by Andrea Knepper, Extension Master Gardener, University of Vermont
BOLTON – Herbs are attractive in the garden, easy to grow and a pleasure to use. Many common herbs can also be brewed into herbal teas.
Chamomile is one of the most popular herbal teas and is easy to grow in the garden. Choose German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), which is less bitter than its relative, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
Sow seeds, pressing gently into the surface, about four weeks before the last frost. Chamomile reseeds readily, so you can expect your patch to return every year. Harvest the flowers when they are nearly in full bloom.
Dry the flowers by spreading them on a tray or in a dehydrator. Then steep one to two teaspoons in hot water for a soothing herbal tea.
An herb you may already have in your garden that makes a lovely tea is lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus). It is a perennial in many Vermont locations as it is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9. Look for plants at your local garden center as this herb can be difficult to start from seed.
Harvest five- to six-inch long stems, tie them together and hang them to dry. When ready to consume, steep one or two stems in hot water. This herb is very flavorful, so experiment to find your preferred strength.
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a short-lived perennial that is loved by pollinators, especially bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The seeds need cold stratification and light to germinate.
Sow the seeds about four weeks before the last frost, lightly pressing them into the soil. Harvest the licorice-scented leaves after the flowers have bloomed and then dry in a dehydrator. Or cut stems, secure them in a bundle and hang them upside down to dry. Brew tea by steeping two to three teaspoons of dried leaves in hot water.
If you prefer your tea with an added sweetener, try growing stevia (Stevia rebaudiana). Stevia can be difficult to start from seed, so check with your local garden center for a plant. Both fresh and dried stevia leaves can be enjoyed in your teas.
Harvest leaves when the plant reaches about eight inches tall and before it blooms. Stems can be trimmed, secured together and hung to dry. Stevia leaves are significantly sweeter than granulated sugar, so experiment with the quantity to find your desired sweetness.
Perhaps the most versatile herb you can grow for herbal teas is tulsi, sometimes known as holy basil. Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is an herb native to India that is well known for its delicious flavor and adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are plants that promote overall wellbeing by helping your body respond to tiredness, stress and anxiety.
Tulsi is easy to start from seed. Seeds can be started indoors about four weeks before the last frost and transplanted or direct seeded in the garden after all danger of frost has passed.
Begin harvesting tulsi when the plant starts to develop flowers. Trim stems above a growth node, bundle them together and hang them to dry. Tulsi tea is delicious when brewed on its own or blended with other herbs to suit your taste.
View additional resources on growing and using herbs at uvm.edu/extension/mastergardener/gardening-resources.
[Andrea Knepper is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from Bolton.]