herbs.jpg There’s nothing better than a soothing cup of tea after a long day. But if you’re in a rut with those prepackaged tea bags, making tea out of fresh ingredients from the garden is just what you may need. Few activities will make you feel closer to nature than going and snipping a few fresh peppermint leaves or rose hips to brew in a tea. You’ll feel like some sort of earth wizard. With this method, you’ll get the best of the garden in a beverage instantaneously, while discovering fresh new flavors. Plus you’ll save money, while not having to worry about pesticides and where your produce has been. What’s even better is brewing tea out of fresh plants is insanely easy. Just stick a handful of your greens in a pot and pour boiling water over them. Let steep for a few minutes and you have your tea. It’s even easier than running to the store for soda. Plus herbal teas have that wonderful added benefit of having zero calories. You may also think you’re stuck with the most well-known teas like peppermint and rose hip, but there are dozens and dozens of edible plants that can go in teas, each containing their own unique flavors. Herbs have a complex taste to them that range from sweet to earthy to bitter. With so many choices, fresh teas will make a complex addition to your diet and may just push out some of those sugary, high calorie drinks. Many herbs are also easy-to-grow perennials that mind themselves, like sage. Other plants like rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme are easy to grown in a container. They’re delicious plants that are frankly difficult to kill. Then there are the edible plants you can’t get rid of for the life of you, like dandelions. Even if you have a black thumb, there’s little reason to be intimidated about growing your own tea ingredients. Below is a list of some of the most accessible plants to brew in your natural tea, broken down by flavor, to get you started: Basil: Different types of basil will give different flavors. Sweet basil gives a clove-like flavor, for instance. Birch leaves: Has a wintergreen, aromatic flavor. Blackberry leaves: On the bitter side, mix with honey. Carnations: A very rich tea with a refreshing taste. Chamomile flowers: Very sweet in taste and relaxing. Good for after a stressful day. Chickweed: Possesses a fruity, smooth flavor. Chives: Tangy and intense. Citrus blossoms (orange, lemon, etc.): A zesty taste that makes a good addition to other teas. Dandelions (flowers, roots, leaves): I was shocked when I heard that those obnoxious weeds that blow seeds everywhere were edible. They have a bitter taste, so add honey. Dill: Has a pungent and sharp flavor, with a hint of sweetness. Gardenia: Contains a light and sweet flavor. Goldenrod: A mild tea with a hint of a bitter aftertaste. Hibiscus blossoms: Has an acidic, sour taste to it. Lavender (blossoms, leaves) : Very sweet, like a perfume. Sweet Marjoram: A Mediterranean herb with a sweet and spicy taste. Oregano: On the bitter side. Sweeten with honey to taste. Pansies (flowers, leaves) : Flavor ranges from sweet to tart. Parsley: On the bitter side, though Italian parsley is less bitter. Peppermint and other mints: Like you’re drinking an herbal, more subtle Listerine. It sounds gross, but it’s very refreshing and invigorating. Fresh peppermint gives the strongest flavor. Pine needles: Has a fresh, citrusy taste to it. Raspberry leaves: Tastes similar to black tea with a more mild and fruity bent. Rosemary: This tea is said to have a very pine taste to it, very savory. Roses (petals, leaves, rose hips) : Very sweet and aromatic. Sage: A deep, spiced flavor. Very rich. Go light on this one, it can be problematic in large doses. Stinging nettle: Has a grassy taste, but is smooth. Thyme: A sweet and light taste. Lemon Verbena: Characterized by a lemony and sweet taste. Violets (flowers, leaves) : Also has a very sweet flavor to it.

Harvesting and drying The National Garden Association has some good tips on harvesting your plants. Try to harvest when plants are in bud; that is when the flavors are supposed to be the most concentrated. Although there’s nothing wrong with just taking the leaves and blossoms of the plant during growing season. You can cut the plant back by two-thirds, as a general rule. If you’d like to dry your herbs for later use, you can simply set them out in a dry area on a tray and turn them twice a day until dry. If you want to go for a more speedy approach, Gardening Know How recommends putting a single layer of herbs in a food dehydrator or nuking them in the microwave. For the microwave, dry in short intervals of less than a minute. Don’t leave the plant unattended or you will burn it. Place the herbs on a paper towel and leave the door open between heating sessions to let the moisture escape.

Use caution As you can see, you can find a lot of these herbs right in your pantry, and they are extremely easy to grow in a garden, whether outside or in a container. As a word of caution, however: Make sure to research a plant before consumption. Don’t just go throwing nature into a pot and assume it’s good for you. The herbs above are well-known edible plants, but for instance, even sage comes with the warning to not consume it in large doses over an extended period of time. You may have also heard about the striking benefits of herbal tea for every ailment under the sun. Most of those fall into the realm of folk medicine and have not been verified with studies. Even green tea, nature’s proposed panacea, has the verdict out on a lot of treatments, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Tread lightly and consult a doctor before using natural teas for medicinal reasons.