Photos: AJ Ragasa (Glasswing)
One of the easiest ways to incorporate more homegrown edibles into your daily diet is to add herbs. We often remember to cook with herbs, but tend to forget that using them in a beverage can be just as rewarding. Besides having amazing scents, herbs have medicinal properties that are sometimes amplified with the addition of hot water.
For centuries, herbalists have been perfecting concoctions of tea blends to cure common ailments. Whether you need help in the digestion department, a little more relaxation or an energizing boost to start your day, there is most likely an herb that can help.
Related: 4 Teas to Try for Better Health
Most herbs can be grown in full or part sun and will need moderately moist soil. The more direct sun they receive, the higher yield of foliage they produce. Herbs can be planted together (with the exception of mint, which will take over a container and should be planted alone).
When harvesting the herbs, make sure to cut the stem rather than just pulling off the leaves. Cut right above the node, where the next leaf starts. Pruning the plant in this way will help maintain a fuller and more compact shape. If the herb is flowering, it's best to harvest before the flowers are fully opened.
Herbs can be used fresh or dried to make tea. Fresh herbs generally have a stronger scent, but are not as potent as dried herbs.
Herbs with thicker, waxier leaves can be dried using simple air-drying method of hanging upside down in a cool, dry room. This usually takes anywhere from one to three weeks.
Herbs with valuable seeds (fennel, coriander, etc.) can be placed in a brown paper bag. As they dry the seeds fall and collect at the bottom of the bag.
Larger, but softer-leafed varieties—like parsley, basil and mint—need to be dried quickly to prevent mold from forming on the leaves. To perform a quick-dry, choose a warm, dry room and place the herbs on a towel on top of a drying rack. Place them in bright light, but avoid direct sun as this will bleach the herbs and cause them to lose flavor. When the herbs are completely dry and crispy, they are ready to use.
Alternatively, herbs can be dried quickly in the oven. Set the oven to the lowest temperature and leave the door open. Place the herbs on a baking sheet and turn them frequently. When the herbs start to turn crispy, remove them from the oven.
Steeping herbs in boiling water (also known as infusing) will produce the strongest tea. Herbs should be steeped for at least 15 minutes and then strained out. The tea can be refrigerated for up to two days without losing its medicinal properties. Fresh herbs require more quantity to bring out the flavor. In general, making tea with fresh herbs requires three times as much as with dried herbs. Most teas are made using 1 teaspoon dried primary herb and ½ teaspoon dried secondary herb per cup.
For extra flavor, consider adding in other ingredients like dried fruit (apples, mangoes, apricots) and spices (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper) or honey for a little sweetness.
Once you gain more experience growing and pairing herb blends, you can think about storage. Glass jars work best because they allow you to see the ingredients and keep them sealed tight. Avoid using plastic because it can affect the taste of the tea.
Dried herbal tea blends make easy and thoughtful gifts. It's a way to share your knowledge of herbal remedies with friends and family and make sure that the edibles you've worked so hard to grow don't go to waste. To fill an 8-oz. jar, you will need 1 cup total of dried herbs. Mix ½ cup of a primary herb with ¼ cup each of two secondary herbs. This makes 24 servings (2 teaspoons per serving).
To make a pretty gift, wrap twine around a storage jar and accent with a bit of fresh or dried herbs. Tie a gift tag on the jar with steeping instructions: Steep 2 teaspoons tea in 8 oz. boiling water for at least 15 minutes. Then strain and enjoy.
Steeping Instructions: For dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon peppermint, ½ teaspoon fennel seeds and ½ teaspoon coriander seeds per cup of tea. (If using fresh herbs, triple the quantities.) Steep for 15 minutes. Strain as needed.
Health Benefits: A perfect blend to sip on after meals, this healthy digestion tea can help soothe your stomach and may reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Peppermint tea can also help boost your memory. (Learn more about why mint is so good for you.)
Steeping Instructions: For dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon lemon verbena, ½ teaspoon lemon thyme and ½ teaspoon lemongrass per cup of tea. (If using fresh herbs, triple the quantities.) Steep for 15 minutes. Strain as needed.
Health Benefits: A great way to add some extra energy into your morning routine, this tea is composed of three different types of lemon-scented herbs. With extra vitamin C and a healthy dose of antioxidants, this tea blend can awaken your senses.
Steeping Instructions: For dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon chamomile, ½ teaspoon lavender and ½ teaspoon mint per cup of tea. (If using fresh herbs, triple the quantities.) Steep for 15 minutes. Strain as needed.
Health Benefits: Sip this soothing tea before bed: the lavender scent alone may lower stress levels and aid in relaxation. Mint is a wonderful stomach soother that can help digestion. Chamomile is good for soothing your stomach, reducing anxiety and improving your sleep.