From Garden to Teacup
Grow and prepare your own herbs for a delicious home brew.
You can call it tea if you like, but steeping herbs in water to release the essential oils is more properly called a tisane. While an abundance of herbal “teas” are available at supermarkets and specialty tea shops, Central Florida offers the perfect environment for growing your own, something people have been doing for millennia. The roots of the word tisane trace back through French and Latin to ancient Greek.
Plants of the mint family—rosemary, stevia, nettle, hibiscus and dandelion—are only a few of the tisane-worthy herbs that flourish here. “Spearmint, hibiscus and stevia can be grown and dried easily and made into tea,” says Christina Cowherd, owner of Infusion Tea in College Park. The dried herb mixtures offered at her shop are particularly popular with those who want to avoid caffeine. “We offer a Fairytale tea, with nettle, chamomile and lavender that’s so mild it’s suitable for kids at bedtime,” she says.
The small, dense herbs take up little room in a garden plot; they’ll also thrive in a grow box or planter. Even if you lack a green thumb, a pot of spearmint on a sunny windowsill is almost fail-proof—if you remember to water it, says Toni Magnusson-Cooper, owner of Sereniteas & Soothers, and a fourth-generation herbal healer. She sells her herbal mixtures at the Audubon Park Community Market, and is an advocate of herbs in the garden. “If you’re going to spend money on landscaping, why not spend it on healing plants?” she says.
Once you have a lush crop, preparing the leaves is a snap. Young, tender shoots can be nipped off to muddle into a fresh tisane, but drying and storing for future use takes a bit more care. In either case, you should rinse, dry and pick through the leaves first. To ensure the best flavor, harvest in midmorning, after the dew has lifted but before the sun’s heat evaporates the oils.
Drying methods can involve pricey dehydrating equipment, but the easiest way requires only a simple rack, an oven or a refrigerator. Place the leaves in a single layer on a paper-lined tray, and let it sit overnight in your oven (preheat the oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off before popping in the tray). Refrigerator drying takes a couple of days, so clear a space where you can rest the tray on a flat shelf. Herbs also can be tied in small bundles and hung upside down from the ceiling or a wall-mounted drying rack, doing double duty as vintage-cottage décor.
Once the leaves are crisp, the herbs should be stored in labeled, airtight jars. To brew your cuppa, place a few leaves in a mug, add hot water, and delight in your creation. Some tisanes are said to offer medicinal benefits, but all we can promise is the enjoyment of experimenting with mixtures and flavors, and the pleasure of knowing the source of the leaves in your cup.
Six herbs to try in your next pot of tea, and their supposed benefits.
Spearmint: An excellent remedy for reducing nausea and relieving other gastrointestinal issues.
Rosemary: Used for increasing mental alertness and improving blood circulation.
Stevia: A non-caloric, natural sweetener used in place of sugar.
Hibiscus: Helps with reducing blood pressure and controlling cholesterol levels.
Chamomile: Traditionally used to promote relaxation and calm nerves.
Lavender: Perfect for soothing headaches and reducing muscle tension.