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Monday, February 27, 2017

Tea Garden...It's What the Doctor Ordered

Themed herb gardens can be a lot of fun and many of these plants are not only suitable for a tea garden, but are also right at home in a kitchen theme, cosmetic theme or medicinal theme.

Most of us have only ever had tea from dried plants. Think how good it could be if picked fresh from your own backyard! Below are some ideal plants to get to know as they grow and it'll soon become apparent why people develop such a connection with their gardens. There is a certain pride in the nurturing, harvesting, storing and utilizing your own food, and knowing the conditions and quality of the plants makes it all the more satisfying.

For many, the introduction into the world of herbs all started with the famous children's book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Most mother's can relate with how to handle mischievous children who don't listen and then come whimpering to Mom when hurting or upset. Mama rabbit simply put her little bunny to bed with a cup of chamomile tea and let him reflect on his lesson learned after such an adventurous day.

Be it frazzled nerves or an upset tummy, chamomile tea was the best remedy to calm both conditions at the same time. Better yet, chamomile tea lulled little Peter Rabbit into the la la land of sleep.
Much of chamomile's medicinal effects are targeted toward the digestive tract and the nervous system.

Chamomile tea can be a godsend for parents pacing the floor with a colicky baby. The build-up of intestinal gas is very painful. Just a teaspoon of cooled chamomile tea given every ten minutes can relieve a baby's misery amazingly fast. Catnip and lemon balm are two other wonderful herbs safe for babies.

Combine a hot water bottle placed over the lower abdomen and sipping chamomile tea every 15 minutes for a sure relief from those dreaded PMS menstrual cramps. 

Be it a child or an adult, everyone has occasional trouble falling asleep. A cup of chamomile tea with a spoonful of honey can become a nightly ritual to look forward to in readiness for bed. The nerve relaxing properties of this herb are wonderful for settling down overtired children and the cluttered minds of over stressed adults.

Growing your own chamomile is fairly easy. Chamomile is an annual which once it is planted and gets established, it will pop up on its own every year. The flowers are the parts collected and if you harvest on a regular basis during the growing season the flowers will continue before finally going to seed.

Apple or Woolly Mint
Spearmint and Peppermint

Peppermint and Spearmint are just two of many types of mint in the Lamiacae (Labiatae) family.
Known as the herb of hospitality, mint has long been used everywhere from the kitchen to the sickroom. Peppermint and spearmint are the most common types of mint, but there are several varieties that can be found at your local nursery in the herb section. You can find apple mint, chocolate mint, mimosa mint, mountain mint, pennyroyal, orange mint, catnip, etc A good way to identify whether a plant is in the mint family is to feel the stem. If it is squared rather than round it is in the mint family. Mints are low to no maintenance perennial plants. They are so hardy, they'll be happy to take over your entire garden. The roots spread by way of runners, so if you don't want it to continue to creep along, it is best to plant it in buried containers. These plants like the sun but do tolerate some shade. Another perk with mints is that the bees adore the flowering tops.

Peppermint in particular has a powerful, menthol aroma that refreshes, energizes and improves mental clarity just by inhaling the steam from a cup of hot tea. So many ailments can be eased with this one type of plant. Nausea can be relieved, cramping belly aches can be settles, pounding headaches can fade away, congestion can open up, aching feet can perk up, heat flashes can be cooled, and sore muscles can relax.

Lemon Balm is wonderful for relaxing children or anyone under stress. Called the "happy tea", lemon balm is invaluable for not only snapping a child out of a cranky mood, but can help anyone feeling down in the dumps. With it's hint of lemon, add some honey and you have a delicious tea most people really enjoy. With anti-viral properties, lemon balm is great for colds and fever blisters (cold sores). Also called Sweet Melissa, if you let it flower as in the photo below, you'll be making a lot of bees very happy. This type of mint spreads as any other mint but it is easier to control since it grows in clumps. One thing with lemon balm is that if you do dry it, don't crumble the leaves until ready to use or you'll lose a lot of the lemony scent.

Lemon Balm

Catnip is great for colicky babies, upset tummies, jangled nerves and to bring down a fever. And of course you can grow it as a great treat and source of greens for your cat. Catnip spreads on its own but like lemon balm, it grows in clumps so is easier to control than some mints that creep over the ground. Without cutting back, catnip actually becomes almost shrub-like with woody stems.

