If you have been reading the Tea and Me blog for any amount of time you have read about “Mom” who likes herbal tea. Well, this article is written by that Mom.
I enjoy gardening, and in particular, my herb garden. Last year, I decided to devote a portion of that garden to herbs that I can use in making my own tea. This is about what I have learned from growing my garden, not about how to grow your own. I have a few tips that have helped me while living in the Midwest. Maybe some will inspire you to grow your own little piece of heavenly herbal tea.
The specific herbs that I dedicated to my tea garden are Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon balm and Mint. Although I sometimes add to my tea other herbs that are always growing in my garden (rosemary, basil or catnip).
Chamomile: Last year I purchased one plant, that’s it-only one. I had never grown chamomile before and wasn’t sure what to expect. I read through many Pinterest articles on how to grow and pick chamomile. Mainly, chamomile for tea is best if you pick the flowers when they are young, in the late morning when the flowers have opened and the dew has dried off the flowers. I did this pretty diligently for about one month, picking when the flowers were best, drying the flowers on a paper plate in a dry, undisturbed location. Then I went on vacation.
When I returned the flowers were too big in my thoughts to pick. I only picked a few newer flowers, my yield went down, I decided to just enjoy the pretty flowers and stopped picking. Eventually, my plant stopped producing flowers. I was disappointed with my first attempt. This year I planted two plants with a different frame of mind. Every week I picked the flowers like clockwork. Dried my little yield, and thought, this is better. Then I went on vacation. This time when I returned I picked all the flowers, even the larger flowers that I thought were too big. I dried the ones that were just the right size. Not wanting to waste the bigger ones, I made a cup of tea with the remainder of the flowers. What a delicious cup of tea. I wasn’t disappointed. So for the rest of the season I decided, a few larger flowers are no big deal. What I also learned…pick the flowers, all of them. The plant rewards you with more flowers week after week. Last year, I didn’t realize that and was shy in picking all the flowers.
Mint: Last year I planted mint but never dried any of it. I only picked it fresh and added it to my tea. This year when I planted it, I decided to pick it with the intent to dry it and use it later. To dry, I just picked long enough stalks to gather in a bundle and hung in a dry place for about one week. For having only one plant, I had a good yield, plus I picked fresh mint this Summer whenever I wanted a cup of mint tea.
Lemon Balm: This is an herb that grows profusely in my garden. I tried to condense it to two nice plants, but I often have little seedlings growing all over the garden. Each year, I am not disappointed in my yield. This herb tastes delightful freshly picked in my tea and dries beautifully. Just pick enough for small bundles and let thoroughly dry, at least one week in a dry location.
My only complaint about lemon balm is the little bugs in the late spring. Since I grow all my herbs organically, I asked my local garden shop what to spray on my garden to keep away the bugs but to stay organic. I was directed to Organic Neem Oil and to spray continuously as long as there is an infestation. This works for me if I can keep ahead of the bugs and remember to spray after each rain. Sometimes the bugs win and I just wait it out a few weeks and my plant is back on track. I just pick the affected leaves and throw them out in my yard waste. If you have a great home remedy, I would love to hear about it and give it a try.
Lavender: I love everything about my lavender. It is beautiful in my garden, I love the smell, and it tastes delicious in my tea. I gravitate to teas that have lavender in them. I find it is very relaxing and I enjoy my cup with all my senses. My lavender has always grown well in my garden, once I found the right spot for it. Last year we had a harsh winter and my lavender plant did not make it. I had to purchase a new plant, but why stop at one, I bought two. One I planted in my garden and one I planted in a container. Because my plants were not mature my yield was a hit and miss all season.
I did manage to get an ok amount of flowers and I’m looking forward to next year when my plants mature. The plant in the ground grew big but did not yield much until late in the Summer. My potted lavender had lovely, yet small flowers. In the past, I have picked my lavender and dried the flowers in bundles in a dry location. This year because my yield was so sporadic I simply picked individual flowers and dried them on a paper plate in a secure, dry location. About one week of drying time worked well for me. I decided at the end of the season to arrange some of my flowers in my garden and planted the container lavender in a new spot in my garden, hopefully, next year it will like its new location.
Next year I am hoping to add at least one tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) to my garden. I recently attended a class at the Chicago International Tea Festival about growing tea in America. The instructor, Steve Lorch of Table Rock Tea Company in South Carolina, gave a fascinating lecture on how to grow tea and knowing your specific soil types for the region you live in. Ideal conditions: ph of 4.8-5.2, temps between 64 -86 degrees, rainfall 59+ in. and humidity 75-90%. We also learned how to grow a tea plant from a seed, as this is his preferred way to grow tea. He has 95% success in germination and likes tea plants to have a tap-root, which goes deeper into the ground (which can keep the tea plant warmer in colder regions). He also said once a tea plant is established it is very hard to kill. If you grow a tea plant from a cutting (also know as cloning), you will not get a tap-root, but it is not necessary if you intend to grow your tea plant in a pot and not the soil.
We learned how to pick tea (two leaves and a bud) and how to dry tea depending on the type of tea you want, black vs green. I took lots of notes not included in this article, but if you are interested in growing your own tea plant he has written a book called “How to grow and make tea in the United States.” In late November he offers seeds to purchase from his company. He only offers fresh seeds for about 3 weeks as older seeds do not grow as well as fresh.
My Favorite Tea Blend
Without a doubt, my favorite blend of herbs that I enjoy on a regular basis is lemon-mint tea. I usually enjoy a half lemon balm, half mint mix, but depending on my mood I sometimes make it a two-thirds mint, one third lemon balm mix. A lovely second is a chamomile-lavender mix. About two-thirds Chamomile to one-third lavender. Sometimes I experiment with blends of any of the four herbs or add one of my other garden herbs to the mix (rosemary, basil or catnip). I love my tea blends with fresh herbs in the Summer and enjoy my dried tea blends the rest of the year.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this small cameo on Tea and Me. I’m a lover of gardening and enjoyed sharing what I learned with my tea garden. This year we had a longer season than usual because we have not yet had our first frost. We are expecting one tonight so goodby lovely plants. See you next year. Happy brewing.