Guides end each Forest Therapy walk with Tea Ceremony, which marks the Threshold of Incorporation. This incorporation is both literal and metaphorical. In drinking tea made from plants foraged in the Forest, we are literally taking the Forest into our bodies (corpus, in Latin). Through the process of ceremony, we are also harvesting the wisdom or Images of Wholeness we have received during the walk and putting those into the tea as well.
The Threshold of Incorporation
Tea Ceremony, as the Threshold of Incorporation, transitions participants out of liminality and back into the more ordinary experience of everyday life. As guides, upon crossing this threshold, we should be conscious of how we also shift from the role of guide back into a more casual role. One may simply call it being a co-traveler, or even more simply, a friend. Part of transitioning participants out of liminality depends on how we begin to gently reintroduce thinking processes after Tea Ceremony ends. It is a gentle transition, and one that participants may barely recognize when it is done skillfully.
It is important to understand that the Tea Ceremony we facilitate in Forest Therapy is really nothing like the traditional Japanese tradition of Chado, or the Way of Tea. It is far more casual and experimental, and it serves a distinct purpose in the arc of the Forest Therapy walk as an opportunity for incorporation and reciprocity with the More-Than-Human World. It is not even necessary to think of it as a ‘ceremony.’ It could more simply be described as a way of concluding the experience of the walk. Each guide is encouraged to find their own, authentic way.
The Bare Bones of Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony is one of the moments of the Forest Therapy walk where individual guides can add their own personal style to the experience. However, there is a certain structure that allows the Tea Ceremony to act as a Threshold of Incorporation and an opportunity for reciprocity with the land. The steps can come in various orders so long as there is a clear understanding of when the Tea Ceremony, and therefore the walk, comes to closure.
- While your participants are engaged in their final invitation, set up the Tea Ceremony, putting out one cup for every participant, yourself and a cup for the Forest. Set out anything else for your tea ceremony that you wish to use or decorate with. Get creative with this process. There are so many different ways to bring your own personality and style to it. Keeping it simple is great, too. Consider incorporating elements of the Forest in your setup or having walk participants bring back something to help set the tea table.
- Call your participants back from their final invitation. Welcome them with hospitality.
- Explain what kind of tea you are brewing. It is a nice touch to have a sample of the plants you have put into the tea that can be passed around so participants can touch and smell the plant/s you have selected and get to know them themselves. Note the medicinal properties of the plant and any ethnobotanical stories you choose to share.
- Before serving tea, invite a final Sharing Circle with the prompt, “What would you like to share to complete this experience today?” Imagine that what is said in this round of sharing is a distillation of what each participant received on the walk. By speaking it into the center, where the tea is steeping, these words are also being added to the tea. In this way, when the tea is consumed, each participant is also partaking in the shared wisdom of the entire group, as well as that of the Forest.
- Explain that it is a tradition to offer or share the first cup of tea with the Forest or the land. There are many variations to this element of the ceremony. Some possibilities are:
- Option 1: Ask if anyone would like to share this cup with the forest/land on behalf of the group. Let that person, or the guide if no one volunteers, offer the cup of tea to the forest.
- Option 2: Pour one cup of tea, ask that each person take a turn to speak or whisper into the cup anything they would like to give back to or share with the Forest. Once the cup has gone around the Circle, invite whoever feels called to offer the cup of tea to the Forest.
(Note: Sometimes a participant may ask how they should pour the tea. It is best to simply encourage them to do it however they feel is right).
- Option 3: Some guides prefer to pour one cup and place it in the center of the Circle, then invite a moment where the whole Circle may direct their attention toward that cup before asking someone to pour it out. Another way is to pour and hand out tea to everyone and then have everyone in the group simultaneously pour the first sip onto the earth.
- Pour and serve the tea. Guides should thank each person as they hand participants their cups. (Only thank each person by name if all names can be remembered.) Before serving, tell participants not to drink until everyone has been served, so everyone may drink together. If it’s a large group, ask a participant to act as your assistant in handing out tea cups.
- Invite everyone to drink their tea.
- After drinking, find a way to close the ceremony and the walk. It’s very important to have a clear ending to the experience. This could be with:
- a moment of silence
- a song
- a poem
- ringing a singing bowl
- Simply saying “This officially concludes our walk experience today”
- Some guides find that asking everyone to touch the Earth
can be a good grounding technique to finish with.
- or whatever feels right.
- Serve snacks and transition into casual conversation. It is important to allow participants to linger for a while afterward before packing up. Let them savor this moment. This is also a good time to speak about future events and to hand out business cards. Open the space for any questions from participants. Participants often want to know the guide’s personal story of how they became a Forest Therapy guide.
Tea Ceremony Supplies
Most of the materials needed to facilitate a Forest Therapy walk relate to Tea Ceremony. Below is a list of Tea Ceremony supplies, separated into two categories: Essential and Aesthetic.
