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WISDOM FROM THE WILD CHILD GARDEN: JUNE 2024: HERBS FOR THE TEA GARDEN

It can be quite satisfying to sit down and drink a freshly-steeped cup of tea, especially if the tea ingredients are grown right in your own backyard! Herbal teas are a gentle way to include healing herbs in the everyday routine. While they don’t have the potency that other herbal preparations have, teas can be a safe way to consume a little dose of an herb regularly throughout the day, and over a long period of time. This can be beneficial for chronic imbalances or to support more rigorous treatments for health and wellness. Whether you have a small space or large plot of land, a tea garden will always fit.


Why an herbal tea garden? An herbal tea garden is a wonderful accent that can go along with the rest of the garden and bring the joy of fresh herbs that can be used to prepare aromatic, healthy, and tasty herbal teas of different flavors.

 

The Health Benefits of Herbal Tea:

·        Fights colds, flus, infection, and boosts immunity.

·        Improves digestion.

·        Reduces inflammation and lowers blood pressure.

·        Has anti-aging properties and promotes skin health.

·        Relieves stress and anxiety and promotes sleep.

·        Boosts iron in the body and rejuvenates tissue cells.

Choosing Plants for the Herbal Tea Garden: An herbal tea garden is a wonderful accent that can go along with the rest of the garden and bring the joy of fresh herbs that can be used to prepare aromatic, healthy, and tasty herbal teas of different flavors.

 

The local growing zone is 8a, and this zone has a wealth of plants that will thrive in the area, including many hardy herbs that are suitable for a tea garden. Herbs are easy to grow, and many are drought tolerant. Herbs typically do not require heavily nutrient rich soil and are naturally resistant to many insects and diseases.

The Green Tea Plant: Camellia sinensis): is a slow-growing and easily maintained evergreen shrub that grows to 7 feet, is heat and drought tolerant, and can perform well in full sun. It is well suited for growing zones 7-9 and can be grown in cooler climates in a greenhouse. The attractive dense dark-green leaves and blooms make it a good plant for screening, foundation planting, hedge, or an attractive patio or container plant.  For optimal tea production, it is best to prune to 4-5’ just before spring growth to encourage shoots. The small white blossoms attract bees and are mildly resistant to damage by deer.

 

The green tea plant likes well-drained and sandy soil that is on the acidic side. When going the plant in a container, add some sphagnum moss to the potting mix. Allow the plant to grow at least 2 years and at least 4 feet tall before starting to harvest the leaves.

 

Black tea, chai tea, green tea, oolong tea, and white tea can all be harvested from the green tea plant! Each variety has a unique processing protocol.

Black Tea: Black tea has 47 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup. It has many health benefits including antioxidant properties, strengthening the heart, lowering bad cholesterol and blood sugar, improving gut health, and reducing blood pressure and stroke risk.

 

 To process leaves for black tea:

·        Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.

·        Roll and crush the leaves until they start to darken and turn red.

·        Spread them out on a tray.

·        Leave them in a cool location for 2 to 3 days, known as withering.

·        Dry them in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes.

·        Store in an air-tight container.

Chai Tea: is a blend of black tea and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, pepper, and star anise. Chai tea is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a medicinal tea.

 

Chai Tea has 26 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup. Healing properties of chai tea include stimulation of the nervous system, increase in concentration, cardiovascular protection, antiaging, gut health improvement, and antibacterial action.

Green Tea: a variety of black tea in which the fermentation of the leaf is stopped using heat that destroys the oxidizing enzyme, and results in retention of polyphenols that give it a green hue.

 

Green tea has 30-50 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup. It contains a high tannin and antioxidant content, astringent compounds, and antiseptic properties that protect the body from diarrhea, infections, inflammation, and liver issues.

 

To process leaves for green tea:

·        Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.

·        Blot the leaves dry then let them dry in the shade for a few hours.

·        Steam the leaves on the stove for about a minute.

·        For a different flavor, roast leaves in a skillet for 2 minutes.

·        Spread the leaves on a baking sheet.

·        Dry them in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes.

·        Store the dried tea leaves in an air-tight container.

