Planning ahead for your dream homestead? Why not have a tea garden and grow beneficial herbs right out your back door!
Herbal teas are a healthy alternative to coffee and other caffeinated drinks. They can be used cold or hot and in any combination. Most herbal teas are infusions made by pouring boiling water of herb leaves and steeping them for 5 to 10 minutes to release the herbs fragrant oils. The general rule is 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (or 3 teaspoons of fresh herbs) to one cup of boiling water.
I mix the herbs as a strong infusion (steeping for 30 minutes or more) and then dilute with hot or cold water before drinking. We use a small French press, purchased at Ikea, to make individual batches of our favorite herb blends to enjoy each day. There are several flavors steeping on the counter right now.
Purchasing dried herbs is always an option for those that you cannot grow yourself, but planning to grow a tea garden is the most economical way to go. (Botanical interests has 25% off on their herb seed packets) All of these recommended herbs are perennials and will come back every year. They even work for container gardens.
10 Herbs for a Tea Garden
Stevia for sweetness
Grown from seed or transplant, you can plant Stevia seed in late winter or early spring. Keep the seeds growing on a sunny windowsill until all danger of frost has passed, then transplant into the garden.
Stevia prefers a medium-rich garden soil with compost and full sun. It likes heat, humidity and has average water requirements. It does not like to have “wet feet” so if you will be growing it in a container, make sure there are plenty of drainage holes. Dry the leaves and make an extract or syrup to use in place of sugar.
This wonderful lemony plant can grow as a perennial in zone 8 and above. If you live in zones 3-7, provide winter frost protection or bring the plant indoors before the first frost. The lemon flavor is cleaner and more intense than the lemon balm plant.
Lemon Verbena leaves are easy to dry and use in tea. It is usually used internally and has a number of healing benefits to the body, including alleviating digestive tract spasms, fortifying the nervous system, lessening feverish colds and easing stress and tension.
Mint is one of the essentials for many gardens. I grow several flavors including spearmint, peppermint, orange, and chocolate mint to use in making my own herbal tea blend. If I had to pick only one herb to grow, mint would be it.
It is easy to propagate from cuttings or layering and mint grows by sending out runners, so unless you want it everywhere it should be contained it in a pot. The aromatic nature of the mint family plants come from their high levels of volatile oils, which also account for the rich flavors prized in cooking and many of their medicinal properties.
This relative of the mont family is the kind of plant that is so easy to grow it will survive even if you don’t want it to. Since it is a member of the mint family you might want to consider containing it so the roots do not take over.
Lemon Balm is a perennial and will spread by runners or self-seed every year. For the best lemon flavor, harvest leaves just as the flowers are beginning to form. Cut a sprig of Lemon Balm any time to add lemon to your tea or salad.
Lemon balm is a lovely ally for those with sleep disturbances, especially in combination with sedative herbs like valerian and passionflower. Lemon balm is known to relieve digestive upset related to anxiety or depression. Must be steeped 10 minutes or longer to remove the bitterness that can sometimes occur.
There are two types of Chamomile that are good for tea and herbal skin preparations. German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), is an annual that can grow up to 2-feet high; and Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a perennial that grows to 12-inches high.
Both chamomiles contain essential oils and antioxidants that are calming and relaxing. Both types of chamomile have subtle sedative properties from flavonoids and volatile oils that bind to the same receptors as Valium. So drinking your chamomile before bed really is going to soothe you to sleep.
Chamomile is also used to treat travel sickness, stuffy nose, hay fever, nervous diarrhea, ADHD, fibromyalgia, restlessness, and sleeplessness. It makes a delicious, soothing tea helpful for easing anxiety and tension, has a pleasant taste and is safe for children. Steep only 3 to 5 minutes.
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
This stunning red flowered plant makes a delightfully fragrant tea. It is sleep inducing and should be simmered for 10 minutes to bring out the full flavor.
Bee balm grows in a clump with 3-foot tall stalks. Most bee balm varieties are perennials and will grow in average to well-drained soil in full sun. You can grow bee balm from seed, but it establishes quicker when planted from divisions from a friend’s garden or purchased plants from your local garden center.
Strawberry, Raspberry, Blackberry Leaf
We don’t often think of saving the leaves from our berry plants, but these make a pleasant and fragrant tea; each kind having its own unique flavor.
The leaves are very high in vitamin C and considered a good substitute for coffee or oriental tea. Thoroughly dry the leaves before using because the wilting process produces a toxic substance that disappears upon drying.
This sweet byproduct of the rose plant is very high in vitamin C and is safe for daily use.
Soak the dried, finely chopped hips in a small amount of water for 12 hours before using. Simmer 1 tablespoon of rose hips in 3 cups of water for 30 to 40 minutes.
Betony (stachys officinalis)
Betony is a good substitute for oriental black tea because it has a similar flavor and it safe to use daily. Not much to look at, the plant is often found growing wild in meadows, on sunny slopes, and along forest paths. It grows from 6 to 24 inches tall. Recommended for asthma, bronchitis, and heartburn.
These dainty flowers produce a rose-colored tea with a lemony flavor. It makes a delightful summer drink. It grows as a large-ish shrub or small tree and is known more commonly as Althea or Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). These carefree plants brighten up any landscape and are a must-have for hummingbird and butterfly gardens. The blooms have a sustained, prolific bloom period in mid to late summer and grow up to 10 feet tall and wide.
I will be sharing my herb garden design on the blog in the next few months. In the meantime, you can read these articles from The Herbal Academy to gain more information about making an herb garden plan and planting your tea garden.