Grow Your Own Herbal Tea Gar­den

Sip your way to good health

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While gar­den­ing of­fers an ar­ray of ways to stay healthy—from breath­ing fresh air, to get­ting in a lit­tle ex­er­cise, to let­ting your mind wander from those all­con­sum­ing wor­ries—you can add to its ben­e­fits by grow­ing your own herbs and us­ing them to brew hot tea. The types of herbs you plant de­pend on sev­eral fac­tors: the health ben­e­fits you de­sire, the type of gar­den you have, the pres­ence of sun or shade and your per­sonal taste. You might also want to con­sider fra­grance. Lemon ver­bena, for ex­am­ple, is known to as­sist di­ges­tion and strengthen the ner­vous sys­tem, as well as have a “lemony” fra­grance.

You can find some of the more pop­u­lar herbs at lo­cal nurs­eries such as ECHO in North Fort My­ers, which also of­fers a great se­lec­tion of seeds. “One of my fa­vorite herbs is pars­ley,” says Betsy Bur­dette, for­merly an ECHO vol­un­teer in the edi­ble land­scape gar­den, who now vol­un­teers on med­i­cal mis­sion trips to El Sal­vador and other lo­ca­tions. “Pars­ley has a high con­tent of chloro­phyll, so it will freshen the breath and neu­tral­ize in­di­ges­tion. The leaves con­tain vi­ta­mins A and C, cal­cium, thi­amin, ri­boflavin and niacin, and can be chewed or made into a tea.”

With most herbs, it’s the leaves and/or stems that are con­sumed. With some herbs, how­ever, such as gin­ger ( Cur­cuma longa), it’s the root that of­fers the ben­e­fits. “Cur­cuma longa can be grown in any herb gar­den. It goes dor­mant in the win­ter but pro­duces a beau­ti­ful white bloom in the spring/sum­mer,” says Bur­dette, who uses the herb daily. “Cur­cuma longa is be­lieved to be the true source of turmeric, which has been shown to help re­duce blood lipids, im­prove cir­cu­la­tion to the heart, lower blood pres­sure, re­move gall­stones, re­duce in­flam­ma­tion and al­le­vi­ate pain,” she says. Bur­dette ad­vises those who use a plant for medic­i­nal pur­poses to re­search it first us­ing sev­eral sources, and to keep in mind that the ef­fects aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the same for every­one.

An herb gar­den can range in size from a few pot­ted plants on the lanai to a whole gar­den-full. When plant­ing herbs in containers, it’s best to use pots that are at least 8 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches across. Mix pot­ting soil with two parts soil

and one part sand or per­lite, and add crushed rocks to the bot­tom of the pot for bet­ter drainage. Drainage is a key fac­tor in grow­ing herbs, so even when grow­ing them in your gar­den with­out

pots, you might want to im­prove drainage by re­mov­ing the soil to a depth of 15 to 18 inches, then adding a 3-inch layer of crushed stone to the bot­tom. Be­fore re­turn­ing the soil to the ex­ca­vated area, lighten the tex­ture by mix­ing com­post or sphag­num peat and sand.

Don’t over­wa­ter herbs, as they can drown eas­ily, and keep in mind that they don’t like di­rect drafts or large fluc­tu­a­tions in tem­per­a­tures. Some pre­fer the shade, or par­tial shade, while oth­ers love the sun. Bushy peren­nial herbs, such as rose­mary, sage and win­ter sa­vory, typ­i­cally per­form bet­ter in­doors than herbs with soft stems, such as mint. (Mint, by the way, thrives out­doors and will take over your gar­den if you let it. The trick is to plant mint in a clay pot first and then sink the pot in the ground.)

Once your herbs have grown, it’s time to har­vest them. Make sure you pick the leaves or flow­ers on a hot sunny day, not when the plants are wet or dewy. While you can brew ei­ther fresh or dried herbs for tea, make sure you wash the leaves and stems in cold wa­ter and drain them first.

Some herbs can be bun­dled and dried right on the stem, while oth­ers, mostly those with larger leaves, need to be picked off the branches be­fore they are dried. To dry herbs, hang them

An herb gar­den, such as the one at EC HO (above), can be the source of good health as well as hours of tea- drink­ing plea­sure. P op­u­lar seeds, herbs and spices from ECHO are shown be­low.

A va­ri­ety of herbs and spices can be used to brew healthy tea.

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