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Prairie tea

A taste of summer in a teacup

By Carolyn Pogue

Marie Saretsky is doing what women of a certain age have done for generations: she’s passing on what she has learned over a lifetime. I attended her tea workshop in Burr, Sask., last week and tasted 12 different hand-harvested teas. With each, I learned where the plant grows, when and how it’s harvested, its medicinal properties and what it looks, smells and feels like when dried.

“I enjoy tea,” Marie said, “and began wondering what grows here that I could harvest, brew and drink. Then the 100-mile diet became popular, and I was encouraged even more.” After years of experimentation, studying and asking questions, she felt ready to pass on what she’s learned.

Marie is known in the Prairies for her garden business, Flowers of Dellwood Creek. Summer bring busloads of people from Regina and Saskatoon to visit her garden. In the autumn, her dried flowers, herbal bath infusions and handmade paper are sold at craft sales and city shops. As farm children in Ontario, she and her brother, Jim, managed their own large garden. They earned spending money by selling produce to motorists on the nearby highway. Marie later became a registered nurse, but healing through gardening has been her life’s path.

The tea workshop was fun, interesting and useful. Gather women around a teapot, add homemade cookies and it will be a good time. I was surprised to learn about calendula, which I’ve grown for years. I didn’t know that the bright gold flowers I placed in vases could also go into homemade healing ointments, tea and salads. I next learned that flax seed tea will soothe and cleanse my urinary tract and that stinging nettle tea, sacred to the Saxons, builds energy. Plantain, another herb the Saxons called sacred, is good for the skin. Cree medicines include rose hip tea, which is good for many ailments including colds.

It was fun to share stories and to wonder aloud. Who, for example, called dandelions “weeds” and proclaimed them enemies? Dandelions, from leaves to roots, are blessings. English settlers brought them to Canada to grow in kitchen gardens for medicines, teas, salads and cooked greens. I loved the roasted dandelion root tea. During the Great Depression, it was a common coffee substitute.

We learned that hardy perennial peppermint plants grow well in pots or gardens. Peppermint, which gives two or three cuttings per season, is best harvested just before it flowers since that is when the leaves are richest in essential oils. A peppermint tea bag in a pot of steaming water can be inhaled to relieve congestion. It’s good for your liver, and will settle your stomach, relieve your body odour and aid digestion. All that and it’s delicious too.

During the workshop, I glanced out the window at the thick blanket of snow and relished my hot drink. It was Prairie summer in a teacup, passed on to a new generation.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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