Grow a Tea Garden
Wouldn't you love to take the teapot into the garden, and fill it with an impromptu collection of fresh herbs for your morning cuppa? With your own tea garden of herbs and flowers, you can create an endless variety of herb teas, all home grown, free of chemicals and pesticides, and costing only the original plant or seed price. Most of these 'tea herbs' are among the easiest of plants in the garden to grow.
The basic herbs for teas include mint, bee balm, lemon balm, lemon verbena, chamomile, sages, scented geraniums, and calendulas. A few less common others are lemon and cinnamon basil, yarrow, lavender and rose petals.
Mints grow with such abandon that it's best to grow them in a contained area. If left in a garden, they'll quickly take over. Half barrels make great mint gardens, and you can put up to 3 types in one container.
There are several types of mint, with true peppermint being the most flavorful. It's one of the most refreshing teas, great for the digestive system and for an invigorating brew. Spearmint is much more comon, and is the mint used for mint sauce and jelly. It blends well with other herbs, such as lemon balm, without being overpowering.Most garden centers will carry apple mint, pineapple mint, ginger mint, chocolate mint, and orange mint as well.
Two more great tea herbs are lemon balm and lemon verbena. Lemon balm is less invasive than mint, and when used fresh will give your teas a refreshing citrus aroma and taste. It is fairly mild, and goes well with other herbs. Lemon verbena, a native of Chile, is a frost-tender herb, with a great fresh citrus scent. It is the strongest lemon herb of all.
One of the most colorful tea herbs is bee balm, also called monarda, Oswego tea or bergamot. It requires moist and fertile soil, but rewards you with gorgeous red spiky flower heads. The bees and humingbirds love the flowers. The stalks, flowers and leaves all have a spicy orange scent, and the leaves are what give Earl Grey tea its special bouquet.
Another very common herb for tea is chamomile, known for its soothing and calming properties. Chamomile flowers are gathered and dried for teas, which must never be oversteeped. It blends well with mints or lemon balm.
All of these herbs can be used alone or in combination for teas, fresh or dried. For winter brews, gather the herbs at their most vigorous, and tie small bundles to hang up to dry. Make sure they are thoroughly dried, away from direct sunlight, and where the air is circulating. When the leaves are crackling, strip them from the stems, and store into tightly closed containers, out of light.
When making your winter teas, use proportionately less dried herbs than fresh. The right taste, blend and strength is personal taste, so experiment. Let the scent and flavor of the individual herbs be your guide.
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