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Grow and brew your own herbal tea

Look no further than your garden for a brilliant herbal tea brew.

By Lee Ann Bramwell
A couple of people arrived the other day and asked for herbal tea. After witnessing me scrambling about in the pantry and producing a container of antique chamomile tea bags, they gave me a verbal spanking.
“You’re a gardener,” they said. “You should be growing your own herbs for tea.”
For someone who had temporarily run out of inspiration for new garden themes, I decided it wasn’t a bad idea – and herbs, happily, are multi-functional, so what you don’t use for tea can be put to other uses.
I’ve often grown feverfew, both to keep white butterflies away from my vegetables and to treat migraines. Herbalist John Gerard said in 1633 that feverfew “is very good for them that are giddy in the head.”
Of course, when you’re in the full throes of a migraine and “giddy in the head”, you probably can’t be bothered making tea, but if there’s nobody around to do it for you, you can chew on a couple of fresh leaves. Feverfew leaves contain a chemical called parthenolide, thought to decrease factors in the body that might cause migraine headaches.
For those who love to sip hot, soothing drinks, many non-tea herbal plants make very sip-worthy brews. Technically called tisanes, they’ll grow happily in most gardens and will take your tea-making to a delicious new level.
Mint, including this pineapple mint, is easy to grow.
Anyone can grow mint (stopping it is far harder) so it’s a good one to start with, and there are numerous flavours of mint available. Spearmint and peppermint are pretty common for teas, but you might prefer a fruit pineapple mint (M. suaveolens) or an orange mint (M. aquatica ‘Citrata’). Given the right conditions, most mints will run rampant over your garden and even your neighbours’, so grow them in pots. Harvest branches frequently and strip off the leaves for tea.
Chamomile makes a light and refreshing tea.
The miniature white-and-yellow daisy-like flowers taste of apple and make a light, refreshing tea. The plant is vigorous and self-seeding and like mint, it’ll be everywhere if you’re not careful. Get rid of the spent flower heads if you don’t want a whole plantation of it. Full sun and well-drained soil are the main requirements for growing chamomile, and you can harvest the flowers for tea any time after the white petals appear.
Fresh and citrusy, lemon verbena has a real zing, and the plant is pretty in purple.
Lemon verbena
This one is a real star in the garden and the kitchen. It loves full sun and rich, moist, well-drained soil. With its fresh lemony scent and flavour, it makes a good, zingy drink. Harvest the leaves any time for tea.
Anise hyssop
A traditional beverage of the Native Americans of the northern plains, anise hyssop is related to mints and hyssop. Yes, really. Bees love it too. The tall spikes of purple-blue flowers can grow a metre high given full sun and good soil. You can start it from seed and use both leaves and flowers for tea.
Bee balm (bergamot)
Even the name gives you a sense of wellbeing. The flowers of this plant come in shades of pink, red, lavender, scarlet and mahogany, and it grows best in fairly rich, moist and slightly acidic soil in full sun to partial shade. You can use the younger leaves and flowers for a tea that’ll be slightly spicy with a mild, sweet flavour. The leaves and blooms are said to contain antibiotic and antiseptic compounds, which can be infused to ease sore throats and cold symptoms. It’s another one that’s easy to grow.
The leaves, buds and petals of a number of different herbs and plants can be trimmed, dried and mixed together for tea blends that last for months – provided you don’t drink them all, that is. Dry them in a dehumidifier or hang them up in the kitchen for a cosy, country look, and store for later use. If you have a surplus, pack into glass jars, label and give away to friends.

Which herbs?

If you want to use different teas to ease ailments or enhance wellbeing, these ones are reputed to have special properties.
Echinacea: Buds for immune support.
Milk thistle: Buds for detoxification.
Angelica: Root for digestive support.
Catnip: Leaves for calming.
Raspberry: Leaf for female reproductive support.
Lavender: Buds for calming and soothing.
Nettles: Leaf for detoxifying and nourishing.
Red clover: Buds for purifying and detoxifying.
Dandelion: Root for liver support and a blood tonic.
Lemongrass: Stalk for calming, relaxing digestive.
Whether they work or not, your guess is as good as mine. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest they do. And whatever their efficacy, they’re interesting to grow, fun to process and good to drink.
There’s much more pleasure to be gained in making tea than throwing a tea bag in a old mug.

Make a cuppa:

There’s much more pleasure to be gained in making tea than throwing a stale tea bag in a old mug, pouring hot water on it and drinking it. I read years ago that tea should be made slowly and consciously (‘mindfully’, in today’s vernacular), and you should enjoy every step of the process.
My recipe for herbal tea
Put the kettle on to boil with just the amount of water you need. Look out the window at something pretty until it’s boiling.
Measure a quantity of dried or fresh herbs into a heat-proof container, leaving plenty of room for the water. Pour the boiling water over the herbs, soaking them thoroughly.
Cover the container with a lid or other cover so the herbal properties don’t evaporate.
Do something more useful than looking out the window for 10 minutes while the tea infuses.
Strain the infusion into a cup and throw the herbs in the compost. Drink. Relax. Experience. Enjoy.

Take a look at how to grow sprouts here.

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