When he was in his mid-20s, Quentin Vennie had anxiety that was so debilitating; he wouldn’t come out of the house for days. Sometimes he’d be bawled up in a corner crying for what seemed like no reason. “And for about a month straight, I had gotten to the point where I was sleeping in my car in the emergency room parking lot in case I had another panic attack, so I’d be close to the hospital,” the Baltimore, Maryland native confesses.
Vennie talks about his childhood in his memoir, “Strong in the Broken Places.” He grew up in the city’s Park Heights area, where the annual Preakness Stakes—the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown—is held. It was the 1980’s, and drugs were pervasive in the neighborhood. In fact, his father was a heroin addict, so his mother moved with her son to try and give him a better life.
They moved from house to house with various relatives until Vennie was about seven years old. He was sent to Baltimore County schools where his mother thought he would be safer and have more opportunities. But being one of only a few Black students at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School, Vennie experienced even more trauma.
Depression and Drugs
“So myself and a lot of other Black students, who are still friends of mine to this day, experienced a lot of racism, prejudice and unfair treatment in a lot of ways,” he laments. “And I think experiencing that while still dealing with my father’s absence, with him being in and out of prison, and being in a community like Park Heights, which was a heroin hub, a hub for violence and a lot of poverty and dilapidation, it triggered a lot in me. And that resulted with me being diagnosed with depression and anxiety at age 14.”
Like most African Americans, Vennie didn’t seek help for the toll these social ills took on his mental health. “In our community, we don’t talk about mental health as being a major component that impacts us individually or collectively as a community,” Vennie admits.
So when his mother, who taught mentally disabled students and knew the side effects of prescription drugs, thought they could figure it out without medication, Vennie just tried to push through. But once he reached his 20s, his doctor had diagnosed him with severe generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and bouts of severe major depressive disorder and put him on prescription medication. Little did Vennie know that he’d become addicted to the drugs for two years, leading to an accidental overdose.
“I didn’t even realize I had a problem until I attempted suicide for the second time,” Vennie reveals. “And at that point, I gave up and said, ‘God, you win.’ Clearly, if left to my own devices, I couldn’t kill myself correctly, so obviously I’m here for a reason. And I made it my mission at that point to figure out what that reason was.”
Vennie eventually found his purpose through researching more holistic ways to heal himself. “I found inspiration watching documentaries like ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead’ about Joe Cross, an Australian guy who was juicing to heal himself of an autoimmune disease, and ‘Crazy, Sexy Cancer’ with Kris Carr, who used a vegan diet, yoga, meditation and juicing to help her through stage four cancer,” Vennie discloses. So he added meditation, yoga, gardening, juicing and teas to his holistic healing arsenal.
And it was during this process that he met his wife, Erin. “She was just as fascinated with teas as I was, so having evening tea kind of became a tradition between the two of us,” says Vennie. He continues, “I also suffer with insomnia and seasonal allergies, and I never really enjoyed taking medication—especially after going through prescription drug addiction. So one of the things Erin and I started to do was experiment with different herbs, teas and plants that had a medicinal impact and make that a part of our holistic lifestyle.”
Then one of their five children (they now have six) was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And his neurologist suggested their son drink two ounces of green tea before every big test, noting it had fewer side effects than the prescription drug Adderall. “But my son didn’t like the bitter taste of green tea, so my wife and I came up with a blend that helped make it more palatable for him and for our family as a whole,” states Vennie. “And whenever we find something that works, we feel it is a responsibility to share that with other people. So it was a no-brainer for us to start our tea company.”
Treating Dis-Ease With Teas
Greenhouse Tea Company launched in January of this year, with all of the teas being hand-blended by the Vennies from organic sources. “All of our teas are wellness-focused,” states Vennie. “We wanted to make sure we got the highest quality ingredients and everything was organic, and that we weren’t compromising quality of ingredients for profit. And we want you to know you’re buying from a family—not just a company—a family that actually drinks our products daily,” he boasts.
The tea blends have names that put you in the mind of healing even before you drink them: Awaken, Breathe, Clarity, Ease, Escape, Empower, Relief and Surrender. “One of the first blends we made was the Breathe blend. And that has peppermint, astragalus root, lemon, burdock root, tulsi and lavender,” he describes. “And all the ingredients are geared toward preventing allergic reactions to seasonal allergies.”
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He continues, “Our Surrender blend has chamomile and rose, calendula flower and valerian root—ingredients that are known to help the body to produce melatonin, so it can rest. It is also good for anxiety because it doesn’t have any caffeine. And studies have shown that chamomile taken consistently has the same long-term effects as Xanax has in the short-term,” Vennie declares.
“Our Relief blend is a green rooibos base with raspberry, spearmint and ginger because it’s anti-inflammatory and good for your digestion and intestines,” Vennie explains. “And spearmint is also great for nausea, so this blend is geared toward relieving stomach discomfort without having to take [over the counter drugs].”
Helping to add a boast against the spread of COVID-19, he says, “The Empower blend is good for building up your immune system. It has elderberry and hibiscus and rose hips and lemon peel—ingredients high in vitamin C, which help build up that immunity.
“And of course, the Surrender blend helps with the anxiety many people have from the pandemic,” he adds. “Also, the process of preparing the tea to drink has a calming effect and can become a very meditative practice. I think it should be an instrumental modality in anybody’s wellness routine both during and after the pandemic.”
Tea-Ching the Importance of Teatime
Currently, the teas are sold exclusively on the company website. But there are plans to expand their reach through stores like Whole Foods. And they’re already getting great responses from customers, even Hollywood actresses. “Tia Mowery is a big fan of the Awaken blend, and Gweneth Paltrow is a fan of our Awaken and Surrender blends,” Vennie shares.
The Vennies have a mission to help others create an “anxiety-free home” just as they have. “I’m working on a second book right now on creating a space that is void of anxiety,” Vennie discloses. “So this is just the beginning. And as much as I learn, I believe it’s my responsibility to share my journey and my process.”
In fact, he’s currently working with a few Baltimore schools to implement a teatime and indoor/outdoor gardens to help remedy food insecurity. He also donates three percent of Greenhouse Tea Company profits toward initiatives that help with food education and mitigating food deserts. In 2019, he implemented a yoga/meditation program at Franklin Square Elementary.
Vennie also wants people to release the American culture of being “overwhelmed, overworked, under-rested and overly anxious.” “Why not give yourself permission to slow down for a moment and allow the experience of making and enjoying a cup of natural, organic tea help [center you.],” he adds.
Finally, Vennie hopes more African Americans will include a teatime into their daily routine. “Our ancestry is known to consume things from the earth, so I hope that we start to incorporate teas into our health plan as an homage to our ancestry and our roots.”