A cup of tea at breakfast or over lunch is one of life's simple indulgences. It's even more special - and not much more difficult - if you grow the herbs yourself.
Many of the best tea herbs are easy to grow, beautiful, and naturally resistant to pests. Even if you don't have garden space, many delightful tea herbs will grow in containers on a porch or windowsill.
"By growing my own tea, I have total freedom to pick the herbs to suit my mood or revitalize my palette," says avid herb-grower Jekka McVicar, author of "The Complete Herb Book."
Mint is a must - consider species with other subtle flavors including apple, pineapple, chocolate, orange, ginger and lemon. Daisy-like chamomiles can also cheer up any garden and make a soothing tea.
Once you've chosen your herbs, it's as easy to harvest, dry, store and brew:
Many herbs, particularly those in the mint family, prefer to be trimmed regularly with clean, sharp snips. This keeps them healthy, bushier, and gives you an abundance of herbs for fresh and dry teas.
"Harvest early in the morning before the oils have come out. If you wait until later in the day, they're not as pungent," recommends Marietta Marshall Marcin, author of "Herbal Tea Gardens."
To dry your herbs, simply place them loosely in a brown paper bag or a medium-weave basket. Baskets are handy if you have a lot of herbs to dry because they can be stacked to save space yet allow good air flow, says Tammi Hartung, herbalist and author of "Growing 101 Herbs that Heal."
Place them in a warm, dry spot with good airflow and ideally out of direct sunlight. For example, you may stack baskets on a sheltered porch or place the bag in a warm car with cracked windows.
Check the herbs daily for dryness by crumbling it between your fingers or rubbing it against your lip to feel if the plant is still moist.
Once dry, immediately strip the leaves and flowers from the stems and store them in a glass jar in a cool, dark, dry place, like a pantry or kitchen cupboard. They should keep their color and flavor for six months to a year or longer.
¢ Dry Tea: Most of us are familiar with dried herbal teas. To use your own loose herbs, pour one cup of near-boiling water over one teaspoon to one tablespoon of dried, crumbled herb. Let sit for five to 15 minutes, strain and enjoy. Use a simple strainer, a mesh tea ball, a special teapot, or fill your own "Press & Brew" tea bags.
¢ Fresh Tea: Enjoy your herbs straight from the garden with a fresh herbal tea. Bring two cups of water to a near-boil. Turn off the heat, and stir in a large handful of fresh herbs (no need to chop). Feel free to add a splash of juice or sliced fruit like lemon or orange wedges, raspberries or strawberries. Cover, and let steep for at least 15 minutes. Strain into teacups and enjoy.
¢ Sun Tea: To make a sun tea, use the same proportions in either of these techniques, but let it steep the herbs in lukewarm water in the sun for several hours to a day before straining.
¢ Iced Tea: On a hot day, turn your favorite blend into iced tea by doubling the quantity of herb and then straining it over a full glass of ice. Or make a regular pot of tea and put it in the fridge until it's chilled.