Tea parties are not just for 18th Century revolutionaries or 21st Century reactionaries! Take back this phrase and custom, and use it to celebrate your garden’s bounties, and the importance of graceful manners, wholesome foods, and simple conviviality.
For our garden club at school, tea parties during meetings have proven very popular, particularly when the youngsters are able to collect, rinse, and mince the leaves themselves (using a wooden cutting board and a sharp knife that necessitates some very practical training in knife skills). There’s much to learn about the history of various herbs and the process of brewing teas, combining leaves from different plants for different effects, and adding just the right amount of locally-produced honey to obtain optimal levels of flavor and sweetness. In keeping with our spiritual beliefs, we like to begin these occasions with a prayer of thanksgiving for both the harvest and the company because, from our perspective, this adds yet another significant dimension to the sharing.
In terms of tools, we use an electric Drip Style Coffee Maker with a glass carafe and heating unit to boil the water and then steep the chopped leaves. There are many types of intriguing and inexpensive metal contraptions available that are designed to contain the prepared leaves. Alternately, the leaves can be added directly to the water and then removed with some type of strainer during the actual pouring of the individual portions. A favorite feature of garden club tea parties (in addition to the conversations) is the beautiful set of ceramic expresso cups that the youngsters use for their beverages. The children enjoy the size, form, and colors of these well-made cups, and we know (because we wash them after each use ) that we’re truly recycling and not wasting paper or fossil fuel resources as we conduct our festivities.
In terms of herbs that have grown well in the garden and return year after year, invasive mints of various kinds (such as Peppermint, Spearmint, and ‘Chocolate’ Mint) have thrived. Sage and Lemon Balm have been reliable, and on the plus side, they’ve not been nearly as aggressive.
Here’s an activity sheet that that students read, embellish, and take home as part of the first tea brewing of the year. And here’s also a link to the marvelous website of one of New Hampshire’s finest herbalists, Maria Noel Groves: http:/wintergreenbotanicals.com