Savoring Summer Iced Teas

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The garden’s bounty yields myriad possibilities for iced tea, including roses, hibiscus, parsley, sage, basil, lavender, and bee balm.
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Rose petal iced tea, served with scones and rose hip jam, makes a refreshing late-summer afternoon treat.
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Herbal tea recipes:

When winter’s winds are howling and snow piles
up at the door, we don’t hesitate to make a steaming cup of herbal
tea to warm our spirits. For many people, summer’s hot, humid days
instill a desire for its equivalent: a cooling glass of iced herbal
tea. Creating herbal iced teas is no more difficult than preparing
hot ones. It’s just a matter of brewing and chilling a
double-strength hot tea or steeping herbs in water for several
hours in the refrigerator.

With the summer garden at its peak, there are plenty of fresh
herbs to choose from to make iced tea. Some herbs immediately
spring to mind: the mints, lemon balm, and lemon ­verbena. There
certainly are others, including some of the familiar culinary
herbs, that provide cooling refreshment as the temperatures soar
(or even as they subside).

Mint is an obvious choice. The Roman naturalist Pliny wrote that
“the very smell of it reanimates the spirit.” Drinking mint tea is
reputed to improve one’s mood, relax the nerves, and calm the
digestive system. Peppermints, spearmints, and fruit-flavored mints
all can be used to make delicious, refreshing iced teas, but dozens
of cultivars in each category are available. To make choosing among
them even more difficult, flavor can vary from plant to plant: your
neighbor’s orange mint may yield a tea that tastes quite different
from the tea you make from your own plants.

Pungent bee balm (Monarda didyma) and hyssop (Hyssopus
officinalis
), both members of the mint family, add depth to a mint
tea, and their lovely flowers make a delightful garnish to a frosty
glass.

The spicy undertones of basil (Ocimum spp.) lend this mint
relative to tea making, whether you use the cinnamon and lemon
varieties or one of the others. Herbalists recommend basil tea for
relieving headaches, indigestion, anxiety, and ­exhaustion. Put a
handful of fresh basil sprigs in a mesh bag and steep it in your
bathwater. Now get in. Inhale deeply. Relax.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), with spikes of
lavender-blue flowers in late summer, tastes of anise and mint.
Although aniseed from anise (Pimpinella anisum), brewed with milk
makes a good hot drink, anise hyssop, sweet ­cicely (Myrrhis
odorata
), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and licorice (Glycyrrhiza
glabra
) bring a stronger anise flavor to chilled teas.

Lemon herbs make excellent summertime beverages. Lemon balm
(Melissa officinalis), lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), and lemon
verbena (Aloysia triphylla) have a reputation as relaxants. The
last of these needs only a brief steeping to yield its rich flavor.
Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) adds richness to a lemon-herb
blend and may also relieve sinus congestion. Lemon basil (Ocimum
americanum
and O. basilicum cultivars) offers yet another version
of lemon flavor. Use the lemon herbs separately, in combination, or
with other herbs.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), with its pinelike scent and
flavor, may not have occurred to you as a tea herb, but it is
stimulating and may relieve sinus congestion caused by allergies.
Use just a bit–it’s strong–and sweeten with a little honey. Freeze
some of the flowers in ice cubes to decorate your drinks. They have
a very delicate rosemary flavor.

Garden sage (Salvia officinalis) need not be restricted to
poultry stuffing. Fresh sage leaves have a pleasanter, less
camphoraceous flavor than dried ones, and their lemony undertones
suggest combining them with other lemon herbs. In fruit sage (S.
dorisiana
) and pineapple sage (S. elegans), fruity ­flavors
predominate, making them excellent tea herbs. The flowers of any
culinary sage are beautiful frozen in ice cubes.

Thyme (Thymus spp.) has the ability to blend flavors not only in
cooked foods but also in tea. That spicy quality enhances a blend
of herbs, but it’s also good on its own. The lemon thymes are
especially flavorful. Thyme iced tea has been used to relieve
coughs. Sweetened with honey, it is even more soothing.

Marjoram (Origanum majorana) and summer savory (Satureja
hortensis
) both have a tangy but mellow sweet flavor that combines
the flavors of rosemary, thyme, and sage.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) provides abundant quantities of
vitamins A, B, C, and K and freshens your breath as well.

The sky blue flowers of borage (Bo­rago officinalis) are well
known as a garnish for cold drinks or as a center for ice cubes,
but the leaves are also useful in iced drinks. Their cucumberlike
flavor seasons wine-based Pimm’s Cup (see the recipe above) and a
sangria-like drink the English call “claret cup.” Salad burnet
(Sanguisorba minor) is another “cucumber” herb that may be used for
tea.

Bold and dramatic in the garden, angelica (Angelica
archangelica
) tastes like black tea with a hint of celery. A tea
made from the leaves relieves coughs and indigestion. Try serving a
glass of iced angelica tea with a slice of rhubarb pie flavored
with angelica.

No discussion of iced herbal teas should fail to include ginger
(Zingiber officinale). More refreshing than any commercial ginger
ale is an iced tea made by steeping fresh gingerroot in boiling
water and sweetening it with a bit of honey. Chill the mixture and
add a splash of sparkling water just before serving over ice. As an
extra treat, serve this iced drink with sugar cookies studded with
bits of crystallized ginger.

The plants that give us blackberries, raspberries (both Rubus
spp.
), and strawberries (Fragaria spp.) also yield leaves with a
long history as tea herbs. Their tangy, fruity, refreshing flavor
is good alone, in combination with each other, and with other
herbs, especially mints or lemon herbs.

Iced teas may also be made from flowers. One of the joys of
summer is the period when elder (Sambucus nigra) bears its frothy
clusters of honey-­scented flowers. The English make a fizzy
­fermented drink from these, but a simple tea is easier to achieve
and still has a delightfully sweet honey flavor. Elder was sacred
to the Scandinavian goddess of love.

The flowers of lavender (Lavandula spp.) produce a sweetly
aromatic tea that seems to lift spirits and ease tensions. Petals
of unsprayed roses (Rosa spp.) provide another exotically flavored
and scented tea. Fragrant red rose petals are considered the best.
Rose petal or rose hip jam on scones would be a fitting
accompaniment to a rose tea. Leaves of rose geranium (Pelargonium
Graveolens Group) combine rose and pungent flavors.

The French have long favored a tisane of honey-scented flowers
of linden (Tilia spp.), which they call tilleul. The flowers must
be gathered while they are still strongly fragrant. Linden trees
are attractive landscape specimens that withstand city
conditions.

The flowers of various members of the mallow family provide
another source for iced teas. Perhaps the most widely used is
roselle, or Jamaica sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a woody shrub
native to tropical Asia. Its calyces yield a cooling, astringent
reddish tea that is high in vitamin C. The petals of Chinese
hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis), hollyhock (Alcea rosea), and musk
mallow (Abelmoschus moschatus) all produce tangy, refreshing
teas.

Maggie Oster, who has an ever-expanding herb garden and has
written several books on herbs, was awarded a Certificate of
Achievement from the Herb Society of America in June.

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