Late in 2016 Annalee Orsulich of Saugerties was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor the size of a golf ball — a dangerous condition that literally knocks her off her feet at times. A single parent with responsibility for a toddler, Orsulich felt particularly vulnerable. She was unable physically to return to her previous life in the restaurant industry.
Orsulich’s condition, diagnosed in 2016, quickly led to unsteady footing, dizziness and eventual strokes.
Having studied herbal medicine while living in Bahia, Brazil, Orsulich thought to revisit a root herb, muriapuama, a nervous system stimulant used by natives for those recovering from paralysis. Orsulich decided to recreate a potion she drank one day in Brazil when she was exhausted, and in need of energy. The root herb was combined with catuaba, a mood elevator and a known aphrodisiac (an assertion not backed by the Food and Drug Administration, Orsulich added), also used for depression. The concoction included guarana seed, a stimulant with more than twice as much natural kick as caffeine.
“I ended up going for this run, and walked around stores,” she said. “I was intrigued by the product. I ran home, changed my clothes, took a dance class, and marveled what this stuff was.”
The concoction is consumed as a tea in many regions of Brazil, she explained. “The native populations would consume it when they went to war, while on hunts, and at other times they needed endurance.” The buzz lasts about four to eight hours. The potion, Orsulich found, offered her more sustainable energy than coffee, which she characterized as “a straight up-and-down.”
Orsulich brewed it. Each herb was given its own distillation process before the ingredients were combined. Mojo & Co Roots Tonic was born.
She experimented with the brew. “People have very different tastes,” she explained. “It tastes like a sweet tea. Some people think it’s delish, and some people think it’s too intense. I started making different batches with the sweetness dialed down.”
Citric acid derived from raw cane sugar is the sweetener. She recommended adding seltzer, or using the tonic as a cocktail mixer. Some people prefer the buzz straight-up. In Brazil, she said, it is consumed as a shot.
“The tonic helped me kick my addiction to coffee, and I noticed it elevated my mood because every time I drank it I had the giggles,” said Orsulich’s sister, Mona Orsulich of Beacon, the tonic’s first customer.
“I had this dream and vision,” said Annalee Orsulich, “and part of me was even like, Can I do this? But my sister Mona had a great feeling about it. Having one person believe in it made it possible.”
Mona had other ideas, too. “I foresee an expansion of the product line and getting the product into boutique markets, while gearing up for statewide and eventually national sales,” she said.
Mojo & Co Roots just had its grand opening a few weeks ago. Orsulich said she recently met with a local small-business expert who advised her to expand the product line to include several herbal blends, and to sell herbal tea sachets. Orsulich hopes to do exactly that.
The bottle advises three servings per twelve-ounce bottle — about a half-cup — daily.
“Sip a little bit, see how you feel. But maybe don’t drink it at 4 p.m., and drink it like you would drink coffee,” she said. “My husband didn’t believe me about the effects this drink has. He drank it. Then he cleaned out my car, cleaned out my engine, and then swept the side of the house.”
Orsulich spoke about how she can feel the nerve “zapping” back in her face from the tonic, like “shooting pain in my teeth after I drank the leftover tea.” She thinks it’s helped considerably with her facial paralysis. The tonic has also helped “lift her spirits” and given her hope.
“My biggest dilemma was how to preserve this without alcohol,” Orsulich went on. “I do a ‘hot-fill’ process: I fill the bottles at 180 to 190 degrees, and it seals like it is being canned.”
The product is shelf-stable, but the label says it must be refrigerated. She has not gone through the rigors of a governmental certification process.
The price point of the product is still being worked out, but it will retail between seven and nine dollars. Tonic is now available at Duo Pantry in Kingston. For information, visit mojoroots.com.