Herbal teas are a fantastic way to enjoy home-grown herbs, Debi Holland offers some sage advice.
Tea gardens have been immensely popular through the centuries with the earliest records of herbal teas dating back to China 2737 BC. Traditional tea is made from the leaves of Camilla sinensis whereas herbal tea is made from a huge variety of herbs and wildflowers that can be easily grown in your own garden, container or window box.
Herbal teas or ‘tisanes’ are naturally caffeine free and packed full of vitamins and antioxidants, which can lower stress, fight infections and boost our immune systems.
Homegrown herbs provide fresh produce at your fingertips and will save you money; no more plastic wrapped shop bought herbs, just harvest what you need, whenever you want a drink. Herbs can be blended for flavour and health benefits or dried or frozen to preserve and store.
Grow your own
Choose an accessible sunny area close to the house with free-draining, gritty soil; herbs are not fans of soggy roots! Grow from seed, plug plants, cuttings or buy full sized plants.
Containers and raised beds make ideal dedicated herbal tea gardens. Herbs equally thrive planted directly in borders, just be aware some may ‘run.’ Mint and lemon balm are particularly invasive; plant these in pots directly in the soil to contain their spread.
Cut herbs regularly to keep growth fresh.
What to grow?
The entire process of sowing, growing, harvesting, infusing and drinking is an incredibly mindful experience.
Mint (Mentha spp) tea waves off nausea, anxiety and stomach upsets, memory loss and freshens breath. There are over 600 varieties of mint so something to satisfy everybody’s taste buds. Try apple, pineapple, grapefruit, catmint (Nepeta) or sublime chocolate mint.
Moroccan mint, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of mint teas. The aroma and taste are intoxicating and cast me back to many a glass drunk in the sweltering heat of Marrakesh.
Peppermint, Mentha × piperita makes a delicious uplifting tea.
Lemon Verbena, (Aloysia triphylla), is an uplifting refreshing digestion aid. It helps constipation, joint pain and is rich in melatonin, which makes us sleepy. Its slender spike-like leaves contain exquisite aromatic volatile oil.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is very easy to grow, it can in fact overwhelm a space but its intoxicating scent provides a stress-busting hit. It improves memory, reduces anxiety and helps sleep. Young leaves and tips contain the most volatile oil.
Fennel seeds can be collected from the garden and crushed in a pestle and mortar to make an aromatic brew. This liquorice herb can soothe anxiety and digestive problems such as acid reflux and flatulence!
Chamomile is a fragrant hardy perennial, which is a hit with pollinators and tea drinkers alike. Use fresh or dried flower heads, which can be stored in an airtight container. Dry flowers out of direct sunlight to preserve volatile oils. Chamomile promotes sleep, boosts immunity, soothes indigestion and helps lowers feelings of stress.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) has a pungent aroma that focuses the mind, improves memory, joint pain and indigestion. It is an antiseptic tonic, which improves circulation and nerves.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) makes aromatic tea rich in antioxidants, which can improve memory and sleep, calm heartburn, hot flushes and sore throats.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) tea is high in vitamin A and C. This soothing drink is a natural cold remedy that gives wellbeing a positive boost and is supposed to ease a hangover!
Rose (Rosa spp) hips and petals can be used to make a fragrant, delicate brew. Try pest-free Rosa rugosa for a vitamin C rich drink. Harvest your hips and slightly crush them before immersing in boiling water.
Healthy wild weeds
For something completely different, you maybe surprised to know that some of the ‘not so welcome’ wildflowers that appear in our gardens have powerful health benefits and actually make terrific tea!
Nettles (Urtica dioica) may be the bane of some people’s lives but this iron-rich natural antihistamine and gentle diuretic helps the body flush toxins away. High in polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, nettles boast a catalogue of health benefits from aiding digestion, circulation, joint pain, anaemia, eczema and allergies to lowering blood pressure. All this from that childhood plant we all tried to avoid falling into!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is relished by pollinators and despised by lawn lovers, The humble dandelion flowers, leaves and the root can be drunk as a detox. Dandelion is a diuretic, high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and numerous minerals, which are particularly beneficial to the liver.
How to make the perfect botanical brew
Wash fresh herbs thoroughly, pop them in a teapot or cup and pour off-the-boil water over them and cover to stop essential oils evaporating.
Herbs contain volatile oils, which can be extracted to produce essential oils; these are the plant’s fragrance and active compound. Minerals do not degrade in boiling water but some vitamins, particularly vitamin C, do.
Leave to infuse or ‘steep’ for five to ten minutes to release the essential oils. The longer the steep the stronger and bitter the taste due to the release of tannins. Use a tea strainer to serve and sweeten with honey if required.
NB – Always be sure to positively identify any plant you intend to use for medicinal purposes and contact your GP for advice for persistent ailments or other concerns.