Tea for Two Hundred, This Year and Next- Part 2, by Sarah Latimer

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While “tea” is technically reserved for the plant camellia sinensis, in common language we often call many herbs by the name “tea”, especially when they are capable of being brewed into a flavorful beverage all by themselves. Additionally, there a many plants whose fruits, leaves, and flowers can be grown to add a variety of enjoyable flavors to traditional tea. Here are some we grow and use at our homestead:

Chamomile

Chamomile is probably one of my top three flavors for tea, and it has health benefits as a bonus! It has so many wonderful benefits besides being a flavor for tea. It is a relaxant and is often used in baby’s baths and for ointments, lotions, and soaps because it of its soothing properties. It has a sweet, delicate aroma, which means that it doesn’t require much, or any, sweetener. We use the flowers by themselves in tea for a straight herbal tea, or it can be used with black or green tea as a flavoring. Either way, it is extremely pleasant. You just might want to skip the green or black tea if you are drinking it right before bed. Chamomile flowers (fresh or dried) alone, seeped for ten minutes in hot water, make a tea that relaxes the body and mind for a restful night’s sleep or can sooth anxieties before a job interview, speech, or other stressful event. The small white flowers with full pin-cushioned yellow centers on delicate, lacy-leafed stems are attractive in the yard or flower bed. too. They’re not only attractive to humans but bees are attracted to chamomile and will use them to produce excellent honey, so it’s a win-win for bee keepers. Chamomile comes in two types– Roman and German; they are so similar that I can’t really tell the difference. The annual variety self seeds prolifically, so if you don’t till up your soil too much but let the dried flowers fall, it should come back the next year just fine. I have volunteer plants come up even where we lightyly till and some that grow from blown seed outside the garden boundaries, which are left to produce. They are a gift that I appreciate and not considered a weed at all! Just cut or break the flower tops off the stems, lightly rinse in a fine mesh collander and allow to dry thoroughly before storing or use fresh right away. Like most things, the fresh is best.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a perennial bush. It is in the mint family, but they do not share the aggressive root system of other mints. If allowed to seed, it will likely spread and those seeds germinate into a carpet of lemon balm plants in the spring. Cut the flowering stems before they turn into seed seed, unless you want a field full of lemon balm. The lemon balm bush grows in a mounded shape with a thick covering of medium-sized, spring green-colored leaves that have a distinct lemon scent. We generally use this in dry form from new leaf cuttings. We are able to trim each bush several times each growing season, and we’ve been successful in growing it in large pots also. I prefer to freeze dry lemon balm, but I have also successfully used the dehydrator as well as used it fresh.

Lemon Grass

This is an oriental grass with distinct lemon flavor, though a bit different than lemon balm. Lemon grass seems to have a bit of a tart flavor, where the lemon balm is sweeter to me. Properly given the name “grass”, it does grow in long grass spears but from bulb-like roots rather than runners. The grass spears are the part used for tea, not the bulb or root. We have been successful in growing this in pots as well, and have used this fresh and dried. It is also used to calm upset stomachs, and we have combined it with ginger root for nausea but had good success with the ginger root alone, too.

Peppermint and Spearmint

These two plants–peppermint and spearmint– look almost identical but have a distinct aroma and flavor. I like both but have found that we prefer the peppermint over the spearmint. Both are aggressive growers, dropping seed and spreading a strong root system beyond their beds, once established. Consider putting them in an area where they are bounded and won’t interfere with other plants. These mints are very useful, fresh or dried, in tea and also in ointments, soaps, and in pest repellant. Bugs and rodents find the odor disgusting, while we like it. It is believed to induce improved memory and alertness and aid in the relief of irritable bowel syndrome, as an antispasmodic. It’s also an antibacterial, so I use a drop of peppermint oil in my cleaning spray. Rubbing mint on you can help deter ticks, fleas, and bugs. We’ll discuss how we like to combine it with other flavors for tea in another section of this article.

Lavendar

Lavenderflowers are nice flavorings for tea. Lavender can be infused in oils that are then used in bug repellant, soaps, deodorants, shampoos, household cleaners, and so may other useful products. Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and its aromatherapy produces a calming effect, so its flowers can be used in bath water to sooth irritated skin after injury or abrasion. There are other medicinal purposes for lavender also. In addition to consuming it in the form of tea, it has long been used in the kitchen herbal blend known as Herbs de Provence, and I even saw that some Sonic Drive-in restaurants are now using lavender flower petals in a wildberry-lavender milkshake. It is really catching on!

Calendula

This beautiful yellow flower has been nicknamed “pot marigold” because of its use in German soups and stews, but Calendula has also been used in teas for a long time. It adds a delicious flavor and pretty color to tea. It is also very useful in alternative medicine, as it has been used topically and fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria on the skin surface. It appears that the presence of these dried flower petals increases blood flow and oxygen to speed healing of the area where they are placed. We grow a sizeable bed of these beautiful flowers and dry their petals for future use. They’ve not only been tasty but have helped with sprained digits and healing various wounds as part of salves and in infused oil also.

Strawberries

Well, this is obvious. The dried strawberries provide a nice flavor to the tea, as do strawberry leaves. Dried strawberry leaves, which might include some stems and flower petals, are primarily used to relieve gastrointestinal distress and joint pain. They also contain essential minerals and vitamins. We sometimes have tiny strawberries mature that just seem too small to remove the crowns and stems, so those can be rinsed and dried for delicious tea flavoring.

Blackberries

Again, the dried blackberry fruit can be used in tea like strawberries, but most often we use the dried leaves. Steeping the leaves for just a few minutes produces a mild sweet flavor for our tea, but leaving it longer actually produces a fruity black tea flavor without any black tea or its natural caffeine! While, I don’t want to harm my blackberry bushes, at the end of the growing season as the leaves are just starting to turn, we strip the leaves and let them dry. Additionally, through the growing, we randomly pick some leaves to dry. This is a very popular tea and tea flavor ingredient in our household as well as among our friends.

Blueberries

The dried blueberry fruit can be used in tea and the red fall leaves can also be used for tea.

Peaches

Again, the dried fruit and the leaves can be used for tea flavoring. Peach is a popular flavor in our household also.

Apples

Dried apple pieces are used in tea blends.

Roses/rose hips

Rose petals and the fruit of the rose bush– rose hips– are used in tea blends. Rose hips are great sources of Vitamin C and a means that the early western settlers found for preventing scurvy during the brutal winter months when fruits and vegetables were unavailable. (This is always a good thing to remember as a survivalist, in the event you are lost, have a cold, and come upon an abandoned home with rose bushes that have rose hips on them. If you can boil some rose hip tea by opening the rose hips and simmering them in the water for a few minutes, you’ll have a source of Vitamin C to help your body recovery better.

Borage flowers

The beautiful blue borage flowers are filled with Omega vitamins and have a mildly sweet and nutty flavor. We prefer to use them as a garnish on our salad, but a few can also be used in tea for flavor as well. Additionally, borage stimulates production and flavor of some garden vegetables, especially tomatoes, and deters some pests.

Nasturtium flowers

These edible flowers can be used in tea. Like borage, nasturtium are edible flowers that deter pests in our gardens while offering us wholesome goodness and a pretty garden feature.

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