Have you ever wanted to grow herbs, but were not sure where to start? Start with growing some herbs for tea that are easy to grow and easy to use!
The Joy of Growing Herbs for Tea
This week in Minnesota, we are hitting record low temperatures. As I sit here typing my wood stove is struggling to keep our little home warm. My monitor keeps beeping at me because the nursery is only 57 degrees. I put a space heater outside his door and it's still refusing to warm up. Outside the temperatures are -30 degrees with the windshield at -53. Needless to say, we are staying inside today. Schools are closed and most families are trying to hunker in and stay warm.
This morning when I got up to stroke the woodstove at 2 am, it didn’t surprise me that my mind drifted to warm weather. I am craving the smell of dirt. Those that live in colder climates know what I mean. Those that live in warmer climates might think we are insane. That first smell of dirt in the Spring. It is literally a little piece of paradise.
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Planning an Herb Garden
My herb garden is usually the first thing to get my attention as I plan for my Summer gardens. I have a love affair going with herbal infusions and remedies. God has given us powerful resources in plants. My herb garden is the first thing to get planted and the last thing that reaps a harvest each year.
My first attempt at an herb garden was back in 2012, I was living in a tiny apartment with two other ladies. It was a lovely and simple time. Yet as much as I loved it, my green thumb still craved something to nurture. I planted a very small herb harden. It was the most pathetic herb garden imaginable and I had no idea what to do with the harvest.
Over the years my herb garden has changed. I married my husband and we moved to 5 acres, then 40 acres and our gardens have similarly expanded with the more space we have!
I have took full advantage of the space and have expanded my resources and learning. There is no end to the learning that can occur with herbs. I will be learning about the healing properties of herbs until my very last days.
One of my online friends has a FANTASTIC herb handbook that I think you will greatly benefit from if you are new to herb gardening. You can click on the image below or here to learn more information!
Books for Learning Herbs
I have devoured plenty of books on herbs that have helped me in identifying herbs, why to use them, and how to use them. Surprisingly some of the most helpful guides on herbs are based in essential oils. Essential oils are extracts from the original herb, but very condensed and very powerful. I have found that essential oil experts are much more versed in the richness of herbs and can offer me a read that is much more practical in learning about how the herbs operate as a healing mechanism.
Here are a few of my favorites
- Herbal Remedies by Andrew Chevallier
- Herbal Remedies Handbook by Andrew Chevallier
- Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss
- Healing Oils of the Bible by David Stewart Ph. D
- The Encyclopedia of Essential oils by Julia Lawless
- The Healing Power of Essential Oils by Eric Zielinski D
My knowledge base has increased in the last 7 years, and I have gained a bit of perspective on my ignorance. Just because the wealth of knowledge is great does not mean that growing and harvesting herbs have to be complicated. It can be very straightforward and easy to start.
There are so many ways to use herbs, but the easiest and most well-known is through herbal teas. Here are the top herbs I grow for herbal teas during the long winter months.
If you have not grown chamomile you are missing out. If you grow it for nothing else but the smell you will not be disappointed. Chamomile is most well-known for its relaxing attributes. It can be found in most ‘sleepy time’ teas at your local grocery store. But there are many other benefits to chamomile including its use as an anti-inflammatory in skincare.
~New To Growing and Drying Chamomile? Here are my Favorite Tips~
- Because chamomile is so easy to grow and has unending benefits, I have found that it is best to grow it separately from my other herbs. This is completely a personal preference simply because I like to grow so much of it. It expands quickly and will produce beautiful flowers and foliage all summer long.
- I simply sprinkle my seeds in moist and fertile soil after the frost is gone. Gently cover it with ⅛ inch of dirt and water. Seedlings will pop up quite quickly.
- You will want to cut it for drying before the flowers age and the petals start to fall off.
- Cut small bushels and place upside down in a dry area. It can take as long as 2 weeks for it to dry completely.
- Alternatively, you can remove all the flowers from the plant and lay flat on a baking pan. Set you oven temperature for the lowest setting possible. My oven goes down to 175 degrees. Let the flowers dry until easily crumbly.
I’m using these interchangeably, but you will find that a true herbalist would scold me for doing so. Peppermint and spearmint are very different species and within their species are different varieties. However, either of them is going to make excellent tea.
