Growing herbs for tea

Home-grown herbs liven up your tea cup.

What could be better than a hot cup of tea on a cold day, or a frosty glass of iced tea when it’s hot? Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world and creating an herbal tea garden could be a delicious, creative addition to your plantings.

Ancient Egyptian writings tell us that herbal gardening for tea has been a common practice for more than 5000 years. In addition to fresh flavors, herbs were thought to provide medicinal benefits and even promote longevity.

Herbs are very easy plants to grow. Most prefer a good sunny spot, easily grown in a container garden or in the ground. They do like an area that drains well, but are not too picky about soil. Provide sufficient water, and don’t worry about fertilization or pest control; the aromatic nature of most herbs controls insects.

If you have culinary herbs in your garden now, you have a built-in supply of tea herbs. Almost all culinary herbs can be used as tea; favorites such as parsley, sage, rosemary, mint and thyme all make excellent teas.

Feel free to snip at will and bring in herbs at any time for a quick cup. However, to harvest and dry large amounts to be stored, target the plant for a mass cutting when it is looking really fresh (with no yellowing or dying leaves) and vibrant, usually right before flowering.  If left to flower, cutting back will help regenerate the plant and cause it to produce more leaves. Flowers can also be used fresh or dried.

Once you’ve harvested, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Herbs can be used fresh in tea or dried to store for later use. If preparing for storage, wash and dry them thoroughly.  Herbs can be tied together and hung upside down to dry, but don’t let them hang longer than necessary before sealing them away in a glass jar out of the light. Dried herbs can also be frozen in zippered bags and stored for an indefinite period of time.

Enjoy herbal teas by mixing with green or black tea, or drink as pure herb tea. Choose a handful of fresh or about a teaspoon of dried herbs and steep using hot, but not boiling, water. Young, tender leaves have the best flavor, and be sure to drain the tea of any plant particles before consuming.

Here are a few great choices for brewing that perfect cup:

Apple Mint – The fruity aroma and flavor make a delightful tea.  Prefers rich, moist soil, in full sun or partial shade.

Bergamot – Aromatic, stimulant, expectorant herb; steep leaves in boiling water to create a mild and flavorful tea. Adding leaves to iced drinks gives them an Earl Grey flavor. Plant in rich, moist soil in full sun or semi-shade.

Chamomile – The daisy-like, white and yellow chamomile flowers brew a soothing and fragrant herbal tea with overtones of pineapple. Plant in full to part sun.

Chocolate Mint – Smells and tastes like candy. This mint variety adds a cool and refreshing taste to hot and cold drinks, fruits and desserts. Chocolate Mint likes full sun or partial shade. Like all mints, this hardy perennial can be invasive, so you may want to keep it in containers. If you keep it in the ground you’ll need to keep it cut back.

Lemon Balm – Potent, refreshing lemony scented leaves. In addition to tea and cold drinks, leaves can be used to flavor soups, salads, sauces, custards and puddings.

Lemon Grass – Tangy, enlarged leaf bases are a staple in Vietnamese and Thai dishes, flavoring fish, soups, curries, and sauces as well as hot or cold tea.

Lemon Verbena – One of the finest lemon scented herbs, excellent for teas and potpourri. Remove stiff leaves before serving.

Spearmint – Creeping, sweetly scented mint that can be steeped to make a flavorful and aromatic tea.

About the author

Mary Kay WoodworthMary Kay Woodworth is Executive Director of the Georgia Urban Ag Council. In her spare time, you can find her digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, and writing garden-related articles for publication.