Tea Time

    What could be more relaxing than escaping to a garden hide-a-way with a sweetly scented cup of tea.  Herbs from your garden provide the path to a slower pace of life.  A warm cup of lemon balm tea can make life's troubles vanish, a tall tumbler of an iced peppermint infusion will take the heat out of the fieriest summer day.  A sprig of lemon verbena thrown into the teapot with your favorite China tea will bring a smile to guests' faces.  So set the water to boil and get out your best china teapot, come roam the garden of herbal teas.

    Tasty beverages may be brewed from fresh or dried herbs.  A general rule is to use one teaspoon of dry or 3 teaspoons of fresh herbs per cup of boiling water.  Gently crush the herbs and place them in an infuser.  Pour boiling water over the selected herbs and let steep three to five minutes.  If an iced tea is desired, brew a double strength infusion, then add ice.  Sun tea may also be made by filling a jar with herbs and water and placing in a sunny location for four hours.  When adding an herb to your favorite China tea, a leaf or two per cup will usually give enough flavor.
    Preserving summer's bounty for winter is as easy as...well...making tea.  To dry your tea herbs place them in a location with good air circulation, low humidity and out of direct sunlight.  (Basil should be covered with a single sheet of newspaper while drying to help retain its bright green color)  Bunches can be fastened together with rubber bands and hung from racks, large screens can be placed on saw horses in a spare room, or, on a small scale, easy to make drying racks can be formed by inserting a double layer of bridal netting into wooden embroidery hoops and using pushpins to form legs that allow air to circulate above and below the hoops.  Those with gas oven pilot lights can quickly dry herbs by placing them on cookie sheets in an unlit oven for a day or two.  Be sure to post a sign on the oven dial as a reminder to remove the herbs before preheating the oven for dinner.  Whatever technique is used, check the herbs daily and "stir" them to make sure that they are thoroughly dry before storing.  Herbs will retain their flavor better if left in fairly large leaf portions and crushed at time of use.  Once the herbs are dry, package them in glass jars either individually or as your own special signature blend.  A cute label and big bow easily turn your work into a Christmas surprise or a party favor.
   As mentioned above, herbal teas can be simple, consisting of one type of herb, or a more complex blend of flavors.  Experimentation is fun, and don't forget to add spices such as cinnamon, ginger and cloves as well as orange or lemon peel.  When serving teas, especially as iced beverages, a splash of fruit juice can transform your tea into a punch.
Jamaican Tea Hibiscus        Hibiscus sabdariffa       Family Malvaceae       AMWPhoto(98k)
This is a large shrub with green lobed leaves and yellow flowers.  The leaves have bright red petioles, but it is the enlarged red calyxes (enlargened sepal cluster at the flower base) that give the plant the common name 'Florida cranberry'.   Both the flowers and calyces may be used to make a pleasant acidic tea.  The plant thrives in a sunny location with rich, moist, but well-drained soil.  It will not tolerate any frost.  The tropical requirements of the plant plus the late fall bloom period make it a fun plant to grow in Austin, Texas, but not one that is very practical to use for harvesting large amounts of tea supplies.  Use Jamaican Tea Hibiscus alone, combined with mints or in fruit juice punches.  Jamaican Tea Hibiscus is also called Roselle or Jamaica.

False Roselle              Hibiscus acetosella               Family Malvaceae            AMWPhoto(98k)
This large tropical shrub has reddish lobed leaves and unimpressive pink flowers.  Both the blossoms and leaves may be used in tea making, but tea made from leaves has a somewhat "greenish" taste.  A few leaves add a nice color to other herbal teas that sometimes aren't as visually appealing.  Blooming in the late fall, its cultural requirements are the same as for H. sabdariffa.  In Louisiana, it is also called 'Red Shield Hibiscus' and it has been rumored that the leaves are used for coloring gravies.  It is an attractive shrub and does well as an indoor potted plant during the winter.  The tea is not as flavorful as that made from Hibiscus sabdariffa.

Lemon Balm    Melissa officinalis      Family Lamiaceae
Lemon balm's bright green clump of crinkly, heart-shaped leaves is an asset in any garden and when its clusters of small, white flowers appear bees will be buzzing, pollinating fruits and vegetables.  Lemon Balm will survive neglect, but does best in Austin when given afternoon shade and an occasional watering. Be warned, with good care you will be able to supply all the lemon balm your neighborhood could ever need or want.  Frequent clippings will keep it in bounds and be sure to dig up a piece and give it to anyone who admires it.  It is hardy to zone 4-5 and grows to a height of 2 ft.  "Balmy Tea" is made by brewing lemon balm leaves by themselves, adding honey to taste and enjoying.

Lemon Verbena   Aloysia citriodora    Family Verbenaceae 
The highly fragrant leaves of Lemon Verbena make a delicious tea by themselves or when combined with other ingredients.  In warm climates lemon verbena may grow to a height of 20 ft, but in Central Texas it remains a 3-4 ft. shrub.  It is usually winter hardy in Austin, but is considered a tender perennial, so be sure and protect it well or bring it inside during the coldest days.  Lemon verbena grows best in dry, well draining soil.  Lemon verbena should be planted in a sunny location, although afternoon shade seems to prevent the leaves from "bleaching out".  It can be slow to leaf out in the spring so be patient.  It also may suddenly loose leaves on what appears to be a whim, but have faith, with loving care it will quickly be ready for the tea pot again.

