Celebrate National Tea Month by creating your own herbal tea. This great article from Country Living explains everything that you need to know about making your own teas, including information about certain herbs you might even find in your house already.
Drinking a tea brewed from freshly gathered herbs is an easy way to get nature’s healing force into your body — something we all need, whether we are healthy or fighting illness. Fresh plants help strengthen the immune system and detoxify. They are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, essential oils, soluble fiber, minerals (including calcium), enzymes, chlorophyll, and numerous compounds to boost our health.
Herbs are plants that are valued for their medicinal, aromatic, or savory qualities. Many are tasty, too. A fresh tea made from fresh herbs captures between 50 and 90 percent of the effective ingredients of the plant. (Roots would need an alcoholic extract, so leave them out.) Much of what you can use in your tea may already be growing in your garden, and what is not there you can easily plant or purchase. Because you drink with your eyes and nose as well as your palate, you want your tea to consist of three kinds of ingredients: greens, blossoms, and herbs.
How will this tea taste? Appealing and complex — and different every time because the ingredients change with the seasons. If you already like green tea, you’ll be pleased with the smooth, rich flavor of your garden tea.
Kitchen herbs for your tea — such as basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, and oregano — are a delight to grow (though you can buy them in supermarkets year-round). They thrive everywhere, even in poor soil, and need little watering. Many do not need to be grown in full sun. You can even cultivate a variety of kitchen herbs in small pots on a bright windowsill. There they do require a bit more attention, since they do not like to be over- or under-watered.
Don’t be afraid to try out and experiment with combinations. However, do not use any plants that have been sprayed with pesticides, and never harvest anything you find growing along the roadside. Be careful to avoid poisonous greens, such as the leaves of tomato or potato plants.
The beauty of your garden tea is that you can vary it by changing the combination of kitchen herbs, ornamentals, and weeds that you pick. No matter what the recipe, though, you’ll feel good, literally, after drinking what you’ve made.
Teas made from your garden are a surprising departure from those brewed with ready-made tea bags. Be prepared for a fresh, vibrant, unfamiliar mix of tastes.
A healthy mixture makes healthful tea
For the best results, you want your tea to consist of three kinds of ingredients:
- HEALTHY GREENS For a full-bodied flavor, you might try steeping a combination of dandelion leaves, watercress, parsley, and birch leaves.
- BEAUTIFUL BLOOMS Consider using a colorful mixture of rose petals, dandelion blossoms, pansies, and violets for good taste and appearance.
- NOBLE FRAGRANCES Combine chives, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, verbena, oregano, and mint with flowers such as lemon blossoms and lilac.
Herbal remedies can be administered — and enjoyed — in many ways, but when boiling water is poured over herbs, the plants’ soluble organic compounds are easily broken down. The resulting fragrances are an indication of the herbs’ inherent therapeutic qualities.
Plants that are safe to eat — and drink
EDIBLE (AND DRINKABLE) FLOWERS
Alliums (flowers and young shoots), bee balm, carnations, hibiscus blossoms, hollyhock, honeysuckle flowers (the berries are highly poisonous), Johnny-jump-ups (flowers and leaves), lavender (blossoms and leaves), nasturtiums (flowers, buds, leaves, seedpods), pansies (flowers and leaves), roses (petals, leaves, and rose hips), violets (flowers and leaves).
EDIBLE (AND DRINKABLE) KITCHEN HERBS
Basil, chamomile flowers, chives, dill, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, peppermint and other mints, rosemary, sage, thyme, verbena.
EDIBLE (AND DRINKABLE) BUSHES AND TREES
Birch leaves (especially when young), blackberry leaves, citrus blossoms (lemon, orange, grapefruit, etc.), elderberry flowers and ripe berries (the leaves and unripe berries are poisonous), gardenia, hibiscus flowers, honeysuckle flowers, pine needles (white and black), raspberry leaves.
EDIBLE (AND DRINKABLE) WEEDS
Chickweed, chicory (flowers and buds), dandelions (flowers and leaves), goldenrod, good King Henry, kudzu, lamb’s quarters, plantain (or white man’s footsteps, as the Native Americans called them), purslane, stinging nettle.
Steeping your herb tea
Put a fat handful of the plants you gathered in a big pot or sparkling clean coffee press free of all oils, and pour boiling water over them. Consider using dandelion greens and flowers for about half of the handful (resulting in a slightly bitter taste, but great for digestion; or use blackberry or raspberry leaves in bulk for a sweeter taste). Divide the rest of your tea fairly equally among plants listed in the categories above without any single ingredient dominating.
Use a glass pot; this allows you to see the green beauty of your herbs. Let them steep for a few minutes. Keep them warm on a warmer and enjoy your tea all day long. There is enough flavor left in the plants for at least one additional steeping.