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Thursday, August 18, 2016

The herbs I grow, harvest and dry for making tea throughout winter

In summer, I drink my herb tea, iced. But in winter, I love a cup of hot herbal tea, sometimes with fruit or black tea added, sometimes with lemon and honey, and sometimes, just as is. In any case, using the herbs which grow in my own garden saves money in our grocery budget. And, it may have some healing benefits, to boot.

Herbal tea has long been thought to promote good health, and chosen as a good alternative to high caffeine beverages. There is now growing research to support the health claims. An example, sage tea may be beneficial for people with diabetes (study at University of Minho, Portugal, 2006). And this, thyme tea may prevent age-related changes in the brain (study by Youdim and colleagues, published 1999, "Biochemical and Biophysical Research").

Most garden herbs are very high in antioxidants. Using them in cooking is a no-brainer way to add health benefits to our everyday meals. Drinking herbs as tea concentrates our exposure to these benefits. The different herbs each have their unique benefits.

(It should be noted, that you should consult your medical provider before dosing yourself up with any substance, natural or chemical, that would be a change to your ordinary routine. Herbs as teas can be contra-indicated, in some circumstances, such as pregnancy or while taking some prescription meds.)

Some of these herbs, you may not think of to use in tea. Their flavor might be quite pungent, when made strong, but when made as a weak tea, often with a little honey and/or lemon, they are quite delicious, and can fill a medicinal need.

My herbs

These are the herbs that I've harvested from my garden this year. I've included the web address to, for more information on specific herb tea health benefits.

My herbs are grown without pesticides. All I need to do is wash, then dry them. With the smaller-leafed green herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary), I leave the stems on for tea. With the larger-leafed herbs (sage, black currant, lemon balm, mints, basil), I remove the leaves. The larger woodier stems are not as pleasant in tea. With lavender, I also remove the flower buds, and discard the stems. Once dried, I store each herb in its own airtight container.

Thyme tea is an enjoyable beverage in its own right. When blended with honey, ginger, lemon and cinnamon (as in this recipe, here), thyme tea is an excellent beverage for cold and flu season. The key ingredient thymol, as stated above, is known to inhibit age-related changes in the brain (it could possibly help in the prevention of Alzheimer's, researchers are hoping -- current studies going on). In addition, Thyme tea is used in Europe for treatment of bronchitis and coughs.

Rosemary has long been reported to increase memory. Simply inhaling the fragrance of rosemary was said to enhance memory. As a tea, rosemary is believed to be a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body from heart disease and cancer, as well as benefitting digestion, and enhancing cognitive abilities.
Rosemary tea, made with 1 teaspoon herb to 8 ounces of boiled water, and steeped for 5 minutes is refreshing sweetened with honey and a slice of lemon added. The flavor of rosemary also lends itself to combination with black tea and lavender buds.

I have two types of sage in my garden. Common Sage and Golden Variegated Sage. Variegated sage has a milder flavor. So this is the sage I cut for tea. When I make a tea for pleasure, I like it mild (about 1 teaspoon dried sage leaf to 1 cup of boiling water), and a little honey added.
Medicinally, sage has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It's good as a tea or gargle for sore throats.
For a sore throat tea, steep 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon dried sage leaves in not quite boiled water for 10 minutes. Add honey and lemon juice. Strain. Also good for mouth sores.
One of sage teas most interesting uses, could be in helping to manage diabetes. More research needs to be done, but so far, it looks like it lowers blood sugar in mice.

Oregano tea has been in the news recently for its possible effect as a weapon against colon cancer. It's also an antiseptic and may be effective at slowing the growth of malaria and candida -- yeast infections. Taken as a tea, it's pungent and slightly bitter. Best with some sweetening. Use 1 teaspoon dried leaves to 1 cup of almost boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes, then remove leaves and sweeten.

Black Currant
Black currant leaf tea is an anti-viral, and said to help fight influenza. Its also an anti-inflammatory. It could be beneficial to many of the -itis diseases, like hepatitis and arthritis. Made as a tea, I prefer it with a hint of other berry flavor, some orange peel, and a bit of black tea. I like to add a teaspoon of dried cranberries, roughly chopped to 1 teaspoon of dried black currant leaf, a pinch of orange zest, and a small bag of black tea. I steep this tea in a mug of boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain. Black currant tea is one of my favorite herbal teas. I am harvesting as many leaves as my shrubs will produce.

