My love for tea started years ago. When I was a child, my father would brew a strong, milky, sweet tea for both of us. As he was pouring it, he would ask, “One or two teaspoons, Tammy?” My answer was always two, but he asked, nevertheless. The time we spent sipping a cup of tea was our time. We still sit and drink tea together, but today the tea is more likely to be lemon grass or cinnamon. My father asks, “Any sugar, Tammy?” Even though I always reply, “No thanks, Dad. No sugar,” he asks every time.
Now a qualified herbalist and nutritionist, my interest in the therapeutic properties of plants and herbs also started many years ago, when I lived in Lebanon. My newborn baby suffered from colic, and one morning my nosy neighbor heard him screaming. She barged her way into my kitchen–as she always did–with a handful of sweet-smelling seeds. I watched her infuse the seeds and witnessed my first cup of herb tea: aniseed. The tea worked like magic. My son was soon out of his misery and fast asleep.
Nothing gives me more pleasure than passing on my knowledge of my favorite delectable brews. Most of the ingredients in the following recipes are readily available at supermarkets, natural foods stores, or Asian, Indian and Lebanese grocery stores. However, it is well worth it to grow your own herbs. Here are some tips for making your own teas and some of my favorite brew recipes.
Herbal Tea Recipes
• Hawthorn Berry, Lemon Rind and Lime Blossom Tea
• Lemon, Aniseed and Fennel Seed Tea
• Horehound, Mullein and Thyme tea
• Licorice, Ginger and Yarrow Tea
• Sage and Astragalus Tea
• Red Clover, Hops and Black Cohosh Tea
• Lavender and Marshmallow Tea
Harvest the uppermost parts of a plant on a dry day, just after the morning dew has dried and before the heat of the sun, usually between 9 and 10 a.m.
When picking leaves, choose the top leaves on the outside of the bush or plant. They should be fully mature and bright green. Cut stems with sharp scissors or pruners. Strip off strong leaves by running your hand down the stem firmly but gently. For softer leaves, pick one at a time to prevent damage. Flowers are best picked just before or immediately after they begin to bloom.
Roots should be harvested in autumn or winter when the plant has gone dormant. Dig a wide circle around the plant. Then gently remove some of the roots. Don’t harvest more than half the root; that would kill the plant. The exception is dandelion, which tends to multiply voraciously and can be pulled out whole. (See Page 24 for more on dandelions.)
Plants should be dried immediately after picking. Spread the leaves, flowers or roots on a mesh or screen tray so there is plenty of air circulation. Be sure to spread them evenly, as drying them too close together will cause them to mold. Longer-stemmed plants can be cut and tied in bunches, covered with a paper bag, then hung upside down to dry in a dark, open cupboard or well-ventilated shed.
The ideal temperature for drying is 90 degrees. Cover mesh trays with paper at night to prevent insect infestation. Leaves and flowers also can be dried in an oven at 100 degrees.
After drying, plants should retain much of their original color and be dry enough to crackle. This indicates that they have been dried correctly, with minimal loss of essential oils and medicinal value.
Put the herbs in dark, dry, airtight glass containers and store away from heat and light. Label every container with the plant name and date stored. Dried herbs will keep for one to two years. Store them whole and crumble just before making tea or when using in cooking.
Many of the plants used to make tea are hardy and easy to grow. When purchasing plants, make sure you buy the correct species by checking the Latin names. A good pictoral book will help to identify them. Some plants to grow at home include:
• Elder (Sambucus nigra)
• Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
• Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
• Mulberry (Morus nigra)
• Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Plants, Shrubs and Bushes
• Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
• Chamomile, German (Matricaria recutita)
• Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
• Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
• Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
• Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
• Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
• Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacanthoides)
• Juniper (Juniperus communis)
• Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
• Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
• Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
• Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
• Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
• Ribwort (Plantago major)
• Rose (Rosa spp.)
• Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
• Sage (Salvia officinalis)
• Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
• St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
• Sunflower (Helianthus annus)
• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
• Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
• Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Story, recipes and photos (unless otherwise noted) excerpted with permission from Healthy Teas by Tammy Safi, © Lansdowne Publishing, 2002, available in North America through Tuttle Publishing.