By Barbara Pleasant, Calmful Living Gardening Editor
During the summer when I’m craving cold deliciousness, herbal iced teas are my go-to thirst quenchers. I love making my own herbal iced teas by jazzing up tea made from packaged tea bags with herbs from the garden.
For a tea to satisfy hot-weather thirst, I like a stout brew with some real flavors behind it. This is hard to achieve working only with garden herbs, but easily done by combining garden-grown mints and other greens with assertive organic herbal teas sold in tea bags. Herb tea blends that provide color and flavor—for example, those that include hibiscus, pomegranate or rooibos—are especially good for combining with fresh herbs from the garden.
Making Your Own Herbal Iced Tea
For containers, I use quart canning jars, which can be reused thousands of times. While the water is heating, I crush, tear and then roll between my hands a handful of herbs I’ve gathered from the garden and rinsed clean. I then put the crushed herbs in the bottom of the jar. I pour only about a half cup of boiling water over the herbs, give the jar a swish, and wait ten seconds or so before pouring in the rest of the water and adding a bag of herb tea. The little waiting period gives the jar time to heat, reducing the risk that it might crack.
Bathing the herbs with hot water twice helps them to release more of their flavor compounds into the tea.
When the jar is cool enough to handle, I pour the tea through a strainer into a clean jar, add a few drops of stevia extract or a spoonful of honey, and put the tea in the fridge. When I remember, I like to make a couple of quarts in the evening so it’s cold and ready the next day.
Great Plants for Garden Teas
Mints lead the parade of garden plants that make good tea better, and several mints are reasonably well behaved in the garden, or you can grow them in containers. Various strains of peppermint (Mentha x piperita), including chocolate mint, are not nearly as invasive as spearmint (M. spicata), which I no longer allow in my garden because of its supernatural ability to spread. As for a great mint to grow in an eye-candy container on the deck or patio, you must try ginger mint (Mentha x gracilis), which has green leaves flecked with gold.
A close cousin to mint, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can make good tea better by introducing complex flavor and healthful antioxidants. Lemon balm may have antiviral properties, and the plants are incredibly easy to grow. All edible herbs deserve consideration. If you like spicy brews, try spiking your teas with a few leaves of basil or sage.
As long as raspberries and roses have been grown organically, you can use their leaves for greening up teas. Edible weeds that you might not really want in your salad, like dandelion and clovers, can become interesting components of garden-grown green teas too.
Experiment with ingredients, and drink up! The only bottle you will need for these thirst-quenchers is a refillable one.
Sources for Mint Plants
Many local greenhouse growers sell multiple mints, or you can order them from a nursery in your region that ships plants, including these:
Fragrant Fields, Dongola, IL
Goodwin Creek Gardens, Williams, OR
Horizon Herbs, Williams, OR
Mountain Valley Growers, Squaw Valley, CA
Pantry Garden Herbs, Cleveland, MO
Richters Herbs, Goodwood, ON
Wildcrafted, Burt, MI
Barbara Pleasant is not just an expert, she’s passionate about everything garden. She’s the author of four books, including Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens and is a contributing editor to Mother Earth News and the Herb Companion magazines. Her work has garnered her multiple awards.