Essential Tea Ceremony Supplies:
First, a resource: The ANFT guide Member Gateway has a page just for tea ceremony. Find it at Membership > Member Login > Guiding Practice > Tea Ceremony. The page has:
- A Tea Ceremony Photo Gallery from guides' photos uploaded to the Guided Walk Report form
- A list of Tea Ceremony Resources and a form so guides can share more favorite resources
You will need:
- A Thermos. Most good thermoses will keep water hot for 24 hours. Buy a new thermos and use it only for Forest Therapy walks, to avoid contamination with possible allergens.
- Tea Cups. Pack enough cups for each participant, the guide, and the Forest. Always bring more tea cups than needed. Some guides prefer wooden tea cups as they do not break easily, and others find creative ways to pad or wrap tea cups in such a way they stay safe and unbroken.
- Snacks. Consider a snack or a combination of snacks that people with diverse dietary restrictions can enjoy. It is a nice touch to serve snacks that are local to the land.
- Tea Plants (Harvested or Brought from Home)
Aesthetic (Optional) Tea Ceremony Supplies:
- Tea Pot. While tea can be served directly from a thermos, some guides prefer to serve it from a teapot. Many guides use a Japanese cast iron tea pot, known as a tetsubin, as it is nearly indestructible.
- Mason Jar with Pour Spout. Some guides prefer to harvest their tea plants ahead of time and make a cold infusion for their tea. In this case it is ideal to harvest the tea plant from the trail or another safe source and prepare the cold infusion ahead of time.
- Serving Bowl. For the same reasons that a tea pot may be preferable to a thermos, a serving bowl can add an elegant touch to the presentation of snacks.
- Place Settings. Some guides add a stylistic flourish to their Tea Ceremony by using textiles such as blankets, doilies, place mats, or runners.
- Musical Instrument. Some guides like to welcome participants to Tea Ceremony by playing a musical instrument, such as a flute or kalimba.
- Business Cards. After Tea Ceremony is a great time to hand out business cards to promote future walks, your website, and social media.
Notes on Ethical Foraging
Part of the journey of becoming a guide is developing naturalist knowledge of the trails you will guide on. During the practicum, guides will learn about six tea plants that can be selected. Learning new tea plants can become a lifetime hobby. A priority is to learn what plants are safe to use for tea. It is beyond the scope of this handbook to include the necessary information about this for each particular region.
Guides must learn from reliable sources in their area. Find a qualified herbalist or foraging expert with a good reputation built on years of study. There may be classes in your bio-region led by someone like this. Take the classes and cultivate a relationship with the teacher(s) and contact them outside of class with questions. Ideally, guides should develop a mentor relationship with these teachers, where guides are welcome to bring plants they have collected to discuss and identify.
In many parts of the world, there are also social media groups dedicated to plant identification that often have many experts in the field. Do research and find multiple sources to build maximum confidence in correctly identifying plants. It is strongly recommended to start with a class and then expand your knowledge with reputable books and websites. Caution: do not rely on Google searches as a source. This can be dangerous. Find reputable websites when using the web.
Not all tea plants are safe all the time. Some are contraindicated, especially when there are women present who may be pregnant or want to become pregnant. Since we don’t directly inquire about this, when women are present, we assume that this may be the case, and choose plants accordingly.
Our rule is to only use a plant that you are 110% certain is safe for all participants. There should be no doubt. One-hundred-and-ten percent is when you are “certain you are certain”. Keep this in mind, “When there is doubt, there is no doubt that you do NOT use that plant.” Be aware that some plants may look very much like other plants that are toxic.
When foraging, follow ethical harvesting practices, also referred to as “right relationship.” Here are some good guidelines for ethical harvesting practices:
- Do not harvest the first of a plant species found in the Forest. Only harvest what can be found in abundance. Never take the last one.
- Do not harvest rare and endangered plants.
- Do not harvest from grandmother and grandfather plants. Their genes are the strongest and most suited for survival. Allow them to reproduce as much as possible.
- Do not harvest from the same plant or stand of plants every time.
- Do not harvest from plants at the edge of their geographic range.
- Do not harvest the roots from plants; take only small amounts of leaves and/or flowers. When the season is right, consider planting seeds from the plants you harvest from.
- Learn to harvest in such a way that it promotes growth when possible. When harvesting, pinch off the harvest just above the leaf nodes so growth is encouraged. When harvesting from a tree branch, select something that is not at the branch tip but farther back on one side of the branch.
As a part of ethical harvesting, it is also good for guides to develop close relationships with the plants harvested for Tea Ceremony. Spend time with them and bring them water or other offerings. Plants are sharing their gifts with us. What gifts can we share in return? Find a way to engage in reciprocity. Perhaps, before picking leaves or flowers, ground yourself with closed eyes, ask for permission, and hold an intention with clarity. If there is a sense a plant should not be harvested, then trust that instinct.
There is something very special about making tea from plants harvested along the trail, but if guiding on land where harvesting is not allowed, it is perfectly acceptable to bring plants that are either harvested elsewhere or grown at home. Sometimes, land managers may give special permission if the intention, amount and purpose for harvesting are clearly explained.
If you plan to guide in the winter, harvest and dry some plants for walks in the other seasons, to use in the winter, and learn about evergreen trees that can be used for tea. Otherwise, consider a tea substitute like hot cocoa.
“But when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup.” ― Kakuzō Okakura