Making teas from the garden is an easy, healthy, refreshing way to experience herbs. Herbal teas are often referred to as tisanes or herbal infusions. Unlike black teas which are made from the leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), teas made from herbs do not contain caffeine. Herbal teas are rich in phytonutrients which are loaded with antioxidants, minerals, enzymes and much more. Thus, they help support the body’s immune system to stay strong and healthy (see notes below).
The winter season is a great time for brewing decoctions – when roots, barks and seeds are simmered for 30 or so minutes in water to make warming teas such as chai. Blends often contain spices such as ginger root, cinnamon bark, cardamom seeds, and black pepper.
The summer season is a great time to brew mint, lemon balm, bee balm, and anise hyssop teas. To avoid wilting, plants are best harvested in the morning. Leaves and stems can be used fresh or dried to make the tea. Cut back your plants by 1/2 or 1/3 and do not allow them to go to seed as that will make the tea bitter. When using fresh herbs, add about 2 large handfuls to your teapot, add boiling water, and allow it to steep for 3 to 5 minutes depending on your desired strength. Use filtered water for a better tasting tea. If your herbs are dried, use around 1 tablespoon for one mug of tea.
Drying herbs is easy. Hang them upside down in bundles or lay them on screens. Place your herbs in a warm, dry place such as an attic. Once dry, strip the leaves and place them in air tight jars with a label. They can last up to one year.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata) and their varieties are delicious when used as a hot or a cold tea. Mint aids in digestion which makes it an excellent choice as an after-dinner tea. Mint is rich in antioxidants and is a soothing tea. Mixing cool mint tea with lemonade makes for a refreshing summer beverage.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a close relative of mint and has the distinctive square stem. It is known to be a stress reliever and has a pleasing lemon flavor. Try blending it with other herbal teas. Experimenting with different flavors of herbs can be a lot of fun.
Making sun teas is a special summertime activity. Place your desired herbs and/or flowers in a clear jar and set it in the sun for the day. This process allows the essences of the herbs to be extracted into the water. Try this method with the leaves and flowers of bee balm (Monarda didyma) for a delicious result.
If you like licorice or anise flavor, try using anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). This plant is easy to grow and is a magnet for pollinators. Or consider making a tea from the leaves and flowers of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum). Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb which means that it helps the body counteract the effects of stress. It can also ease inflammation and joint pain.
Nettles are known for their incredible health benefits. I grow nettles in a container on my roof garden and dry them for tea throughout the year. There is so much to explore and discover when it comes to making your own teas. Summer is the time to harvest so take the time to gather herbs for your health as well as for delicious teas.
A great alternative to sugar, if you like your tea sweetened, is using stevia which is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. It comes from the plant called stevia or sweetleaf (Stevia rebaudiana), native to Paraguay. Stevia has almost no calories and has some possible health benefits. For people with type 2 diabetes it has shown reductions in blood glucose after a meal and it can possibly help lower blood pressure. The plant grows well in gardens although in this region it is not winter hardy. Try adding 2 to 3 leaves to sweeten tea or buy stevia at the grocery or health food store.
If you are interested in herbs, consider joining the Herb Society of America, Potomac Unit.
Note: Antioxidants are molecules that help defend your cells against damage from free radicals. Damage caused by free radicals is linked to aging, cancer and other harmful diseases.
Note: When making teas from plants you MUST know the plant’s correct identity. People have died as a result of accidentally harvesting a poisonous plant for their tea blend.