Mints              Mentha sp.            Family Lamiaceae
Mints are the mainstay of many a tea.  In general, they are plants with highly aromatic leaves and aggressive, creeping growth habit.  They grow best when receiving at least morning sun, and will survive full sun if given enough water.  In the summer heat they may disappear from sunny locations, but usually reappear when fall rains arrive.  Mints are wonderful alone, combined with themselves, or mixed with orange flavors or Hibiscus tea.  Once you have brewed iced China tea with a sprig or two of spearmint added you will never have tea without mint again.

Roman Chamomile        Chamaemelum nobile     Family Asteraceae
German Chamomile     Matricaria recutita          Family Asteraceae        UWPhoto(136k)
Chamomile, or Manzanilla, is the beloved tea of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit.  Easily recognizable from its strong apple scent, only the small, white, daisy like flowers are used when brewing tea.  The best flavor is obtained when the blooms are harvested just as the petals begin to curl downward.  Either fresh or dried flowers may be used.  One word of caution is needed, those who are allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemums may also react to Chamomile so try just a plant or two in your garden before sowing a huge patch.  In Austin, Texas both types of Chamomile die out in the summer heat.  Seeds are available, but plants set out in the fall or early spring are the best bet for tea lovers in Central Texas.  Roman Chamomile is a creeping plant only growing five inches tall.  It is often considered a perennial lawn weed in northern climates, but how could something so sweet really be all that bad?  German Chamomile, formerly known as Chamomilla recutita, is a tall annual, growing to two or three feet in height.  Drink Chamomile tea by itself or combined with lemon herbs, mints or hibiscus flowers.

Anise Hyssop       Agastache foeniculum      Family Lamiaceae          UWPhoto(186k)
Anise hyssop is a delightful licorice scented perennial native to the great plains of North America.  It is not hyssop, but derives that name because someone with a vivid imagination felt that it resembled hyssop.  Other common names it is known by are anise mint, licorice mint and fennel hyssop.  (This is why botanical names are a must!)  Growing to three feet in height, anise hyssop has triangular dark gray green leaves and spikes of violet flowers in the summer.  Bumblebees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers.  It does best in full sun and well-drained soil.  It is easily sown from seed and once established in your garden, seedlings may begin popping up in unexpected places.  The tea made from the leaves of anise hyssop is sweet and soothing.

Arabian Jasmine          Jasminum sambac           Family Oleaceae
Jasmine tea is a type of China tea (Camellia sinensis) whose leaves were dried alongside the fragrant blossoms of J. sambac.  The green tea leaves absorb the flowery fragrance and then release the delicate flavor when the tea is brewed.  Home gardeners who grow J. sambac aren't going to be preparing tea from the flowers, but it is a wonderful addition to the tropical garden.  A single bloom will fill a house with its heavenly scent.  Arabian Jasmine will not survive Austin, Texas winters and must be brought inside when temperatures drop below 50 degrees.  The plant has a rambling form with oval shaped green leaves.  The tubular white flowers may appear throughout the year.  It requires a rich, well-drained soil and will do best when shaded from the hot afternoon sun.

Common Sage              Salvia officinalis          Family Lamiaceae          TAM Photo(86k)
Sage makes a highly aromatic tea.  All varieties of S. officinalis yield the same taste.  The plants are susceptible to fungal root disease so must be grown in well drained soil and full sun.  Bergartten Sage seems to have slightly less problem with root rot.  A tasty sage tea can be made by steeping the leaves along with spices and lemon or orange peel.

Mulling Spices
Prepare a combination of spices to infuse into cider, red wine or cranberry juice.  Place the spices in a large tea ball and simmer with the liquid for at least 2 hours.  Crock pots are great for large amounts, but require at least six hours of simmering.  Add sugar and orange juice to taste.
Spices to Use:
Bay Leaves
Stick Cinnamon
Whole Cloves
Whole Allspice
Whole Coriander
Dried Orange Peel
Refreshing Summer Tea
4 Tea Bags
2 Cups Boiling Water
Handful of Spearmint Sprigs
4 Small Sprigs of Lemon Verbena
2 Cups Peach Nectar

Combine Tea Bags, Boiling Water and Herbs.  Remove the tea bags after 10 minutes and allow herbs to continue steeping for 20 minutes.  Strain out herbs.  Add fruit juice, ice and ENJOY.
(Try other fruit juices-pineapple, cranberry and mango could be tasty.)

Go Back To Tea Plant List

Ann Marie's Tea Sampler
Herb-use alone or
use with and add Fruits and Spices
Chamomile Lemon Herbs,Mints * *
Sage Lemon Herbs,Ginger Orange,Lemon Peel Cinnamon,Cloves,Allspice
Lemon Balm Crystallized Ginger * *
Mints Other Mints,China Tea Pineapple Juice *
Lemon Verbena Hibiscus Flowers,
China Tea
* *
Jamaican Hibiscus Flowers Lemon Herbs, Mints,
Sweet Bay
Cranberry Juice Cinnamon
Orange Thyme Crystallized Ginger * Cloves
Lemon Thyme Sage * *
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