Growing Your Own Herbal Tea

kraueterteeNothing beats a soothing cup of herbal tea in the morning as a non-caffeinated pick me up or at night as a bedtime treat.  What makes herbal tea even better is that it is easy to grow and helps keep an individual living a Locavore lifestyle.

Herbal teas have a vast history that encompasses a full realm of uses.  It has been used as a medical treatment for disorders such as depression and upset stomach.  They have also been used as a substitute for Camellia sinensis. This was done when traditional tea was scarce or to make a statement about taxes. The colonists used Beebalm or bergamot after the Boston Tea Party and the early settlers used it to boycott the tax on tea.

Growing herbs for herbal tea is not a difficult task and even the beginning gardener can be successful at this undertaking.  The first consideration that the gardener needs to think about is what type of garden they want to construct.  Herbs do great in a flowerbed or vegetable garden and also thrive in container gardens.

Next, the gardener needs to decide what herbs they want for their tea.  Many herbs have been used for teas throughout history.  Chamomile, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint, lavender, and rose hips are just a few of the well-known herbs used in herbal tea.  Some less known herbs include scented geranium, rosemary, lemon basil, pineapple sage, and monarda.

Once the herbal types have been chosen, the garden plan begins.  Regardless of where the herbs are going to be planted the soil needs to be prepared.  Garden soil needs to have compost mixed into it to a depth of 4 to 6 inches.  If planting the herbs in a container garden, then compost needs to be mixed into an all-purpose potting soil mix.  Also, if remembering to fertilize is going to be a problem, consider mixing in a slow-release fertilizer, seasoned manure or worm casing into the soil.

Now the planting begins, but, before planting the first seed or purchasing the first plant, become familiar with the growth requirements of the herbs mentioned.

CHAMOMILE

German Chamomile or Matricaria recutita is an annual that has small, daisy like flower used for chamomile tea.  This herb is started from seed that is broadcast outdoors in August and is covered with a light covering of soil.  It can also be started indoors during the month of March.  Make sure to put the seeds in a sunny location and harden off prior to planting in the garden after the last chance of frost.  This herb is not recommended for container gardens.

LEMON BALM

Lemon balm or Melissa officinalis is hardy in USDA planting zones 4a through 9b.  It is started from seed and cuttings.  When planting in the ground, place in fertile, well-drained clay or sandy loam.  Once mature, lemon balm can reach 12 to 18 inches in height.

MINT

Mint is a very invasive species.  It can grow anywhere and if grown in the ground will need to be contained by a barrier.  This herb also does well in a container and is easily moved to the indoor environment for the winter.

LAVENDER

Lavender or Lavandala thrives in USDA planting zones 5a-9b and likes full sun to some shade.  It also thrives in a light, well-drained soil that is not too rich.  When mature, the lavender plant will be 12 to 18 inches tall.  Lavender is started by either seed and/or softwood and semi-hardwood cuttings.

SCENTED GERANIUM

Scented geranium can be grown indoors or out.  It likes average, well-drained soil in a location that is sunny to shady.  Do not plant in soil that is very fertile or over fertilize.  A fertile soil will cause the plant to produce a weak scent.  The scented geranium likes a daytime temperature of 70F degrees.  To keep the plant healthy, pinch back new growth to encourage the development of side branches.

ROSEMARY

Rosemary or Rosmarinus officinalis is an evergreen sub-shrub that is hardy in USDA planting zones 7a – 10b.  It is grown from seed or six-inch long stem cuttings.  Rosemary thrives in full sun to some limited shade and when matures reaches 36 to 48 inches. In areas where the temperature dips below 30F degrees, rosemary will need to be brought indoors and put under artificial lights to meet the light requirement.

LEMON BASIL

This plant is a cross between basil and African basil.  It grows to be about 2 feet in height and should only be planted when the temperature is between 80F and 95F degrees.  Make sure this herb is planted in an area that receives 3 to 4 hours of sun.  It can be planted in the ground or in a large pot.

ROSEHIPS

Rosehips are the mature fruit that is produced after the flower is spent.  It develops from the base of the spent flower and is an orange to red globe shape.  To aid in the formation of the rosehip, never deadhead the flower after it has bloomed.  Letting the petals set and naturally fall off will help the hips form.  The rosehip will form at the base of the flower stem and is ready to harvest when it turns orange or red.  Remove the hips by cutting the stems with scissors even with the main cane.

PINEAPPLE SAGE

Pineapple sage or Salvia elegans is a tender perennial in zones 8-11 and an annual in colder areas.  This plant likes to have room so plan to allow at least 4 ½ feet of ground space.  Pineapple sage looks great in a late season flowerbed when mixed with white or lavender flowers or planted in the edible garden mixed with dark opal basil, cilantro, dill, creeping thyme and/or oregano.

LEMON VERBENA

Lemon verbena or Aloysia triphylla is a perennial herb that is only hardy in USDA zones 9-10 and will not withstand temperatures below 40F degrees.  To save this herb in other areas, simply bring indoors and place on a sunny windowsill.  Lemon verbena requires at least six hours of full sun and a soil supplemented with compost.

MONARDA

Monarda is also known as white bergamot, pony beebalm, scarlet beebalm, Oswego tea or crimson beebalm.  This perennial is hardy in USDA zones 4-9.  It loves full sun but will tolerate some shade. Fertilize in the spring with a fertilizer formulation of 10-10-10.  Monarda suffers from powdery mildew so do not plant the plants too close together.  To keep monardas healthy divide every three years.

Herbal tea can be made from fresh and dried herbs.  If using fresh herbs, pick early in the morning as soon as the dew has dried off the plants and add 3 tablespoons per cup of water.  If using dried herbs, mix one tablespoon per cup of hot water.  To create an herbal punch, mix a little of fruit juice to the herbal tea.  Another use creative use for herbs is to create herbal ice cubes for ice tea, coffee or lemonade.  To do this, place herbal leaves in each ice cube divisions, fill with water and freeze until solid.

While there is a lot to do to make a simple cup of herbal tea, the fun part comes from creating your own trademark tea blend.  So plant a few herbs, enjoy the sunshine and give a cup of herbal tea a try.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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