Herbal Tea 101
The best part about growing your own herbal tea is that herbs are so easy to work with. Once harvested, they simply need to be dried then enjoyed. (Some teas, like green, oolong, white, and black, require a more complicated process that involves a chemical reaction called oxidation, which unlocks the flavors.) Your herbal tea garden will be filled with a variety of the best herbs, each with their own intense flavor.
Benefits of herbal tea
Each herbal tea plant has known benefits and short-term cures. Chamomile helps you during restless nights, peppermint relieves bloating, ginger curbs nausea, and lemon balm helps when stress is out of control.
Herbal Tea Garden Plan
Each herbal tea plant has different needs. Although you can grow your herbal tea garden in the ground or in containers, plants with similar care needs should grow together. See BH&G's Plant Encyclopedia for information on each plant's habits to ensure the best results.
Need some help getting started? Here's your guide! Use this herbal tea garden plan as your map to a delicious cup of tea.
1 Peppermint (18" X 14" pot)
2 Spearmint (18" X 14" pot)
3 Lemon Balm (18" X 14" pot)
A | 3 Lemon Thyme
B | 3 English Thyme
C | 4 Parsley
D | 1 Lemon Verbena
E | 6-9 Dill
F | 6-7 Sweet Basil
G | 5 Lavender
H | 3-4 Lemon Basil
I | 1-2 Borage
J | 6-8 German Chamomile
K | 3-4 French Thyme
L | 2 Mother of Thyme
Each herb has a specific harvesting process to get the result you want and to maximize the flavor profile. The key to keeping your herbs at their best is to harvest your garden frequently. Harvesting herbs from your garden is simpler than you think. It's like getting a regular haircut: Trim the dead stuff off to make room for healthy ones to grow.
Chamomile is one of the most popular and easiest herbs to grow for a great cup of tea. The perfect time to harvest this hardy plant is in the early morning after dew has dried. Carefully pinch bloomed flower heads off the chamomile plant. The full flower will be what gives your tea flavor!
The elder is the easiest of all to harvest. No cutting needed. Simply shake the plant so the buds fall into a bowl. Wash and let dry!
Although ginger is not an herb, it provides as much flavor as one. After about 4 to 6 months of patience, your ginger should be ready to dig up. Dig up the mass of the roots, or the rhizomes, to flavor your tea (and other dishes, like these to-die-for ginger cookies).
Hibiscus is another example of a nonherb often used in teas for its wonderful flavor. Like chamomile, the hibiscus flower head is used to flavor your tea, so carefully pick off the flower. Be sure to use the flower quickly, though. The blooms will likely shrivel up in 1-2 days.
Jasmine is a tea is as sweet as they come. It's time to harvest these beauties when buds are fully formed, but not open. Prune off parts of the plant loaded with leaves and flowers. To preserve freshness, place stems in water after picking.
Lavender is your go-to herb for sweet, relaxing aromas. When the lavender flowers bloom, it's time to harvest. Cut the lavender stems 2 inches above the woody growth, starting with the first blooming buds for the best results.
Lemon & English Thyme
This herb is laid-back and as low-maintenance as they come. Thyme can be harvested whenever spontaneity strikes during its growing cycle. For potent flavor, pick in the morning. Just like sage, you can either prune the whole stem or pinch off leaves at the stem.
Harvest in late spring or early summer, right before the blossoms set. Cut the stems about 2 inches from the ground. Make sure not to cut off too much. Cut stems above where lower leaves have formed—we don't want to cut off the entire plant's supply. Looking for just a little lemon flavor in your tea? Cut right below a leaf.
Lemon Verbena generates new foliage quickly after a full harvest. The best leaves to pick from lemon verbena are the ones surrounding the white flowers. The prime flavor is in these leaves. Cut the stems to within 1/4 inch of the leaf. If the plant becomes too big for your space, trim the entire plant back to a fourth of its current size.
Refresh your senses with some peppermint in your tea. Before the plant starts to flower, cut off the stems about 1 inch from the ground. If you only need a little flavor in your cup, pinch off a peppermint leaf or two, making the cut right before another leaf.
Every two months or so, sage is ready for some harvesting. Sage grows fairly vigorously, so you'll have no problem getting your fill of this herb throughout the season. Clip leaves six to eight inches from the top of the plant. Doing so stimulates new growth. You can cut the entire stem or pinch off the leaves—whatever your herbal heart desires!
One of the most well-known herbs, parsley is a great choice for your herbal tea. Although a little more complicated to pick, it will provide a kick of flavor to your cup of tea. For the most flavor, cut parsley when the stems have at least three segments of leaves.
Have other tea plants and flowers you want to brew from your herbal tea garden? Check out our Plant Encyclopedia for more information on your specific tea plant.
This part of the process is the most critical for tea that tastes like you want. After snipping off your plant's goods, air-dry the herbs. Tie a piece of string to the stem (if attached). Hang your herb bunch upside down in a dark, dry area in your home (avoid the kitchen if you can; a basement or attic works). Wait for herbs to dry, about a week. These herbs should stay potent for 6 to 12 months. If no stem is attached, lay herbs on wax paper for the same time.
Enjoying a Cup of Tea
At last! Your tea plant is ready to enjoy. There are a couple different ways to prepare your tea. The most common methods are to brew loose-leaf tea or tea in a bag. (Using a tea bag is the most common way, but loose leaf is gaining in popularity.) Both allow the tea to flavor the water without letting leaves or flowers into the water.
For loose-leaf tea:
- Measure one spoonful of loose herb leaves.
- Place your herbs in a small pot and add desired amount of hot water.
- Let herbs steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Pour the liquid into your teacup through an infuser or strainer.
- Discard the used herbs. Enjoy your tea!
To make your own tea bag:
- Cut a 3- to 4-inch square of 100-percent-cotton cheesecloth.
- Place dried herbs onto the cloth.
- Bring up all corners of the cloth and tie with a string.
- Place your tea bag in a cup, add hot water, steep for 3 to 5 minutes, and enjoy.
This article originally appeared on www.bhg.com