The Herbal Tea Garden

By: Jessie Keith

Garden fruits and herbs combine well to make delicious herbal tea.

What’s in a cup of herbal tea? Aromatic dried leaves and fruits impart the comforting, rich flavors for herbal tea, which are most welcome in chilly weather. Gardeners that grow herbs, fruits, and spices already have the raw ingredients for tea. From there, it’s a matter of well-timed preservation and creative tea mixing.

History

Unlike teas made from the leaves of the tea shrub (Camellia sinensis), herbal teas are not caffeinated. They are tied to all cultures with some tracing back to the ancient world. The Ancient Egyptians favored a tangy tea made from hibiscus buds (Hibiscus sabdariffa); mint tea (Mentha spp.) was a staple in Northeast Africa; the ancient Greeks drank a sweet tea made from ironwort mountain mint (Sideritis spp.); and the Chinese drank a floral tea made from Chrysanthemum buds. In India, a wonderfully complex herbal tea called Kadha, flavored with ginger, cloves, pepper, cardamom, fennel seeds, cinnamon, and bay leaf, was used to fight colds and flu. These teas were used for traditional medicine as well as enjoyment, and all are still used today.

Herbal Tea Health Benefits

The medicinal value of some herbal tea components have been confirmed. Chamomile and ginger help settle the stomach, mint tea has been shown to help with respiratory ailments, and Echinacea has been proven to ease cold and flu symptoms. Adding rose hips, citrus peel, or cranberries to your tea will add tang and flavor to your tea while also providing a boost of vitamin C. When crafting tea mixes, consider ingredient health benefits as well as flavors.

Garden Herbs for Tea

Many everyday garden herbs can be used for tea making.

All herbs for tea are easy to grow, and most are common to home gardens. (Click here to learn how to grow edible herbs. Click to learn how to grow potted ginger.)

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora, Zone 8-10, 3-4’): The lemony leaves and flowers of this tender herb maintain their tangy citrus flavor when dried.

Lavender (Lavandula spp.):  Lavender leaves and flowers are traditionally added to Earl Grey tea, but they also taste great in herbal teas.

Mint (Mentha piperita): Peppermint leaves and flowers are widely used for herbal tea and can be steeped fresh or dried. All other culinary mints make great tea.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis):  The citrusy leaves of lemon balm also have a refreshing hint of mint.

Sage (Salvia officinalis): The comforting, warm flavor of sage is favored in wintery dishes but also makes delicious tea.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana): Add dried stevia leaf to teas to impart natural sweetness without the need for added sugar.

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa): The leaves and purplish flowers of wild bergamot are dried to make a heady tea with hints of mint and bergamot orange.

Thyme (Thymus spp.): Orange and lemon thyme varieties are best for tea making

Flowers and Spices for Tea

The buds of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) were  first used by the ancient Egyptians for tea.

Elderflower (Sambucus ): Sweet, fragrant elderflowers add a delicate, pleasing flavor to teas.

Chamomile (Matricaria retutica): Clouds of tiny white daisies cover chamomile in late spring. These fragrant flowers can be used for fresh or dry tea.

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa): Late in the season, the tea hibiscus produces maroon buds that are dried to make tangy, fragrant tea that is purplish-red when steeped.

Rosa petals (Rosa spp.): Organically grown rose petals from fragrant roses add floral flavor to teas. Pair them with fruits and citrus peel.

Ginger root (Zingiber officinale): Warm and spicy ginger root tea clears the head and soothes the stomach.

Echinacea root (Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida): Dried Echinacea root has a pungent, aromatic flavor used to make medicinal tea.

Fruits for Tea

Dried rose hips add a flavorful tang to herbal teas.

Apples (Malus domestica), blackberries and raspberries (Rubus spp.), rose hips (Rosa spp.), cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), elderberries, and citrus peel all impart tart, fruity flavors to tea. They are also vitamin rich, giving teas added nutritive value. Pair them with minty, lemony, and floral tea ingredients. (Here are tips for growing your own apples, blueberries, and, blackberries and raspberries.)

Harvesting and Preserving Tea Ingredients

Hang herbs in a dry place away from sunlight.

Harvest leaves and flowers for tea when they are fresh. Fruits should be fully ripe. For best flavor, gather them on the day you plan to dry them. Gently rinse off the ingredients and pat them dry before preservation. Here are the three most common drying methods:

1. Hanging Herbs

Gather bundles of six stems for quick drying (larger bundles dry more slowly and may mold). Hang them upside down in a cool, dry spot away from the sun. After a couple of days their leaves should be crispy dry and ready for tea making.

2. Oven Drying Herbs and Fruits

Oven drying speeds the process without the need for a dehydrator. Preheat the oven to 140°F. Space the leafy stems apart on a pan lined with parchment paper and place the tray in the oven until leaves are crisp. This often takes an hour or two, but more time may be needed.

Small fruits should be cut in half and apples should be sliced thinly for fast drying. Drying can take up to two hours or more. Citrus peel should be zested before drying.

3. Dehydrating Herbs and Fruits

Food dehydrators provide the best drying method for fruits and herbs. Space the stems and cut fruits apart on dehydrator racks and allow them to dry until crisp and leathery. The time it takes depends on the machine and what is being dried. Check them every couple of hours to determine dryness.

After the herbs have been dried, slide your fingers down each stem to separate the leaves. Then mix your teas and store them in tins for up to a year. Freezing teas will help them last longer.

Mixing Tea

When mixing tea, choose herbs and fruits with complementary flavors.

Some teas, like chamomile and mint tea, taste great on their own, but others taste better when mixed with other complementary flavors. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Here are several tasty tea mixes that any gardener can make.

Fragrant Apple Tea

¼ cup chopped, dried apples
¼ cup dried elder flowers
¼ cup chopped, dried cranberries
¼ cup dried wild bergamot leaf
1 teaspoons crushed, dried stevia leaf

 

Zingy Lemon Mint Tea

½ cup dried mint leaves
¼ cup dried lemon balm or verbena leaves
¼ cup chopped, dried rose hips
1 tablespoon dried lavender leaves
1 teaspoons crushed, dried stevia leaf

 

Rosy Blackberry Tea

¼ cup chopped, dried rose hips
¼ cup chopped, dried blackberries
¼ cup dried rose petals
¼ cup dried chamomile flowers
1 teaspoons crushed, dried stevia leaf

 

Wintery Herbal Tea

¼ cup dried wild bergamot leaf
¼ cup dried chamomile flowers
¼ cup chopped dried cranberries
1 tablespoon dried orange thyme leaves
1 tablespoon crushed, dried sage leaves

 

Orange Ginger Mint Tea

¾ cup dried mint leaves
1 tablespoon dried orange zest
2 tablespoons sliced, dried ginger
1 teaspoons crushed, dried stevia leaf

 

Herbal Tea for Colds

½ cup dried mint leaves
¼ cup chopped dried hibiscus buds
1 teaspoons crushed, dried stevia leaf
2 tablespoons chopped, dried Echinacea root

 

About Jessie Keith


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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