Whew...... Life gets so hectic sometimes. The kids get involved in complicated projects, gardens need to be tended to, the laundry pile threatens to actually hide the washing machine, and then a small pile of helpless creatures that needs to be bottle fed every couple hours usually turns up and the day goes from busy to a bit insane. This has been the rhythm of my life lately, and I find myself trying to find ways to unwind and relax. So, I slip on a pair of worn out tennis shoes and head out in an early morning misty rain to contemplate herbal teas.
Growing, drying, and making herbal tea is an extremely easy, and satisfying project that anyone can handle. Here in Virginia, there are several herbs that are carefree and easy to grow. These include all the mints, bee balm, lemon balm, lemongrass, stevia, and anise hyssop, lavender. Then there are some slightly harder, but still rewarding herbs to grow for tea. This list may include licorice root, horehound, chamomile, and hibiscus.
Harvesting of your herbs should be done on a dry day after the dew has evaporated. I try to cut my leaves just before the plant flowers. This results in the highest concentration of flavor and scent in the dry leaves. Roots should be harvested in the fall. The fairly invasive herbs (such as mint) can really be harvested whenever they have a good stalk of green leaves growing. Your biggest problem with the mints will be keeping up with the harvest and keeping them from overtaking your more obedient plants.
Once you have the leaves/ stems cut a simple way to dry them is to just hang them upside down. I like my dehydrator and use that for most of my drying. I have also heard of people using their hot car on a sunny day. The key is quick heat with some air ventilation. Dark is best also- if you have a hot attic with a fan that works very well. After the leaves are dry and crumbly, they can be stored for a long time. Light and heat are the things that will break down the herbs, so try to store them in a dark, cool spot. I put mine in mason jars in the back of the pantry. I feel that glass or stainless steel work better than plastic for keeping the herbs air tight.
After your herbs are dry, they can be used for tea at anytime. I use about 1 TBSP dry herbs per cup. ( Fresh is great too, when available, just use 2 TBSP per cup) Just heat your water to boiling, remove from the heat and add herbs. Let them steep 3-5 min or to taste. Sweeten, Strain and then enjoy your tea. During the summer, I like to make a big pot and then chill it in the fridge to serve cold. Here is also a great way to get your kids to drink healthy herb teas (like nettle, oatstraw, etc) If you make the iced tea and then freeze it in popsicle molds or make shaved ice with it later-- somehow my kids drink way more tea in popsicle form than hot tea form.
After you have your tea dry you can experiment with many different flavors and combinations. You can also purchase herbs from the local health food store to add to your own or supplement what you can not grow. I have purchased herbs lately to make a few different blends for some garden shows that I am doing this spring. Here is a good basic recipe to follow for a simple tea blend-
1 part flowery ( chamomile, calendula, wild rose petals, etc)
2 part earthy ( raspberry leaves, nettles, etc)
1 part fruity ( rose hips, hibiscus, lemongrass, etc)
1 part cooling ( peppermint, spearmint, etc)
2 parts chamomile
2 parts spearmint
1/2 part lavender buds
1/2 part cinnamon chips
1 part passion flower