In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2009
Regional Report

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Mexican mint tarragon blooms in fall and winter with vivid gold flowers.

Grow Your Own Herbal Tea

Cool winter temperatures induce a craving for warm, soothing beverages. Many herbaceous plants that add color and scent to low desert gardens can also be used to brew an aromatic cup of tea.

Mexican mint tarragon (Tagetes lucida). This Mexican native is more adapted to thrive in the low desert than fussy French tarragon, but offers an equally intense anise or licorice flavor. (Some people compare it to the taste of root beer.) In fall and winter, it is covered with edible daisy-like flowers. Toss them into a salad or fruit drink for a surprising burst of flavor.

Lavender (Lavandula spp.) Of the herbs mentioned, this one absolutely requires good drainage. In the landscape, try this trick recommended by the Arizona Herb Association: Plant lavender on top of a built-up mound of soil. The extra depth improves drainage.

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus). This plant will eventually spread as a large clump 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, with narrow leaves rustling pleasantly in the breeze to add another element for the senses. Lemon grass makes a terrific lemonade and is an integral part of Thai cuisine. It takes full sun and reflected heat next to sidewalks or walls.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla, A. citriodora or Lippia citriodora). Intense lemon flavor makes this a great choice for all sorts of culinary uses. It is cold-tender, so cover before sunset if frost is predicted.

The above herbs are easy to grow, providing they have excellent drainage. If their root systems sit in saturated soil they will quickly rot. Plant herbs in pots or raised beds if your soil is heavy clay or has poor drainage.

Other easy-to-grow herbs for teas include chamomile, mint, rosemary, and scented geranium.

Brewing a Cuppa
Snip some leaves, wash thoroughly, and steep for several minutes in very hot water. For lemon grass, the bulbous tip is where the flavor and aroma resides, not in the leaves. Chop or crush it, as you would garlic, to release its essence. Adjust the amount of plant material and the steeping time to develop just the right brew for your taste buds. If you have allergies or other issues, check with your health-care provider before ingesting plants you haven't experienced before.


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