The Plus Factor: and Why There Are Herbal Smoothie Ingredients in Our Logo

We're calling it: Herbal elixir tastings are the new wine tastings.

Well+Good is your healthiest relationship, hooking you up with the best, most interesting things/people/leggings in wellness. And nothing gets at this concept better than the plus-sign in our logo, which acts like a gallery window where we showcase the most exciting, transformative objects and ideas that add wellness to your life. This week, we’re all about next-generation smoothie bars where the blenders whirl with medicinal herbs. 

Has your smoothie bar menu amped up the healthy ingredients lately? We're noticing that blender pros are incorporating way more elements of herbalism and plant medicine in their recipes—from adaptogenic mushrooms and Ayurvedic ashwagandha to plant-distilled tinctures for great skin, they're turning out concoctions that aren't just tasty but targeted to healthy purposes.

It's coming from OG Los Angeles apothecary Moon Juice and the new Lifehouse Tonics, as well as Naturopathica's Vitality Bar or MIMO (which is like a Willy Wonka factory for smoothie lovers) in New York City. These next-gen smoothie cafés are offering more healthy variety than ever. You might just need to bring a dictionary to decode the offerings.

And some places are making it part of your social life, too. Instead of going to wine tastings, you might be hitting up an elixir tasting instead.

Photo: Erin Hanafy
The Alchemist's Kitchen is offering "state-changing" elixirs and tastings. Photo: Erin Hanafy

At least that's what's cooking at The Alchemist's Kitchen in NYC's East Village. The new café-apothecary-event space—which also offers infrared sauna sessions (meet you there, Jennifer Aniston?)—opened in January as a flagship for Evolver, a botanical and herbal online marketplace.

The Alchemist's Kitchen offers a Tasting Journey prix fixe meal once a month that includes several house-made "state-changing elixirs," followed by light raw vegan fare (think: sprouted sunflower hummus, parsnip and turnip soup, and Cocorau raw chocolates).

On a recent Monday night I took the "journey" with 10 other people—which was designed to make us feel grounded and relaxed, then stimulated (hello, aphrodisiacs), and finally super-alert and energetic.

How did it actually make me feel? Read on to take an elixir-by-elixir guided tour.

Photo: Erin Hanafy
Photo: Erin Hanafy

1. Joy Juice

What's in it: Rhodiola, St. John's wort, albizia, rose tea, pomegranate juice, carrot juice, beet juice

What's supposed to happen: Mood enhancement, grounding, stress relief

What did happen: After a quick group meditation during which herbalist Caity Flanagan asked us to "set an intention for this to be an experience of learning," we downed the first glass, which tasted like very earthy beet juice. How did it feel? Within minutes, my shoulders dropped, and my forehead smoothed. As the city stress melted away, murmured conversations began to flow among the group of strangers seated at the table.

Photo: Erin Hanafy
Photo: Erin Hanafy

2. Chai Jolokia Ginger Beer

What's in it: Ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, mace aril, blackpepper fruit, black tea leaf, long pepper fruit, star anise, naga jolokia chili pepper

What's supposed to happen: Heart-warming, centering of self

What did happen: Warming, warming, warming. And not just the heart: a pleasant, warming tingle spread through my entire chest and torso. That's thanks to the chili peppers in the elixir, I learned, which tastes like a champagne version of a ginger beer: very dry and bubbly, but with a spicy bite.

Photo: Erin Hanafy
Photo: Erin Hanafy

3. Kava Nectar

What's in it: Kava, coconut, cardamom, dates

What's supposed to happen: Relieving stress and relaxing muscles while making the mind more alert

What did happen: Here's a hint: Flanagan warns us, "If your tongue or your mouth feels numb after drinking this, it's totally normal because kava is a muscle relaxant and an analgesic." Arriving in the U.S. from Polynesia through the surfing community, it's prized for its ability to simultaneously chill out your body while keeping you mentally alert, Flanagan explains. I enjoyed the Nectar's taste (heavy on the coconut and cardamom, to mask kava's reported funkiness), and a few sips in, I got a quick chill up my spine—the same one I get from a first sip of bourbon. Stress, gone. Muscles, relaxed. And yes: tongue, numb.

Photo: Erin Hanafy
Photo: Erin Hanafy

4. Elderberry Elixir

What's in it: Elderberry, ginger, astragalus, lion's mane, maitake, vanilla bean, maple syrup, brandy

What's supposed to happen: Relieve stress, boost immune system, help heal from infections

What did happen: "This one is less of a state-changer and more of an immune-booster," Flanagan says. Good thing, because the kava was still doing its thing at this point. This Elixir is less like a cocktail and more like a shot, with an unusual chaser: a "chia sheet," which is kind of like a flexible cracker with a crazy amount of omega-3s.

Photo: Erin Hanafy
Photo: Erin Hanafy

5. Damiana's Kiss Tea

What's in it: Damiana, foti, ashwagandha, oat straw, Siberian ginseng, stinging nettle

What's supposed to happen: Increase blood flow, sexual stimulant, reduce fatigue, combat high cholesterol, relieve anxiety, anti-aging

What did happen: The tea—the best-tasting drink of the night, with a subtle earthy flavor and a sweet, rosewater-like finish—does not induce insane sexytime feelings. But a pleasant, electric buzz spread through my body that felt a bit like the blood-flowing, mind-balancing effect of a good sound bath.

Photo: Erin Hanafy
Photo: Erin Hanafy

6. Schizaam

What's in it: Schisandra, goji, ginger, spearmint, rose, orange peel, tulsi, amla, rhodiola, American ginseng, cardamom, lime

What's supposed to happen: Energizing, mental clarity, alertness, receptivity

What did happen: After the tea-induced tingles, the room was alive with conversation. And the ginseng-powered Schizaam—living up to its name—took the energy in the room even higher. People were talking and laughing across the big table as we downed this last elixir, which tastes like a light, fizzy, citrus fruit punch. I had less than five hours of sleep the night before, and now it's nearly 9 p.m., but I'm feeling the steady-state, well-rested vibrancy of a Sunday morning (sans coffee). If I had a 24 Hour Fitness membership I would seriously consider a sweat session—but instead I take the long way home, serenely striding through the city streets.

The Alchemist's Kitchen, 21 East 1st St., New York, NY 10003, 212-925-1267 The next Tasting Journey ($75) is 6:30 p.m. June 13.

Interested in herbs but don't know where to start? Check out these superherbs (AKA the new essentials in your medicine cabinet). And here's how to grow herbs, even in a tiny apartment.

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