Grow Your Own Herbal Tea Garden
Sip your way to good health
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
upside down in small bundles or spread them on drying racks or screens with plenty of circulation.
If you want to dry leaves quickly, spread them on a mesh rack and place them in a low-temperature oven ( 8595 degrees). The herbs take just a few minutes to dry, so leave the oven door open and keep your eye on them. When the leaves are crisp, they are ready. Store dried herbs in a dark glass container with a tight-closing lid, or in a glass container in a cool, dark place. You can also freeze your herbs, once they’re completely dry, in plastic freezer bags. Make sure you label and date them.
Once you’ve tasted the flavors of individual herbs, think about blending a few together. Generally, they are blended in equal parts, but you can change the mix to suit your own taste. For example, how about a little lemongrass blended with anise hyssop?
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.