Herbal teas are a great alternative to regular (‘English’) tea or coffee. Not only do they add refreshing variety to the hot drinks on offer in your kitchen but they are free from caffeine and often have beneficial medicinal effects – from calming nerves to aiding digestion. You might think that growing herbal teas is a specialist area but nothing could be further from the truth. With just a few minutes preparation you can be growing your own varieties and can enjoy the superior taste of fresh tasting drinks through a good portion of the year.
I first discovered this when selecting packets of seed to grow in my own herb garden. In amongst the thyme and basil was a packet of chamomile and I decided to give it a go. I drink a lot of chamomile tea which is light and relaxing but I wasn’t prepared for how much better the freshly picked chamomile flowers taste. The resulting tea is more delicately flavoured and far more refreshing – definitely worth trying even if you don’t usually like dried chamomile teas.
A few months later my wife ordered peppermint tea after a restaurant meal. What came was a tall glass of boiling water filled with large peppermint leaves. Again the taste was utterly superior to the dried variety and we were hooked!
So what are the best teas to grow? Here’s my personal list, although part of the fun is discovering your own and concocting your favourite custom blends...
- Chamomile: An annual, grow from seed, which likes a light soil. The daisy-like flowers are picked and used fresh with the rounded yellow centres providing the taste.
- Mint: Each of the mint varieties give their own unique taste, although peppermint is my favourite. I don’t actually know anyone who has had to sow mint as it seems to spring up as an invasive weed in many gardens – it can be identified by rubbing the leaves in your fingers which reveals its wonderful aroma. If you do plant it then make sure you put it in a pot to stop it spreading, although it will need to be kept well watered in hot weather. Peppermint is good for all kinds of digestive complaints but is far too nice to be kept as a remedy for ailments!
- Lemon Balm: Closely related to mint this adds a lemony twist to any blend. Again, it can be quite an invasive plant and the leaves should be picked fresh for the best flavour. Lemon Verbena (which is unrelated to lemon balm) can also be used although it will not be as strong. As well as the beneficial effects for stomach complaints listed above for mint, lemon balm is also slightly stimulating which can make it good to drink before working or studying.
- Rosemary: A hardy perennial that I always have in my kitchen garden. It makes invigorating teas, usually mixed with other herbs. The fresh leaves are used, avoiding the woody stems. Rosemary will grow well in most positions and can be started by simply taking a cutting from an existing plant. I usually cut it back annually to keep it from sprawling out of shape.
- For a more fruity taste try rosehips (the seed cases that form on rose bushes), elder-flowers picked from the tree and combined with lemon or jasmine grown up a trellis. I’ve not grown any of these myself but all are recommended for home use.
- Many herbs can traditionally be used for health benefits. You can add nettle which is a good source of iron and is used as a blood detoxifier and marigold petals, whose slightly bitter taste act as a natural anti-histamine against conditions such as hayfever. Dandelion gives a number of useful vitamins and minerals and echinacea along with yarrow are traditional remedies for colds and fevers.
Many other home-grown herbs and spices can be blended to form an astonishing variety of teas. If you don’t fancy growing your own, or just want a bit of inspiration, then why not head over to Sympathy Teas who supply a fascinating range of imaginative infusions. Many of their ingredients are unofficially organic and they also supply such useful additions as empty tea sacks (like tea bags you can fill) and various infusers. I particularly like their ‘Tasting Club’ which you can join at £24 for a year. Each month you get sent two or three different teas to try out and send back your comments. The ones that are most popular are used to develop their new product lines and you can even suggest your own blends (and what they should name them!) Use the code growveg10 (all lower case) for a 10% discount from their website.
One thing is for sure, once you have tasted fresh blends you won’t want to go back to the boring dried teas found on shop shelves - it’s far more fun to experiment! On that note, do please add a comment if you have grown your own and perhaps suggest your own favourite combinations...