Making your own teas from herbs that you’ve planted, tended, and harvested is one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy your gardening efforts. Herbs are wonderful to grow in the garden because they are easy to grow, don’t need meticulous care, and yield completely usable harvests. There are countless varieties, unlimited uses, and myriad smells, textures, and habits. Here’s a list of 10 easy- to- grow herbs that can be combined in a number of different ways to make delicious and healthy brews.
Lemon Balm – Melissa officinalis – this perennial herb is a staple for any tea garden. It grows about 24’ high and the leaves create a great base for any herbal tea. They have a delicately citrusy flavor, which lends itself well to balancing a blend. Lemon balm is relaxing and reduces anxiety, and is safe and widely used for kids. The fresh leaves make a flavorful tea, or just place a few sprigs in your water bottle. Dry the plant in bunches and hang, and use the dried leaves throughout the colder months.
Mints – Peppermint –Mentha piperita, or Spearmint - Mentha spicata – these extremely prolific and often invasive herbs love disturbed soil. Luckily for the tea lover, these strong, vigorously spreading plants make some of the best and most useful teas. Both are very high in essential oils and are extremely beneficial for the digestive tract. Mint has many healing properties, and is especially useful in blends for colds, digestive distress, and flu. Mint is often used to improve the flavor of less palatable medicinal herbs.
Echinacea – Echinacea purpurea – Well known for its immune enhancing properties, Echinacea is also a beautiful plant in the garden. The large, purple petaled flowers are also known as purple coneflower, and prefer full sun to partial shade. All the parts of the plant are medicinally beneficial, but in order to keep the plant returning year after year, use only the aerial parts (leaves and flowers) for teas. Snip the flowers and leaves and dry in a basket or bag. Echinacea is useful in blends for colds or flus, and to support the immune system. It has an earthy, aromatic flavor. Avoid excessive use, and it’s not reccommended for people with compromised immune systems.
Calendula – Calendula officinalis - This common garden flower is one of the most useful plants you can have. The cheerful sunny flowers make a wonderful addition to the garden and gladly reseed themselves each year. Use the petals of the flower to add color to teas, with a delicate floral flavor. Harvest the flowers before they begin to seed, and remove any spent blossoms to encourage the plant to continue blooming. Calendula is often used in blends to soothe the stomach. Topically, calendula is recommended for a number of skin irritations.
Anise Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum- Anise Hyssop combines the flavors of anise and mint, and has a pungent root beer – like aroma. All of the aerial parts can be used for teas, so ideally harvest when the flower is in full bloom and has not yet begun to fade. This beautiful perennial herb grows to about 2 -3 feet and attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and honeybees and readily reseeds its surrounding area. Anise Hyssop supports digestion, soothes respiratory tract symptoms, and helps to lower fevers.
Chamomile – Matricaria recutita – Chamomile has been used as a relaxing, soothing blend for centuries, and truly makes a delicious tea. This annual herb grows about a foot in height and produces small, daisy - like flowers. Harvest the flowers using a “chamomile rake” or just pinch them into a small basket. The tea is soothing to both the nervous system and the digestive system.
Roses –Rosa spp. – The world of roses is large, but even a single rose bush can provide you with enough rose petals and hips for a year’s worth of tea. Look for a variety of rose that has a strong scent, which indicated higher levels of essential oils in the petals. The size of the hips can vary greatly as well, so look for ones that are nice and large. Dry the petals gently in a fine basket. The hips are collected in late fall, after the cold weather has had a chance to increase the sugars in these tiny fruits. Slice the hips in half, remove seeds and fibers, and string on a thread to decorate your holiday tree. Once dried, the hips can be stored. Rose hips are extremely high in Vitamin C, and taste like tiny citrus fruits. They add a wonderful flavor to tea.
Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare – this member of the carrot family produces some of the most flavorful and beneficial seeds. The licorice flavored seeds can bring sweetness to a tea blend, and enhance digestion and the body’s assimilation of food. It can also support milk production in nursing mothers. Unlike the other herbs in the list, it’s important to allow the yellow, umbrella-like flowers to develop into seeds. Dry the seeds for about a week in a paper bag before storing to ensure there is no moisture. The leaves can also be used for teas.
Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis – This evergreen style, aromatic herb is well known for its rejuvenative properties and ability to improve memory. This is due to its affect on digestion and circulation. It’s also a strong anti-bacterial herb. What isn’t as commonly known about rosemary is that it makes a delicious, slightly piney, but sweet tea. It can be used either fresh or dried, but definitely dry your own, storing the dried stalks intact before using. Rosemary is grown in Colorado as an annual herb since it doesn’t fare well through our harsh winters. However, it’s a great container plant and may make it through the winter if brought inside during the coldest months.
Thyme – Thymus vulgaris – The strong flavor and aroma of thyme tea clearly indicates how useful it is in relieving congestion, colds, and coughs. It’s one of the most antibiotic of the herbs and it helps to cleanse infection and treat all types of mouth sores. Thyme tea supports the immune system, digestive system, and respiratory system. This powerful plant comes in a small package, with plants featuring tiny leaves and growing only about 12 inches high.
2 parts peppermint
1 part Echinacea
1 part lemon balm
1 part rosemary
1 part thyme
2 parts chamomile
2 parts lemon balm
½ part rose
½ part anise hyssop
Kids Cold and Flu Tea
2 part peppermint
1 part Echinacea
1 part rosemary
1 part rose hips
Digestive Distress Tea
2 parts fennel
1 part peppermint
1 part chamomile
1 part calendula
2 part Thyme
2 part Rosemary
1 part Anise Hyssop
1 part Rose Hips
(c) Sara Stewart Martinelli 2020. Originally published in Natural Awakenings Magazine 2011.