If you enjoy drinking herbal tea*, you can make your own at home. Many herbs that can be used for tea can be easily grown in a small garden or a pot, which means you will have a supply of fresh herbs whenever you need them. These five plants are herbs you can grow and harvest yourself.
1. Lavender (Lavandula)
Lavandula angustifolia flower spike. Via Wikipedia,CC BY-SA 3.0
There are several species of lavender, and while all are edible, the flavour varies. English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is the one most often used in cooking and making tea. The dried flowers can be mixed with green or black tea leaves or other herbal teas to create a unique blend. You can leave dried buds in a jar of sugar for several days to make lavender sugar to add to desserts or use as table sugar with tea and other drinks. The dried flowers and leaves can be used to scent other products, and little bags of them kept in wardrobes or drawers can help repel moths.
There are over a dozen species of plants in the mint family. Most of them are tough plants that are very easy to grow, though they may be best to keep in a pot since they will spread through runners and can take over your garden if not kept in check.
You can harvest mint at any time just by picking as many leaves as needed from the plant.
Dried mint can be used to make herbal tea by itself, or added to black or green teas or other herbal teas for the flavour and fragrance. It is an ingredient in Toureg Tea (also called Maghrebi mint tea, for the Greater Mahgreb region where it is commonly served to guests as a sign of hospitality). Mint tea is believed to be beneficial for upset stomachs.
3. Rose Scented Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Pelargonium graveolens. Photo from Wikimedia Commons by user Laitche.
There are many cultivars of Pelargonium graveolens geranium plants with different scents, such as rose, coconut and lemon. Pelargonium 'Attar of Roses' is probably the best known. It has a sweet rose-like scent that can be used in cooking desserts such as Turkish Delight or in cakes and syrups. The scent comes from the leaves rather than the flowers. The leaves can be cut and frozen in ice cube trays then later added to ice tea or other cold drinks.
Geranium "Candy Dancer", which has a scent like a combination of lemon and rose. Own photo.
Lemongrass is a fragrant grass that can be used fresh or dried in Thai cuisine and in tea. You can use cut fresh leaves to flavour black or green tea, or even just add it to water and leave it to steep overnight in the fridge for a cool refreshing drink.
Although it doesn't have any noticeable flowers, lemongrass contains pheromones that attract honey bees (which may explain why a wild swarm had started to attempt to build a hive inside a planter next to the lemongrass in my front garden). It is also used to repel other insects, such as mosquitoes, and as a companion plant for tomatoes.
Pineapple Sage, also known as Tangerine Sage is a type of Salvia, and does not look much like the Sage commonly used in cooking. It is native to Mexico and Guatemala, where its small red flowers attract hummingbirds. It is a small, perennial shrub with wide, lime green leaves that smell like pineapple. The leaves are best used fresh, as cooking can destroy the flavour. It can be used as a garnish, or in salads, and cut leaves are delicious mixed with lemongrass and steeped to make a refreshing cold drink.
Caution and common sense should always be used when harvesting and making herbal tea. Make sure you know which plant is which, and be aware that allergies are always a possibility. Various health claims are made about all of these herbs but they should not be used as a substitute for proper medical advice and care.
You can buy herbs such as Pineapple Sage and Geranium Candy Dancer online from Mudbrick Cottage Herb Farm, who have a wide variety of plants available, which can be shipped directly to your home.
Technically tea (including green, black and white tea) comes from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. These other hot drinks are tisanes, but they are also commonly referred to as herbal tea.