do?”. My answer is: it is not what the plants do as such but how our bodies – or the complex biological processes of the body – interact with the raft of the plant secondary metabolites in the preparation. This exchange is a complex dynamic interaction that will change from person to person, plant to plant and preparation to preparation.

We aim to create a more educational platform to create a space in which you can connect with plant workers, be introduced to the latest research, find a practitioner, find more information on the plants & fungi we use and even those that we don’t.

In the current climate there more and more people are opening up to a more holistic and conscious approach to life and wellbeing. Yet, there are still a lot of confusion and misinformation especially online, would you like to address some common misconceptions about your field?
We live in a time when people are obsessed with quick fixes. The silver bullet: “I’m stressed”, “I’m tired”, “I can’t sleep”, “Fix me now”….
You see this in the popularity of what I call big hitting herbs, like many of the ‘adaptogens’ many people are internet self prescribing powerful plants for a quick fix.

Tell us the story of how you first get in contact with KUJI, what attracted you attention and made you decide to join Kashca and Marcus in their adventure?
I’m asked frequently to get involved with projects, most of which are not truly authentic. When Marcus & Kashca introduced me to the original KUJI paste I could sense, feel and taste the authenticity. It was coming from the heart, a labour of love.
When I tasted it, portals opened up and I could see the endless possibilities, beautiful rituals and ways to introduce people to nature and ingest plant secondary metabolites in delicious ways: delicious drinking medicines.

What’s your inspiration when creating a new recipe? How did you go about selecting the elements to include in each KUJI blend?
I think about the emotions and effects that we want from a blend, then I’ll go to the plant(s) that I feel work best. I’ll always look at traditional use of that plant, synergies with other plants, what symbiotic relationships that plant may have with other plants.

Then it’s always important to think about flavour. Managing hundreds – sometimes thousands1 – of people’s taste buds can be tricky. Most plant secondary metabolites are bitter by nature, our palates have been dumbed down by simple, manipulated sugar containing food and drink, so you cannot go too crazy.

An uncompromising pursuit of purity and quality were the only way to deliver our blends. It’s what sent us around the world in search of the highest-integrity growers with ethical practices and environmental values aligned with our own. How does this affect the effectiveness of our ingredients from a scientific standpoint?
Although we are not certified organic, everything we work with is more than organic, some of our growers are tiny and cannot afford organic certification but they farm and have farmed for hundreds of years more than organically.

We choose our plants and extracts based on flavour but also potency. The turmeric from Alleppey in Southern India where is known for its high curcumin levels and it’s what you find in our Turmeric 02. Our ashwagandha extract has a really high withanolide content, our tea for Chai 03 comes from a beautiful co-operative in Southern India, our frankincense for Palo Santo 05 from Oman sustainable sources graded by the best in the UK.

It’s a blend of science and intention, a potent combination.

It’s a blend of science and intention, a potent combination.

Are there any ingredients you consider highly underrated and you would like to explore more in future?
Lots, we’d love to do something with the plants that are a little closer to home, many plants that are under our noses are criminally underused I’d love to create a KUJI blend with some of these plants.

Let us behind the scene. What are you working on at the moment?
We are constantly working on new blends and products, however we have launched with nine products, each of which is strong enough to stand alone on its own, dive in and immerse yourselves into these first, when you are ready for more, believe me there will be…

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