Harriet Chebet Ng’ok is the founder and owner of Harriet’s Botanicals. The health and wellness startup makes herbal medicines, whose ingredients are sourced from forests in the Kenyan countryside.
I studied at The London School of Economics and later worked as an investment banker and in finance in cities such as London, Cape Town and New York. Companies I worked with include Cherie Blair Foundation, Sinapis, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.
The idea of the brand sprung from my own battle. Since my 20s I would miss school and work due to menstrual pain and discomfort. It was worse when I was working as an investment banker. My colleagues thought I was lazy and just looking for an excuse to be away from work every month.
I visited various hospitals, but doctors told me that I had cysts, fibroids or was just being hysterical. These reasons didn’t hold water. I would take strong painkillers and with time, I sought natural cure including allopathy, ayurvedic medicine, aromatherapy, homeopathy, Chinese and Asian herbs, juicing and smoothies.
However, all these bore no fruits. In 2009, I came home and the excruciating pain once again started. Someone from Webuye gave me some herbs but they only treated the pain for as long as I was taking them.
In 2017, I visited for my dad’s funeral and once again my monthly problem commenced. In fact, I was two hours late for the funeral because I was trying to deal with the pain. However, an old woman from my village seemed to know what I was going through and offered a concoction. I was delighted but sceptical. I had not had painless periods for more than 20 years. But her herbs did wonders. Within a short time, the pain was gone.
It surprised me that the solution had been around me for years. I took some bottles of the herbs, which I shared with a friend who had the same problem. It worked perfectly. I started a WhatsApp group to share the amazing benefits of the medicinal plants. The overwhelming reaction inspired me to sell the products to my friends.
As the inquiries grew, I took the concoction for analysis at the University of Nairobi’s Departments of Pharmacology and Pharmacognosy to ascertain the composition of the medicines and how to mix the concoctions. I then acquired the intellectual rights from the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (Kipi).
Arorwet is among the products I sell. It contains eight essential herbs and deals with digestive issues, fibroids, menstrual pain, tubal blockages, and hormonal imbalance.
Tendwet, whose base ingredient is the Prunus Africana tree contains six essential herbs. It deals with libido, prostate issues and also works as an aphrodisiac.
The herbs are sourced from the southern part of Rift Valley in areas like Sotik, Marakwet and Keiyo. Through word of mouth, people got to know about the products. I got most of my clients through referrals.
We are also producing Legetiet, popularly known as Loliondo. This is from a bushy shrub found in the dry parts of Bomet.
Where I am now:
I was certified a cultural practitioner by the Ministry of Culture in a bid to show commitment and transparency.
Besides fulfilling its mandate of manufacturing herbal medicine, Harriet’s Botanicals has embraced cultural and environmental elements. We are committed to preserving the trees and plants from which we extract the medicines. This will help preserve local cultures and promote green energy.
The Witchcraft Act of 1959 discouraged our ancestors from practising herbal medicine. This is because it was associated with witchcraft. There are some who still despise herbal medication because they think it’s not hygienic. Some think “miti shamba” are bitter. But my products have a taste that won’t put you off. They are also manufactured under utmost hygienic conditions. After sorting and drying, we boil the herbs for four hours and then let them cool for 24 hours before packing and labelling.
We have intense interaction with our customers, who always pay upon delivery. Ever since I started, only one customer hasn’t paid up. Our lines are always open in case a customer wants to consult.
The Heva Cultural Heritage Seed Fund in partnership with the British Council have provided Harriet’s Botanicals with a grant that will go a long way in documenting the medicinal plants in Kenya and the processes used to produce the medicinal herbs.
Additionally, the funding will help in sharing information and producing vital cultural information, as well as teaching about the herbal medicine practice.
Our company also has a CSR commitment and 10 per cent of revenue goes back to the villages where we collect the herbs. This inspires them to grow and preserve traditional trees and plants.
Test your product with your friends first and take their feedback seriously.
Do enough market research and find out what people need before launching your product. Never overestimate or underestimate your product. I personally had to go online to learn how to price each bottle.
Never give up on your business. Have a vision and be passionate about your product. Ensure that you have enough resources when you officially start the business so that your clients don’t end up looking for it from competitors. Remember entrepreneurs are not only born; they are also made. Insist on entrepreneurship courses to boost your business knowledge.
In the next five years, I hope to get my herbal products all over Kenya and eventually be available in Africa and then internationally within a period of ten years.
Harriet's Botanicals can be found on Twitter and Facebook.Does social media improve or impede communication?