Guayusa is grown in traditional, biodiverse forest gardens called chacras. It grows in a natural rainforest setting with other native plants.
To the untrained eye, these areas appear to be pristine rainforest, but to the farmers who care for the land, chacras are a carefully cultivated and diverse mix of food crops, herbs, hardwood trees, fruit trees, spices, and medicinal plants. The Kichwa people see farming as a process that takes place in harmony with the rainforest, and the diversity of their gardens reflects this attitude toward the natural world.
Guayusa is planted from cuttings under the shade of other trees and shrubs. This process involves taking part of a branch from an existing tree and placing it in rich soil. New cuttings reach productivity about 3 years after planting, when they grow to a height of about 8 feet.
Guayusa is always shade grown, meaning it needs the shade of other trees to fully develop its rich leaves. It is thus perfectly designed to be grown in robust and diverse agroforestry systems among many other species. The farmers who work with Runa plant guayusa interspersed among hardwood trees, food crops, cacao, coffee, and other local plants in order to maintain the ecological integrity of the rainforest while reaping the benefits of maintaining a wide range of income sources.
Every day indigenous families harvest fresh guayusa leaves from under the rainforest canopy. Harvesting is a family activity that involves lots of laughter, storytelling, and careful attention to proper leaf selection. Dark green, mature leaves are selected for harvest, in contrast to the fresh leaves and buds harvested for green and black tea.
The women and mothers of the family usually lead the harvest and fill their traditional woven baskets full of leaves in the early morning hours.
Runa purchases fresh leaves from each family farm. We then dry and mill the leaves in our processing facility in the small jungle town of Archidona, in the Napo Province of Ecuador. The leaves are first withered (pre-dried) on long troughs in order to allow the flavor to set in and to reduce the moisture content of the leaf. After the pre-drying process, the leaves enter industrial batch dryers to fully dry out. Then, milling, sifting, and packing prepares the leaves for the long, mythic canoe ride from Ecuador to the United States.