If you've ever brewed your own herbal tea, I'm sure you discovered that tea made from fresh herbs is a much higher quality. Fresh Brewed teas are more flavorful and generally more potent than any store bought teas or ingredients there of. Herbal teas all have their own unique personalities.
Bee Balm for instance produces vibrant colorful flowers and attracts Bees. It is one of my favorites. Native Americans, the Oswego Indians used it to blend tea. The plant is closely related to bergamot which is used to make earl gray tea. Catnip, yes that's right -Catnip actually has a citrus-mint flavor and is mildly intoxicating in some forms.
Harvest, Drying and Storge of Herbs, Roots for Tea Making
Harvesting Tea Flowers and Herbs
With rare exceptions herbs harvested for teas should be picked on a dry day preferably in the morning when the plant oils are the most concentrated. They accumulate overnight and dissipate during daytime heat. Exceptions are those plants whose roots or seeds are being utilized, or those grown indoors.
Drying and Storage
Many plants can be used fresh, but unless you're drinking teas by the gallon you'll want to save some for later use.
There are several methods, and some recommendations vary from plant to plant. The most common method is also the simplest. Steady gentle heat that is provided by either sun - assuming mother nature cooperates, or a food dehydrator.
A layer of harvested leaves or sprigs placed on the tray in a food dehydrator works fine.
A Microwave can also suffice, line the microwave with paper towels , place the harvested herbs on the towels and zap them on a low setting for short periods of time. Monitor it closely to avoid roasting the herbs. Some of the flavor is leeched away using this method - but its quick and efficient.
It's a good idea to carefully label any herbs you store, many look alike especially in their dried form and are easily confused. Store them in a cool, dry place.
For iced teas - you can also freeze some of them in ice cubes made of partially brewed teas from your herbs.
Most Herbal teas are made via "infusion". Infusions are made from soft plant tissues such as the leaves, flowers. This softer and more fragile plant tissue is generally steeped rather than simmered in order to allow the medicinal substances to meld into the brew more readily.
Harder plant tissue , such as roots and barks are more commonly made using "Decoction" which involves simmering your active ingredients in water on low heat for periods ranging from 15 minutes to hours, 20 minutes is generally the norm. Whole roots, bark and woody herbs generally take longer than those broken down into smaller particles or pulverized powder.
Sun Teas are basically Decoctions brewed within the low heat of natural sunlight for longer periods of time.
Tinctures are liquid herb concentrates . They are generally much more potent than herbal teas and need to be diluted with water or juice. Many tinctures are made with alcohol as a solvent. We do not deal in any depth with tinctures, they are best left to seasoned and or professional herbalists.
Plants to make Tea with
The plants listed below are all used for teas, some are also used for preserves and seasonings. Fresh tea is generally best. Fresh isn't always possible so many can also be dried and stored for later use.
Angelica (Archangelica officinalis ) is an herb that is a European immigrant, closely related to carrots and parsley. It has been a medicinal and flavoring agent for centuries, it is used to flavor Gin and Vermouth, as well to make teas and season culinary delights.
Angelica Tea Candied Angelica
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) It's taste bears a hint of mint ,a hint of licorice and a hint of hyssop, but not an over powering amount of either. a powerful antioxidant, has anti-inflammatory properties, anti-carcinogenic properties, and promotes weight loss by appetite reduction and enhanced metabolism. Has a mild sedative effect which helps to reduce anxiety. Anise-Hyssop Tea
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), a member of the mint family, is native to the eastern United States and Canada. Both the brightly colored flowers and the leaves, with their complex flavors of citrus and spice, are used for tea. Bee Balm Tea
Calendula (Calendula officinalis ) also known as the pot marigold is actually a sub genus of about 15 different plants. Calendula tea is used by herbalists for the treatment of digestive inflammation and gastric ulcers. It promotes the discharge of bile from the gall-bladder which relieves some gall-bladder problems, induces urination, and has anti-oxidants which strengthens the immune system. Calendular Tea
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) doesn't sound all too appealing as a tea, somehow it evokes mental images of flea bitten felines and smelly litter boxes. But it makes a delightful tea. Catnip contains an active ingredient "nepetalactone" a plant terpenoid that has an affect on the central nervous system in cats and to a lesser extent on people. It also is in the mint family and also goes by the accolade of Catmint. The lemony-mint tea made from catnip induces a sense of tranquility, it promotes a meditative state of well being. Some people claim it has a slightly hypnotic effect. Pregnant or nursing women shouldn't drink catnip tea.
