Celebrate National Hot Tea Month (January) – by harvesting some caffeine-free tea from your yard – or more simply – out of pots of plants growing on your patio.
Don’t Like Herb Tea?
I hear this every so often. “Tried it once and didn’t like it.” Yep. Well there are many kinds of herbal tea. For instance, if you don’t like “mint” tea – do you know if it is is it peppermint or spearmint that you are objecting to? Those two have very different flavors. There are also hybrids called apple mint, pineapple mint, water mint, and then there’s a chocolate mint hybrid that tastes minty and chocolaty at the same time. Very refreshing!
By the way, I don’t like either peppermint or spearmint tea. I prefer a lavender tea, which is why its listed below as one of my “Fab Four.”
History of Tea
Before trade with China, the Pekoe teas were unknown in most of the world. What was then called “tea” was made from any number of plants. Now we call these early teas “herbal teas,” and the “Pekoe” teas from the herb Camellia sinensis are known as “tea.”
Sugar was also unknown until a few centuries ago, and honey was not widely available so a cup of tea was often just herbs and water. Humans have a sweet tooth though, so teas with a hint of sweetness were always best received. Most of these plants taste mildly sweet when steeped/made into tea.
Fab Four Herbal Tea Plants
Here are four tea plants that just plain taste nice and can be grown throughout the Southwest – even for people in those Upper Elevations with some snow on the ground right now (January). Mind you, if you live in those snowy areas you will have to harvest the herbs before they die back underground for the winter.
My Fab Four
Note that I am listing (mostly) groups of plants here in my Fab Four. For example, mint has more varieties than you can shake a stick at.
lavender (Lavendula species But only 4 grow well in SW), lemon balm (just one species - Melissa officinalis) mint (about 800 varieties of - Mentha species) thyme (over 200 varieties of - Thymus species)
Tea Herb Growing
Care of these herbs is relatively easy. Herbs have been cultivated for millennia, and the really fussy ones have already been killed off.
Soil. These herbs do best in well drained soil. Ideally, dig a bed that is two to four feet deep and amend the soil as needed. The soil should be about thirty percent sand to promote drainage, and about thirty percent compost for the organic matter and minerals. Your soil may already be sandy enough and not need any help there. You can also buy compost at the nursery if you don’t make your own.
Potting soil with added sand or perlite works well for all herbs if you plant to grow in containers. You can also just buy something called “cactus mix.” I do.
Sun. Herbs generally like plenty of sun. The labels in the pots may say “full sun” – fine for Michigan – but I have found that these herbs grow best with half a day of summer shade in the Low and Middle Desert.
Water. Most herbs prefer to dry out a little between watering. If the roots stay too wet, they can rot. Bone dry soil is not good and kill them, so a delicate balance is required.
Pruning. Herbs need pruning. For millennia they have been harvested. Often the harvest was right down to the nubbins. As a result, the really rampant growers are the survivors in cultivation now. Most herbs produce more flavorful compounds just as they flower. This is the ideal time to harvest (prune) and dry your herbs.
Fertilize. Herbs do not need a great deal of fertilizer. I fertilize three times a year, with half strength general fertilizer. But if you wish to harvest often, you could fertilize more often.
Harvest & Use
These herbal tea plants offer here can be used either fresh or dried. Some herbs taste better if you dry them first – but that’s a different post.
Ideally harvest fresh leaves and flowers before noon and dry or save for evening use.
In the Gardening With Soule Membership Club there is a fuller discussion of this topic of herbal teas to grow as part of your own edible landscape. After all, if you have to water it and take care of it, why not also get something useful?!
More About Using Herbs
I invite you to visit another site I write for – Savor the Southwest (.net). It’s where I, and a number of other local people, share how to use the products of the Southwest. We celebrated National Hot Tea Month over there too!
More About Growing Herbs
Dr. Jacqueline Soule’s valuable Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening book is revised and expanded and better than ever. It has sections on herbs as well.
“Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!”
This link ot to the site where you can buy the book signed by the author.
Other books I have written are over on the “Books” page.