The company wants to provide “a new and meaningful way” for people to connect with nature and experience the richness of the biodiversity of plants, DuVal says. There are more than 350,000 distinct plant species known to humans, she explains, and nearly 30,000 of them have been used at some point as food or medicine. “But now we depend on fewer than 30 for our caloric needs.” That means we are missing out on experiencing a big piece of planet Earth. “It all comes down to appreciation,” DuVal says.
A lack of appreciation — call it awareness — of plant diversity can have consequences. “Land use conversion is the single biggest threat to biodiversity,” Duval says. We may well be plowing under vital plant species in order to sow the traditional big crops we’ve already grown to love. DuVal and her colleagues want you to experience these plants before they disappear. They hope new appreciation can translate into enthusiasm for conservation — and maybe also some economic incentive for cultivating the under-utilized plants of the world. “If we can strengthen markets for locally important crops,” Duval says, “that would really be a success.”
he next bottle we open is a tincture, meaning it contains the extracts of only one species of plant. Most of the team’s bitters contain extracts from up to a dozen plants. Nevertheless, this product is remarkable: It smells of fresh pine, chopped wood and, well, mountain air. “I wanted to bottle the feeling of walking through the High Sierras in the summer,” DuVal says. This tincture is extract from fresh California incense cedar. It tastes cool and sharp and is strangely compelling. “I like to put it over soda,” she says and laughs. “I can drink it all day.”
“We’re not professional bartenders,” Rachel Meyer tells me later, as we tour the team’s lab space at the New York Botanical Garden. Consequently, they are partnering with bartenders and mixologists around New York City to integrate their unique bitters into new cocktail designs. [You can find some interesting recipes at the company’s Web site