Lemon balm
Lemon balm tea has long been said to be a sleep aid. It helps with relaxation. Lemon balm has calming effects, and may decrease anxiety and improve memory in Alzheimer's patients. As part of the mint family, lemon balm tea is also excellent for upset stomach. As a tea, I like lemon balm with peppermint, lemon and sweetening. I use about 2 teaspoons dried leaves to 1 mug of almost boiling water, and steep 5 minutes.

Everyone knows that peppermint tea is good for upset tummies. But it's also good for increasing mental focus (kids have exams coming up? make them a cup of peppermint tea while they study). In addition, mint is high in menthol, which as most of you know is an ingredient in those decongestant rubs used when you have a cold. Peppermint tea can help break up congestion and is very helpful when you have a cough or head cold. And if this isn't enough to make you want a cup of peppermint tea, its a great all natural breath freshener. I like it just plain.

For drinking hot, I keep all my mints separate. I like them mixed with different ingredients. Spearmint is not as strong as peppermint, and I like it brewed with black tea, then blended with orange juice and a little sugar. Medicinally, spearmint tea is effective with upset stomach. It may also be beneficial in balancing hormones in women, and be useful as an anti-inflammatory.

Pineapple mint
Pineapple mint is my favorite mint to mix with lemon or lime juice and sugar, in a tea. It has a hint of pineapple flavor to it. As with all of the mints, pineapple mint contains Vitamins A & C, as well as traces of manganese, calcium, potassium, copper and iron. And pineapple mint is also good for indigestion and stomach upset.

Lavender tea is another of my favorites. I make it somewhat weak (about 1 tsp. of buds to a mug of water), and drink it plain. It is lightly sweet on its own. It has a nice, clean taste.
Medicinally, lavender tea is good for relaxation, reduction of migraines, and digestive issues.

Sweet basil tea, not to be confused with Holy Basil tea, is often used for headaches, anxiety and digestive issues. The fragrance from the oils in the basil are said to have a calming effect on the body. It's also delicious made as a beverage. 
Brew basil tea, along with a strip of lemon peel and some black tea. Strain and enjoy. Or, try a ginger-basil infusion. Steep 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves with two to three thin slices of fresh ginger, in 6 ounces of boiling water for 5 minutes. Fragrant and warming.

Those are my herbal teas for winter. It's a nice variety. And many of the herbs have practical use in cold and flu season.


  1. Great post! I remember when I was a little girl, picking red raspberry leaves for tea with a family friend. So simple but delicious. I still drink it. It's good for feminine issues, digestive issues, and mouth sores. Have a great day, Lili! Sara :D

    1. Hi Sara,
      I used to drink raspberry leaf tea, too. But I bought it. I'll try my own leaves for that. Thanks for the reminder! One more tea to add. How do you like raspberry leaf tea? Do you add honey?

    2. Since I can't keep berries alive here, I buy mine, too; but I hope to have brambles again in the future.

      I actually love the flavor plain, and if I remember right, it's even pleasanter if they are fresh leaves. I also will drink it room-temp in my water bottle. But I have mixed it with mint, with rose hips, and with ... hmmm, something else I can't remember. It does seem to harmonize well with other herb flavors. A little honey is tasty, but I don't usually sweeten my herb tea unless I specifically want the honey for a therapeutic purpose.

      I do have a question for you, too, though. When you drink lemon balm, have you noticed if you need to keep it from flowering to get the best flavor? I know some plants have tastier greens if you retard their flowering, but I never noticed it to be an issue with mint, raspberry, etc. I have some lemon balm growing right now, and was just wondering to myself about that, since I was thinking a cup of that tea sounded delicious (before you posted this... so great minds think alike!)


      PS... The prove-you're-not-a-robot thing seems harder and harder here all the time! LOL

    3. Sara, with the herbs, when they go to flower, the leaves lose some of their oils, which carry the flavor. I cut back my lemon balm when I see t about to flower, and get a second harvest of good leaves. I do this with herbs for culinary use, too, like oregano and basil. I can get several good harvests in one season this way. But I don't think the tea or herbs taste bad after flowering, just not as intense.
      Sorry about the robot issue!

    4. Thanks, Lili--

      I'd planned to cut my lemon balm before it flowered, but got busy and missed it. I have peppermint, too, so might do a tea with some of both. Should be plenty flavorful!

      No worries about the robot thing, but it's starting to make me feel a little deficient, as I seem to keep "flunking", and having to do it again! LOLOL

      Sara :D

  2. I do love herbs and I used to have a lot of potted herbs in my old home. Now I only have rosemary, basil and cilantro. I am loving all the research you have done. I will try the basil tea and the rosemary tea. Thank you.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Both teas are good, IMO. Some women use rosemary tea as a rinse for their hair, too. It's supposed to boost scalp circulation, decrease dandruff, prevent graying and increase hair production. I may give that a try, myself. I hope you enjoy one of those teas.

