How to Grow Your Own Tea and Herbal Tea Plants
Do you love tea or herbal tea (called tisanes) but are tired of paying for blends that use substandard herbs and spices? The great news is that you can grow your own terrific-tasting plants year-round. What's more, they are a fraction of the cost of store-bought teas and tisanes. You can also mix your homegrown tea and herbal teas with quality spices that will taste awesome.
Herbal Tea or Tisanes
The correct term for herbal tea is "tisane." The word tea means the tea that is made from the plant camellia sinensis, or the actual tea plant where you get black, green, and oolong varietals from.
Tisanes have an ancient past. They've often been used for medicinal reasons, but many work wonderfully for everyday beverages. The great news is you don't have to get too fancy to enjoy a great cup. There are many different plants that will make excellent tisane, either alone or mixed with other herbs and spices.
Possible Herb Plants for Tisanes
You don't have to grow an entire garden to enjoy your own herbal teas (but you might just do it anyway!). Here are some ideas for herbs and plants that you can grow from seeds or purchase readily from your local nursery:
- Chocolate mint
- Ginger mint
- Strawberry mint
- Lemon balm
- Cinnamon basil
- Lemon thyme
- Wild rose
- Oregon grapes
- Sweet bay laurel
- Cinnamon plants (Cinnamomum verum)
Some of these plants, such as the wild rose and the laurel, require a fair amount of space. Other plants such as rosemary, lemon balm, or any type of mint, will work in container gardens.
You Can Grow Your Own Tea
It may seem strange to consider, but you can grow your own tea trees. I have two tea trees that I purchased from a local nursery. One is a Russia plant and the other is a Korean plant. Both need a fair amount of space and are hardy to 0°F. Because I live in Montana and I can see -20°F or lower, I have them as large container plants that I bring inside in the winter.
One of the amazing things I discovered with my tea plants is that they will blossom between October and January. This is certainly a bonus if you want to use the pedals for tea. So far, I have made oolong and it has turned out very good.
If you purchase a tea tree that has a seed pod or two, hang onto them and plant them when they open. I have a baby tree starting from one that produced a seed, so you can get more tea trees for free.
Plant Your Seeds in Containers for a Container Garden
Even if you don't have a lot of room, you can plant your seeds in a container garden. Use small pots or recycle jars or plastic tubs to grow your herbs. It's pretty simple to start them. Do the following to get a container garden going:
- Fill planter with soil especially made for container gardens. Shake to remove air pockets.
- Moisten with water.
- Follow the directions on the herbal seed packet and plant them.
- Keep soil moist, but not soggy.
When to Pick Your Herbs and Tea Leaves
Depending on the plant, you'll need to plan your harvesting carefully. Here are the general guidelines for harvesting:
- Herbs can be harvested any time they have enough leaves, but it's best to harvest in the late morning or early afternoon after the dew evaporates.
- Harvest only new tea tree leaves and buds to ensure a quality tea.
- Rose hips can only be harvested in the summer or fall when the flowers have produced seed.
- Elderberries are available in the late summer or early fall. You can also pick elderflowers and make tea from those. All other parts of the elder are toxic.
- Laurel leaves can be picked anytime.
- If you get everbearing strawberries, your strawberries will provide fruit and leaves for tisanes throughout the summer.
What kind of teas do you enjoy?
Drying and Storing Your Herbs
When you've gathered enough herbs, you may either use them fresh or dry them. You can dry them in a dehydrator or tie them together in a bundle and hang the herbs upside down someplace warm and dry so they can dry out. If you are drying something like rose hips or seeds like coriander, use a dehydrator or spread them out on a clean screen and let them dry in the sun. Place another screen on top of them to keep bugs away.
When your herbs are dry, untie the bundle and strip the leaves from the stems. Put them in airtight containers for later use. They will stay good for a year.