Lou Thomann and Lori Judge never expected to find themselves advocating the health benefits of a Native American medicinal plant in historic Savannah, GA. But looking back, when Yaupon came into their lives, it was serendipitous.
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. He remembers reading Native American stories that had been passed down for generations. Many years later, when Lou discovered the Yaupon tree and its story, his long dormant passion was reignited and the Yaupon mission was born. Lou has become a Yaupon expert. Lou passionately believes that Yaupon will become an important medicinal plant once again.
Lori hails from a small farm community in Illinois. Her grandmother, Lori's mentor and angel, was an entrepreneurial pioneer. Lori came to Savannah to attend SCAD for a photography degree but instead of attending SCAD, she 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 was not satisfied with the western medicine approach and treatment, so she decided to try a holistic approach. Over two years, through a combination of diet, acupuncture and an herbal regimen, Lori cured herself. Now, Lori is pursuing her other calling, healing thru herbalism.
In her final days of life, Lori’s grandmother wrote a letter to Lori, sharing with Lori that her great grandfather was Osage Indian. Perhaps some of Lori’s intuition and healing traits are part of her Irish and Osage ancestry.
In the fall of 2010, Lou and Lori, along with some 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. Crawford explained that the native inhabitants of the island had harvested the leaves of the Yaupon to make a tea that they called The Black Drink for thousands of years. He also shared 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. 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. Soon, people all over town were asking him for more of his native drink. Lou recognized that Yaupon would be his next mission-based endeavor.
After three years of traveling to trade shows, meeting with university professors, and scouting out the best locations to sustainably harvest Yaupon, Lou launched The Yaupon Tea Company (now Yaupon Teahouse and Apothecary) and the ASI “The Purifier” line of products. He began bottling and packaging his handcrafted tea, 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 health benefits of this native tea. Lou has developed a special connection to this plant and believes he is responsible for reintroducing Yaupon to the contemporary world in a responsible, transparent and authentic way. Lou's mission also includes recruiting and educating farmers interested in growing Yaupon.
In the six years that followed, Lou sold the tea at farmer’s markets and festivals, talking with customers and educating them on the health benefits of Yaupon. 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, Lou and Lori achieved some key “Yaupon firsts” milestones:
- Took the first ready-to-drink Yaupon Tea to the market
- Received the first USDA grants to promote Yaupon Tea
- Received the first SBIR research-based grants
- Started the first dedicated Yaupon farm, focused on perfecting techniques for growing and processing Yaupon
- Established their position as the first national distributor of any Yaupon product
At the same time, Lori was studying herbalism, following her calling as a healer. Her strong belief in the strength of herbs, botanical plants and Yaupon as healing agents was closely aligned with the progress they were making on growing and harvesting Yaupon. Through her herbal studies, the vision for Yaupon wellness products was born.