    2. Lili, I've also heard that rosemary is supposed to give nice highlights to brunette hair. I've used it as a rinse in the past. Alice, I have not idea if that helps you, or not. :) Best, Sara

    3. I think I recall a brand of shampoo with rosemary for dark hair highlights. I'm going to give this a try. Can't hurt and can only help.

    4. I think what I used to use was a red wine vinegar rinse with rosemary in it. I got the recipe from the old, wonderful book, Cheaper and Better. :) Sara

  3. Great post! So many useful herbs. I just lost my post
    Blackberry leaf tea has many uses. Lots of vitamin c
    good for mouth throat,nursing moms and the list goes on.
    $8.38 on Amazon. I think it grows like weeds in the PNW.
    Lili's handcrafted teas anyone?
    Have a fun day

    1. Hi Patti, thank you for th info on blackberry leaf tea. I'm going to add that one, too. And you're right, it is like a weed, here (all those blackberries I post about come from wild patches). I should include that as a tea in some of my gift baskets this Christmas!! Great idea, Patti!
      I'm going to have a very fun day. One daughter gets to go to the zoo for half a day as a summer fun event through her work, and it's a family day, thing. She gets to bring someone!! Me!! We'll meet up with the other daughter later as she works at the zoo!! Double fun!
      Have a great day, Patti!

    2. That sounds sounds so fun! I haven't been to the zoo in years :) I hope it was a great time with your girls.

    3. We had a lot of fun, Patti! But boy was it ever hot, in the 90s with no air conditioning. The animals all seemed a bit tired from the heat, too. The poor things.

  4. Thank you for such an informative post. I am very ignorant and late to the game using herbs. In fact before we planted our first basil plant last year, my husband argued against growing it. Now, we have that herb in our meals so often, I worried that we may be consuming toxic levels, but a quick research reassured me that I don't need to worry about eating too much basil. However, I know many herbs may be toxic if consumed in large quantities. I read recently about senna plant, and while in small quantities it can help with constipation in larger quantities it can cause liver damage.

    We don't use a variety of herbs in our cooking, in fact the spices on our shelves are probably past the best use date. I still have really old basil in spice jars that I should throw out (compost).

    Have you ever thought about writing a column for a newspaper? I think your blog is so professionally are true to your words about presentation :), and ready for publication!!

    Have a good day!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      There are some herbs that can interact with prescription meds. So it's always good to look into them. And some are not good for pregnant women. But you're right, basil is one of the herbs which are fine to eat in quantity. Often, it's not culinary use that poses a problem, but using distilled oils (where any toxicity would be concentrated) from the herbs, regularly.

      Thank you, YHF. I did write for a paper, years ago. It was a local paper, and my column was once per month. The pay was too low to warrant keeping that job. But I do think about publishing something, sometime, maybe sooner than later. Thank you for your support.

    2. I wish you well, Lili, in all your future endeavors!!

      I just noticed the Amazon links on your web page. If I click on the link and place an order for something OTHER THAN the items shown, will you still earn credit for the order?


    3. Thank you, YHF!

      You know, I have no idea about the Amazon links. Do what fits your needs best. I'll only add links to items that I feel are a good deal, for someone who doesn't have access to high value coupons plus craft supply stores, or even with a coupon, can't beat the Amazon price (the wavy soap cutter is one of those items, I'm wanting to buy). But in any case, you do what works for you, and don't worry about if I get a credit for it. But I thank you for considering me.

    4. I heard, just heard, other blog sites mention that they will receive a percentage (was it 2%?) of sales if it is made through their link. However, their link is usually an Amazon button, although sometimes it is a link to specific items. I know your desire is to help your readers, not to monetize your blog, but those revenues can really add up.


  5. So which herbs taste most like black tea? I have had fresh peppermint tea and I like it, but when I've had commercial herbal teas, they taste sour to me. I don't like sweetened tea. Just wondering if you have recommendations.

    1. Hi Kris,
      while it doesn't taste anything like black tea, lemon balm is mildly lemon-y. If you're a fan of Earl Grey, you might like lavender tea. In fact, I make a mock Earl Grey by using cheap black tea and a few lavender buds. Raspberry leaf tea is astringent like black tea, but also a bit floral, if I recall. Thyme tea is good plain, or with a bit of lemon juice. And black currant leaf is floral, but good, plain. If you're growing any of these herbs, just give them a try and see what you think. I agree that many commercial herb teas have that sour taste. Any of the red-colored ones do. I can't think of the name of that ingredient.


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