For most loquat lovers I know, it’s the orange-yellow fruits that draw us in each spring.
From late February to April, my kids and I keep an eye on the ripening fruit on these trees that can be found in yards throughout Austin, and as soon as loquat season starts, we stop to nibble on the the sweet apricot-peach-mango flesh.
But Maria Gotay seeks out loquats for another reason: the leaves.
The founder of Project Loquat has been transforming the long, dark leaves into a medicinal tea and tincture that she’s giving away at a handful of apothecaries in Austin.
Loquat tea has a long history in Japan, where it’s called biwa cha and is prized for its medicinal benefits, including easing coughs, congestion and gastrointestinal ailments. Some studies have even found that it helps in the prevention and control of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
But when Gotay, a designer, event producer and creative director, moved to Austin three years ago from New York, she’d never heard of a loquat.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, I was on a walk and someone on the street explained to me that I could eat the fruit," she says. Around the same time, she saw several friends online talking about the health benefits of the tea, so she started researching it with the help of her mom, a retired scientist and medical field researcher.
Gotay has a passion for starting side projects that help build community and "a huge passion for herbalism," so as soon as she learned about loquat tea, she started envisioning a free community project to make this abundant natural resource available to everyone.
Gotay also used her knowledge from volunteering on a tea farm in Nepal in her 20s to dry and grind the leaves into a tisane, an herbal mixture that steeps like a tea but doesn’t contain the tea plant, or Camellia sinensis.
She was surprised to see that the loquat tea steeps into a light orange color that looks like the fruit, and after enjoying drinking the tea herself and sharing it with friends, she launched Project Loquat this summer.
One important thing to know about loquat tea is that the fuzz that grows on the underside of the leaf can be irritating to some, so it’s important to steep the tisane from a bag and not as a loose-leaf tea. Each five-serving pouch comes with tea bags, but Project Loquat is also giving away little bottles of tinctures. (She paid for the bottles using money raised during an online fundraiser for birthday in June.)
Gotay makes no medical claims of the tea, but she quickly joined the ranks of people who enjoy drinking it. "When I’ve had a day when I’ve talked too much, it’s been helpful to me."
All of the printing services were donated by Affordable Sound and Printing, and she’s donated her team’s branding and marketing skills to spread the word. There’s also a place on the website where you can learn how to make the tea and tinctures yourself.
"A lot of the work I do is bringing communities together to make stuff and appreciating what’s around us," she says. "This year there was a confluence of things that were happening and I saw this as something we can we work together on."
You can find the Project Loquat (projectloquat.com) tea and tincture at Earth Commons (813 Springdale Road), Calyx Wellness (1803 S. First St.) and 7 Feathers Apothecary (10801 Old San Antonio Road), and you can also request a contactless or off-hours pick up at the East Austin Seed Exchange, a free seed exchange box in front of the former Eden East restaurant at 755 Springdale Road.
Project Loquat has also made donations to several community groups, including Jail Support Crew, Concordia Co-op, Monkey Wrench Mutual Aid, Stop the Sweeps, Rooted in Melanin and a group of seniors at Rebekah Baines Johnson Center.