A friend got me a variety of teas from Tea Source last Christmas, and I absolutely fell in love with Evening in Missoula. Since my favorite co-op also sells it, I’ve had it in the house ever since.
But I’ve also gotten much deeper into growing my own teas this year. Last year was the first time I had an herbal tea harvest, and I expanded my operations greatly in 2012:
1 quart each of dried anise hyssop, sage, raspberry leaf, chocolate mint, lemon balm, bee balm, and german chamomile. I will pick more lemon balm and mint before the first frost.
Recipe: Evening in Minneapolis Tea
1 generous pinch each of: anise hyssop, mint, lemon balm, bee balm, and chamomile. Pour boiling water over leaves and steep for a good 5-10 minutes.
The flavor of this tea is more subtle than Evening in Missoula, but then again so is our landscape. I can taste each of the ingredients, but together they combine into a deeply satisfying evening tea.
The deeper I go into back yard foraging, the more exciting it becomes—and I’ve really only scratched the surface this year. The permaculture people are really onto something. The broader implications of growing your own perennial food plants are even more exciting than vegetable gardening, really. If we can get more people growing edible, native plants in their urban and suburban landscapes, well, think of the possibilities for ourselves and our planet. (See how excited I am?!)
So, let’s START with a list of some great [mostly] native perennials that can be used for herbal tea. All titles below link to wikipedia.
Hops: Yes, hops for tea not just beer! Apparently it can relieve insomnia and indigestion. I was wondering if hops tea would taste like beer, but it doesn’t at all. It kinda tastes like snow peas, but not in an unpleasant way. It actually reminds me a bit of bee balm tea (see below).
Mints are probably the most popular herbal tea plant. They are considered invasive, so don’t plant them in full sun unless you want them to take over. But with 100s of varieties, each with a unique and interesting flavor, they’re a great place to start. Just look at the variety of mints available at my favorite plant sale.
Anise Hyssop, like mint, is a member of the Lamiaceae family. Native Americans used it to treat coughs, among other things. It’s my favorite of all the new plants I added this year; the flavor of the tea is like a mild, aromatic licorice.
Lemon Balm is another Lamiaceae member. Alas that it is not native to North America, though it has apparently become widespread. It’s not completely hardy to Minnesota, but will survive with some winter protection such as a nice pile of mulch or snow. It can be used in any application where you’d like some lemon scent or flavor.
Bee Balm is the common name for several different plants (also lamiaceae), but in particular wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa) and scarlet bee balm (monarda didyma) were used traditionally by Native Americans. Both plants are great for supporting pollinators and butterflies. I have wild bergamot in my yard and it makes a very bright, summery tea that is more stimulating than relaxing, in my experience.
Chamomile is two different non-native plants: German chamomile and Roman chamomile. These two are cousins in the Aster family (Asteraceae). I’ve grown both, and found German chamomile easier to grow, though it really does need full sun in order to get a large number of flowers. I’ve read that Roman chamomile has stronger medicinal qualities, and is a true perennial, while German chamomile is technically an annual, though it tends to re-seed itself and come back every year.
The sage commonly grown in herb gardens is Salvia officinalis. We only started making tea with it because we had such an overabundance—one plant really gives you quite a lot. It’s neither native nor hardy to Minnesota, so it must be re-planted every year. I love sage tea in the dead of winter. I’ve never tried to ward off evil with it, but it is delightful as a savory tea or mixed with butter and spread on pork chops.
I have been looking for a local foraging source for rose hips. They are one of the ingredients in Evening in Missoula tea and I believe they might be the magical one. They’re incredibly good for you, but sadly many modern hybrid rose bushes are sterile and don’t ever produce a fruit. Rose hips are easier to find on old rose bushes at your Grandma’s house. Maybe your great-Grandma’s house. They smell AMAZING, and add a nice tart flavor to teas.
I added MN native northern lungwort (mertensia paniculata, a member of the borage family) to my rain garden this year, and apparently the leaves of this pant can also be used in teas which support (surprise!) respiratory function. My plants aren’t big enough to harvest from yet, so I’ll have to report back on this one next year.
Feverfew is related to the chamomiles, and also is not native to North America, but apparently has even stronger medicinal qualities. I’ve never grown it, because it is another pesky full sun plant and I have such limited space for full sun plants. Perhaps next year, though!
This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a start. These are all on my radar. Can you think of any others? Another foraged (but not by me) tea that I’ve fallen in love with is Douglas Fir Tip from Juniper Ridge. We’ve made it a Christmastime tradition, due to the piney scent. Yes, it does taste a bit like drinking a pine tree, but in a really good way. Am I losing it?
Update: How could I forget Raspberry leaf tea? Apparently raspberry leaf tea was traditionally used to support menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. It has an earthy taste, but that depends on how strong you brew it. You may want to add honey.