Of Turkey, Tea and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, is not typically associated with tea. But tea played a critical role not just potentially as way of bonding, but also as a vital health consideration, and would be an authentic, memorable feature for your table this year.

First, let's briefly remind ourselves of the historical context of that early meal. Thanksgiving has been celebrated in America for 398 years now to memorialize that first harvest feast between the Wampanoags and the pilgrims. Two groups of unlikely allies found common ground and befriended each other, realizing that helping each other survive the winter was more powerful than fighting for scarce resources (sounds like some great conversations were had over tea).

Stepping back through time, we can imagine the Wampanoags, weakened and devastated by a brutal major war between themselves and the Narragansett tribe that had reached its pinnacle before the settlers arrived, possibly in the late 1590s. And we can picture the pilgrims, exhausted and confused in this unfamiliar land, trying to survive. These two weakened, flagging groups were became very friendly with each other and one may imagine, realized that together they could thrive through the winter more successfully than alone. In November 1621, the pilgrims, led by Governor William Bradford, and the Wampanoags, led by chief Massasoit, celebrated their first successful corn harvest with a feast now remembered as “America’s First Thanksgiving.” America has been marking that moment ever since, and Lincoln only made it "official."

So back to tea. In the early 1600s, even mild illness was not trifling and pilgrims and natives alike understood that boiling water over the open fire was a health sustaining practice. I am imagining that they also found it warm and comforting on chilly fall evenings to share a warm drink together.

Research shows that Wampanoags made tea from the Passion Flower (also known as the Maypop, or the Apricot Vine), and also made tea from raspberries and herbs. Research shows that they also boiled sassafras roots, which created a taste similar to root beer (however, we can't do that these days- sassafras is banned by the FDA for containing a potential carcinogen safrole).

Each of these botanicals have been shown to have medicinal properties, leading us to imagine that in addition to the social aspect of drinking tea, and the warmth that it created, there were also medicinal benefits that they probably grasped.

So if you would like to incorporate tea into your Thanksgiving meal, go right ahead knowing that it may be one of the more authentic things you serve! After all, the pilgrims and the natives did not have access to sugar, sweet potatoes or yams were not common to the area, and they had no cows (so no cow's milk). And it if it added an element of fellowship and togetherness that tea often does, that would certainly get to the heart of what Thanksgiving is all about.

What To Serve On Your Table

If you want to drink exactly like the natives, we recommend visiting Mountain Rose Herbs for both Raspberry Leaves and Passionflower as we do not sell them on our website.

But if you're willing to update the concept a little bit (think adding sugar to your pumpkin pie), let's open our perspective to teas that pair well with all things Thanksgiving, and I have to give that honor to Lapsang Souchong. The smoky earthiness will evoke the feeling of being around the campfire 400 years ago, and the flavor will pair just as well with a piece of turkey as a piece of pumpkin pie. This tea can take you from the start of your meal to the finish, (and can even be added to a great glass of Kentucky Bourbon but more on that later).

If you really wanted to step it up, rub your turkey with our Smoky Black T-Dust and let it sit overnight, then serve with a cup of Lapsang Souchong and you'll feel like you've had a delightful meal cooked over a campfire just like the pilgrims and the Wampanoags.

Finally, if for some reason none of this appeals to you, and you really just want to replicate Sassafras tea (even though it was no more important to the pilgrims than the other teas as far as we know), some vendors have created an extract by either artificially flavoring it or commercially removing the safrole from the finished product. We like the extract at Select the one to your liking, and add 1 tsp extract to 2 cups boiling water. This will eliminate the heavy sugar that comes with simply drinking a root beer.

Will you be serving tea at your Thanksgiving Meal? If so, please login and leave your comments below. We'd love to know what you're drinking!


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