Monastic Tea Garden – the Mints
Homegrown, home-processed, loose-leaf herbal teas are becoming quite popular here at the monastery! Not a meal goes by without at least one tea-strainer coming through the dish-line to be washed, and usually there are more than one. Sr. Cecilia Maria first had the idea of growing our own tea several years ago. As she looked through a book full of pictures of medieval cloister gardens, she thought to herself: “Not only would it be lovely to have a courtyard herb garden of our own, but it would give us another way to embrace our vow of poverty. Store-bought herbal teas are expensive!” In April 2013, the project began with a modest purchase of mint. Two seasons later, we have built up quite a repertoire of varieties. We thought you might enjoy a peek at our production.
Mint Henge was created…
Our little mint plants have grown! Fondly named “Mint Henge,” this section of the patio rock garden is home to (from left to right) Blue Balsam Peppermint, Corsican Mint, and Swiss Spearmint. Behind the low-growing Corsican Mint is a single marigold plant and a backdrop of English Thyme.
Nearly every Saturday morning is a mint morning. After breakfast, Sr. Cecilia Maria and Elizabeth fill a small tub with clippings from either the peppermint or the spearmint plants (which seem determined to escape their well-contained beds…). It takes them about twenty-five minutes to triple wash them, run them through the salad spinner, pat dry, arrange them on cookie-sheets, and slide them in the oven.
Yes, the oven! All the herbs are dried in our kitchen gas ovens. The pilot light is just warm enough to encourage the drying process without cooking the leaves. Since Sr. Cecilia Maria works in the kitchen on Saturday mornings, she does crack the oven door and turn up the heat to 150 for several fifteen minute segments, so that the leaves are totally dry by the afternoon. This also fills the entire work-wing of the monastery with the aroma of mint! In the evening, it is time to strip the leaves off their stems for storage. The stems, while edible, tend to be bitter, so we discard them.
The virtues of mint tea extend far beyond its refreshing taste. Peppermint and the tiny-but-powerful Corsican mint are both sources of menthol, so a cup of their tea will stimulate the mind and settle the stomach. Spearmint has a strong, sweet flavor which complements many of the other medicinal teas (substituting nicely for that “spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down”), and because it doesn’t contain menthol, it won’t counteract the calming effects of herbs like chamomile and hyssop.
Be on the watch for our next Monastic Tea Garden post which will feature the herb Chamomile.