BY KATHLEEN HENNESSY 2016
Herbs are easy to grow and can be decorative, medicinal, add new dimensions to food, and attract beneficial insects. And then there are the ones that make delicious and soothing teas, too!
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? How about growing your own tea! Creating an herbal tea garden can be a fun, creative addition to your plantings. In fact, the trend is on the rise. “Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world,” says Mindy Kelly of Mrs. Kelly’s Tea in Minneapolis. “Herbal Tea is especially popular,” she adds. “I have customers grow their own, and others who grow herbs to add flavor to other types of teas such as Black tea or Oolong.”
Growing tea herbs isn’t really all that new. Ancient Egyptian writings tell us it’s been common 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. Try them in container gardens or right in the ground, as long as you pick an area that drains well. Moreover if you choose to plant mint, choose a site where it can roam freely without disturbing other plants in your garden.
Once you’ve created your garden, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. For most teas, choose a handful of fresh or about a teaspoon of dried herbs. Steep using hot, but not boiling, water. “Pick young, tender leaves of the plant, they have the best flavor,” says Bob Reidmuller, Resident Horticulturist at VIVA Gardens. “Make sure to drain the tea of any plant particles prior to drinking.”
Here are a few great choices for brewing that perfect cup:
Apple Mint is a very fragrant garden plant. Chop fresh leaves to flavor hot or cold drinks. The fruity aroma and flavor make it a delightful choice for tea. Apple Mint prefers rich, moist soil growing to 18-24 inches. It does well in full sun or partial shade, space 12-15 inches. Hardy to zone 5.
Bergamot is an aromatic, stimulant, expectorant herb that may help to lower fever and benefit digestion. Steep leaves in boiling water to create a mild and flavorful tea. Adding leaves to iced drinks gives them an Earl Grey flavor. Plant Bergamot in rich, moist soil in full sun or semi-shade. Space 12-25 inches. Bergamot grows to 24-36 inches tall, but can be kept shorter by trimming top growth. Hardy to zone 4.
Chamomile’s daisy-like, white and yellow chamomile flowers brew a soothing and fragrant herbal tea with overtones of pineapple. Harvest flowers on the stem and gently wash and dry. Hang to dry in a dark, airy location. Discard stems. Plant Chamomile in full to part sun. Chamomile is an annual that grows 10-24 inches tall.
Chocolate Mint leaves smell and taste 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. Grows 18-24 inches tall. Hardy to zone 3.
Lavender makes a lovely addition to any garden, even if you’re not using it for tea. It will grow two to three feet tall in containers as well as in well-drained soil with plenty of sunlight. Some lavender varieties take the cold better than others. It makes a floral tasting tea that also blends well with other herbs.
Lemon Balm features potent, refreshing lemony scented leaves. Dried leaves make a clean lemon flavored tea. In addition to tea and cold drinks, leaves can be used to flavor soups, salads, sauces, custards and puddings. Tender young leaves have the best flavor. You’ll need to water your Lemon Balm frequently. Plant it in fertile soil in sun or shade. This perennial grows to 24 inches tall. Space 12-15 inches. Hardy to zone 4.
Lemon Grass leaves can be brewed as a tea and used externally, which may be helpful in treating fungal and bacterial infections, or internally, to aid digestion. The tangy, enlarged leaf bases are an essential ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Leaves are used to flavor fish, soups, curries, and sauces. They also make a pleasant tea, served hot or cold. Plant Lemon Grass in a sunny spot and keep it moist. Space 24-36 inches. Hardy to zone 9.
Lemon Verbena is one of the finest lemon scented herbs. It’s excellent for making tea and potpourri. Use leaves fresh or dried in teas, or add them to dressings, fruit salads, and drinks. Remove stiff leaves before serving. Lemon Verbena prefers full sun. In cool climates bring it indoors to a cool, bright location for the winter. Hardy to zone 8.
Spearmint is a creeping, sweetly scented mint that can be steeped to make a flavorful and aromatic tea! Harvest leaves just before flowers appear and use fresh to flavor cold drinks, or dry for future use. Leaves can also be frozen in order to preserve flavor for an extended period of time. For tea, simply steep a small handful of fresh (or a teaspoon of dried) leaves in boiling water. Keep Spearmint in fairly moist soil. This fast-spreading perennial grows 12-36 inches. Hardy to zone 4.
Stevia is used primarily as a sweetener, but is also of medicinal importance due to its mild anti-bacterial activity. The leaves can be brewed as a tea and used as a gargle for sore throats and cold sores. Dried leaves can be finely ground and used in place of sugar, or added to toothpaste to inhibit the development of plaque and cavities. A remarkable herbal sugar substitute! Stevia is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar but without the calories. Leaf powder can be used in place of sugar in drinks, baked goods, desserts and preserves. Plant Stevia in rich soil that drains easily. Water it lightly and frequently. Space 24-36 inches. Hardy to zone 8.#
For more tea garden ideas and herb inspiration visit www.vivagardens.com.
Courtesy of Feature Source