Grace Farms Community Garden, managed by Garden Manager and Sustainability Coordinator Ashley Kenney regularly produces fresh plants and herbs, also nurtures new species for the public to enjoy. The garden produces vegetation for our kitchen, donates to Person-to-Person, recently produced herbs to create Grace Farms’ seasonal brewed tea blends. Guests are invited to the Pavilion, a unique and welcoming space with 360-degree views of the landscape, where visitors can enjoy these signature flavors and intimate conversation.
Ashley and Frank Kwei, tea connoisseur and Director of Hospitality at Grace Farms, have created two unique tea recipes that are harmonious and balanced. To create the blends, Ashley harvested various mixtures of perennial herbs she had grown in the past, combining flavors she felt evoked the serenity, calm, and ingenuity of Grace Farms. During Grace Farms’ temporary art exhibit, “The Quiet Circus: Landscape Game,” our staff in the Pavilion brewed both batches of tea throughout the day. In late December, our staff will brew these teas for guests throughout the day.
The tea blends include chamomile flowers, lemon balm leaves, four different types of mint (mojito, spearmint, curly mint, and pineapple mint), anise hyssop, and lavender. The Anise Hyssop used in this year’s tea blend was a donation from the Garden Manager of the Jane Goodall Center Permaculture Garden in Danbury, CT. All of these plants are perennials that flourish yearly in our Community Garden, and grow each year to produce extended herbal infusions.
To produce the blend, Ashley prunes chamomile flowers at the base of the flower head after they bloom and before the plant leaves turn brown.
“The more the flower heads are cut, the more they bloom,” said Ashley. “It’s important not to crush the chamomile heads because they maintain their flavor and scent when used intact. The smell of dried chamomile heads reminds many people of the scent of bananas.”
After the lemon balm and mint stems grow higher than six inches from the soil, they are cut. If this pruning is done properly, these plants will come back every year.
Lavender plants produce a limited amount of purple headed stalks throughout the summer, so the goal is to cut the flowers before they fall off, when they’re at their peak. Ashley lets the leaves cure in a single layer in a dark, warm, dry loft, and then flips the leaves and heads after a week, leaving them to aerate for another seven days. It’s important to use lavender in moderation because of its overpowering aroma and taste, which is similar to soap.
After the leaves of the mint, anise hyssop, and lemon balm are thoroughly dried, Ashley strips them from the stem, hand crushes the leaves, and puts them into separate jars. They are kept in their mason jars for a month, during which time they develop very strong scents and flavor profiles. The herbs purposefully aren’t blended until the harvest is complete and the drying process for each herb has finished so that the flavors are consistent.