Thursday, February 28, 2019

Grow Your Own Herbal Tea Garden!

You may love drinking herbal teas, but did you know you can grow your own? It's easy to grow herbs and flowers to brew into delicious teatime sips. Whether you have lots of space or just a small corner, you can grow your own herbal tea ingredients in pots, or in the garden. Either inside or out.

Imagine sipping on your own homegrown herbal tea creations! You can refer to all of these as 'herbals' or I also like to use 'tisanes', which means an infusion. I've detailed all of the things you need to get started on your own personal herbal tea garden below.

Grow Your Own Herbal Tea Garden: Location

First, you'll need to decide where you'll be growing your tisanes. Perhaps you have a sunny patch of garden, or even an area on a patio. Many herbs and flowers will do just fine in pots, but you should make sure you get enough sunshine for them to grow. Certain plants will do fine with partial sun (mint and lemon balm, for example), so do a bit of research on what you can grow based on the amount of sunshine you get, and if you are in the US, you can check your Hardiness Zone.

If you have a sunny windowsill you can also plant a few things in small pots. But you'll need to be quite diligent with watering, especially if they are inside getting a lot of warmth. Even if you don't have a sunny spot, consider using a grow light, which can actually work quite well and it'll allow you to grow your tisanes anywhere you'd like.

Growing Your Own Herbal Tea Garden: The Care

Once you've got your location picked out, you can decide what you'd like to grow. One thing to keep in mind is availability- do you have access to seeds and/or small plants? Garden stores and hardware stores will have ample seeds available, and plants can be found everywhere from nurseries to big box stores, grocery stores, and farm markets, even online.

If you're going to use seeds, read the planting instructions carefully. Some seeds can be sown directly into the soil outside, and some need to be started indoors quite a few weeks before you plant them. Many herbs are hearty, but for the more delicate ones you'll want to wait until the last frost happens before planting (here in NY, I usually wait until early May to plant outdoors but I start seeds indoors in March and April).

Be sure to learn how much water your plants will require- some such as basil are extremely thirsty, and may need to be watered every day in the summer. Make sure you plant everything in an easily accessible area so you can water as much as necessary.

Choosing What Herbs And Flowers To Grow

Now the fun really begins! Now that you have your location and info, it's time to pick out what you'd like to grow. I like to do as many herbs as I can, and experiment with brewing them in various combinations. I always have basil, rosemary, sage, mint, lemon balm and lemon verbena in pots around our patio. These herbs are super aromatic and make interesting flavor combinations. Last year I also grew lemongrass which I loved, and it was surprisingly easy to grow.

Note: with basil there are so many different varieties, so see what you can find! They all have very different flavors profiles and aromas.

Don't forget to consider florals as well, such as chamomile, lavender, jasmine, and roses. Some of these may be more challenging to grow in pots and indoors, so be sure to do your research. I may try to do jasmine this year, which I'm very excited about!

Processing Your Herbs And Flowers Into Tea

Once your plants have given you beautiful leaves and flowers, it's time to harvest them! I like to brew everything fresh, and it can be a bit tricky to know how much to use. To be honest, you should really go with your palate. For fresh leaves, a general guideline is using about 3 teaspoons per cup.

Usually your leaves will keep fresh for a few days, but be sure to store them in a small vessel of water (just like any cut flowers), and you can pop them in the fridge if it's very warm in your kitchen. You should be able to harvest your plants until the weather gets too cold for them to grow.

Some herbs and flowers have a strong flavor, so it's best to experiment with the steeping measurements. Basil and sage are definitely on the strong side, so they may only need a few leaves each. But perhaps you'll want to use larger amounts of rose or mint. Steeping time is also quite up to you- but you'll want at least 5 minutes, and probably quite a bit longer. Most herbals can use water right off the boil to make sure you extract as much flavor as possible.

At the end of the growing season I like to harvest anything I have left, and hang them up to dry. You can also spread them out on baking sheets, just be sure to turn them every day or so. Dried herbs will keep for months, and it's so lovely to pull them out in the middle of winter for a nostalgic summer sip. If you're drying your leaves, you can use quite a bit less for steeping- about a teaspoon per cup. But it's important to play around and see what tastes best to you.

Getting Creative With Your Tisanes

The best part about growing your own tea is that you have fresh leaves on hand whenever you want them! Be sure to mix and match the herbs and flowers to see what flavor combinations you enjoy. You can add muddled fruit, fruit juices, and all sorts of sweetners. Ginger and turmeric also blend nicely with so many of these. It's fun to get creative with your blends. In the coming months I'll be posting tisane combinations to try, and cocktails too, so be sure to keep an eye out.

If you're looking to grow camellia sinensis plants along with your herbs and flowers, be sure to check out my previous post on how I've started growing tea plants at home!

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