The recipes below call for both fresh and dried herbs and flowers, but you may use either, substituting two to three times as much fresh for dried. Dried herbs are convenient for making large quantities; store blends in airtight containers away from heat and light. To make these iced teas, refer to “The basics”, below.
A tall, cool glass of herbal iced tea is a fine way to celebrate spring and to quench your thirst during the warm days ahead. Pick a few leaves of mint, lemon balm, sage, or other favorite herb and let them steep in the sun while you work in the garden; when you’re ready for a break, add ice to your tea and drink it down. Whether you prefer tart and lively or subtle and mellow, whether you add herbs to your favorite black tea or brew them straight, herbal iced teas provide a perfect forum for experimenting with the offerings of your garden.
Tea in history
Tea is the second most widely consumed beverage around the world, surpassed only by water. According to Chinese legend, the emperor Shen Nong discovered tea in about 2700 b.c. when a gust of wind blew some tea leaves into a kettle of boiling water. A competing Indian legend credits Siddh¯artha Gautama, founder of Buddhism, with the divine creation of tea. Regardless of its origin, tea (Camellia sinensis) has been cultivated and harvested since at least the fourth century a.d. Tea remained almost exclusively an Asian pleasure until the end of the sixteenth century, when European traders began to travel to Asia and later to the Americas. It became a valued commodity worldwide, and its role in the American Revolution is recorded in history books.
Iced tea’s history is much shorter and far less grand, but its birth illustrates the ingenuity for which Americans are famous. During the sweltering heat of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, one resourceful vendor whose hot tea was not selling well poured the brew over ice and concocted an instant hit that has never lost its popularity.
Today, Americans consume in excess of 33 billion glasses of iced tea per year, and the marketplace has recently seen an increased demand for lower-caffeine alternatives to black tea for summertime thirst quenchers. Almost all U.S. tea manufacturers now turn out herbal tea blends designed to be served over ice, but it’s just as simple–and perhaps more satisfying–to make your own blends using fresh or dried herbs from your garden.
Almost all U.S. tea manufacturers now turn out herbal tea blends designed to be served over ice, but it’s just as simple–and perhaps more satisfying– to make your own blends using fresh or dried herbs from your garden.
Whether you use herbs and spices alone or brew them with black, green, or oolong tea, making herbal iced tea is simple. All you need is a nonreactive pot, good water, your favorite tea herbs, and a glass of ice.
Put a kettle of fresh, cold water on to boil. Place herb leaves or flowers (and tea leaves, if you like) in a tea ball or muslin tea bag. You can also use black or green tea packaged in disposable tea bags. Start with at least 1 heaping teaspoon of dried material (or about 1 tablespoon fresh) per cup of boiling water. To make larger quantities, use at least 11/2 to 2 tablespoons per quart of water or 1/3 to 1/2 cup per gallon of water.
When the water boils, place the tea ball or cloth bag, along with any bags of regular tea, in a teapot and pour the water over them. Steep, covered, for about 5 to 10 minutes, then remove the tea ball or bag(s). (Alternatively, you may brew loose tea herbs in a teapot and strain out the solids after steeping.) Let the tea cool completely before pouring over ice, especially if pouring into a glass pitcher.
All of the recipes given below also can easily be brewed in the sun or made in an automatic iced-tea maker. If sun tea is your preference, simply fill a container with fresh, cold water, toss in the tea herbs, cover, and set the container in a sunny location for a few hours. Automatic iced-tea makers work like a charm for loose herbal tea blends. A coffee filter strains the tea; afterward, just toss it and the spent herbs into the compost pile.
However you prepare your tea and whatever blend you choose, adjust both the quantity of ingredients and the steeping time according to your tastes, but make it a little stronger than you would hot tea because the ice will dilute the flavor.
Be creative and develop your own herb blends to please yourself and your family or experiment with whatever tea herbs are plentiful in your garden. Below is a list of some common herbal ingredients grouped according to flavor. Choose one flavor or group of flavors to dominate, then add flavors from another group as an accent and to add depth to the finished tea. As a general rule, use about three parts of your dominant ingredient(s) to one part of accent herbs. Fruit juices, honey, or sugar may be added after steeping for extra flavor and sweetness.
• Spicy flavors: cloves, cinnamon, allspice, cinnamon basil, aniseed
• Fruity flavors: lemongrass, lemon verbena, citrus zest, chamomile, pineapple sage, lemon thyme, gingerroot, raspberry leaves, lemon basil
• Floral flavors: hibiscus, rose hips, rose petals, lavender, jasmine
• Minty flavors: bee balm, peppermint, spearmint, catnip
• Herbal flavors: rosemary, marjoram, sage, savory, parsley, yarrow, hyssop
Audrey Scano, an assistant editor of The Herb Companion, lives with her husband, two dogs, and a cat in Loveland, Colorado.