Winchester Spice Shop
Photograph by Pete Tschudy
Amy Hirschfeld and Tatiana Brainerd love good food almost as much as they love the earth itself. As the owners of Soluna Garden Farm, which includes Soluna Herb, Spice, and Tea Emporium in Winchester and the store’s little feeder line, a one-acre garden, the women see the earth as a delightful bounty of food and flowers that heal the body and soothe the soul. It’s just a matter of treating the land right, the women believe, and knowing how to combine natural ingredients like herbs and spices for the best effect.
“Our whole philosophy is getting people more connected to the land and to plants—to start thinking about plants as useful,” Hirschfeld says. “It’s respecting the land and respecting your body. It tastes better, you feel better, and you’re more connected.”
Visitors to their cheerful Main Street shop, Soluna Herb, Spice, and Tea Emporium, are wrapped in a soothing, sensual world of organic dried herbs and spice blends thatare mixed in small batches, as well as 85 types of tea. In the growing season, cut flowers and fresh herbs, grown at the nearby Soluna Garden Farm, start arriving as well. They also offer their products at farmers’ markets, the list of which is growing like a weed.
For the women, the hybrid business is the culmination of years of cultivating a philosophy of growing food and eating in the most natural way possible. They met 15 years ago when they were part of a small group of people farming a community garden on the current site of the one-acre farm.
The garden, situated between Washington Street and the Aberjona River, belonged to Hirschfeld’s father, the late Ronald C. Hirschfeld, an MIT tenured professor and business owner who later used it as a hobby farm.
“He had farmed it since the mid-1970s,” growing vegetables and fruit trees, Hirschfeld says. “He influenced me a lot.” A stint as an archaeologist in the Middle East and traveling introduced her to a world of flavors and cooking styles. “It led me to experiment with different flavors,” Hirschfeld says. “Traveling, I think, is an opportunity to take a little taste of that country with you.”
Brainerd also grew up loving the land, especially during summers spent in Maine. There, her grandfather, a botanist, “introduced me to growing things and getting my hands in the soil,” she says. Her mother piqued her interest in tea and medicinal herbs when Brainerd was a young girl. Both of the owners agree that becoming business partners was a boon in more ways than one. “We have an even better friendship now that we’re business partners,” Hirschfeld says.
The growing presence of Soluna products at farmers’ markets—16 in the summer and seven to eight in the winter—is delighting many of Brainerd’s and Hirschfeld’s clients. Diana Dubiel of Boston buys almost all her food through farmers’ markets and has been cooking with Soluna’s wares for years. “Basically, my entire cupboard is now the Soluna spice blends,” Dubiel says. “I cook every day for myself, and I absolutely love the blends.”
One recent afternoon with a cool snap in the air that drives many cooks to the kitchen, Dubiel made roasted chicken with Soluna’s Za’atar Dipping Blend (for a Middle Eastern flavor) and spaghetti squash with the salt-free herb blend, Pseudo-Salt. She added the Tuscan Dipping Blend to give it an Italian kick, along with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Dubiel is also a big fan of the emporium’s Ceylon chai tea mix.
In the summer, Soluna Garden Farm yields armfuls of goods on its little plot: 150 herbs for cooking and mixing salves and tinctures, 20 varieties of peppers, and 300 types of flowers, most of which are sold through Community Supported Agriculture shares. While many of the flowers have the lush beauty of cultivated flowers such as gladiolas, dahlias, and peonies, foraged plants (what some people call weeds) including goldenrod and Sweet Annie plump up their beautiful bouquets. “We always leave some sections unweeded and uncultivated,” Hirschfeld says.
Soluna’s spice blends and teas, made with ingredients from organic herb companies, are hand mixed. They are wildly popular items at North Shore and Boston farmers’ markets.
Lisa Drayton of Boston, a trainer for a non-profit healthcare organization, has been buying Soluna’s teas and spice blends for years, and was thrilled to see their debut last summer at the Boston Public Market, located on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, in the hall above the Haymarket MBTA station in Boston. “I get all my tea from them,” Drayton says. “You can almost feel the good properties of the tea healing you. It’s so soothing.” With the weather shifting to cold days and even colder nights, Drayton says she’ll also rev up her intake of the herbal infusions, like lemon balm and rosehip, to build her resistance.
Drayton is like many other Soluna customers—people who are rethinking how they eat and how they connect community and food. “Our customers range from very young college students who like drinking tea to families and chefs,” Hirschfeld says. “We like having a really diverse group of customers who are thinking about food, enjoying food and tea, and enjoying it together.”