Tea brewed with fresh herbs just tastes better.
My mom would always pick wild spearmint to add to our tea when I was growing up. Now, one of my daughter’s favorite chores is picking the mint for grandma’s tea. It could be that she likes the flavor, or maybe it’s the idea that she can suggest a fresh batch if she brings back some mint for grandma. Either way, making tea and chit-chatting (as Vayda would say) is a favorite pastime for three generations of women in my family.
But just as traditions are passed down, they are often improved. As the youngest in the lineage, Vayda has been wanting to introduce more flavors and make teas that have a purpose. I kind of expect that from a 9-year-old who’s aspired to become a scientist for the past four years.
We need more than the wild mint we’ve been picking to make more flavors, so we’ve decided to plant a tea garden.
Deciding what to plant in a tea garden
Plenty of tea herbs can be grown in the Midwest, and many have medicinal properties. Here are some options for your tea garden:
Chamomile is a popular herb to grow for tea. It can be used to calm nerves and relieve stomach upsets.
Planting recommendations: The two most commonly planted varieties are German chamomile (annual) and Roman chamomile (perennial). Chamomile grows best in full sunlight and well-drained soil.
Harvesting instructions: Harvest chamomile flowers in the morning when they are young and just opening. Deadhead plants frequently to promote constant blooms. In the fall cut back perennials to prevent woodiness next season and cover with mulch to protect during winter.
Making tea with chamomile: Steep tea with about 1 Tbsp fresh flower heads or 2 Tbsp dried flower heads.
Spearmint is another common tea herb. It is useful for soothing upset stomachs and sore throats or relieving stress.
Planting recommendations: Mint is easy to grow; however, it’s hard to contain. It can grow in shade or sunlight as long as it’s grown in soil with good drainage. The biggest problem you’re likely to have growing mint is that it spreads like wildfire. Your best bet to contain it may be planting it in a container.
Harvesting instructions: Cut mint sprouts off at the stem before they are too large or have gone to seed. Once they get too big, they begin to lose their flavor.
Making tea with mint: Steep tea with about 3 to 4 four mint stems per gallon. Strain out stems and leaves once tea is steeped.
Lemon balm has been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years. It has been known to calm nerves, relieve stress and treat upset stomachs caused by stress, as well as, provide relief from the symptoms of colds and flus.
Planting recommendations: Like many plants in the mint family, as mentioned above, lemon balm is easy to grow but will spread. Lemon balm grows best in full sun, with some midday shade in moist soil. If you grow lemon balm in a pot to prevent it from spreading, make sure to prune it frequently, so that its leaf stock matches its rootstock.
Harvesting instructions: Harvest lemon balm when flowers begin to open for best flavor.
Making tea with lemon balm: Add a few leaves to hot water and let steep for 2-5 minutes.
Lavender tea is used to soothe headaches, calm nerves and to prevent fainting and dizziness. The most popular varieties of lavender are lavender officinalis and lavender spica.
Planting recommendations: Lavender grows best in sunny open areas with well-drained soil. Seeds should be sown at the end of summer/beginning of fall.
Harvesting instructions: Harvest lavender just at stems just as flowers begin to open.
Making tea with lavender: Steep tea with 2 Tbsp of fresh flowers or 4 tsp of dried flowers in boiling water for 2-5 minutes.
Echinacea is commonly used to treat the onset of colds and flus, as well as, boost immunity and help the body fight off viruses. In addition to being used as a tea, echinacea can be used to make a tincture to treat topical infections.
Planting recommendations: Echinacea plants are low maintenance, preferring full to partial sun in well-drained soil. Outside of optimal conditions, they adapt pretty easily, as long as soil doesn’t hold too much water. Additionally, echinacea are clumping plants, so leave 18 inches between them and other plants. Deadhead florets frequently for optimal growth.
Harvesting instructions: The entire plant, from roots to flowers, can be dried and used to make tea blends. It’s best to gather echinacea from established plant communities to preserve populations if you’re going to use the entire flower. Otherwise, just remove leaves and flowers from larger older plants and allow younger ones to grow.
Making tea with echinacea: You can dry roots, flowers or leaves to make a tea with echinacea. Just steep plant parts in boiling water and strain.
Other plants to consider
- Milk Thistle
- Farmers Almanac
- Midwestern Medicinal Plants
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