NGA Articles: Herbal Teas

Herbal Teas (cont)

By: Evelyn Gaspar

Harvesting

Aromatic oils are most concentrated when herb plants are in bud, so that's a good time to harvest, although you can certainly take cuttings here and there during the growing season. Cut back the entire plant by two thirds. In my region, I get about three cuttings before letting the plants go.

The plants listed here can all be used fresh for tea, or they can be dried first. To dry them, I spread the stems on trays in a warm, airy place and turn them twice a day. When they're dry (four to eight days), I gently strip off the leaves, buds or flowerheads and store them in closed containers.

I cut stalk fennel and coriander when the seeds are barely mature, but before they shatter, and invert them in paper sacks. In a few weeks, when the seeds have dropped to the bottom and dried, I funnel them into storage containers.

Blending and Brewing

In "merry olde England," a tea with one ingredient was called a simple. By all means, start by sampling some simples and get familiar with the various teas. That way, you'll know if you're one of a very small percentage of people that may experience a reaction to one of these ingredients.

Once you discover the art of blending, however, you'll probably prefer the made-to-order tastes and subtle accents you can create. But just as mixing contrasting colors can make a muddy mess, mixing unrelated flavors can be unsatisfying. The trick is to choose one flavor or family of flavors to carry your message. Then, for accent, add small amounts of other herbs or bits of dried fruit or citrus peel, toasted almonds or walnuts, or whole spices. Use about three parts of your dominant ingredient(s) to one part of accent items. Crumble the leaves if necessary to mix evenly, but not enough to go through your strainer or tea ball.

Recipes

The recipes given here call for dried ingredients and yield six cups of tea. Use one tablespoon of dried herbs per cup, plus one for the pot. For fresh leaves or flowers, triple the amounts (seed measurements don't change). Pour boiling water over the herbs, cover and let steep for one to three minutes. Herb teas are naturally pale. Sweetening with honey darkens them and adds body. Lemon juice bleaches the color; try rose hips instead. Peppermint, betony and sunflower teas can take a little milk.

Mint Mania
3 tablespoons peppermint leaves
1 tablespoon catnip leaves
1 tablespoon rose petals
1 tablespoon lemon verbena leaves

Orchard
3 tablespoons chamomile flowers
2 tablespoons lemon verbena leaves
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seed
1 teaspoon snipped dried apricot

Bistro
4 tablespoons toasted sunflower hulls
4 teaspoons fennel seed
4 teaspoons orange rind (colored part only)

Maytime
3 tablespoons chamomile flowers
1 tablespoon bee balm leaves
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons crushed coriander seed
2 teaspoons peppermint leaves

Evelyn Gaspar owns a nursery specializing in herbs and desert native plants in Lancaster, California.

Photograph by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

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