The St. Louis Tea Club is a seasonal subscription to hand-blended teas made with fresh ingredients from our small organic farm. We practice Earth-based farming and herbalism so the plants in our blends are nurtured from seed to cup by our own hands. It's a labor of love and part of that labor is these letters I write to the club with each additional brew. New members are accepted year-round! To learn more or sign up, click here.
From underneath musky grey and
moldering brown of winter's choking cloak
flecks of newborn green peek out, coming
like a fresh breath born on the spring breeze,
filling the lungs with youthful bounce and the
sweet purple scent of violets in March sunshine.
It presses billowy lungs against rigid cage walls
turned cold and hunched with the frigid
shivering slumbers of winter.
Like a pinprick of light on the horizon,
the sunshine breath of March violets billows
in and melts the rigid hold of winter's cold
and coldest shallow breath into
warm spring rains that trickle down the arms to flicker
in the waking fingers and stream onward
to slake the rooted feet of their stirring thirst,
where we look down to find
more violets smiling up to March sunshine.
-- Summer Sherrod, First Deep Breath (2020)
Fresh violet leaves + flowers and cherry blossoms, an early spring treat - (c) Summer Sherrod 2020
I hope this letter finds you well. Our world has changed a lot in the past few weeks and as a family-owned farm microbusiness, the challenges we face are glaringly real. And yet, we continue to thrive and surge forward into the season with the energy of spring. Our crops are growing strong, fueled by soil & sunshine, but this is only possible because of you. It is the ecology of support from you, our friends, customers, family members, and our communities that is keeping us nourished and flexible to the forces of change whirling in and around us. Truly, thank you. Matt & I will continue to grow our plants, blend our teas, and work to feed our community. We will get through this together.
When we first designed the Tea Club program, we identified two primary goals to guide the creative process of growing, harvesting and blending your teas:
1) to provide peak-flavor, in-season, organically-cultivated, locally-grown from seed-to-sip delicious herbal teas
2) to provide appropriately seasonal blends in terms of common complaints.
Tea is a powerful tool by which we can take charge of our own health, one of the most important daily self-care and self-maximizing rituals we can develop. I want to furnish you with that tool, putting delicious tea into your wellness toolkit.
In the flurry of change that COVID19 has brought whirling about our lives, from our own homes to the Earth as a whole, I've become aware of another, third pillar that supports the mission of developing the most delicious, seasonally-appropriate tea that our Missouri soil & sunshine has to offer.
3) to provide blends that are sensitive to the social season and cognizant of the needs people are experiencing beyond the common and traditionally seasonal afflictions.
So it was with these three pillars of formulation in mind that I set out to design your April tea: Ephemeral.
Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), a Missouri-native spring ephemeral - (c) Summer Sherrod 2020
Ostara, an old name for the spring equinox, passed us on March 19 this year, marking the turning point when the days become longer than the nights. This is the season of Early Spring when a warm sunny day reveals an explosion of green in such an array of hues unseen for so many dark winter days. Many of the first flowers to bloom at this time are known as spring ephemerals.
Ephemeral means "transitory, brief in its existence, fleeting, lasting only a short time." Spring ephemeral plants, like the golden daffodil Frost references in his poem above, unfurl their leaves from their cold Earthen cocoon while the rest of the plant kingdom is just beginning to stir, bleary-eyed and murmuring, under the lengthening days. Before the tall grasses have stretched their blades towards the morning sun, before the slumbering trees of the deciduous forests have begun weaving a new leafy blanket of shade, the ephemerals emerge with the bright and cheery colors of spring: golden orange daffodils, Easter-pink phlox and hyacinth, delicate white toothwort and spring beauty, mystic violets that dot the thawing ground with nests of purple like none-too-hidden Easter eggs.
These plants are the harbingers of spring, the signposts and reminders that no matter how harsh the winter, no matter how grueling the season, the spring wind always comes to whisk away the old and breathe the breath of new life.
Field violet (
Viola bicolor), jumping up among the chickweed (
Stellaria media) - (c) Summer Sherrod 2020
Violet is one of my favorite early spring flowers, and really one of my all-time favorite tea plants. Sweet and vegetal, violet is simultaneously nourishing and cleansing. Later in April, when they've finished blooming but still blanket the Earth with their heart-shaped leaves, I like to pack a jar full of violet leaves, cover them in boiling water, and steep for 15-20 minutes. The brew gets a little thick with the mouth-feel of a good creamy whole milk because of the demulcent, mucilagenous properties. Drinking this brew makes me feel hydrated and supple with the youthful energy of spring. I made sure to include this seasonal flavor in this month's blend.
To enhance the floral flavors, we harvested cherry blossoms from our own tree, right over the violet patch. They're floral without being too bright and simply delightful in any tea. Many plants in the rose family (especially our fruit trees like cherry, apple, pear, apricot, and plum) start blooming along with the ephemerals, often only for a week or two. Their blooms are here and gone, hopefully with enough sunny days for a wandering bees to visit, ensuring bountiful fruits later this summer.
Tunhoof is another seasonal flavor, adding a minty note and aromatic quality. I find this one to be a little heavier in flavor than most mint-family members, almost musky underneath the brighter mint notes. This plant has traditionally been used to strengthen the lungs.
Purple deadnettle (
Lamium purpureum) is a common sight in early spring, often found alongside the white-flowering chickweed (
Stellaria media). Both are edible wild species - (c) Summer Sherrod 2020
Purple deadnettle is a common sight in our yards and fields right now. It has a brightness to its vegetal flavor, similar to violet, providing the herby body of this blend.
Marshmallow leaf and red clover enhance the properties lent by the violet and stinging nettle does the same for the purple deadnettle. Hyssop adds more of the minty notes provided by tunhoof.
To invoke that third guiding principle, blending a tea for the social season as well as for flavor and the solar season, the remaining ingredients are herbs that are traditionally used to provide support during stressful situations, helping to soothe tension out of the nervous system and bring about a more relaxed feeling in body and mind. This type of support is crucial to maintaining a robust immune system.
Holy basil is my favorite herbal adaptogen (promoter of a healthy stress response) and probably my favorite tea herb. We used the last of our homegrown stash in this blend so we won't see it in our brews again until this summer. Catnip is often used as a gentle calmitive in childrens' formulas, often in conjunction with chamomile to smooth away stress, tension and overexcitement. Blue vervain, skullcap and motherwort are the trifecta of nerve-nourishment in this tea. These herbs are traditionally used to combat anxiety, nervous exhaustion from long-term stress, and the various tensions that come from feeling uneasy or worried. While all three are considered relaxing nervines, blue vervain has an affinity for the digestive system, skullcap acts on the mind and cognitive centers, and motherwort soothes the heart, making this a truly "full-bodied" blend.
It is my sincerest hope that this tea brings you some comfort and ease, helping you to ground down into the refreshing energy of spring. I hope the spring ephemerals inspire you to bloom without shame, to welcome the changing season, and to remember that new beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.
Find some sunshine, keep brewing and be well.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
- Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay
Demure field violet (Viola bicolor), face upturned to the March sunshine - (c) Summer Sherrod 2020