Bee Balm or Monarda is often grown in butterfly, bee and hummingbird gardens. It's red or pink tubular flower petals are beautiful when in bloom. Monarda gets taller than the usual 2 ft. mints. This plant reaches 3 - 4 ft. so makes a great backdrop plant. Also known as Oswego, this plant was used extensively by Native Americans as a medicinal tea. During the American Revolution, Bee Balm was the replacement for black tea after the Boston Tea Party. And you can guess why the word "bee" is in the name. Great beneficial plant.

Anise Hyssop
The last mint we'll mention is Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) which smells and tastes like anise. Although it is called a hyssop, it isn't the same plant as the Hyssopus officinalis, which is in the mint family, but of European descent. Anise hyssop is a must for anyone who wants a scent garden. Even if you don't like it as a tea, to resist the urge to take a moment to pick a leaf for a sniff is nearly impossible. 

Pineapple Sage
Any of the sages can be used as a tea but Pineapple Sage tastes much better than regular garden sage. This tea is a good remedy for indigestion and heartburn. Sage makes a good gargle for a sore throat, especially if first infused in vinegar. Garden Sage is a perennial but Pineapple Sage is a tender perennial which in colder areas is grown as an annual. This plant grows much larger than garden sage. It actually becomes like a shrub and by September it flowers beautiful red tubular flowers adored by the hummingbirds, a great late season food source.

Stinging Nettles

Nettles, (Uritica dioica), are invaluable if you want one of the most nourishing plants around for your health. A word of caution though with stinging nettles, they sting due to the formic acid they contain. Nettles need to be grown somewhere where no one will be wandering around touching all the plants. It is a spreading perennial that will take over if allowed. But having access to the health benefits of nettle plants is wonderful for anyone needing a boost of energy or help with blah skin, hair or nails. Nettles make a great cooked green like spinach but best in the spring when the plants are young and tender. Be sure to wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves when in your nettle patch. Nettles are important as a food source for the larvae stages of many butterfly types, namely the peacocks, red admiral, commas, painted lady and tortoiseshell butterflies.


Harvest late morning after they've dried off but before the heat of the day.

Most fresh herbs are highest in potency right before they bloom. But using the flowering tops is fine as well.

To dry, you can bundle small bunches by the stems and hang to dry in an airy, cool area out of direct sunlight. When dry, strip off the leaves and store in paper bags.
Don't crumble the leaves until you are ready to use them or you'll lose much of the essential oils.

Or you can spread your herbs out on the trays of a kitchen dehydrator for much quicker drying.

Before the arrival of frost, harvest all the herbs you desire and dry for storage. Herbs like basil are best if the leaves are frozen in ice cubes. Basil doesn't dry well without losing potency.

When ready to use the usual rule is 1 teaspoon dry herb to 1 cup of hot water.
If using fresh, use 3 teaspoons herb to 1 cup hot water.

You don't want to boil tender teas. You pour the hot water over them and let simmer. On average, teas only need about 3 - 5 minutes to simmer. then sweeten with honey and add a wedge of lemon if desired.

A very simple, yet delicious way to enjoy mint is to simply add a few fresh stems to a pitcher of water. The water will have a subtle, refreshing minty taste. Start with fresh plant material with each refill of the pitcher. If the water hasn't been drunk within about 3 days, toss and start again because it'll start to taste funky.

 A memory I have as a child is being sent down to the water's edge of a pond to collect enough fresh mint to fill a large soup pot. If you do collect plants outside of your own yard, be sure the plants you are cutting were not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Mint shouldn't need either one but just know for sure before using the plants. Rinse off the stems of any dirt, cut to fit in the pot (stems, leaves and any flowering tops), add enough water to cover the plants, cover the pot and gently bring to the boiling point but don't boil, Cock the lid so it doesn't overflow and let the tea simmer about 5 to 10 minutes, depending how strong you like your tea. You don't want to simmer it too long or you'll lose the important essential oils in the steam. Strain out the plant material and add sugar to taste. For sweet tea, 1 cup sugar to a gallon of tea is tasty. Enjoy a cup of hot tea right away and let the rest cool and store in the refrigerator for ice tea. This is wonderfully refreshing on a hot day.

Find a spot to set up a little table and chairs and enjoy your serenity time with a cup of tea. You'll soon discover that once your tea garden is established it returns every spring with little effort on your part. Annuals such as chamomile, fennel and dill reseed themselves and perennials such as the mints, lavender, sage, nettles and thyme return from the established root ball. If you had rosemary overwintering in the house, it can be brought back outside in the spring.