Our custom teabag-making project is in full swing this week and with the additional demand of over two hundred students enjoying class-time tea for the next five months, there are a lot of bags to make! Did I mention the fennel and lemon verbena are already almost finished? Even though, by the time October rolled around, there wasn’t a single spot to hang another stem of mint to dry, I still found myself in the garden yesterday looking to see what else I could salvage. My worries aren’t totally unfounded, they’re rooted in the fact that last year I naively thought we were overstocked with an unending supply of herbs until February came and the cold truth hit. We blew through just about everything except the less likely (for tea) herbs, like sage and oregano, which we began to drink and eventually enjoy. Sure, the oregano always seemed to make us hungry thanks to its pizza-like flavor, but it warmed us all the same.
Sharing a cup of tea at the end of gardening class has become a beloved ritual. There is something intimate about sharing a pot of tea; it’s something you do with friends, old or new. It helps build the bond between students, my teaching assistant Mrs. S (our resident tea mixologist) and myself. The children look expectantly at the slightly steaming golden pot, “Are we going to drink tea today?” they ask eagerly.
Now with a pretty respectable selection of herbs and spices all from our garden (with the exception of cloves), we are getting down to the business of learning about Tisanes (herbal teas) and all the various medicinal benefits they offer. Students think about who they will give their tea bag to and what herbal qualities would be most appreciated. Stress relief is quite popular, but many also choose herbs that help with cold symptoms or simply smell good.
Experiential education (according to The Association for Experiential Education) is “when educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.” My students are able to make deeper connections when they create rather than simply reading about “herbalism.”
Making tea bags may seem simple, but there is quite a bit to this art. These herbs have been grown, harvested, dried, crushed and jarred by the students. Lessons in botany, gardening and dehydration have been covered. They use deductive reasoning to choose what herbs to use and their sense of smell to create pleasing combinations. Fine motor skills are employed grinding spices using the mortar and pestle, as well as filling the small tea bag with the final concoction. It’s like the Chinese proverb: I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. How apropos considering legend has it that the first cup of tea was enjoyed almost five thousand years ago by a Chinese emperor. Oh, yeah, we discuss literary terms and history in gardening class too!