Herbs can make lovely tea with some great health benefits. Herbal tea from home-grown herbs smells so much fresher and tastes very much better than tea bags. It’s a great alternative to tea and coffee, especially if you’re looking to reduce your caffeine intake. Many suitable herbs are really easy to grow in the garden, in the soil or in containers. Buy them from herb farms, stalls and garden centres.
Herbs to grow for great herbal tea
Camomile is a fast growing annual, grown from seed in the spring. It likes partially shady spots and thrives on neglect, the flowers developing their most intense flavour in drought-like conditions. These are used to make a very popular mild and calming tea, very useful during the exam period and other times of stress. It is also used for hay fever and other respiratory tract inflammation, ulcers, menstrual cramps, and fibromyalgia.
Try tea made from the fresh leaves of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) which have a beautiful taste of lemon. This tea calms the nerves, lifts the spirits and promotes sleep. Its anti-spasmodic properties relieve digestive problems and menstrual cramps, and its anti-inflammatory properties help with cold sores and respiratory tract infections. It’s good for children and adults. It’s very easy to grow, dying down in winter and emerging strongly in spring.
Fennel tea is made either from the tall plant’s elegant fronds or from its seeds. It has a warming and soothing licorice taste and is gentler than mint on the digestion. Let it flower and set seed. Bees and other pollinators love it.
Another gentle tea is made from the tender, tropical perennial lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), known as an ingredient in Asian cuisine. The fragrant tea helps to relieve digestive problems, muscle and joint pain, and coughs and colds. It looks like clumps of tall grass and the blades are sharp so remember to use a tea strainer! As a tropical herb, it likes sun and hot temperatures so I grow it indoors on a sunny window sill.
What about one or more of the mint family? Peppermint is the most popular for herbal tea but spearmint, chocolate mint, ginger mint, pineapple mint and apple mint are all interesting and easy to grow. Peppermint is cooling and refreshing, helps the digestion, relieves night-time coughs and promotes good sleep. The mints are easy to grow as long as you give them enough water. Keep each plant separate in its own container so they don’t become invasive or cross-pollinate. Pick the mature leaves as well as the tender stem tips regularly. Mint dies down in winter and then grows enthusiastically from April to November.
Read more about herbs for herbal tea here.
Use containers to grow herbs for herbal tea
There are distinct advantages to growing herbs in containers. You can:
- grow them on a patio, balcony or window ledge if you don’t have a garden.
- look after each plant’s sun, shade and watering needs and make sure it has enough space to reach its full size.
- prevent invasive herbs, such as the mints and lemon balm, from spreading and taking over.
- bring containers inside in the winter, so your herbs can grow on a sunny window sill.
- find you pay close attention to the plants, picking them regularly and helping them grow strong and bushy.
- keep different varieties of mint separate by preventing them from flowering and cross pollinating.
Make sure you water your herbs although some (for example, camomile flowers) become more intense if they are kept on the dry side. While they are growing feed them with a liquid seaweed feed. This is full of good trace elements and minerals which help the herbs stay full of flavour.
How to pick herbs for herbal tea
Cut or pick the herbs regularly during when they are growing. Picking off the tip of each stem, just above a pair of leaves, acts as gentle pruning and makes the plant produce more shoots and become bushy.
How to make herbal tea
Pick the herbs just when you need them and wash them under running water. Bruise or tear the leaves slightly to release the volatile oils.
Infuse the leaves. Put 3 teaspoonfuls per cup in a teapot, pour boiling water over the leaves, put the lid on and allow to steep for five to 15 minutes. Pour into your favourite cup through a tea strainer and top up with boiling water.
Make a decoction of seeds, roots or hips. Crush them to release the essential oils and place in a saucepan with boiling water (1 tablespoonful to 2 cups of water). Simmer for five to 10 minutes and pour through a tea strainer into your favourite cup.
As you drink the tea, breathe in the herbal smell to obtain the most benefit.
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