A big part of our gardening program at Green Chimneys is tea-making. Technically speaking, we are making tisanes (ti·sane, tiˈzan,-ˈzän), or herbal infusions, versus tea, which is made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Whatever you want to call it, the cup of warm, soothing libation that we share at the end of each gardening class in our greenhouse is highly anticipated and revered by most staff and students.
With the exception of cloves, all of the ingredients we use to make tea are lovingly cultivated by our students. Many of the herbs and spices that we incorporate are perennials, which means they come back year after year, like mint, lemon balm and hyssop. Others reseed by themselves very easily, as in the case of coriander, fennel and shiso. However, some of the herbs and spices in our infusions are started annually by seed, like lemon and lime basil, or new additions to our tea garden like wild bergamot, which we added last season. Stem cuttings work well for herbs like pineapple sage, and right now we are experimenting with propagating lemon verbena via stem cutting. Let’s face it; you can never have too much lemon verbena!
This week, our students are making their own custom tea bags. They start off by smelling the different herbs and spices available for use, while perusing a “menu” of these ingredients, which also defines the medicinal properties of each component. For example, did you know that lemon balm is an excellent stress reliever? Or cloves are great for relieving tooth pain? I love fennel, which has a wonderful licorice flavor and also aids digestion!
Once students choose ingredients, they get to work crushing their herbs and spices using a mortar and pestle. When the desired consistency is met, they fill their tea bag, which either Mr. Kevin (our wonderful garden teaching assistant) or I seal using an iron. Coffee filters or cheese cloth can also be fashioned into nice tea bags by tying them with some kitchen twine.
After making their bag, the kids fill out a card listing their ingredients, along with the health benefits to be derived. In the end, each student has a really unique product, which they can either choose to give someone or keep for themselves. Most students opt to make their tea bag for someone else, and they customize their ingredients to suit the intended recipient.
This project is a big crowd pleaser. I’ve mentioned in the past how difficult the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be for many of our students. Anxieties are running at an all time high for many reasons, and programs like tea-making can reduce tension. Learning about how to use herbs to relieve stress opens eyes to using natural remedies instead of chemical treatments in certain instances. Even before the tea is imbibed, stress seems to melt away!
Look for more fun, botanical projects to come in the weeks leading up to our Winter Break. This week we are chopping up pine boughs that have been trimmed from the bottom of the Christmas trees being sold at Boni-Bel. We will use these in next week’s project: potpourri!