Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How-to: Making Herbal Tea

Growing an herb garden is, IMO, one of the best things you can do for yourself in terms of adding a little flavor to your food and drink that you know is safe and allergen free. An unexpected benefit of having numerous fresh herbs is the ability to make some lovely herbal teas.

Now I'll be honest, I'm an herbal tea newbie. This is just not something I've drunk much of, so I don't have any particular expectations. However, I was surprised at not only how easy it is to make herbal tea, but how many herbs can be used in it, including many herbs typically found in even the smallest herb garden.

I'll mention specific herbs to use at the end of this post, but for right now, here's the basics of herbal tea making.

How to make an herbal tea

If you have fresh leaves, you need 3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) of leaves per 1 cup of water
If you have dry leaves, you need 1 teaspoon of dry, crushed leaves per 1 cup of water
EDIT 5/26/14: The '1 cup of water' may be in dispute, for quirky reasons. See my other post on tea for details.

1. Bring the water to a boil in a clean pot or kettle. If you use a pot, I cannot stress enough how clean you want this sucker. I've had dishwasher cleaned pots that, when water was boiled in them, still gave the water a faint odor of what had last been cooked in them. Fish flavored mint tea is just not what you want to take a big drink of. Blech.

2. If you are using fresh herbs, bruise the herbs while the water is boiling - in other words, smush 'em up, rip 'em up, rub them against the side of a bowl with the back of a spoon, whatever. When I am doing this with mint, I just leave the stems on. I'm not sure you can do this with all herbs, but I'm sure you can with some of them.

3. Put the dried herbs or bruised herbs in your serving tea pot or pitcher. When the water has come to a boil, turn off the heat and let it cool just enough so that it's not boiling anymore (no more bubbles). Supposedly, if it's still boiling, it can sometimes destroy some of the oils in the herbs and lessen the flavor. That's what I hear, anyway.

3. Pour the almost-boiling water over the herbs and let it steep (which means to sit there in the hot water so the flavors come out, for all you inexperienced tea makers out there). Most herbs will need 3-5 minutes of steeping, but you can let them steep longer for a stronger flavor. When the tea has finished steeping, strain out the leaves and drink hot or put it in the fridge and drink it cold later. Sweetener and juices (especially citrus) are common additions before drinking.

4. If you are among us 'sweetener challenged' folk, I'd highly recommend growing stevia in your garden if you can. I have used stevia leaves by bruising them and adding them with the tea herbs and it sweetens the tea quite nicely.

As to what herbs you can use? About.com's Gardening section had a great list:

...the following herbs have been brewed for ages:
Basil (Lemon Basil)
Lemon Balm
Lemon Verbena
Mint (Peppermint, Orange Mint)
Rose Hips
Sage (Pineapple Sage)
from http://gardening.about.com/od/herbsspec ... _Herbs.htm

The above webpage has some links to various recipes for some of these teas that might have additions or combinations that are tasty together. I'm kind of curious to try rosemary tea or fennel tea, now. Never even would have thought of it before!

Of all of these, the only tea I've ever made has been mint tea. I tend to let it steep for 10 minutes rather than 5, and that hits the minty level I like. I figure it's better to steep too long than too little, as we can always dilute the tea if it gets too strong.

Anyway, enjoy the tea!

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