Archive for Thursday, July 20, 2006

Grow your own herbs for homemade tea

July 20, 2006

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How about a homemade cup of tea?

Not real tea, China tea, which is somewhat limited in where it can be grown.

It's no trouble at all, though, to grow and brew up a batch of mint tea.

Spearmint, peppermint, applemint, to name a few - almost all are hardy and easy to grow. Too easy, in fact, because with reasonably good soil they become weedy and spread. So keep an eye on it or plant it in a semi-wild area, where it can fight it out with the likes of lemon balm, another plant good for tea but a bit too enthusiastic for the cultivated garden. It's a pretty plant, flopping around in low mounds of forest green leaves.

Consider also another wild balm or bee balm for that semi-wild area. The gray-green leaves are capped by white, lavender, pink, or scarlet flowers. These plants were brewed by the colonists and Indians for their minty flavor and calming effect.

Another rambunctious plant making a tasty tea is chamomile. Chamomile hugs the ground and enjoys sun, so don't plant it with the balms and mints. Nonetheless, it self-seeds with abandon (and is equally easy to grow from seed), so choose carefully where to plant it.

Lime green, ferny foliage and daisy flowers warrant putting the plants where you can see them.

If you'd like a tea that's neither lemony nor minty, one that tastes more like China tea, brew up some raspberry leaves. Don't grow raspberries just for their leaves, of course. Grow them for their fruits and pluck off a few leaves when you want a cup of tea.

Although China gave us China tea, America has its share of plants called "tea."

Teaberry is an evergreen groundcover that grows well in shade and makes a wintergreen flavored brew. Pennsylvania Germans steeped sweet goldenrod in hot water to make anise-flavored "blue mountain tea."

"Appalachian tea" is brewed from the leaves of witherod viburnum, a native shrub whose leaves turn shades of orange, crimson and purple in fall. But the real show is in the berries, all in different stages of ripening, which proceed from green to pink to red to blue to black.

The most genuine tea that you can grow in America would be New Jersey tea, a small shrub native throughout sunny, dry woods of eastern America. This plant's leaves were actually used as a substitute for China tea during Revolutionary times. Hence its other common name: "liberty tea."

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