Drying herbs for tea, or culinary use, is fast and easy. Harvest on dry days, preferably in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is strong, or pick at dusk. Rinse and pat dry, if desired.
While herb bundles hanging upside down look pretty, this process can be messy and the herbs may attract dust or bugs. Instead, strip the herbs from their stems—which hold residual water—and dry them flat, preferably on a mesh screen or tray. (Richters Herbs president Conrad Richter says his late mother used a sweater dryer, an ideal tool for the task.)
Sprinkle the herbs no more than two or three layers thick on the screen. Store away from direct heat and light (room temperature is fine), and fluff them occasionally until they crumble when crushed; leathery, pliable leaves are not dry enough to store.
While her blend varies from season to season, depending on what she has most of in the garden, there’s one absolute: no one herb or flower dominates. “You don’t want to take a sip and have people think, ‘This is mint tea with something in it.’ You want people to say, ‘This is great, what is it?’”
Dowling suggests using one large handful of fresh herbs per four- to six-cup (one- to 1.5-litre) teapot. When making tea with dried herbs, use one tablespoon (15 mL) per mug. These are simply guidelines, though, so amounts will vary according to personal taste, just as the strength of the herbs will vary according to their growing conditions.
Avoid making herbal tea in a metal pot, which is reactive and could affect the taste; choose ceramic or glass instead. Richter believes glass pots add to the ritual; they also make it easier to gauge when the tea is ready. He pours his when the herbs drop to the bottom of the pot. Dowling, who favours a glass Bodum teapot, steeps her herbs for only two to three minutes. “Any longer, and the tea can get bitter,” she says. She pours out all of the tea, even if she’s not drinking it right away; anything left over is saved for later to be enjoyed as iced tea.
Conrad Richter of Richters Herbs says people sometimes worry about confusing benign herbs with toxic plants. That’s why it’s extremely important to label all the herbs you’re growing with permanent markers—particularly when you’re just getting to know them, and especially if they return the following season—so you’ll be completely sure of what they are. You must be certain of any herb’s or plant’s identity before using it for tea. And all plants used in the kitchen must be free of chemical sprays.