Planting a Tea Garden

mint

Mint

It’s a cool, rainy day and the perfect time to clean out my dried food cabinets in preparation for late spring harvests. I’m low on almost everything, but particularly my tea herbs. I use a lot each winter. Some are medicinal, some warming and delicious, and most are both. I have my favorites. Lemon balm, anise hyssop and catmint are lovely as are lavender, calendula and chamomile.

The best things about herbal teas is that they are 1) very easy to grow and 2) often perennial. In fact, most in the mint family will get away from you if you aren’t careful. I grew some pineapple mint one year and it took over my garden. The ‘traveling’ herbs will do just fine in containers that corral the roots and still provide lots of leaves and flowers to harvest.

A container is a great way to keep "traveling" herbs from taking over your garden or flowerbed. Mini Bag Bed at Lehmans.com.

A container is a great way to keep “traveling” herbs from taking over your garden or flowerbed. Mini Bag Bed at Lehmans.com.

Herbs are really not fussy. While they appreciate the same fine soil our vegetables require, they also do well in poorer soil as long as it drains well. While mint doesn’t mind wet feet, most other herbs prefer drier conditions. Other than the mints, herbs prefer lots of sun so a shady, damp area will work well for all in the mint family.

Chamomile flowers

Chamomile flowers

You may get most of what you want for your tea garden from friends who are separating their herbs. They also start well from seeds or starts. Depending on where you live, some herbs need to be replanted every year. Calendula and chamomile will not survive a winter in the northeast. Hosting an herb swap is a fun way to connect with other gardeners and share the wealth of your garden.

It’s important to label your plants so you know what you have. The mints in particular can look very similar.

Lavender

Lavender

Harvest your herbs when the day is dry. In some cases you want only the green leaves but often, the flowers are a lovely addition to your tea. The essential oils are highest before the plant flowers but I have used my herbs at all stages with good results. You can dry your herbs in a dehydrator on very low heat or you can just hang them out of the sun in a place with good air flow. Once dry, pack in mason jars and store in a dark cabinet until it’s time for a steaming cuppa.

Our hygienic glass kettle makes better hot water for coffee and tea because glass can't taint water with metallic tastes or other flavors. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Our hygienic glass kettle makes better hot water for coffee and tea because glass can’t taint water with metallic tastes or other flavors. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Our handmade ceramic teapot is earthy brown with a matte finish. Holds several cups of tea. At Lehmans.com.

Our ceramic teapot is handmade with earthy brown with a matte finish. Holds several cups of tea. At Lehmans.com.

I usually make tea by the pot. I pour the very hot water over the leaves, cover and let them steep for several minutes. A bit of honey is very nice as is the addition of dried citrus peel. I grow lemon grass each year (it isn’t perennial) and add that to many of my tea blends for that lemon punch. As a special treat I make up a few jars of tea bags. (The bags are available online or from most herbal apothecaries.)

Steep your homemade herbal teas easily and neatly with our stainless steel tea stick infuser. At Lehmans.com.

Steep your homemade herbal teas easily and neatly with our stainless steel tea stick infuser. At Lehmans.com.

Some herbs just go together. Lavender and mint, catnip and chamomile and apple mint and sage are all good combinations, but have some fun and concoct your own favorites. Just be sure to label all your jars of herbs as when dried; they can be very hard to tell apart and you don’t want to spend all morning smelling and tasting to find the one herb you want. Or maybe you do. The science of aromatherapy is a compelling one and there are worse ways to spend a cold, dark morning.

There are plenty of mugs out there, but few are as gorgeously made as this one. Pick it up and you'll immediately feel how solid it is. What's its secret? It's made the good old-fashioned way, by hand. At Lehmans.com.

There are plenty of mugs out there, but few are as gorgeously made as this one. Pick it up and you’ll immediately feel how solid it is. What’s its secret? It’s made the good old-fashioned way, by hand. At Lehmans.com.

No room for an outdoor tea garden? Grow one on a sunny windowsill!

Enjoy fresh herbs year-round in our durable windowsill box. At Lehmans.com.

Enjoy fresh herbs year-round in our durable windowsill box. At Lehmans.com.

I have a single bag of chamomile tea left and today I plan to indulge. I have my herbal catalog and an hour to enjoy myself. Bliss!

 

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.