Herbs for Teas

| June/July 1998

  • Teas to please: Choose your flavors, right from the garden and kitchen cupboard.
    Illustration by Susan Strawn Bailey
  • Teas to please: Choose your flavors, right from the garden and kitchen cupboard.
    Photograph by Joe Coca
  • Bee balm
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • German chamomile
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • Anise hyssop
    Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • Teas to please: Choose your flavors, right from the garden and kitchen cupboard.

Fruity, spicy, or aromatic, herbal teas warm the body and soothe the spirit. About ten years ago, I turned to herbal teas when drinking even modest amounts of coffee began to make me twitch. My wake-up call became a bold cup of Red Zinger, which finessed rather than ­jolted me into the day. Since then, I’ve made the easy, economical, and enjoyable transition from buying herb tea to growing my own.

Many of the best tea herbs, such as bee balm, mints, German chamomile, anise hyssop, and lemon balm, are also beautiful garden plants. Tending a bed or border devoted to these herbs can be as calming and soothing after a stressful day as a cup of the steaming brew or a tall glass of iced tea made from their leaves and flowers.

Growing your own tea herbs, you’re in charge of quality control. You can harvest the leaves when they’re at their peak of flavor, usually just as they come into flower. Many tea herbs can be dried for winter use; storing them in closed jars in a cool, dark place guards against flavor loss. By growing your own, you also can ensure that they haven’t been treated with toxic chemicals or adulterated with flavorless or inedible weeds.

Indispensable Tea Herbs

I like herbal teas that smell intriguing and taste as good as their fragrance promises. The following herbs, which grow well throughout much of the United States, are some of the best for both flavor and fragrance. Separately or in combination, they yield a bevy of delightful beverages.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

If you like licorice, you’ll love anise hyssop’s fresh, eye-opening flavor and fragrance; good by itself, it’s even better when blended with peppermint. Anise hyssop is a graceful vase-shaped perennial that grows 3 feet or taller and blooms the first year from seed. Its fat spikes of minute, two-lipped purple-blue flowers bloom from midsummer into fall, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. ‘Alba’ (‘Alabaster’) is a white-flowered cultivar.

Provide full sun and average soil. Sow seeds indoors in the spring or in the garden after the last frost. Whether you buy plants or start them from seed, you’ll have plenty of self-sown seedlings next spring. Easy to recognize by their purplish, licorice-scented leaves, they are easily transplanted.

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