By Eric Ladd Explore Big Sky Publisher

Kombucha is a new trend in health drinks sweeping the nation.

For more than 2,000 years, this fermented herbal tea has been used in herbal remedies to promote health and, in the Chinese culture, is called the “Elixir of Life.” Russians have used kombucha to fight cancer for generations.

But what is it? The kombucha culture combines Acetobacter, an acetic acid bacteria, and one or more yeasts. In Cantonese, this microbial culture is called haomo, in Mandarin, it’s jiaomu, (Chinese: 酵母; literally “yeast”). It’s also known as Manchurian Mushroom.

There are many unsubstantiated claims made about the effects of kombucha, but the one proven benefit is that the tea has antioxidant and immune-influencing properties. It can protect the liver and lower stress levels. Yet-proven health benefits attributed to drinking this tea include preventing cancer, acting as a sleeping aid, and stimulating hair re-growth.

Bend, Ore., oft-considered a hotbed of new trends is the home of Kombucha Mama, a company born in 2009 with the goal of making more affordable, better tasting kombucha. Its products now come in a variety of forms, from bottles to growler re-fill stations. That’s right Montana, Kombucha growler re-fill stations!

The Outlaw staff embarked on a tasting session of four Kombucha Mama flavors. Many of the tasters were first time kombucha drinkers (and yes, they’re still alive).

Pomegranate Lemonade (taster: Joseph T. O’Connor, Senior Editor): “We may have to open a new summer beverage stand. Kombucha Mama’s Pomegranate Lemonade would sell like, well, lemonade – but better. Between cancer-fighting antioxidants in pomegranate and scurvy-battling properties in lemons, this is the ultimate health drink. And its fizzy sweetness masks the acquired taste of some kombucha beverages. Chalk up a win for Kombucha Mama!”

Pomegranate Lemonade (taster: Tyler Allen, Staff Writer, Distribution Director): “This is one of the better Kombucha drinks I’ve had (and yes, I like recycling, hugging trees and the occasional crunchy grooves). The Pomegranate Lemonade had the perfect amount of effervescence and wasn’t too snappy.”

Apple Sass (taster: Katie Morrison, Account Manager): “Refreshing, and with a little kick – the benefits seem amazing! Also, it tastes like a Moscow Mule, just not in a copper cup.”

Lemon Ginger (taster: Matt Hudson, Editorial Assistant): “The Lemon Ginger version had a nice, light citrus flavor, and the ginger added zing! You can enjoy this drink at a concert on a hot day or when you’re looking for a healthy treat after yoga.”

Pina Colada (taster: Kelsey Dzinstar, Graphic Designer): “The Pina Colada kombucha had all the flavor of the tropical cocktail without the sickening sweetness. Knowing that it’s actually good for me, I would definitely reach for this on a hot day … or getting caught in the rain.”

For more information about Kombucha Mama, visit kombuchamama.com. To read up on kombucha, visit getkombucha.com.