~New to Growing and Drying Peppermint/Spearmint? Here are my Favorite Tips~
- I have found over the years that I prefer growing peppermint. There are many varieties such as orange, pineapple, and even chocolate. It is a softer and less stalky herb, and it tends to flow over the garden much more peacefully. Spearmint is larger and in the correct conditions will flourish over 24 inches tall. You know you have grown spearmint if you get lavender flower spikes protruding at the top of the plant.
- Any species of peppermint/spearmint has the capacity to become invasive. They are hardy and stubborn plants, but so delightful if kept in check by pulling the unwanted plants.
- It is a perennial in USDA Zone 4, but I have found that some varieties tend to come back faster and therefore the others get picked back.
- Gently cut mint in small bushels. I like to lay all the cuts lengthwise on a flat surface and then tie them together three quarters of the way down. Most varieties of peppermint and spearmint dry well, but I have found some varieties of spearmint that have the stalky stems tend to retain water longer.
- After the leaves are completely dry you can gently crumble the leaves into an air tight container. Don’t worry if some of the stalk comes too. Tiny sticks from the original herb is what makes it homemade!
I love crushing sage after it is dry. It almost crumbles apart and its strongly gratifying. I also believe it retains a strong smell after it’s dried. Pineapple sage is my favorite variety to add to tea blends, but the original form is going to retain the best benefits.
~New to Growing and Drying Sage? Here are my Favorite Tips~
- I have struggled to grow sage from seed and so generally this is one of those plants that I buy from a nursery as the growing season starts. You can also grow sage from clippings! This is not something I have personal experience with, but I know that it is doable. Simply cut a sturdy stalk off and place it in water until the root system starts to grow. I would recommend
- Sage loves well drained soil, so this plant is a great candidate for growing in a pot, but it will flourish in a garden setting as well. If you grow it in a garden setting and live in a cold climate, consider mixing in some sand where you plant the sage. This helps the water run off quickly.
- The best flavor for sage will come if you plant in full sun.
- Prune or cut sage leaves from the top down. Harvest it on a ‘as need’ basis clipping just above the spot that two leaves meet.
Rosemary tea might seem a bit strange at first but believe me, it is delicious if incorporated in a blend! It is an incredibly difficult herb to dry and if done incorrectly it will lose all its flavor and aroma. I have burnt it to a crisp a time or two. Even if you do burn it the first few times you try and dry, don’t throw it out! Even the extra dried-out pieces can be used to flavor a Thanksgiving turkey!
~ New to Growing and Drying Rosemary? Here are my Favorite Tips~
- Frankly rosemary has been impossible for me to grow in my soil. For a few years I have produced small sprouts from planting seed and then suddenly they will die out. My frustration levels have escalated sky high to the point that I began to hate that beautiful herb. A few Christmases ago I was given two rosemary plants by my students for Christmas. I was ecstatic. The smell during the holiday season was so refreshing. However, somehow, I murdered both poor plants. I was stumped. I knew how to care for plants, what in the world happened?
- I’ll tell you what happened USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4 happened. Little did I know that Rosemary plants rarely survives in the winter in colder climates. The soil during the Summer is neither conducive to a healthy rosemary plant either. Here’s what I’ve learned. Rosemary is a Mediterranean plant. Amazingly the plant does not pull its nutrients and moisture from the soil. It is instead accustomed to taking its moisture from the sea air! Isn’t that incredible? It is referred to as an upside-down plant. It likes dry soil and moist air.
- If you are going to grow Rosemary indoors or outdoors in colder climates make sure to grow it in a pot that is the same size as the plant itself. It also is essential to its survival to have a drainage pan. One tip I have read but I have not tried yet, is to place small pebbles on the drainage pan this will prevent ‘wet feet’ in its roots. Who likes to have wet feet? Not anyone I have met. Think of rosemary in the same category.
- The plant should be in full sun indoors or outdoors. Water the plant indoor or outdoor twice a week. Make sure the soil is dry when watered. To mimic the Mediterranean environment you can use a spray bottle to moist the foliage once or twice a week.
- Cutting rosemary well is essential to keeping the plant vibrate. You will want to root cut the plant an inch or two above the dirt. Keep plenty of the original plant. Most experts will say to move the plant to the shade for a day or two to let the plant acclimate to the adjustment. The novice gardener that I am though…let’s face it…a little lazy to, has never done this extra step and my rosemary has thrive outside.