Oolong Tea: a variety of black tea that is semi-oxidized through a process that includes withering the plant under strong sun and oxidizing it before it curls and twists. Flavor can vary from sweet and fruity with honey aroma, or woody and thick with roasted aroma, or green and fresh with complex aroma. 

 

Oolong tea has 10-60 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup. It contains polyphenol antioxidants that help maintain balanced blood sugar, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve brain function.

 

To process leaves for oolong tea:

·        Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.

·        Spread them out on a towel under the sun.

·        Let them wilt for about 45 minutes, known as withering.

·        Bring the leaves inside and let sit at room temperature.

·        Make sure to stir the leaves up every hour.

·        The edges of the leaves will start to turn red as they begin to dry.

·        Spread the leaves on a baking sheet.

·        Dry in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes.

·        Store the dried tea leaves in an air-tight container.

White Tea: a variety of black tea that is harvested in early spring before the fresh buds are fully open, and minimally processed to reduce oxidation and preserve the flavor. This process allows the young leaves to retain their pale silvery color and reveals the tea’s mellow flavor with fruity and floral notes. 

 

White tea has 15-30 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup. It contains polyphenol antioxidants that boost immune function, protect the heart, slow down the aging process, maintain balanced blood sugar, and reduce inflammation.

 

To process leaves for white tea:

·        Harvest 1 bud or 1 leaf and a bud in the morning.

·        Spread on a tray in an area with good air circulation.

·        Let wither 2-3 days or until leaves look dried out.

·        Dry at 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes until crispy.

The Rooibos Tea Plant (Aspalathus linearis): a shrub with needle-like leaves and small yellow flowers that can grow up to 6 feet tall. The rooibos tea plant is a member of the legume family that occurs naturally in the northern Cederberg area of South Africa.

 

Rooibos can be grown from seed and planted in the late summer or spring, or the seeds can be germinated in a greenhouse and planted in the fall season. Seeds need to be scarified by cutting the seed coat using abrasion or thermal stress to encourage germination.

 

Rooibos tea has a sweet, delicate, and earthy flavor. It is caffeine-free and rich in antioxidants that help manage blood sugar, allergies, colic, digestive problems, insomnia, mental health issues, and poor appetite.

Creating herbal tea blends: Herbal tea blends are a fantastic way to combine the synergistic qualities of different medicinal herbs and customizing the formula allows the flexibility to craft combinations that cater to personal nutrition goals and flavor preferences. Additional research may be necessary if addressing specific health concerns, and always consult a qualified medical practitioner in these situations.

 

Method for crafting delicious and nutritive herbal teas: When crafting herbal tea blends for personal use, the most common method used is the three-part method, created by herbalist William LeSassier. This method includes three categories of herbs, each to be added in different quantities. The base herb makes up 70% of the blend, the supporting herb makes up 20% of the blend, and accent herb makes up 10% of the blend. The most common amount crafted is a total of 8-ounces.

 

To brew the blend, bring the tea to a boil, remove from heat and steep for a minimum of 10 minutes. To extract more of the medicinal properties, vitamins, & minerals, infuse overnight.

 

Base Herbs for Tea Blending: start by considering the motivation for creating the herbal tea blend. Choices include supporting the immune system, encouraging a relaxed state of mind, or boosting energy.

 

FOR AN 8-OUNCE TEA BLEND: Use the preferred herb as the base ingredient and add 70% or 5-1/2-ounces to the blend.

 

Be creative! There are many varieties of base herbs that can be used. The possibilities are endless!

 

Base tea herbs include holy basil, oatstraw, peppermint, rosemary, & sage.


Supporting Herbs for Tea Blending: Next, add a supporting herb to the blend for a complementary effect or flavor enhancement.

 

FOR AN 8-OUNCE TEA BLEND: Add 20% or 1- 1/2-ounces of the supporting herb.

 

Examples of supporting tea herbs are cacao, chamomile, hawthorn, lemon balm, licorice, marshmallow, mullein, & thyme.


Accent Herbs for Tea Blending: The final ingredient is an accent herb which adds a pop of flavor and can round out the other two ingredients.

 

FOR AN 8-OUNCE TEA BLEND: Add 10% or 1-ounce of the accent herb.

 

Examples of accent tea herbs are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, lavender, lemon peel, orange peel, & spearmint.


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