Retired university professor pushing lemon grass products
Dr Harvey Reid displaying some of his 26 herbal products, some made from lemon grass. (Photo: Gregory Bennett)

CROSS KEYS, Manchester — When Dr Harvey Reid returned to Warwick near here in southern Manchester and began planting lemon grass, also called fever grass, people in his native community thought he was crazy.

"When I came back, I saw the lemon grass at my great-grandfather's house and I just gravitate and took a piece of it down to my house and planted it. Then I started planting and then the community thought I was mad, because normally nobody plants lemon grass, it just grows on the farm. So here was this person coming back from abroad planting lemon grass — he must be a madman," Dr Reid laughingly told the Jamaica Observer recently.

However, today the retired physiology professor boasts his herbal company, Country House, which has 26 products on the market including tea, hand sanitiser, mosquito repellant, shampoo, soap, candles and lotion made from lemon grass.

Country House's farm, distillery and packaging centre is located in Warwick, neighbouring Dr Reid's home. He said up to 10 people are employed during harvest of lemon grass.

"We don't have a permanent body of staff now. Lemon grass can be harvested three times a year, but when we harvest it once and we have enough oil [derived from lemon grass] to last for a year, when we are cutting, moving and running the still [machine] we hire 10 people," he said.

He told the Sunday Observer that he and his family left Jamaica in 1961 during the Windrush migration to the United Kingdom.

"I spent 18 years there, then I went to Nigeria in West Africa, where I taught at two medical schools — the University of Nigeria and the University of Benin. In 1988 I came back here [Jamaica] and spent 32 years at The University of the West Indies," he said.

In the early 1990s he started planting and selling lemon grass on a small scale to herbal shops until he stopped in 1995 and ventured into farming for export.

"We were really focused on yellow yam, coco, and sweet potato. In between we were intercropping with things like pumpkin and cassava," he explained.

A decade later, he returned to planting lemon grass, which he said spurred ideas for products.

"What the lemon grass did was to provide a clear path for a value-added product. In other words, what I saw that I could follow a value chain, which is from an idea to the shelf [market]," Dr Reid said.

He decided to consult with the Scientific Research Council (SRC) to develop a formulation for the lemon grass tea in 2005.

"We started to package the lemon grass and sold it to the health shops. We [also] decided to resume the tea production, but this time at a level where it would get to the supermarket and the export markets [tourism sector] in 2007," he said.

"By then we started moving from the tea, because we realised now that the lemon grass had greater potential and that all the secrets in its benefits came from lemon grass essential oil," he said.

The company then expanded into doing products derived from peppermint and rosemary.

"Once we have the facility, it has the capacity to do oils providing that you have a buyer mass [a market]… You can do a thousand things with the oil," he said.

His passion for developing products from lemon grass also stem from his childhood memories.

"As a child I was an asthmatic and before my mother left here, she used to make lemon grass tea, which was very beneficial," he said.

He explained that the lemon grass oil is used to make skincare and hygiene products.

"The deodorant you use or spray, the aroma is not from natural oil, it is from an adulterated or a fragrance made in the lab, it smells nice, but it does nothing for you. We decided that we are going to use lemon grass oil in our production of a suite of products to target health-conscious individuals. We have lotion, shower gel, facial creams, shampoo, conditioner, facial wash [among others]," he said.

"Another very important property of lemon grass is that it is a good insect repellent, it is almost like a perfume. This is a natural mosquito repellent with no additives or preservatives; you can use it on babies. We even have a toner that you can use as a body mist," he added.

He said the products that can be derived from lemon grass shows its versatility, even so that during the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic there was interest in hand sanitiser.

"When COVID came I believe we were the only company making hand sanitiser in Jamaica. There were hand sanitisers [on the market], but they were all imported and this is what kept us going during COVID," he said.

"Although we speak of lemon grass tea, we have also zeroed in on the local herbs; we have several teas including moringa, ceresee, soursop, peppermint, guava, mango, naseberry, rosemary," he said.

He said the pandemic slowed his aspirations in growing his business.

"Pre-COVID we were just on the launching pad to get into the export market. This office [building in Warwick] is fairly new, we got funding from the EXIM Bank in 2019. The factory space was expanded to facilitate packaging. We haven't even formally opened here as yet. We are actually perched to go on the launching pad," he explained.

Dr Reid said that his decision years ago to purchase land close to his family property in south Manchester to develop a five-acre farm in Warwick is reaping success.

"Another emphasis of the company is to use what we have around us, because we live in a wellness world. All of these [products] except peppermint are from the property. We grow our own rosemary and lemon grass. We actually grew cerasee, nobody normally grows cerasee," he said.

He hopes that the deplorable road condition in south Manchester will be addressed to improve the commute between Cross Keys to key points, including Mandeville and Toll Gate in Clarendon.

"The road is bad and having to travel on that on a regular basis you will have high expenses to keep repairing your front end and wheel alignment, it slows down your mobility," he said.

He added that he wants to venture into eco-tourism and educational tours on his farm.

"What I want to do is to have the facility become a tourism attraction with eco-tourism with a walkway all around the property. We have had [massage therapy] students come here to learn about essential oils used in massages for them to see how it is produced. We want the high school children to come in and to see that farming can be a potentially profitable business," he said.

Dr Reid has aspirations for expanding his company, which employs up to 10 people during harvesting, based in Warwick.

"Some of the products are done on site, what I do [for the others] is I provide the oil and contractors use it to make the products and then we do the packaging here [in Warwick]," he said.

"We are a sole proprietor, but we are looking at upgrading to a limited liability company. Another big thing on my mind is succession planning for down the road when I can no longer manage. I intend to bring my children on board," he added.

Country House products are available in some hotels, Jamaica Aromatics at the Sangster International Airport, in the Corporate Area at Things Jamaican, John R Wong, Loshusan, General Foods, Alchemist Pharmacy, Proactive Lifestyle, Lee's Pharmacy, UWI Bookshop, Agrimart, Monarch Pharmacy, and online at houseofnaturejm.com.

Dr Harvey Reid breaking lemon grass on his farm in Warwick, south Manchester. (Photo: Gregory Bennett)
Dr Harvey Reid showing a lemon grass drink. (Photo: Gregory Bennett)
Dr Harvey Reid inspecting herbal leaves in a drying house on his farm in Warwick, south Manchester. (Photo: Gregory Bennett)
Country House products office and packaging centre in Warwick, south Manchester. (Photo: Gregory Bennett)
Dr Harvey Reid showing his lemon grass tea. (Photo: Gregory Bennett)
Country House products with the House of Nature labelling. (Photo: Gregory Bennett)
Kasey Williams

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