There’s something deeply satisfying about making herbal tea, particularly if you’ve grown the herbs yourself. Whether you’re walking into the garden and picking fresh ones to brew or steeping those you’ve dried for winter, the entire process is a feast for the senses.
“Tea should be a ritual,” says Conrad Richter, president of Ontario-based Richters Herbs. “It should be a time to take a break, sit back with friends or alone, and relax.”
Being naturally caffeine-free, herbal tea is a truly soothing experience. Some people, however, find creating their own intimidating. If that’s the case, keep it simple. “Don’t try for exotic blends until you’re really familiar with the plants,” says Richter. “Start with one or two and then branch out.”
Historically, tea made from a single type of herb was called a “simple.” Richter recommends peppermint, the traditional tea for upset stomachs, or spearmint (a little sweeter than peppermint). One of his favourite blends is lemon balm combined with lemon verbena, something he drinks regularly, occasionally adding a few red clover flowers for a dash of colour and its reputed cancer-fighting benefits.
For the more adventurous, Lynda Dowling, owner of Happy Valley Lavender & Herb Farm in Victoria, recommends starting with a base such as five parts mint to three parts lemon verbena. Then, she says, “Play with what you grow,” adding flavour, colour and scent with other herbs and flowers.
Dowling’s favourite blends include one or two parts rugosa rose petals, one part English lavender and perhaps a pinch of chamomile flowers, or pot marigold or cornflower petals, for colour.
Under the sun
A fun, energy-efficient alternative to traditionally brewed tea is sun tea. Take a large, glass jar, add fistfuls of fresh herbs and fill with cool water. Put on a lid and place the jar in the sun. It can steep for hours, getting only better, not bitter, because it doesn’t boil. Be aware, however, that the sun’s rays heat the water only to a certain temperature, which could potentially lead to the formation of bacteria. Here are some precautions, therefore, to follow:
- Always use a sterile container.
- Drink the tea as soon as it’s ready; never let it sit at room temperature.
- Refrigerate any extra and use it up within eight hours.
- Finally, always discard the tea if it appears thick or syrupy—that’s bacteria forming.