If, like us, your goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible, we can recommend you raise these 6 herbs for homegrown herbal teas. We’ve grown these 6 herbs for years and never tire of drinking them. They are as good as store bought herbal teas yet because you can grow them yourself, you are a step closer to independence from the supermarket.
Many of the following herbs are perennials meaning once established, they will come up every year. Although in truth some are only perennials in the deep south of the United States. Lemongrass and Stevia are 2 herbs that are perennials in zone 11. This doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t grow these plants however. We simply have to treat them as annuals and plant them each year. Depending on where you live, you may need to mulch the other perennials to give them winter protection. Here’s our favorite six herbs for homegrown herbal teas.
Six Herbs for Tea
Anise-Hyssop, (which is not to be confused with Anise, or Hyssop both of which are completely different plants), Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Lemongrass, Mint and Stevia are the 6 herbs we routinely grow for tea.
Anise-Hyssop (Latin name Agastache foeniculum) is a perennial in zones 4 through 9. Don’t be confused by the name as it’s completely different from Anise (Latin name Pimpinella anisum) or Hyssop (Latin name Hyssopus officinalis). It’s easily grown from seeds. Tea made from Anise-Hyssop has a subtle licorice flavor. Once the showy purple flowers appear it’s time to begin harvesting and drying for future use but by all means enjoy some of the leaves fresh by brewing up a delicious cup of licorice flavored tea. This brew is slightly sweet on it’s own so in our experience needs little additional sweetener.
Lemon Balm ( Melissa officinalis) is a perennial in zone 5 through 9 but with winter protection can be wintered over in zone 3 based on our experience growing it in northern Maine. It can be grown from seeds. As the name implies, its leaves produce a wonderful lemon flavored tea providing you don’t use too much at a time. Decades ago, when I was new to brewing our homegrown herbal teas, I used far too many leaves per cup of water and ended up with a cup of tea that tasted like lemon Pledge. I didn’t make that mistake a second time.
Chamomile may be either an annual or a perennial depending on which type is grown. We grow Matricaria recutita, an annual that reseeds itself with no help whatsoever from us. In fact it self seeds so readily it may come up all over the herb garden and need to be weeded out of areas where you don’t want it. Chamomile produces an abundance of small daisy like flowers. These flowers are what you are after and that is what you harvest. Picking them is simply a matter of plucking off the flower by pinching at the base of the flower with your thumbnail and index finger. It can be a tedious task if you try to harvest all the flowers so every other day I merely pick the biggest blossoms. The plant produces a copious quantity of blooms for several weeks so the opportunity to harvest is prolonged.
The mint (Mentha) family of herbs is extensive with many flavors available from which to choose. All are perennials and highly invasive meaning they can over run a patch of ground in a few year’s time. We learned this the hard way years ago in Maine where we stuck a small mint root in the herb garden. Within a few years it had taken over to the point where mint was growing everywhere, the area was a mat of roots and I had to use a grubbing tool to break them up for removal. For this reason, we strongly recommend any mint be planted in a location where it won’t matter if it takes over the area. Better yet, grow it in a pot so the roots are contained and can’t spread. While it’s possible to buy seeds for mint, they may not be true to type so it’s best to use cuttings to establish new plants.
Stevia can be grown from seeds. Because it’s naturally sweet we use it mainly as a sugar substitute and add it to other herbs prior to steeping. As little as one leaf can sweeten a pot of tea.
HARVEST AND DRYING
Once any herb begins to flower, it’s time to harvest. To do this I head to the herb garden with my clippers and begin snipping stalks leaving at least ¼ to ⅓ of the plant intact if it’s a perennial to ensure it survives the winter. If the herb is an annual, I cut it off at ground level. If the herbs have been mulched, the harvest may need very little rinsing to remove debris that spattered during rains. Once rinsed, I spin the stalks dry in my salad spinner, arrange the stalks in small bundles, wrap the ends with a rubber band to hold them together, then hang them to air dry. To hang, I use a paperclip that I’ve opened up and insert one end through the rubber band loops and hook the other end of the paperclip over the wires of my drying rack.
Herbs that aren’t completely dry prior to storage are likely to mold so be sure to leave the herbs hanging to dry until they are crisp. At that point strip the leaves off the stems and store them in air tight containers such as glass jars, relegating the stalks to the compost bin. Be sure to label each jar since leaves of several dry herbs tend to look alike.
To dry the Chamomile flowers, I put them in a colander which I set on top of the warming oven of my wood cookstove. This location provides just the right amount of warmth and airflow to ensure rapid drying. Once dry, I store the Chamomile in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
I handle Lemongrass differently than the other herbs. Because it truly looks like long blades of grass, I don’t bother bundling them up for hanging. Instead, once I’ve rinsed and spun the blades dry in my salad spinner, I cut them into 1” pieces, spread them out on a cookie sheet and place the sheet atop the warming oven of my kitchen wood stove until they are dry. The pieces don’t have to be in a single layer but neither should the layer be too thick. A couple of times a day I stir the pieces around and fluff them up to facilitate drying. Store as given above.
USING DRY HERBS FOR TEA
If you’ve never used homegrown herbs for preparing tea before, you may be unsure of how much to use. As a general rule, I’ve found using about 1 teaspoon of dry leaves per cup is a good place to start. If the end product is too weak, use more dry herb next time.
You can prepare your brew in an individual cup or use a tea pot. Either way I suggest using some sort of tea ball to hold the dry leaves so that once steeping is complete, removal of the herb is easy. Pour boiling water over the filled tea ball and wait a few minutes until steeping is complete. Feel free to sweeten to taste with sugar, honey or better yet add a stevia leaf or 2 to your tea ball prior to steeping.
Planting these six herbs for homegrown herbal teas will not only increase your degree of self-reliance but also provide you with many delicious cups of tea.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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