You can make your own teas from common herbs growing in your garden or to spice up store bought teas. A few common herbs you may have growing in your garden for your own home grown tea-bergamot, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, mint, rosemary, sage, stevia for sweetening, thyme. (Left image: Savory in foreground, thyme on left, edible day lilies in background.)
Bergamot, or bee balm, has a scent reminiscent of Italian bergamot orange. You can dry or use fresh, steeped for 10 minutes by itself or add to store bought black tea to give it the same type of flavor as Earl Gray tea. Bergamot was used as a tea substitute in the colonies after the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Its flowers are also a great bee attractor and come in white or numerous shades of red and purple. Native Americans used it as spice for fowl and medicinally for its antiseptic properties, headaches, fever, and upset tummies. Bergamot is of the mint family so can be aggressive in the garden. M. didyma contains the highest concentration of oil.
Chamomile is used in potpourri for its scent, in supplements, tonics and teas for its calming properties, in facial steams/hand soaks to soften and whiten skin. Use the flowers fresh or dried for tea.
Lavender leaves or flowers can lend a floral note to teas. Lavender tea is used to sooth nerves, headaches, and dizziness. Its use as a potpourri is legendary. It is also great to put in closets to not only provide great scent, but also protect clothes from moths. It is also used as an antiseptic tonic for acne or to speed facial cell renewal. Lavender is also a typical ingredient in Herbes de Provence.
You can also make a syrup from lavender to add to desserts, adult beverages, homemade sodas, and teas. Boil 6 stalks of lavender in 2 cups of water and 1-1/2 cup of sugar at a simmer for 15 minutes. Let sit in refrigerator overnight, strain into bottle and keep refrigerated.
Mint comes in many flavors-grapefruit, pear, pineapple, lemon, lime, and orange. There is even a chocolate mint! Mint will take over a garden if left to its own devices. Either put a ring around it at least 3 inches deep to keep it from spreading underground, cull runners frequently or put in a pot. Mint loses much of its flavor when dried so fresh is your best bet. Bees love mint flowers!
Other herbs that impart a citrus note are pineapple sage, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon grass. Pineapple sage is used for depression and anxiety, to aid digestion, and is antiseptic and anti-fungal. Lemon balm tea is commonly used for cold relief and to relieve tension and depression. Fresh leaves have the best flavor. Lemon verbena is also used for cold relief, upset stomach, and is mildly sedative. It is a wonderful addition to potpourri and is grown as an annual. Lemon grass is a tropical plant which any part of the stem can be used as a tea. It is considered revitalizing and antiseptic.
I have not found a rosemary that survives the winter here in our Zone 6, but I keep trying. ARP and Barbeque are two types that are rated down to Zone 5 that I am growing this year. I am going to add some extra straw cover in early winter to give them more protection. I just love the scent of this herb and as an addition for cooking. Rosemary is thought to aid in digestion and joint pain. Use fresh or dried.
Thyme is thought to be beneficial for hangovers, digestion, coughs and colds, along with being one of the staple culinary herbs. Teas can be made with fresh or dried leaves. English wild thyme is the strongest for medicinal qualities, but any can be used. Thyme also comes in lemon, lime, and orange as well.
You can also add a fruit to your tea for a new twist. A neighbor recently shared that she had some blackberry sage tea that was heavenly. You can easily make this yourself! Use dried sage (left image) and either fresh or thawed frozen berries. Simply crush the berries for a teaspoon of juice and add to your steeping sage tea. Yum!
The only limits to homemade tea from homegrown ingredients is your imagination! Herbs have so many healthful properties. It just makes great sense to take advantage of their benefits and taste in warming teas. A beautiful finishing touch would be to add edible flowers or a sprig of the herb as a garnish.
Stevia is a recent arrival to the US herb scene, but has come on strong in popularity. It is a super sweet, super antioxidant, with zero carbs, and zero calories. Stevia is native to tropical regions; it is well suited to container growing. The trick with stevia is a little goes a long way. Add too much and it goes from sweet tasting to bitter.
If you want real tea, you can grow tea plants in pots. They are easy to grow. Otherwise, there are great herbal options!
For more tips on organic small space and container gardening, see Melodie's blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com
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