Do you ever wonder why people like tea? Maybe tea over coffee? Is there something out there that doesn’t taste warm, soggy alfalfa that was just cut and put into some water and a ceramic mug? Yeah, me too, me too…but there has to be some reasons that people like tea, and maybe I’m not using the right things in my tea?
Follow along with this article to find out how to make warm and cold tea, and some of the plants that might already be in your backyard that you could be harvesting and preserving for tea!
Let’s start off by clearing up that I am not a doctor, and I am not pretending to be one. I personally believe that God created everything we need from nature, in fact the first people he created he placed in a GARDEN of all places! I also believe he created the people that came up with modern pharmaceutical medicines, so there must be a time and place for that too because there are things we just don’t get enough of because our lifestyle has changed since God created the Garden of Eden. Anyway, moving on.
First off…how can I make tea at home? Doesn’t it just come from that 50 Shades of Gray tea company (*hint* 😉 it’s not really called that) that you buy at the grocery store with the little tissue paper sack that is stapled to a piece of string?
Nope, not always! However, walking through the aisle of tea options at the grocery store may give you some ideas of popular combinations, and ideas of where to start in your tea journey.
In my opinion, I think even the most novice gardener can plant a “tea garden,” grow it pretty easily, harvest the crop in a pretty quick turn around, enjoy the harvest with minimal effort, and even test your hand at preserving. In all, it’s a win-win for many reasons.
Let’s start off by talking about a few different ways to make tea.
My eyes were first opened to this concept when I visited a school in California, called the MUSE School, where they had raised garden beds that they specifically designated as “tea gardens.” Students had the ability to go outside and harvest from these beds for cooking classes, afternoon tea, sensory breaks, and more. They knew that none of these plants would be harmful to their health, so they could pick freely. I love that idea!!! But someone had to be in charge of knowing what to plant in these beds from the get go. I specifically remember there being all sorts of lemon-themed plants: lemon basil, lemongrass and lemon balm. I also remember there were stevia plants growing there! You know the jingle, “Sweet from a leaf.” There were different kinds of basil: cinnamon basil, Genovese basil, German basil. And finally, I remember there being A LOT of mint! Mint tends to take over, if it isn’t carefully managed. I remember they had chocolate mint, peppermint, spearmint and probably many others.
The other cool part of this that they showed me was they regularly have their students go out and pick their own blends of fresh herbs that they preferred the smell of that day. They identified this by rubbing their hands on the plants, picking small pieces and putting them in their mouths, and really just being in tune with what they wanted and needed that day. Then, ever so simply, they tore their herbs into large, chunky pieces, put them in the bottom of a paper cup and poured warm water over them, while they tended to other parts of the garden after they set a ten minute timer.
Holy moly. My mind was blown. That’s ALL you needed to do to make tea?! I totally thought it was more complex than that. Nope. Not. at. all. Your journey with making tea doesn’t have to be either!
Another idea that they allowed students to do is to let their herbs steep in the warm water, then pour iced water over top into a bigger glass. Viola. Not everyone likes warm tea, especially not on a super warm day!
Top 10 Great Plants to Grow for a Tea Garden that will set you up for Success
- (1) Dandelion
- Use the leaves and roots
- Grows everywhere. Don’t spray it! Let it grow! It is an important forage flower for bees in the early spring when nothing else is blooming.
- (2) Mint
- So many different flavors of mint! Chocolate mint, pineapple mint, spearmint, peppermint, apple mint…the list goes on! I’ve heard that there are over 600 species of mint, and they each have their own unique flavor.
- Care: Potted is best. They have a sprawling-type of root system, when not managed carefully can become invasive. Full sun to partial shade.
- *Did you know* You can identify mint by the stem. Plants in the mint family will have square stems.
- (3) Lemon Balm
- The plant grows fairly tall, so if you plant it in a pot, put it towards the back.
- Care: Grows well in pots or in the ground. Full sun or partial shade.
- (4) Lemongrass
- This plant could be substituted for the center “spike” in a floral arrangement for a porch pot, or the like. If you want something tall and spiky, why not have it be something useful that you’ll get more for your money from.
- Care: Grows well in pot or in the ground. Full sun or partial shade. Be careful when picking it. The very largest leaves can sometimes cause a cut, if you run your hand/fingers across the blade of grass. Somewhat similar to a corn plant, or just regular tall grass grass.
- (5) Thyme
- Never enough thyme. I had no idea there were so many kinds of thyme until I visited our local nursery, and was shocked. There is even a variegated thyme (white and yellow leaves) that looks very showy in a container.
- Care: Grows well in pots or in the ground. Full sun to partial shade. They are kind of tricky to get started from seed, so, if this is a new adventure for you, grab a potted plant from your local nursery, and make it easy on yourself.
- (6) Basil
- I do like a classic basil, like sweet basil, or genovese basil that I can throw into my dishes at meal time. However, if you are looking strictly to use it for tea, I would recommend going with a cinnamon basil, lemon or lime basil, or purple basil.
- Care: Grows well in pots or in the ground. Full sun to partial shade. Very easy to start from seed. This would be a great one to try starting by seed, if that is something that gets you excited!
- (7) Lavender
- There are several varieties of lavender. For Zone 5a my ranking goes: English, Munstead, Hidcote
- Care: For Zone 5a, I think it works well to overwinter your lavender in a greenhouse, high tunnel, or even on the south side of your garage, and/or plan to keep your lavender covered over the winter if you want them to be perennial. Full sun. Lavender doesn’t like to be too wet.
- (8) Stevia
- Stevia is the plant that is “sweet from a leaf.” By crushing the leaves you get this intense burst of sweet, that isn’t quite like sugar, and isn’t quite like honey, and isn’t quite like sugar substitute, but somewhere between all of those things!
- Care: Full sun to partial shade. They don’t like to sit in a bunch of water, so make sure if they are potted that they have a drainage hole. These plants are also tricky to get started from seed, because their seeds are so dainty. If you see one at your local nursery, grab it, you’ll be glad you did!
- (9) Chamomile
- There are many types of chamomile. However, the two most common are German and Roman.
- Care: Full sun to partial shade. I’ve been growing my chamomile in a pot, but it does dry out so quickly, so I could foresee planting it in the ground somewhere I always want it to grow. It’s an annual, but the seeds are so tiny that they disperse readily, and apparently grow pretty easily. I have never grown chamomile more than one season in Zone 5a, but I haven’t tried too hard either. I also found that my chamomile preferred more eastern facing sun, rather than southern (hot and direct) sun exposure.
- (10) Rose
- Many types of roses are edible. The best part is that it is a triple whammy! Not only are the buds and petals edible, but so are the rose hips. Rose hips are the fruit of a rose plant. Cool, right?! Who would’ve thought way back in the day when people were figuring all of this stuff out that someone thought..hmm… this red/orange, ball looking thing that comes off of this thorny plant…I’m going to eat that! Turns out they are really high in Vitamin C, higher than most citrus fruits.
- Care: Full sun. Perennial. Once established, this is a plant that keeps giving back!
I hope this encourages you to look around your garden to see what you can cut and use fresh for tea, but also to preserve going into the fall and winter when you may enjoy a warm tea option more. If it’s hot out, throw it on some ice! It’s really quite simple to get started. Make a plan to start your own seeds next spring-check out our article on “How to Start your own Vegetables from Seed.” Try to do one new thing today, and you’ll be surprised how much you can do over the course of a year.
Here’s to the start of something good!
I’m cheering you on!