This time of year, there are few things more enjoyable than cozying up by the fire with a cup of herbal tea. However, it gets even better when you use homegrown herbs from your own backyard. With some practice, you’ll find that it’s very easy to grow and prepare herbs for tea and is rewarding and good for your health as well.
Tips on Growing and Harvesting Herbs for Tea
Most herbs are best harvested in the morning or at dusk. This is because the concentration of volatile oils in the leaves, stems and flowers of herbs are at their peak. These compounds can evaporate quickly in excessive heat, so the plant stores them for later use. The plant needs them for functions like attracting or repelling certain insects.
When growing herbs, it is important to know what parts of the plant contain the most medicinal compounds and also when to harvest them. For example, chamomile is harvested for its flowers, so you want to wait until the flowering stage. Mint however is harvested for its leaves and the quality is not as good when the plant has begun flowering as this can make the flavor bitter. Herbs can be harvested for their roots, stems, leaves, flowers or fruit so make sure you know which part to pick.
Tips on Drying Herbs for Tea
You can use herbs fresh for tea, but for long-term preservation you should dry them. When drying, make sure you do not rinse your herbs after harvest as this will wash away much of the flavor compounds we want in the tea. Only harvest clean, healthy plants and shake off any bugs or dirt hat may be present.
At the BELL Garden, we dry all our herbs in a dehydrator but we know not everyone has one. If you are one of these people, your herbs can be dried by cutting a bunch and hanging them upside down to dry in a sheltered place with low moisture like a garage for 2-3 weeks. When harvesting flowers like chamomile, simply place them on a baking sheet in the same conditions.
When storing dried herbs, it is good to store whole leaves and flowers and crush or grind them as needed. This locks in more of the compounds we want for tea and improves how quickly and thoroughly it is brewed. Dried tea typically lasts 1-2 years. After that period, your herbs are still useable but will be less effective.
This herb is distinct from other varieties of mint in appearance, smell, flavor and culinary applications. The leaves are round and toothed and the whole plant is fuzzy like a peach. Its flavor and aroma is slightly sweeter than most other mints, and the minty bite is cool and not overbearing. It is not only good in tea but in cocktails, simple syrups, sauces and cooked into dishes. Mint tea also aids greatly in digestion.
Of all the herbs in this article, this is the easiest to grow. In fact, be careful where you plant it because it can be hard to get rid of! Buy started plants from your local nursery and plant them in pots or raised beds. Just be sure that the roots are contained because it will spread wherever it can go. Mint is a hearty plant and does not require any fertilization for good results.
For tea, we use the leaves of the mint plant. Whole sprigs can be hung upside down to dry. After drying is complete, pick off just the leaves and place them in an airtight container. If you are using a dehydrator you can put just the leaves in the machine and wait to dry before storage.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Tulsi is a sacred plant in Hindu belief, and for many good reasons. The herb is highly medicinal and has a wide range of uses from teas and tinctures to soaps, salves and culinary applications. Plants can grow about 2-3 feet tall and are bushy with tall purple flowers. The leaves are incredibly oily when rubbed together and plants are intensely fragrant, with a sweet, floral and slight licorice scent.
This herb is classified as an adaptogen, which means it contains compounds that help the body cope with stress and balance hormones, which makes it a good remedy for stress related illnesses like some headaches.
It also contains anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial compounds that provide a wide range of benefits such as reducing fever and improving respiratory and digestive health. In addition, the high amounts of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are beneficial for healthy skin and hair.
Tulsi is easy to grow at home. Start seeds indoors in spring and plant after the frost. You can fertilize with compost but you may find that Tulsi grows fine in any loose garden soil without much care. In most cases it will also reseed itself year after year.
All parts of the Tulsi plant except the roots can be harvested for tea, but the leaves contain the most beneficial oils and compounds. Dry it by cutting whole plants at a time and hanging to dry, or place whole leaves in a dehydrator.
Chamomile has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The small daisy-like flowers are known to aid digestion, reduce headaches, and regulate sleep. The 2’ tall plants are bushy and have frilly leaves that resemble dill. Once the flowers bloom, the fragrance is like fresh honey.
To plant Chamomile at home, it is easiest to buy started plants. If you want to start it from seed it is best to scatter the seeds directly where you want the plants to be in the garden. Once your chamomile is established, it should reseed itself year after year.
To harvest Chamomile, pick only open flowers. To dry, place on a sheet pan to dry for 2-3 weeks, or place in the dehydrator for 2-3 days. When you are ready to brew, crush the flowers a little bit as the whole flowers can be dense and take awhile to brew.