One of the benefits of cultivating a herbal garden is being able to sit and admire the scenery while also sipping it.
A variety of herbs have been used through the ages for medicinal tisanes, love potions and even witches brews. Myself, I like to keep it simple. A hot pot of mint tea steeped with a little honey; or a blend of "lemony" herbs to finish off a day. All from your garden view.
Mint (mentha) should always be propagated by stem or root cuttings. You must be warned that this hardy perennial likes to grow everywhere, fast. It's a good idea to plant this prolific herb in a container or out behind the garage where it has room to roam. There are many flavours to choose from, spearmint (mentha spicata), peppermint (mentha piperita vulgaris), orange mint (mentha piperita citrata) and English mint (mentha spicata cv.) are common tea mints. In 1995 a new mint was introduced " Hillary's Sweet Lemon". Stems, leaves and flowers can all be used to make a great tea.
Anise-hyssop (agastache foeniculum) is a very pretty perennial that makes a great tea, especially if you like the taste of licorice. The first year I grew anise-hyssop, my one plant was not enough but, I quickly found out that a whole row was too much. Oh the fun of gardening!
There are many "lemony" herbs and all make a great tea. Lemon balm (melissa officinalis) is a favourite. If you or a friend are feeling a little grumpy a hint of lemon balm will cheer the spirits.
Lemon verbena (aloysia triphylla) is native to South America and therefore not hardy in our climate (tender perennial). It has to come indoors for the winter or be treated as an annual. The wonderfully sweet scent is stronger than lemons and is, what I feel, the best of the "lemony" herbs. It is propagated from cuttings . My lemon verbena tree has been with us for 15 years. It is in a large clay pot that I place outside for the summer and bring indoors before the first heavy frost. It usually drops most, if not all of it's leaves, but given a sunny window and a weekly watering, it has always made a come back. Each spring, I take rooted cuttings and plant them directly into a row in the garden. By autumn each cutting is four to five feet tall and at least that wide. Harvest leaves me with plenty of lemon verbena leaves for not only teas but also potpourri. And once again the "mother" lemon verbena comes into the house.
Lemongrass (cymbopagon citratus) is from the Orient. This "tender perennial" has a strong "lemony" herb flavour to add to the tea blend.
Of all the many basils, lemon basil (ocimum americanum) is one of the best for tea. Lemon basil is a very tender annual; meaning if you even mention the word frost, the plant will freeze on the spot and turn black.
All of the tea herbs can be brewed fresh or dried; alone or blended, and served hot or iced. Recipes can be found in all of the better herb books but I like to experiment.
The Herbal Touch tea is a blend of the above "lemony" herbs for high notes and a portion of mint for blender notes. Like perfume, herb tea has an array of notes.
When brewing tea, the tea pot should always be pre-warmed. Boiling water is added to the pot into which goes three to six fresh stems approximately four inches long of the desired herbs (I always rinse the herbs with cold water before use), or less the amount if the herbs are already dry. At this time I add a small amount (1 tsp) of honey to mix and steep with the herbs. The longer you steep, the stronger it becomes.
When I need large quantities of tea, I use a coffee percolator which holds thirty-two cups. After bringing the water to the ready point, I add a giant tea bag full of herbs made from an eight-by-eight inch square of cheese cloth with the four corners tied together with thread. Sample the tea and when strong enough, remove the tea bag. A number of years ago, I was visited by a local grade 9 home economics class. They wouldn't try the herb tea, but when I referred to it as a "hot lemonade," they all enjoyed a cup.
The leftover hot tea can be chilled to become tomorrow's iced tea. Just add a squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with a few lemon balm sprigs or mint flowers and watch it disappear.
Herbal sun tea can also be made by stuffing clean, fresh herbs of your choice into a lidded gallon jar, adding water and if desired, honey or sugar and two or three bags of regular tea. Set in the sun for the day, strain, chill and serve with minted ice cubes and slices of lemon. A garnish of edible flowers would also be pleasing (flowers of anise-hyssop, mint, violets, sweet cicely or sweet woodruff).
Store all dry herb tea in sealed containers (glass jars are great), out of direct sun. Extra herb tea from your garden can make great gifts perhaps combined with a small tea pot or a book on herbs, and presented in a nice garden basket. Why not make this your cup of tea!
8 foot by 6 foot area, full sun, good drainage, well composted or manure enriched soil.
Written by Marilyn Edmison-Driedger. Zone 6a in Southwestern Ontario Canada