Effleurage your tea! (Or how to make exquisite herbal infusions)
My mother is a herbal marvel, my inspiration and the person who filled my heart with the love of plants from when I was big enough to hold her hand and walk around the garden with her. I grew up in a lush tropical paradise, in a house on 2.5 acres of flowers, plants and animals. Over the years we’ve kept everything from chickens and Guinea pigs (64 of them at one point!) to ostriches and horses (briefly…they escaped one morning by running over my dad’s beloved car and out the gate just as it was opened for us to be driven to school and they got sent back to the farm the next day) and now, my mum is tending what is possibly the most diverse garden on the whole of the Kenyan coast.
It is teeming with indigenous plants you won’t find in any other garden. Like the old Victorian plant hunters, her passion is collecting rare and endangered plants from around Kenya (and a few from even further afield). But it’s not just about beauty, it’s also about preserving our indigenous medicinal plants which are being eschewed in favour of pharmaceuticals and with time, are being forgotten. Her long term goal is to open her garden up as a botanical garden and she wants to set up a herb and plant school to teach others about these incredible plants. Some of them you will probably never have heard of and the names she knows for them are just in Swahili. While others she has driven hours to go find the last wild places where they grow to collect seeds and cuttings to transplant (such as ashwagandha which grows in just one place on the whole coast that mum and her fellow herbal warriors have found).
At breakfast on my first morning in Mombasa, she presented me with a cup of tea cooked in the Swahili way by boiling tea leaves, milk and a bit of water together. Basically, it’s chai. But unlike every other cup of tea she’s served me, this one didn’t smell of cardamom and cinnamon. It smelled of jasmine! And the flavour was the stuff of legend. So in this blog post, I’ll be teaching you to make effleurage teas in the same way she’s taught me.
I love herb teas. People who’ve come to one of my workshops or courses can attest to the fact that I have cupboards full of the stuff! I buy it wherever I go and make oodles of it too from herbs I forage and dry myself. Herb teas are an excellent way to partake of the healing powers of plants. Most people have chucked a couple of sprigs of mint in a pot of boiling water. But isn’t it time we got a bit more adventurous with our herb teas? This is one for you foraging caffeine junkies and people who just love a great cup of tea.
Mum makes herb infused teas using a process known as effleurage. This process is traditionally used as a means of making perfumes by covering fat with highly aromatic flowers then replacing them with fresh blooms every day until the fat was rich with the scent of flowers. I’ve not heard of someone using this process for tea though and I think it’s genius!
Effleurage black tea
3 cups Black or green tea
Fresh flowers or leaves from aromatic herbs (we’re using jasmine) (1/2 cup or more every other day)
This process takes 2 weeks so start it at the beginning of the season of any flower you want to use. It would be divine with rose petals, elderflower, honeysuckle, meadowsweet, or rosemary but do experiment!
In the picture is jasmine tea. Every other evening, pick the jasmine blooms just before they open, when their scent is at their peak, and layer them in between strong black tea leaves, ending with a layer of tea. The tea draws all the moisture, flavour and fragrance out, leaving dry blooms.
48 hours later, find yourself a colander with relatively small holes. In the photo below is a traditional Swahili colander. They’re absolutely gorgeous and incredibly useful!
Put in your jasminey tea leaves and, holding it over a much larger bowl, start to shake it. As you do, the tea leaves will fall through the holes, leaving you with fewer and fewer leaves.
Keep shaking your colander until no tea leaves remain and you’re left with all your dried blossoms.
Put your tea back into your glass jar, alternating black tea leaves with flowers and ending with a layer of tea.
This process should be repeated every 2 days for 14 days. After the last infusion, spread your tea leaves out on a tray and leave in a warm and well ventilated place (or in a dehydrator) until completely dry before storing in a glass jar.
The final product is headily fragrant and makes the most unbelievable chai you’ve ever tasted.