At Home with Heti Low-Dose THC-infused Botanical Beverages

This story originally appeared in the Heavy Table Tulip and Schooner newsletter for beer, wine, and spirits published Friday, June 21, 2024. To receive new Heavy Table culinary newsletters every Friday morning, subscribe on Patreon.

Heti is a new startup from Dana Thompson, a co-creator of Owamni restaurant, NĀTIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems) nonprofit, and the Indigenous Food Lab. But she left those organizations in 2023 for a new journey: Heti low-dose THC-infused botanical beverages. Thompson is a direct descendant of the Sisseton Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota tribes, and her experiences feed directly into Heti Products. The word heti translates to “home” in the Dakota language, a theme that carries into Heti as a social-impact brand, meaning that the business will donate a portion of proceeds toward building sustainable homes for marginalized communities.

Heti is available in four flavors, sold in stores (currently Twin Cities and Duluth) in single 12-ounce cans and 4-packs, or in larger packages on its website. Each can is low dose (3 mg) and low calorie.

HEAVY TABLE: Restaurants and retail are very different industries. First, why did you make the move?

DANA THOMPSON: I have been wanting to get into Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) for a long time with the purpose of using it as a passive educational tool. Building the brand as an homage to my ancestors creates a way for me to share Indigenous wisdom such as health and sustainability with a wider audience. It’s one more way to provide a wellness option in this market that I believe the consumer was seeking. I wanted to fill that void. 

HT: How do you think your restaurant experience sets your venture with Heti apart from others who are entering this new cannabis marketplace?

THOMPSON: I have the unique perspective of understanding the consumer, the operator, the manufacturer and creator. On-premise operators, and by that I mean restaurants and bars, etc., run their businesses with very thin margins. They are under pressure to create a great guest experience within this new legalized market. I know they want to be able to sell more than one beverage to each guest, and so I created a beverage that is low dose, super healthy and delicious! 

HT: What appealed to you, from a personal or business perspective, about the cannabis beverage market?

THOMPSON: I have been a fan of cannabis for a long time. The fact that a plant that holds so much benefit for humans was/is illegal is a travesty. I know a lot of people that don’t use alcohol anymore but still want a pleasurable beverage experience! Beyond that, cannabis is proven to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, helps with anxiety in many people, reduces nausea, has shown great promise with regards to moving people away from opioids – and there is a lot more research that needs to be done! Also, when THC beverages emerged onto the marketplace, I was super excited. The challenge was finding one without a ton of sugar. I am a pretty healthy eater and generally avoid sugar, but I couldn’t find one that worked for me. So, I decided to make my own, believing it would resonate with others. 

HT: The name Heti obviously connects to the social-impact angle. To you, how does the word “Heti” also connect with the drink itself?

THOMPSON: Heti is one of the Dakota words for “Home”. As I was creating this brand, I decided to try to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes throughout his life. I imagined the plant relatives around him as he was a child on the Santee Indian Reservation, at boarding school in Pipestone or living in Prior Lake, Minnesota. He was an avid hiker, forager and farmer. What plants would he have connected with throughout his life near his homes? With that, I created four flavor profiles designed to transport you to a place in nature. 

HT: What inspired each of the four flavors at launch? 

THOMPSON: Each flavor was its own unique development process, so I’ll start with River Path which is blueberry, rosehip, agave and salt. I loved walking along rivers as a child, picking berries, smelling wild roses, which of course turn into rosehips in the fall. I chose agave as a sweetener because it’s neutral and low glycemic. We added salt to make the other flavors pop and lend to the mineral, dryer flavor. 

Woodland Edge was inspired by learning about using tree species for nutritional benefits. Where I live in Minneapolis, you can’t walk a single block without coming across a cedar tree. They grow everywhere, and when I learned how to take a little cutting of the green boughs to make tea, I was blown away. It’s so good! So, this was born out of me imagining my grandfather hiking, coming to the forest’s edge and just taking a moment there to look around. What did he see? Woodland Edge is cedar, maple and wild mint. 

The third flavor is an homage to coming upon a cranberry bog. Wisconsin cranberries are the stuff of legends. I imagine approaching a bog in the fall at the time of harvest, seeing sumac growing with its flaming red leaves on the edge of the water. Black currants prefer wet grounds, so seeing the bushes growing, heavy with fruit… that is Marshland Harvest. 

Meadow Cat Nap was the most challenging for me to create. One of my favorite things to do as a child was lie in a field and watch the clouds float by. I wanted to inspire the feeling of relaxing in community with the plants around us. So, this beverage turned into a very botanical, light, delicate drink using wild mint, lemon balm and dandelion with honey. I absolutely love it, and I am delighted that people are ordering it like crazy already! 

HT: What is your biggest surprise so far?

THOMPSON: That this brand has been appealing to men! I was a little concerned that I was not appealing broadly enough to a vast demographic. Women are ordering this like crazy, which I expected, but I have had certain men order Heti 3-4 times already and we’ve only been launched for five weeks.

HT: You’re active with several nonprofit or social-impact businesses. How important is this business model for you? Would you do this otherwise?

THOMPSON: I would likely not put this much effort into something that didn’t have a social impact. There is so much good to be done in the world. Adding value to causes in areas that have so much need is a big motivator for me. I learned so much over the past two decades about many facets of sustainability, capacity building, and supporting largely erased cultures. I want to use that knowledge and the business community that I have developed to continue the work.  

HT: Tell us about the housing initiative. First, what is hempcrete?

THOMPSON: Hempcrete is a bio-composite building material that combines the inner woody core of the hemp plant with a lime-based binder. Hempcrete is lightweight, insulating, fire-resistant and has excellent thermal properties. It diverts landfill and absorbs carbon. There is a lot to like about it. When I started learning about this amazing product, it inspired me to fold it into the mission of Heti. I was thinking about the two-room farmhouse my mother was raised in with her nine siblings. Then I heard about the housing shortages on the Santee Indian Reservation where grandpa was born. So, I reached out to some people I know in Native construction and floated some conversations. I talked to the chairman at Santee, and of course they confirmed the needs. I talked to another organization that I had worked with previously whose job is to research, build, and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity. They all think this multi-sector project is not only possible, but necessary. Everything depends on how successful Heti is. If I fail, I won’t be able to reach my dream, but I like to succeed, and early reports are that people like the product. I hope I can do a lot of good with this. 

HT: Will the housing be built in any specific communities? How are benefactors chosen?

THOMPSON: I likely won’t know until I get through this first year of business. Heti is in its infancy. I do want to focus on Santee because of the family connection. Lower Sioux is also a community my family has ties to. Again, it depends on the success of the brand.