Saturday, 19 June 2010

Growing tea herbs

I enjoy a hot cup of tea on a cold day, or a frosty glass of iced tea when it’s hot? . When you use herbs, in addition to wonderful fresh flavours, there is the bonus that most herbs are thought to provide some medicinal value.
The standard way to make an infusion, unless otherwise specified, is to pour a cup of boiling water over the material to be infused, let it stand for 5 minutes, strain the tea to remove any plant particles, and drink it.

When the recipe refers to fresh plant material to be used, about a 1/4 cup is used. When the recipe refers to using dried material, use 2 teaspoons of material when making it.

Here are a few great herbs for brewing that perfect cup:

Apple Mint

Apple Mint is a very fragrant garden plant growing to about half a meter. In our garden I find it is happier in part-shade. It prefers moist soil and hates to dry out in warm weather. Chop fresh leaves to flavour cold drinks. It’s milder than normal mint. The fruity aroma and flavour make it a delightful choice for tea.

Chamomile

Chamomile’s daisy-like, white and yellow chamomile flowers brew a soothing and fragrant herbal tea with overtones of pineapple. You use the flowers, not the leaves. Harvest flowers on the stem and gently wash and dry. Hang to dry in a dark, airy location. Discard stems. Chamomile will grow in full to part sun. It is an annual and needs to be replanted (from seed) each spring. It will grow in a pot or the ground and grows to about 30-40 cm tall.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm features potent, refreshing lemony scented leaves. Dried leaves make a clean lemon flavoured tea. You can also use leaves to flavour soups, salads, sauces, etc. Tender young leaves have the best flavour. It needs frequent watering and does best in part-shade.

Lemon Grass

Lemon Grass is a great plant. The leaves can be brewed as a tea and the leaf bases are used in Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Leaves can also be used to flavour fish, soups, curries, and sauces. Plant Lemon Grass in a sunny spot and keep it moist. I have mine is a large black plastic pot. It occasionally needs cutting back and dividing but otherwise is an undemanding plant.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena is one of the finest lemon scented herbs. It’s excellent for making tea and for potpourri. Use leaves fresh or dried in teas, or add them to dressings, fruit salads, and drinks. Lemon Verbena prefers full sun. I grow it in a pot and move it to a cooler spot in the heat of summer and a sheltered warm spot in winter. It will grow from cuttings.

Spearmint

Spearmint is a creeping, sweetly scented mint that can be steeped in hot water to make an aromatic tea or and use freshly harvested to flavour cold drinks. Leaves can also be frozen to preserve flavour for an extended period of time. For tea, simply steep a small handful of fresh (or a teaspoon of dried) leaves in boiling water. Keep Spearmint in fairly moist soil. It is fast-spreading so pick an area where it won’t invade other plants. I grow it in the back corner of the garden where it is in shade for most of the day and it grows well.

Pineapple sage

Pineapple sage grows to about 1.5m. It will self-seed and will grow easily from a cutting in spring or summer. It generally needs a good cut back each year. The books say it prefers full sun but I grow it where it gets sun only in the late afternoon and it does well. I don’t want it going wild. The flowers can be used in salads and the leaves are used for tea.

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