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ManyTracks Homesteading 
with
Sue Robishaw



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Make Your Own

Herb Teas

Chamomile and Calendula

How-to  ~  Ideas  ~  Inspiration
 From more than thirty years having a good time living a sustainable life
in the northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Over the years I've experimented with various dried things for enjoyable herb teas and have come up with some good tasting basic brews that are easy to make and satisfying to sip. They make great gifts, too.

Drying herbs and plants for tea is easy, fun, and inexpensive. Most of herb teas I use are made from dried leaves or dried flower petals. If it's edible and can be dried it is open to consideration whether garden grown or gathered wild. Of course, I trust you will not gather anything you can't positively identify as edible. (Not sure? Information on edible herbs is plentiful and should not be difficult to track down).

Leaves and flowers are gathered when they are at their peak, mainly mid summer. Morning harvest is best after the evening moisture has dried but before the sun heats things up. I gather a basketful, or maybe small bowl full if it is flowers, and bring them inside to dry.

Some plants are harvested stem and all, tied together and hung in an out of the way place to dry, usually in the back of the house. Others, particularly leaves, are spread on a screen to dry. We have a rack that holds a set of screens and it is full of drying herbs from mid-summer to some time in the fall when they are well dried and I have time to put them away. Flowers are spread on a saucer or plate until dry.

I have also filled a clean pillowcase with a plant and hung that up, or loosely piled stems and leaves in a basket. By summer's end we have drying herbs all over the place, for teas as well as for cooking and medicine.

If you're new to growing, drying and using your own herbs be aware that they're often much stronger than store bought ones. So go lightly when first adding to food and teas, increasing to taste.

Here are some of my favorite teas. I tend toward the simple.

Comfrey leaves make a good base tea. The taste is similar to regular tea and is good by itself. I sometimes add dried flowers (calendula, borage, rose, violet family) to the comfrey. Their flavor is subtle but maybe it's more for aesthetics anyway. I use a glass jar to make my tea in and the dried flower petals are pretty!

Another flavor can be had by adding dried orange peel, cloves and allspice - Homestead Constant Comment tea, and no packaging!

Along a different line, raspberry or strawberry leaves make a mild tea or base for a mixture. With a few chamomile flowers and some dried strawberries it's a very nice, calm tea. Pretty, too. Use a light touch with the chamomile flowers and don't steep for too long - home grown flowers can get inedibly strong if overbrewed.

To dry strawberries I use our late, everbearing crop (since the woodstove is going many days then so they can be dried easily). Slice them onto a pottery plate and set by the heat. When they've started drying, peel them up and turn over. (If you wait too long you have to kind of chisel them off.) Then turn them now and then until dried. Can't say as they're "pretty" in the tea but the flavor is sure nice. You can also dry them in the solar dryer too of course (and if you have enough they're great eaten plain for a snack).

Fireweed leaves make another great base tea. They grow wild in our area and I harvest some each fall for that purpose (though as the ecosystem around us naturally changes I'm finding much less of that plant).

Two of my standard teas are mint and lemon balm. They are both easy to grow (though mint spreads something terrific so either keep it contained or think carefully where you plant it) and they both make good tea. I might include a few clover blossoms or rose hips when I have them. My teas tend to be simple combinations but yours certainly don't have to be.

Your tea pot also can be as fancy or as practical as you enjoy. Mine is simply a jar with a handmade wooden lid (being woodworkers, our lives are full of wooden items and not a bit of shavings and sawdust, too!). The cuff of a worn-out wool sock makes a comfortable and easy cozy. I put some dried herbs or tea mixture in the jar, maybe a tablespoon worth, cover generously with recently boiling water, set the lid on and let steep for a short time. How long is a matter of taste and is best discovered by the maker. Most teas are quite tolerant of flexible time and distracted makers. When ready, I pour through a simple tea strainer into my current favorite hand crafted mug. The wet tea is dumped back in the jar to be used again, and maybe a third time depending on how strong the herbs are and how long I had let it steep. When it runs out of flavor it continues on by being tapped into the compost bucket. A nice long life for a bit of leaf.

You may want to add some honey which seems to enhance some teas, but not too much or you might overwhelm the delicate flavor . However, if you are making a medicinal tea such as yarrow a generous dollop of honey might be quite appreciated, and it adds its own health supporting properties as well.

Making your own herb tea is fun and wonderfully simple. You can stay with a few basics such as plain mint or chamomile, or go crazy experimenting with infinite combinations. So plan to dry, mix, and brew your own. Then settle down in your favorite spot with a wonderful view or reading material and your mug full of your latest aromatic sipping brew -- and join the nonexclusive, open to all, herb tea affectionado club!

* * * * * *

Copyright 1997 - 2009 by Susan Robishaw
 



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updated 04/03/2014

 

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