Monday, August 26, 2013

Schools full of Herbivores

An herb bed at Devotion School
H erbs are some of the best foods to grow in schoolyard gardens. They’re tough enough to stand up to lots of kids interacting with them. Many of them are perennial, going dormant in the winter but then coming back as soon as it gets warm out. And a little patch of herbs goes a long way, so even at a big school every kid can have a chance to taste them.
This summer, Brookline’s school gardens are bursting with flavorful culinary herbs! Parsley, sage, rosemary and… mint, it’s all here. Lincoln has big fuzzy sage leaves growing in pots next to some of its garden beds. At Heath the basil is huge-- basking in the heat that has been melting the rest of us. Devotion’s cilantro leaves have given way to coriander seeds (did you know they’re just two names for the same plant?) that are ready to be harvested.
Herbs are also very easy to preserve , another reason that they lend themselves so well to schoolyard gardens. It can be frustrating that school starts just when the growing season is drawing to a close. Herbs are easy to dry by tying their stems together in bunches and hanging them upside down in a window for a few days.  This can be done in a classroom either to buy time before actually using the herbs or as the lesson itself. Last year I didn’t have a great window in my room, so I hung my herbs in my car window and drove around with them.
Basil grown by the Heath School
At school fresh or dried herbs can tie into all kinds of lessons. One of my favorite herb activities was simply about counting-- I was working with a kindergarten class.  We passed a mortar and pestle around the classroom. As each child took a turn grinding basil and rosemary from the garden we practiced counting out the time by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s. We had to make sure that no matter how we were counting, everyone’s turn was the same length. By the time everyone got a turn, we had a bright green paste. We mixed in some olive oil and everyone got a piece of bread to taste it with. At the end everyone agreed that green foods could be pretty delicious.
Herbs can support other subjects too from social studies ( people dry herbs all over the world, and early Americans did it as part of normal life ) to math and science ( how much mass does a big pile of herbs lose when it loses its water, and where did the water go?) to language arts ( can you describe the difference in taste between the fresh and dried versions of the same herb? What about between two different herbs? What kinds of descriptive words do you need to use? ).
And of course at home, both fresh and dried herbs can make for some cool refreshing summer recipes and all you need is a container to grow them. It’s not too late to pot some herbs in a window or on a deck. Then for the rest of the summer you can put basil or mint in your lemonade, snip some cilantro for your salsa , or mix up an herb yogurt dip as a healthy replacement for sour cream based spreads.