Tea has existed for thousands of years and continues to be a popular drink around the world. Imagine growing and preparing your own homemade tea from plants you can cultivate in your windowsill or backyard. Homegrown Tea (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014) by Cassie Liversidge offers more than 40 different plant profiles as well as instructions about how to make homemade tea from their leaves, flowers and fruit. Try this homemade strawberry tea recipe from chapter 3, “Fruits.”
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Homegrown Tea.
Strawberries originate from the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), which is native to Eurasia and North America. Humans have been eating strawberries since the Stone Age. They have been cultivated since the sixteenth century and over time we have created bigger, sweeter, and more colorful varieties.
There are hundreds of varieties of strawberries, so choose one suitable to your location and climate. There are three main types: “June-bearing,” “everbearing,” and “day-neutral” varieties. June-bearing, or “summer-bearers,” yield the largest fruits over a short period of time. They are divided further into Early Season, Mid Season, and Late Season. “Everbearing,” “Alpine,” or “Wild” strawberries can produce very small fruit twice a year, once in the spring and again in the late summer. They do not tend to produce runners like the June-bearing varieties. Day-neutral or “perpetual” varieties produce lots of fruit over a long period of warm weather, but the fruit can be smaller than June-bearing varieties. Strawberry leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit can all be used to make tea.
Homegrown strawberries are very nutritious and contain lots of vitamin C, potassium, and calcium. Strawberries are believed to help with fevers, infections, fainting, and depression. They are an antioxidant and can help the liver as well as help alleviate digestive problems.
Grow Strawberries for Homemade Tea
Strawberry seeds can be slow to germinate, so I recommend starting off with small plants. It is ideal to buy your strawberry plants in the early spring so you have the full growing season ahead of you. Don’t plant strawberries where you previously planted potatoes, peppers, or tomatoes, as these can harbor disease within the soil. Strawberries need full sun and well-drained soil. They also need a fairly sheltered position so that bees and insects can easily pollinate the flowers. Mix some homemade compost or other humus into the soil where the strawberries are to be planted. Make a hole and place the plant so that the crown (the part from which the stems are growing) is at the same level as the earth. You can plant in a mound of soil to help raise the crown to the correct level. Use a mulch of straw around the plants, to help prevent slug damage and to keep the fruit clean and dry. Water well, especially when the fruits are ripening. Keep the area around your strawberries free of weeds so they do not take any goodness away from your plants. Strawberries will flower in the spring. If a late spring frost is forecast and your strawberries have flowers on them, place a horticultural fleece or light sheet over the plants for the night. Remove it the next morning or when the frost has passed. If the frost kills the flowers, you will not get any strawberries.
Feed your plants once a month throughout the summer with an organic fertilizer such as seaweed or bonemeal. If birds are stealing your fruit, cover your strawberries with netting. Growing strawberries in containers helps to keep the slugs away. Make sure you fill your container with enough potting soil that the strawberry crown is level with the top of the container, so that when the fruit form they can hang over the edge. They do well in hanging baskets as long as they are given enough water. If you live in a cold climate and the temperature drops below 5 degrees, you should cover your strawberry plants with 4 to 6 inches of straw for the winter. Clear off the straw in the spring so the plants can begin growing again. You are encouraged to remove the first year’s flowers to promote a bumper crop in the second year, but I have never managed to bring myself to do this! Most strawberry plants produce runners or stolons, which are long stems that grow out and away from the plant. New baby plants develop along the runners, and when they come in contact with the earth, roots grow. These can be separated from the parent plant and potted to make new plants. Strawberry plants become less productive as they get older, so you should replace four-year-old plants. Strawberries are susceptible to many pests and diseases such as slugs, leaf blight, and mildew. To help prevent some of these, make sure you choose a more disease-resistant variety to start off with. Mulch around the plants with straw and make sure the plants have good airflow around them, and change their location every few years to prevent the build-up of disease. Keep a close eye on the plants, so you can act quickly if disease is detected.
Pick the strawberries when they are bright red and firm. You can use the young leaves and stems for tea, alongside the fresh fruit. Slice the fruit, leaving the stems on, and tear up some fresh leaves to enjoy a cup of fresh strawberry tea. To be able to have strawberry tea throughout the year, you need to dry the plant. Slice the fruit as thinly as you can and place it on a flat sieve or flexible mesh screen. Keep it somewhere warm until dry. Your room will smell wonderful. If you dry the fruits in a dehydrator, they take about four to five hours to dry completely and will keep a lovely red color. To dry freshly picked leaves, pull them off their stems and wash well. Chop up the leaves and dry them in the air, a dehydrator, or an oven. Store the fruits and leaves separately in sealed glass containers in a dry and dark cupboard until needed.
How to Make Homemade Strawberry Tea
Fill the kettle with fresh water. Bring the water to a boil, then pour some into your teacup or teapot to warm it up. Discard the water. Place four slices of strawberry fruit and a pinch of strawberry leaves and stems into a tea bag or teapot. Pour the boiled water (which should be between 176 to 185 degrees) over the tea and cover with a saucer or a lid. Allow the tea to steep for three minutes. Remove the tea bag or pour the tea from the teapot using a tea strainer and savor the delicious sweet strawberry taste. You can place a strawberry flower or one slice of fruit in the cup to serve. Strawberry tea has a beautiful pale pink color. On a really hot day, you can make strawberry sun tea. Put the fresh fruit and leaves into a mason jar or a jug and fill with cold water. Increase the quantity of fruit and leaves according to the size of your container; I use six strawberries, two leaves, and about 1 quart of water. Cover the jar or jug with a lid to stop insects from flying in. Place outside in direct sunlight for about five hours, depending on the sun’s intensity. The warmth of the sun will bring out the flavor of the fruit. Strain through a jelly bag or fine-mesh sieve into a jug, and refrigerate until chilled. Serve with ice cubes that have strawberries frozen inside and a few strawberry flowers sprinkled on top. This is an impressive and refreshing summer tea.
Strawberry Tea Blends
• Strawberries and mint have always been great partners. Prepare as before, adding a sprig of fresh mint leaves to the cup of strawberry tea. You can leave the mint leaves in the cup as you drink.
• Blend strawberry with hyssop for an antioxidant-boosting tea. Put two or three slices of strawberry, a small pinch of strawberry leaves, and a pinch of hyssop leaves into a tea bag or teapot and steep as before.
• Deer love strawberries, so protect your plants with netting if you need to.
• Warning: Strawberries can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
From Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting, and Blending Teas and Tisanes by Cassie Liversidge. Copyright © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin. Buy this book from our store: Homegrown Tea.