Two weeks ago I was present at a tea session in the tea house installation of artist Matthew Mazzotta whom I visited earlier in Smalle Ee. His installation is now exhibited in De Galerij in the city of Drachten, Friesland until the 20th of May. The methane production unit was ready to produce the gas to boil the water. However, the tea itself still had to be gathered. And the urban environment of Drachten was going to provide our tea according to Matthew. His project about local knowledge and social interaction challenged us, visitors of the gallery, to go into town together and search for edible plants.
Since the introduction of the plant Camillia Sinsensus from ‘the far east’ around the 17th Century, we say that we are going to ‘make a tea’ even if this means that we actually make an infusion of local herbs or weeds, such as camomile or nettles. We still refer to that as ‘a herbal tea’ such is ‘drinking tea’ integrated in our culture. And not only in our culture. Think of the British afternoon tea, Japanese tea ceremonies or tea from a Russian “samovar”. Also, the Inuit in northern Canada and several indigenous peoples in Kenya adopted (black) tea into their culture after its introduction. How important tea is for social gatherings you can read here.
We went into Drachten with books to determine that we would not collect toxic plants. Downtown Drachten turned out to be full of edible plants, once you know where to look and what to look for. We quickly developed a preference for unattended places.. And while searching interesting discussions emerged. How to weight the pollution aspect of heavy metal from car gas on road plants against the use of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics in our ‘clean’ supermarket food? What about soil quality in between two pavement tiles? Why did we worry about the soil in which sorrel, dandelion or ivy could be found and not about the fake ‘soil’ in which tomatoes and lettuce is grown?
I preferred the infusion of ivy, rich and spicy although the subtle taste of elder was also special.