Lou Thomann and Lori Judge never expected to find themselves advocating the health benefits of a Native American medicinal plant through a shop in historic Savannah, GA. But looking back, it was serendipitous when Yaupon came into their lives.
Lou was an ex-rice trader and historic building restorer in Savannah, GA. Lori owns a successful real estate business, also in Savannah.
As a young boy in New England, Lou was passionate about Native Cultures and particularly Native American Culture. He remembers reading Native American stories that were verbally passed down for generations. Girls, sports, college and careers deviated Lou’s journey, until now, which he describes as his “eventual path”. When Lou discovered the Yaupon tree and its story, this long dormant passion was reignited, and his Yaupon mission took root!
Lou has become an expert in all thing’s Yaupon. He believes Yaupon is a connection builder which will become a strong influence in people’s lives. He also believes Yaupon will be an important medicinal plant once again.
Lori hails from a small farm community in Illinois. Her grandmother was an entrepreneurial pioneer who Lori describes as her mentor and angel. Lori came to Savannah to attend SCAD for a Photography degree. Instead of attending SCAD, Lori built a mission-based Realty Company that is a major patron of the local art community in Savannah.
According to Lou and many friends, Lori is a healer by nature. In 2010, Lori developed Graves’ Disease. She did not like western medicine’s treatment and decided to try a holistic approach. Over 2 years, through a combined diet, acupuncture and herbal regime, Lori cured herself. Now, a “wounded healer” Lori is pursuing her other calling, healing thru “herbalism”.
Lori’s grandmother, on her deathbed, wrote a letter to Lori. In this letter, she informed Lori that her great grandfather was Osage Indian. Perhaps some of Lori’s intuition and healing traits are part of her Irish + Osage ancestry.
In the fall of 2010, Lou, Lori, family and friends took a weekend trip to nearby Ossabaw Island. There they were introduced to the Yaupon Holly tree by UGA naturalist John “Crawfish” Crawford who explained that for thousands of years the native inhabitants of the island had harvested the leaves of the Yaupon to make a tea that they called The Black Drink. John also described the Native American medicinal uses of the plant and its popularity throughout the colonial period.
That day Yaupon leaves were picked, roasted and brewed so the group could enjoy the tea after dinner by the fire. After drinking the tea Lou felt amazing – even considering the campfire bourbon consumed. The brew’s clean, full-bodied taste and fascinating history intrigued him.
When he returned to the mainland, he began tirelessly researching Yaupon Holly. His findings unveiled the amazing, untold American history of Yaupon Tea and the astounding health attributes of this plant. After months of picking excursions in the woods, late night brewing sessions, and countless hours of studying scientific reports and historical accounts, Lou began hand-packing tea bags in his kitchen for friends to try. The results were encouraging. He soon earned a reputation and people all over town were asking him for more of his “Native Drink”. Lou obliged and soon recognized Yaupon would be his next mission-based endeavor.
The Seeds of a Business are Sown
After three years of traveling to trade shows, meeting with university professors, and scouting out the best locations to sustainably harvest this plant, Lou launched The Yaupon Tea Company and ASI “The Purifier” Products line (now Yaupon Tea + Wellness Co.) and began bottling & packaging his handcrafted tea, officially embracing this amazing plant as a true national treasure.
Since then, the company’s goal has been to encourage Americans to reconnect with the ancient wisdom surrounding Yaupon Holly and to taste and experience all the healthful benefits of this native tea. Lou has developed a special connection to this plant and believes he is responsible for re-introducing Yaupon to the contemporary world in a responsible, transparent and authentic way. But educating consumers is not enough, there is also a mission to recruit & educate farmers interested in growing Yaupon.
Over the next 6 years Lou sold the tea at farmer’s markets and festivals which allowed him talk with the customers and educate them on the health benefits. There were also trips to Trade Shows (Fancy Foods, Expo East & Expo West, Europe’s Biofac) and the company began wholesaling the tea to retailers.
During this time, they achieved a lot of “Yaupon firsts”:
- They brought to market the first ready-to-drink Yaupon Tea
- They were the first to receive USDA grants to promote Yaupon Tea
- They were the first to receive SBIR research based grants.
- They started the first dedicated Yaupon farm (more below) where they started perfecting techniques for growing and processing Yaupon.
- They were the first national distributor of any Yaupon product
(Picture of Lou at a Farmer’s market)
At the same time Lori was studying herbalism and became a natural healer. Her strong believe in the strength of herbs, botanical plants and Yaupon as healing agents was in sync with the progress they were making on growing and harvesting Yaupon. It is because of her deep herbal studies that the vision for Yaupon Wellness products came to light.
Yaupon Tea + Wellness Co.
In April 2019, Lou & Lori opened the flagship Yaupon Tea + Wellness Co. store in Savannah, GA. Building on Lori’s herbalism and Lou’s expertise of Yaupon, they developed teas and wellness products pairing Yaupon with other medicinal herbs & botanical plants. Beyond the original tea, offerings include functional teas, CBD infused products, a beauty line with face, body and hair products, salves, kombucha, tinctures, tonics, soaps, home goods and more - all celebrating the rich chemistry and Ethnobotany of the Yaupon tree. Each product uses organic, wild-crafted Yaupon grown on our own farm, carefully paired with other medicinal plants that synergize well with Yaupon. Their line of internal and external health, beauty and skincare products are all natural & focus on clean beauty.
Upon entering the carefully curated, sunny store, customers are welcomed and offered samples of Yaupon Kombucha or Yaupon Tea + Cacao blend. Their attention is quickly brought to the potted Yaupon tree as the sales associates begin to tell the story of Yaupon and share its benefits. Native Americans were known to experience the purifying effects of Yaupon in tea, balms as well as in the Peace Pipe. Since all three of these categories are in full display it is easy for the customer to learn about Yaupon in a form that fits their particular needs. Sampling of all the products is encouraged and customers can’t help but bring their hand to their nose after sampling to smell the blend of Yaupon and essential oils that create the overall scent of the shop.
This neighborhood shop attracts a blend of regular local as well as tourists – Savannah has 11 million tourists visit each year – offering ample opportunity to spread the love about Yaupon.