Chamomile, The "Earth Apple" is actually two seperate distinct species of plants with very similar qualities. Roman and German Chamomile. The Roman is sometimes referred to as English or Russian Chamomile. They are related to daisies and produce small, daisy-like flowers that have been used since pre-Christian times in Europe to brew a light fruity tea.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) are the seeds of the cilantro plant, which is commonly used as a spice in dishes as diverse as oriental, where it is called Chinese parsley, to Latino, American and Italian. The seeds when brewed with other teas, or by themselves make a tasty citrus like beverage. I harvest some of the coriander seeds while they are still green, their flavor is more pronounced at this point. The seeds will stay relatively fresh in the refrigerator for several weeks and I use these for tea and a few other dishes. The dried seeds can also be used but the flavor is slightly leached away.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is used to make delightful teas. The leaves, the root and the flowers can all be used together ,or individually to make Dandelion Tea. It's flavor is incomparable - it has a unique earthy flavor all its own. It also makes excellent preserves. See - Dandelion Jelly.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) also known as the eastern purple coneflower. The plant produces large daisy-like purple, lavender, pink and sometimes white flowers. It attracts bees and butterflies. It is believed to stimulate the body's immune system. See - Echinacea Tea
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) has a very strong aroma. Teas brewed from it have an anise-licorice flavor. Herbal tea made with fennel aids digestion and acts as a diuretic. It aids in the removal of excess body water and some solid waste. The fennel oils are believed to possess some antiseptic properties useful in the treatment of gastrointestinal infections. See - Fennel Tea
Hibiscus ( Hibiscus mutabilis) Tea made from the hibiscus plant is reminiscent of cranberry, it is somewhat tart but tasty and has some important Health benefits. See - Hibiscus Tea
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is another mint family plant, it contains terpenes, chemicals that produce a meditative effect. Lemon Balm tea has a soothing effect. When brewing lemon balm tea, the teacup as well as the pot should be covered at all times so as to let as little of the steam as possible escape. The steam is believed to contain most of the herb's aromatic oils and therapeutic effect. See Lemon Balm Tea
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla), also known as Lemon bee-bush is a perennial "mini" shrub. It produces attractive tiny purple or white flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. The leaves are used to brew lemon teas, they contain a strong lemony oil and have a high antioxidant concentration. It's only hardy in zones 9 to 11 , elsewhere you might consider it as indoor plant. See Lemon Verbena Tea
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) also known as Mary thistle, Saint Mary's thistle and Scottish Thistle. A true thorny thistle that produces red to purple flowers. The leaves are pale with light colored veins.
"The seeds of milk thistle are one of the most important herbal liver medicines. The sylimarin contained in them is an effective life-saving agent even in cases of poisoning with a lethal dose of death cap mushroom" - wikipedia.
The leaves and roots are used as a food source as well as for tea.
Mint (Mentha spp.) are pungent aromatic perennial herbs. The mint family is vast and some varieties have already been mentioned on this page. There are multiple varieties - Sweet mint, spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, Corsican mint, catmint, pineapple mint, apple mint and pennyroyal are a few. Each mint variety has a distinct flavor. Peppermint leaves are the best for drying as they hold more of their original flavor.
Passion Flower (Passiflora) is another plant used by Native Americans to brew tea. It contains chrystin - a naturally occurring flavanoid which has some anti-anxiety attributes. See Passion Flower Tea
"Passionflower tea can be made by infusing 1 tablespoon of dried herbs in 1 cup boiling water. Let the mixture steep for about 10 minutes. Drink the tea near bedtime to induce restful sleep. More typically, we have patients use two droppers-full (about 50 drops) of tincture in warm water as a tea before bed. For people who are very anxious, they can take 25 drops as needed, and they may find it a reasonable substitute for Xanax and other anti-anxiety medications." - Dr. Oz
Raspberries (Rubus) The raspberry is well known and commonly grown and can be used for a number of diverse recipes. Raspberry leaves however are much less known as a food source. The leaves of this common bramble make a good herbal tea. The leaves are high in magnesium, potassium, iron and Vitamin b and c. They can be brewed into a delightful cold or hot tea. See -Wellness Mama
Rose Hips (Rosa spp.) Rose hips are used to make tea as well as sauces and preserves such as Rose Hip Jelly. Rose hips contain 50% more vitamin C than Oranges. They are sometimes eaten raw, but don't really taste too good -IMO. The reddish tea has a unique flavor reminiscent of citrus teas.
Rose Petals (Rosa spp.) Rose petals, in addition to their aesthetic appeal make a pleasant tea. Be sure not to use rose petals that have been chemically sprayed as some pesticides accumulate in the petals. It doesn't taste anything like the rose hip teas, but has a flavor all its own. The best way to describe it is flowery floral which doesn't really tell you a whole heck of a lot - but try it - you'll like it.
Sunflowers - the hulls of sunflower seeds were used by some Native Americans to brew a hot beverage sometimes hailed as a coffee substitute. I tried it - it doesn't taste anything like coffee. It's a labor intensive process. The hulls need to be separated from the kernel and then roasted till they are pre-burnt / blackened. The resulting beverage is robust , not really like coffee, but not all that bad either.
Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) also known as hedge-nettle and bishop's-wort. The plant produces 2-3-foot spires of purple to lavender flowers. The green leaves are used to make a mild tea. It is believed to be a uterine stimulant and should not be used by pregnant women.
Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) is another mint family plant. It is a low-growing perennial that needs a mild moist climate. It's used to brew mint teas.