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