This week I visited the Healing Garden at Babylonstoren for their new tea ceremony. Scheduled for certain times of the day this ritual takes place in a new section of their beautiful grounds. Just behind the seating area of the Greenhouse restaurant they have created what is essentially a herb garden, filled with medicinal plants of all types, organised by usage and laid out for specific parts of the body. Water flows from the top end of the layout, through the centre of the garden in an almost leiwater type arrangement, via a central fish pond and then out again at the far end. This flowing, cool water really helps you to relax, and its a great way to cool your feet – for some reason this part of the Winelands always feels so much hotter than everywhere else. Even though it was a fairly pleasant Autumn day in Stellenbosch it was a good 5 degrees warmer in Simondium where Babylonstoren is located.
The garden is open all year, and they take bookings for any season – as long as the weather is good (there is no cover should it rain). The tea area is setup in a Japanese-esque style, with low tables and cushions arranged over a bamboo floor. The water channel can be seen through the floor and this also helps with the cooling. A bamboo roof and sides keeps most of the sun off your face (although a hat is highly recommended) whilst water-misters keep the air cool. Gundula (the gardener) and her little dog guide you around the garden as she explains the various plants and their uses, encouraging you to clip off leaves and flowers with the provided gardening scissors. These bits and pieces of plant will be added to a flask of hot water later – each person makes up their own concoction once back at the table. Gundula is clearly very passionate about her garden and the plants in it, and is careful to remind you that not everything in the garden should be sampled willy-nilly, some of the plants can cause a strong reaction or even be poisonous if you eat the wrong part. So her guidance and explanations are vital. She also takes the time to establish the sorts of health challenges or concerns you may be dealing with and makes recommendations based on that for your eventual brew.
Once I had managed to manoeuvre myself onto a cushion (I’m not good with these low tables I must say, especially not in jeans) I started stuffing flowers and leaves into my flask in a rather haphazard way. I can’t really tell you what I included but there was probably some mint-scented geranium, hibiscus flowers, tulsi, rose-scented geranium, bergamot, a stevia leaf, lemon catnip, some chaste berries, lemon balm and pineapple sage flowers thrown in. All stirred with a stalk of lemongrass.
Whilst you wait for your tea to infuse and steep you are served a couple of light snacks. The summer menu is as follows:
an ice-cold tomato water with fresh basil chiffonade, a sweet melon ball and avocado
a matcha tea sandwich cake with yoghurt mint spread, fresh raspberries and persimmon topped with a drizzle of honey
cucumber and lightly smoked trout roulade with lavender-flavoured cream cheese and rolled in toasted sesame
date balls rolled in toasted coconut accompanied by ginger enrobed in chevin & rolled in rooibos tea
watermelon and prickly pear slices with rose geranium and pistachio pesto
By the matcha tea cake round I had already started to sample my tea. I have to say it was delicious, quite subtle but very drinkable. We took great delight in trying each other’s concoctions, some with more favourable reviews than others – but each creator seemed happy with what she had put together.
Once you are finished with your tea and eats you are then encouraged to sit with your feet in the fish pond, paper parasol over your head, and relax. The pond contains those little doctor fish (Garra rufa) that are used to give you a fish pedicure. The sensation of them nibbling on your feet is rather bizarre, ticklish with little kissy vibrations. I loved it!
Gundula also encourages you to pick more than you need for the tea making on the day, and to take some of the leaves and flowers home with you. Also, as we had originally booked for 6, but 2 of the party could not make the day due to a medical issue, Gundula kindly made up a posy of plants that we could take away with us to give to them. Unfortunately the posy and all our pickings were tidied up by the rather over-zealous staff whilst we were sitting with our feet in the pond, and sadly only the posy could be found again and retrieved.
The ceremony wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I found it super relaxing (except for the farm workers driving up and down in a tractor in the vineyard outside the wall) and very informative. Well worth a visit, although I would recommend taking or wearing slip-slops (thongs), a hat and something that allows you to sit easily on the floor. The walk through the rest of the Babylonstoren vegetable garden on your way out is also well worth the time.
Location: R45, Simondium, South Africa
Timing: Tea rituals take place at 9h30 and 14h00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Contact: +27.(0)21.863.3852 or email@example.com
Other Notes: bookings are for a minimum of 6 people, no children under 10.
*featured image: the view from the fish pond