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Grow your own herbal tea garden

Prairie Fare: Apple and rhubarb herbal tea blend

This summer, consider growing your own herbal tea garden. Not only will you enjoy amazing flavours as you harvest your herbs, but you’ll enjoy lovely foliage and flowers in your garden all summer long.

Luckily for us, tea herbs are easy to grow and require relatively little care. Most thrive in full sun in average, well-drained soil. They can be grown in a pot in a sunny window, a planter on a patio or in a flower or vegetable garden. Herbs can be harvested all summer long, with many herbs growing fuller and more luscious with regular pruning.

Did you know most garden herbs can be used for making tea? It’s true, even strong herbs like rosemary and oregano. While rosemary tea may be a little too intense for most people to enjoy regularly, the following six herbs make delicious-flavoured teas that everyone will enjoy.

Mint

There are hundreds of mint varieties each with an irresistible, intense flavour. My favourites include peppermint (a strong menthol flavour), spearmint (a milder mint flavour), chocolate mint (reminds me of After Eight), apple mint (mild flavour with just a hint of apple) and mojito mint (perfect for ice cold mojitos, not exactly a herbal tea!).

Mint grows very well in our Prairie climate — perhaps too well! To prevent its aggressive spreading, consider growing mint in containers. Placing containers in the ground will allow plants to overwinter while keeping the roots in check.

Giant hyssop

Giant hyssop is a Prairie native that is part of the mint family but is much less invasive. Hyssop adds a mild sweet licorice flavour that’s delicious on its own or in combination with other herbs. It grows two to three feet tall with gorgeous purple flowers. The flowers and leaves are used fresh or dried to brew a delicious tea that relieves stress and soothes the respiratory and digestive systems. It’s one of my absolute favourites.

German chamomile

A lacy medium-tall annual with small, daisy-like flowers that have a unique apple-like flavour. These delicate little flowers are an attractive addition to the garden and make a soothing tea often used to induce calm and sleep. Only the flowers are used to make tea, either on their own or in custom blends with other soothing ingredients like mint or ginger.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm has a refreshing lemony scent and flavour great on its own or in combination with other herbs or tea ingredients. But be aware, it is part of the mint family and likes to spread both by roots and seeds. Consider trimming back the flowers and growing in an isolated area or in a container. Cut repeatedly throughout the summer to enjoy in iced tea, lemonade or fruit punch. You’ll enjoy the lemony flavour and its ability to calm anxiety and promote sleep.

Lemon thyme

Thyme for tea? You bet. The lemony scent and flavour of this herb is very versatile — it works in any recipe calling for lemon including marinades, lemon herb seasonings, cookies or tea. In tea, it has a light lemony flavour that’s excellent when blended with other herbs or dried fruit.

Like other culinary thyme varieties, this is a woody perennial that grows low to the ground with tiny clusters of leaves along long slender stems. It makes an excellent ground cover without taking over the garden.

Borage

Borage is a self-seeding annual that grows into a large bushy plant about the size of a tomato plant. Its fuzzy, bristly leaves and stems are accentuated by stunning blue star flowers that bees adore. We enjoy borage flowers and young tender leaves in salads and iced teas where the beauty of the flowers can be enjoyed fully. Borage adds a cucumber-like flavour that’s perfect for fancy infused water just like you get at high-end spas.

Harvesting herbs for tea

For mint, hyssop, lemon balm and lemon thyme, prune from the top down on each stem. Follow the stem until you reach a set of growing leaves. Cut just above these leaves with sharp scissors for a clean cut. Within days, new shoots will start to grow just above the cut.

For borage, pick blossoms and leaves as needed. Harvest chamomile flowers at full bloom.

Brewing herbal tea

Herbal tea can be made using fresh or dried herbs. For best results, use boiling hot water, cover and steep for five minutes. While exact measurements vary, here are the general ratios.

• 500 ml (1 c.) boiling water

• 5-10 ml (1-2 tsp.) dried herbs or
30-45 ml (2-3 tbsp.) fresh herb

To make iced teas, brew as a hot tea first and let cool. Alternatively, muddle (smash, crush or bruise) fresh leaves and cover with cold water or other beverages to infuse flavour.

Making herbal tea blends

One of my favourite things about homegrown herbal teas is mixing and blending my own concoctions. Simply mix and match whatever flavours you love best or try to create an overall theme — fruity, floral, woodsy, refreshing, soothing, etc.

Combine different herbs with ingredients like dried fruit, dried edible blossoms (calendula, violets, lavender, lilac, hibiscus, nasturtiums, red clover, roses, etc.), cinnamon sticks, dried ginger, vanilla bean, citrus peel, cardamom seeds, star anise, etc. Use whole or bits of spices instead of powdered spices which are difficult to strain out and may leave a gritty sensation.

Consider the flavour and strength of each individual ingredient and add in amounts so that one won’t overpower the other. For example, mint and ginger are two strong flavours that work well together, whereas if you mix spearmint and apple mint, the apple flavour will likely get lost. The best way to discover what works is by testing and enjoying various batches. Once you discover something you like, write it down or make a big batch that you can store in a dark, airtight container and enjoy all winter long.

Here’s a fruity combination that has become one of our favourites.

Apple and rhubarb herbal tea blend

  • 3 parts dried apple
  • 1 part dried rhubarb
  • 1 part dried lemon thyme
  • 1/2 part dried lime or lemon balm
  • 1/4 part dried lemon grass
  • 1 stick cinnamon

Instructions

Mix all ingredients well, crumbling herbs well. Transfer to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store for up to six months to a year for best flavour.

Brewing instructions

Use 1 to 2 tsp. of tea mix per cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 5 minutes or longer for stronger flavour.

Recipe Source: www.gettystewart.com

A tasty blend of dried fruit, cinnamon and garden herbs.
photo: Getty Stewart

 

About the author

Contributor

Getty Stewart is a professional home economist, speaker and writer from Winnipeg. For more recipes, preserves and kitchen tips, visit www.gettystewart.com.

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