Herbs for teas

Refreshing and reviving or calming and soothing, herbal teas are a joy - and what better way to get the freshest taste than growing your own, says Graham Rice

Pelargonium 'Mabel Grey'

Most of us grow far more herbs than we used to. In some cases we simply enjoy the aroma that they bring to the garden, especially on the scorching days we’ve had this summer.

We use them in cooking too, especially if we have a barbecue, or scattered onto salads and in sandwhiches. But we don’t always think to use them in teas, although they can bring us lovely natural flavours and a light revitalising boost – or help us drift off to sleep.
Lemon flavours are especially refreshing and, in the garden, lemon comes from a number of plants. At one extreme there’s the easy-to-grow lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a perennial which will self-sow through your sunny borders.

The shrubby lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is more tender and needs the protection of a sunny wall and well-drained soil. For pots on the patio in summer, and the conservatory or windowsill in winter, there’s lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) and the scented pelargonium ‘Mabel Grey' with its pretty pink flowers and soft fragrant leaves that cry out to be stroked.

Make the most of your mint

Moroccan mintMinty flavours are also very refreshing but some mints produce rather a harsh taste. Look out for ‘Black Mitcham’ peppermint, unusually strongly scented, but subtle and with bronze-tinted leaves. There’s also the rust-resistant Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’) with its intense but refined, sweet and minty taste.
Turkish delight-scented pelargonium 'Attar of Roses’ is probably best mixed with other herbs while you can easily dry the flowers of chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) to provide the most fragrant home-grown tea in the winter months.

Time for a brew?

And how do you make it? At its most basic you pick the leaves, put them in a small teapot and add boiling water. Use about five fresh mint or lemon balm leaves or a sprig or two of herbs with smaller leaves. Lay them on kitchen paper and crush them gently to help release the flavour before putting them in the pot. Leave the tea to steep for ten minutes – experience will reveal the balance of herb and water and time that suits your palate.

See also

Favourite citrus-flavoured herbs

10 AGM-winning herbs

RHS Grow Your Own

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