- Drying this herb takes a bit of practice because it dry’s out and burns even in lower setting ovens and dehydrators. I have found the best way is to tie small bushels of it and place in a VERY well ventilated and dry area. You will need to learn you house atmosphere to find the best place. I have found that my basement is the best area to dry rosemary. I keep a fan moving at a low speed as it slowly dries out. For a full dry it can take 1 – 2 weeks.
Herbs for Tea - Thyme
I always think of my first Thanksgiving turkey when I smell thyme. I had never made a turkey before and the prospect of having a dry and dense turkey was not an option to my 22-year-old self. I stuffed that turkey with bushels of thyme, rosemary, and sage. To his day I still think that turkey was the best I had ever made. Little did I know the power of thyme for many other purposes.
~New to Planting and Growing Thyme? Here are my Favorite Tips~
- Thyme is a plant most well-known for its use in stews, meat dishes, and casseroles. Yet its tea makes a bitter yet satisfying flavor. It is best to mix it in with other herbs to give it the most chance at a repeat performance in the tea department.
- This plant is again difficult to grow from a seed because it germinates, and different times and it is difficult to get an even crop. I have grown it from seed before, but now prefer to buy a healthy plant from a plant nursery.
- The flavor of thyme is best if you can cut it back right before the plant blooms. When you see signs of budding, go ahead and snip.
- Thyme will dry out in the oven fast and efficiently. I prefer not to use a dehydrator because the tiny leaves fall in between the sheets and mix in with the plants below. It can also be dried the traditional way by hanging in cool, dry and well-ventilated area.
For the best medicinal value harvest all herbs in the morning, once the dew has dried and before the sun bakes the plant.
All of these are easy to grow and dry. You can cut all of them directly from the plant and dry in small hanging bushels or alternatively, dry the leaves or flowers on a flat baking tray at the lowest possible temperature of your oven. I typically dry at 170 degrees for 1 hour. I then check which ones need additional time and take those that are dry out. If you use heat to dry your leaves, you will lose some of the medicinal qualities. However, you will need to experiment with your home and environment. I find that air drying basil takes a long time and often it will produce mildew before it dries out. I would rather dry it in the oven then throws it all out.
Once you have all your herbs dried, the fun part comes in. The uses! Oh the uses! There is a seemingly never-ending amount of DIY projects, tea blends, and medicinal purposes for these gems. However, we are focusing on herbal teas.
Can you Make Tea with Fresh Herbs?
I tend to like drying my herbs before I make them into a tea, but there is no reason you cannot use fresh herbs if desired. If you use fresh herbs take about 1 tbsp and pulverize it just a bit so you bruise the leaves. Then add them to an infuser and pour your hot water over that.
If you would like to dry your herbs to save them for later, there are a variety of ways to accomplish that. One of the easiest ways is to cut fresh herbs, bind bundles of them
How to Make an Herbal Tea
Tools of the Trade
- Motor and Pestle -This one has a lid!
- Dehydrator- The one below is my favorite; it works well and doesn't break the bank!
Making herbal tea is the easiest part of this whole process. Everyone has their own little process but let me give you a very easy rule of thumb. If you are making 1 cup of hot tea, you will need 2 tsp of dried herbs.
But how to make it tasty? Aw, that is the question isn’t it. Again, let me offer you some really simple tips. I will break the process into those that like a more bitter-tasting tea and those that love their tea tart and sweet.
- Rosemary – Helps stress headaches
- Peppermint/Spearmint – eases upset stomach due to the methyl contained
- Thyme – helps to ease coughs and the spasms related
- Normal Sage – Very good for a good night’s sleep
Sweet and Tart Tea:
- Lemon Balm – uplifting drink that helps ease tension headaches
- Pineapple Sage – very flavorful and helpful for a good night's rest
- Chamomile – relaxing tea that helps sooth the muscles in the stomach
- Peppermint/Spearmint -
Now the part that might frustrate you. I’m not going to give you any concrete recipes. ARRRRGGG! You scream at the computer. I read all that and she’s not even going to accommodate my need for a recipe.
The best part of any of these teas is the ability to make it your own!
Tell me how you created your own tasty herbal tea blend over on Instagram!