Kate Jerome is an enthusiastic gardener, freelance writer and instructor of horticulture and urban farming at Gateway Technical College. She has a master’s degree in ornamental horticulture from University of Wisconsin and is a newspaper and web columnist, and radio personality.

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Herbal Teas
by Kate Jerome       #Edibles   #Herbs   #Recipes


Now that the main part of the garden is “mostly” put to bed and the shelves are filled with summer in jars, it’s time to settle in for the long winter. So, how about a warm, soothing cup of herbal tea made from your own homegrown herbs?

Herbal teas have been used for hundreds of years to lessen the burdens of a hard life, help with aches and pains and simply enjoy the flavors of these amazing plants. There are so many herbs with wonderful flavors that make delightful tea to simply drink for enjoyment. We use others, such as chamomile tea to ease us into sleep or spearmint tea to cool us, because they have gentle benefits for the body. The simple process of brewing a cup of tea and taking a few minutes to sit and enjoy it can soften the day and ease your mind.


‘Munstead’ lavender sheds its soft scent in the garden and makes a floral tea or addition to other teas that is reminiscent of a soft summer morning. • The flowers and leaves of bee balm make a delightful tea. In fact, this is the flavoring that makes Earl Grey tea distinct. • Golden sage is a beauty in the perennial garden and makes a spicy, warming tea.


A warm pot of tea made from dried lemon balm is just the fix for winter blues.

Specialty Tea Recipes

Lemon Mint Tea
Make simple syrup of 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Bring to boil and as soon as sugar has dissolved, remove from heat. Muddle a cup of fresh spearmint leaves and pour syrup over leaves. Let steep about 15 minutes. Add the juice of one lemon and enough water to make ½ gallon. Serve cool or warm. You can also add a handful of lemon verbena leaves to the spearmint leaves and omit the lemon juice for a milder lemon flavor. Take it a step further and muddle a few stevia leaves with the herbs, and you won’t need to use any sugar.

Andrea’s Lemon Balm Honey Tea
4 black tea bags
¼ cup honey
A small bunch of lemon balm

Add a small bunch of lemon balm to a 2-quart pitcher and muddle or bruise with a pestle. Boil 2 quarts water, pour into pitcher and let lemon balm steep with tea bags. Add honey while warm. Strain and serve warm or cold. If serving cold, add a sprig of fresh lemon balm to each glass.

Lavender Sugar
Mix 1 cup white sugar with 2 tablespoons fresh lavender flowers. Allow to sit overnight and strain out the flowers. Enjoy a spoonful in your tea for a floral note.

Simple Brewing
Let’s get brewing! To make a cup of tea, put one teaspoon of dried herbs into a tea infuser (or you can make your own cheesecloth tea bags). You can find inexpensive infusers at most kitchen stores. Slip the infuser into a cup and fill with boiling water. Let steep for about a minute and remove the infuser.

If you use fresh herbs, you will need a handful of leaves to achieve the same flavor that you get from dried leaves. With fresh leaves, put them in a teapot, gently bruise the leaves with a spoon, and fill with boiling water. You may need to steep fresh herb tea up to half an hour. Strain the liquid as you pour your cup of tea. Tea with the leaves strained can be refrigerated up to about five days.

For a gentle brew, try putting a handful of fresh herb leaves in a mason jar, fill with water, cap and set in the sun for a wonderful solar infusion.

Taste these teas and sweeten if you like. Most herbs have wonderful flavors that are masked by sugar, so use honey if you want a bit more sweetness. In most cases, adding milk or cream will mask the flavor, and in some cases, the herbal tea may actually curdle the milk.

Purple basil makes a soft pink tea that combines beautifully with lavender sugar.

Which Herbs to Use?
Now comes the question of exactly what you can use to make tea. You can try many herbs, as long as you know they are culinary. Don’t be tempted to try anything that is not edible. You can certainly make teas from herb flowers but make sure to check several sources to be certain of the edibility. For example, lavender makes a wonderfully soothing tea, and its flowers are edible.

Herbs are easy to grow and have few problems, so if you’ve not added any to your landscape or patio, stick in a few here and there — in hanging baskets with other plants, tucked into a perennial border or segregated into an herb garden. They actually thrive in poor, dry soil.

Clip leaves as needed for fresh use, or dry them in paper bags through the summer to have a store in winter. Don’t be tempted to use herbs from the grocery store because you don’t know whether they have been sprayed or treated with chemicals. Rinse your own fresh herbs and shake off excess water. Use only leaves, since the stems may be bitter.

Two of the most common herbs used for tea are peppermint and spearmint. Mint tea is the perfect beverage to cool you in summer and lift your spirits in winter. Both plants are extremely easy to grow and will provide you with plenty of leaves throughout the summer. A little caution is in order, though, as both plants will spread quite willfully. Plant them in pots to prevent this.

Beyond these two mints, you can use sage, chamomile flowers, rosemary, lemon balm, raspberry leaves, borage, basil, tarragon, thyme, marjoram and lemon verbena, just to get you started. Each will have a distinct flavor and you will find those you love as you experiment.

Start your tea with one primary flavor, and then add bits of other herbs to create interesting blends. For example, start with mint tea and add lavender flowers or rose petals or even lemon balm for a refreshing tea with floral overtones.

*Before adding any new plants to your diet, please check with a medical professional. If you’ve eaten the herb before, you are probably fine, but new plants may cause allergic reactions or even serious medical problems. Do not try new herbs if you are pregnant, and do not give them to children without checking with a medical professional.


A version of this article appeared in Wisconsin Gardening Volume 1 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Jim Long and Kate Jerome.


Posted: 11/14/18   RSS | Print


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