by Sara Larkin / illustrations by Cozette Ellis
As a child growing up, my family home was filled with the sound of the whistling kettle and my mother calling for someone to “Pour me some tea.” Tea has been a part of human activity since early times and has evolved with human culture. There are many excellent companies providing store bought teas, but it can also be quite rewarding, relaxing and resourceful to grow your own.
There are many uses for tea – social, medicinal, for hydration or relaxation – and there are millions of people worldwide who have a regular, even daily, relationship with tea. Here are some common and easy to grow herbs that are well suited for our region and would be a great start to a tea garden.
Anise hyssop(Agastache foeniculum) tea has a slightly minty taste with hints of licorice. A great addition to any garden, this plant has lovely purple or blue flower spikes and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The leaves and flowers are useable, dried or fresh, for making tea. Anise hyssop tea can provide a mild relaxing effect and can help to calm a nagging cough.*
Chamomile(Chamaemelum nobile) is a common tea herb that is often used as a sleepy time brew. Chamomile is easy to grow and produces an abundance of small, white, daisy-like flowers which are loved by pollinators. The flowers are the part of the plant used for tea making, and the more you pick, the more she produces! The taste is soft and mildly sweet with an instant calming effect – sigh. Chamomile is a mild sedative, a great sleep aid, is helpful for digestion and is safe enough to give to children.*
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) Melissa means “honeybee” in Greek, and this plant is a bee favorite. A bright green knee high beauty, Lemon balm will happily inhabit even the least appealing of yards. She prefers full sun, but can thrive in partial shade. The leaves have a strong lemony smell and can be used, dried or fresh, for tea and other culinary delights. Lemon balm is considered to be calming for the nervous system, mood elevating, and can be helpful for symptoms of the common cold.* Try blending with mint, rose or tulsi.
Lemon verbena(Aloysia triphylla) is a handsome upright shrub and is a lovely addition to any tea garden. The leaves have a pleasing aroma, the tiny flowers are appreciated by bees, and it provides an abundance of leaves which can be picked, dried, and stored for several months. As an herbal tea, she has a sweet lemony flavor that combines well with mint and chamomile. This plant is thought to have calming effects and can aid digestion.* Makes a great iced summer sun tea or can be used hot to warm up a grey winter afternoon.
Mint(Mentha) is a classic tea herb. Mints are vigorous growers, so be careful about where you choose to plant these beauties. There are many varieties available—peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, strawberry mint and more—and all have a distinctive taste. All mints are cooling to the body and are helpful for digestion and the stomach.* Use the fresh or dried leaves of the mint plant to make a fresh, invigorating brew.
Rose (Rosa) is a common plant to find in many gardens, but rose is also a great plant to include in tea. The classic scent of rose is infused in the tea cup relaxing the mind and body and transporting you to the magical beauty of a summer garden in full bloom. Flowers that have passed their prime are perfect for using fresh or for drying and storing for later use. You can also consider planting Rosa rugosa, for the abundance of hips that follow the flowers. The hips are a great source of vitamin C.
So next time you sit down to a hot, or iced, cup of herbal tea, consider the herbs that contribute to the myriad flavors and envision the beauty of planting your own.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. Contact your doctor or herbalist for more information on the healing properties of these plants.