Just imagine sitting out in the garden on a warm summer evening, enjoying the fragrance of the herbs growing nearby while enjoying a cup of your own herbal tea!
Jen (who is also a medical herbalist), gave a demonstration here at Kings Seeds today on making herbal teas and infusions.
Herbal tea can be a very pleasant, refreshing drink. To make a herbal tea, simply pick the herbs you like, pop them in a cup, teapot or plunger pot and pour boiling water over them. Steep for 5-15 minutes before drinking. If you would like to sweeten your herbal tea, stir in a little honey or sugar. (By the way, the worst herbal tea I ever had was when a kindly non-herbal-tea-drinking-flatmate made me one many years ago and helpfully added milk to it!) Herbal teas can be made with fresh or dried herbs. Use about 1 teaspoon of the dried herb per cup of tea, and about twice as much if using fresh herbs.
A herbal infusion differs from a herbal tea because rather than just being a nice drink, it has medicinal qualities. If you want to benefit from the medicinal properties of your herbs, make an infusion rather than a tea. Dried herbs are recommended for herbal infusions because the process of drying the herb breaks down the cell wall, making the beneficial properties more available. You can dry your own herbs for use throughout the year.
Drink about 3 cups a day of a herbal infusion to reap the benefits. To make a herbal infusion, you will need to use a greater quantity of the herb and steep for much longer - from 20 mins to 4 hours of steeping. A herbal infusion can be kept in the fridge for up to 24 hours after making it - just reheat gently or add a little boiling water to re-warm before drinking if you don't like it cold.
Here is a bit of info about some of the herbs you can grow for making herbal teas and infusions and their properties. This isn't a comprehensive list of herbal teas but just a selection of what you could grow and use. I have just included some common uses for each herb from the information Jen supplied - I'd encourage you to look into each herb further if you would like more detailed information. Jen made all these teas and infusions for us today and we were able to taste them.
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Part used: Flowers - gather then when fully open
Chamomile tea calms the nervous system and promotes sleep. Drink chamomile tea after meals to aid digestion. A stronger infusion can be used as a mouthwash to treat mouth ulcers and gum disease.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Part used: Flowers - collect either the whole flower tops or just the petals, when the flowers are fully open.
Calendula may be used externally where there is inflammation of the skin (whether due to infection or physical damage) - for example bruising, cuts, ulcers, minor burns, oily skin and eczema. Calendula has anti-fungal properties and may be used internally and externally to combat infection.
Bergamot Bee Balm (Bergamot fistulosa)
Part used: Foliage and flowers - collect when the flowers are fully open.
Bergamot Bee Balm contains antibiotic and antiseptic compounds so it can be taken to soothe sore throats and ease symptoms of the common cold.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Part used: Seeds - collect when the seeds are fully ripe and have turned brown.
Dill tea is made from the seeds - use about 1 teaspoon of seeds to make 1 cup of tea. Dill tea aids digestion, relieves flatulence and abdominal cramps and a little dill water is a traditional remedy for colic in children. Chew a few seeds for sweet breath. Dill also promotes healthy hair and nails.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Part used: Roots and leaves are most commonly used. The flowers may be used also. Dig the roots in autumn or spring. Collect the flowers and leaves any time.
Dandelion root improves digestion and is good for relieving constipation. It is also used to ease chronic joint and skin inflammations, high cholesterol, acne, cellulite and obesity. Dandelion leaf is bitter and therefore stimulates digestion. It is a stronger diuretic than the root and contains high levels of potassium. It is used to reduce high blood pressure and is also used for poor circulation, arthritis, gout, and fluid retention. Use a fresh flower infusion externally for oily skin, sunburn and insect bites.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Part used: Leaves - collect any time
Lemongrass tea can be taken as a refreshing drink. A lemongrass infusion is a rich source of vitamin A. It is good for relieving congestion, headaches, fever, stomach aches, digestive problems, flu symptoms and is has mild sedative properties. Cut the leaves into small pieces to make the tea.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Part used: Foliage - pick young shoots when 30cm long - best used fresh.
Lemon Balm is wonderfully calming and is therefore useful for all problems arising from tension and stress. It also supports the digestive system and can be used for infantile colic, the common cold, flu and fevers. As it is externally antiviral, it can be applied to cold sores.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Part used: leaves or aerial parts - collect just before the flowers open.
Peppermint tea can be used as a general aid to digestion. It also eases anxiety and tension and can be used for fevers, flu and colds. Also can be applied externally for itching and inflammatory skin problems.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Part used: aerial parts prior to flowering - collect leaves as the plant comes into flower. Young new growth is soft and not as strongly flavoured as older leaves.
As an astringent, antiseptic and bitter digestive stimulant, sage will restore digestive function. It is a relaxant to the nervous system. Sage helps reduce or stop lactation in breastfeeding mothers. This is a useful herb to treat sore throats, tonsillitis, mouth ulcers and gum disease - use as a gargle for this. Also used when used externally as a strong lotion for skin abrasions.
Thyme (Thymus officinalis)
Part used: leaves and flowering tops - collect as the plant flowers
Thyme oil is strongly antiseptic and is therefore useful for infections. Thyme is an excellent cough remedy and can also be used externally for skin conditions, wounds and fungal infections. Use as a gargle to ease a sore throat.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Part used: aerial parts - the whole of the plant above ground should be gathered when in flower.
Yarrow is used to reduce fevers and may lower blood pressure, improve circulation and reduce palpitations. It stimulates digestions and improves appetite and can be used externally on wounds and ulcers to inhibit bleeding and aid healing.
I would say that the herbal teas and infusions we tried varied in palatability. I was already a fan of lemon balm, chamomile and peppermint tea and lemongrass tea is lovely! Dill Seed tea was a pleasant surprise - it had a lovely flavour! Some infusions don't taste quite so nice - thyme and sage for example - but since there are both strongly antiseptic and good for colds, I'd be willing to try them again. All I can say about yarrow tea is that it is lucky it is good for you. The people who generally like bitter flavours didn't mind it though.
Perhaps during the autumn and winter, you could plan some new herbs you would like to grow next year for your tea garden - in the meantime, we hope you have time this week to sit down and relax with a nice cup of tea!