Tea Garden

tea-gardenWhat could be better than a container or garden full of your favorite tea herbs to harvest for year round use? Nothing beats the intense flavor of just picked herbs. It’s easy to have an herb garden, probably the most low care edible garden you can raise. (Recipes below!)

Ingredients

1 catnip* plant
1 lemon balm* plant
1 pineapple mint* plant
1 lemon verbena* plant
1 stevia* plant
1 peppermint plant*
1 spearmint plant*
Planting containers, window box, or small garden plot

*Feel free to substitute other tea herbs based on what you like. Chamomile, bee balm, coriander, and fennel are also commonly found in herbal tea mixtures.

Location

You can plant this garden in a large pot/barrel or directly in the garden. While the perennial herbs can be planted in early spring, the tender perennials (lemon verbena, stevia) should not be planted outdoors until after Western Washington’s last average frost-free date, May 15. Some years, when the spring is particularly cool and wet, it’s best to wait until the first of June.

Whether in a container or garden, all herbs need good light, soil, adequate space, and water. Choose a location that is somewhat flat, has excellent drainage, and receives a minimum of 8-10 hours of full sunlight each day. More is always better. In addition, make sure you have a good source of water nearby. Western Washington summers are often very dry throughout July & August. Your herb garden will likely need a good watering every couple of weeks during the growing season and up to daily watering if they are in containers.

Soil Prep

If you are starting a new, in-ground garden, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested first. Your local conservation district should be able to help you with that task. You can also use raised beds or large pots/barrels. Fill them with clean soil and/or compost for an instant garden.

Mix 3-4 inches of compost into a new garden to improve its overall soil biology and health. If you already have a garden area, be sure to add 1-2 inches of compost each year to maintain soil health.

Fertility

To ensure adequate nutrition for your herbs, broadcast a complete organic fertilizer (available at most garden and nursery centers) to the entire area to be planted. Mix it in well before planting. Herbs use much less fertilizer than other plants. Be sure to follow directions for the product you are using; generally use no more than 1/2 cup per every 10 square feet. If in containers, a couple tablespoons per plant is plenty.

Planting

If growing in-ground, space the herbs up to 24 inches apart. However, when planting in a container or window box, you can reduce that space by half or more. Just be sure to compensate by providing more water and fertilizer over the season.

When planting herbs, be sure to bury the entire rootball, about 1/2 inch deeper than the pots they were in.

Maintenance

Weed, water, and nurture your plants through the summer. Information on growing herbs can be found here. For more information on vegetable gardening, Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington is a great resource from WSU.

Harvest

For best flavor, harvest tea herbs just as they start to flower. Cut them early in the morning after the morning dew has dried. Dry them carefully with low heat, nothing over 90-110 degrees F. When completely dry, store in sealed jars and be sure to label with name and date harvested. Best to use within 1 year.

Picking Fruits and Vegetables provides specifics to look for to harvest each vegetable for best flavor and nutrition.

Tea Recipes

Depending on what you planted, there are plenty of ways to use your tea garden ingredients; here are a few examples to get you going.

Blending and Brewing

In England, a tea with one ingredient is called a simple. Start by sampling some simples and get familiar with the various ingredients you’ve grown. That way, you’ll know if you’re one of a very small percentage of people that may experience a reaction to one of these ingredients.

Once you discover the art of blending, however, you’ll probably prefer the made-to-order tastes and subtle accents you can create. But just as mixing contrasting colors can make a muddy mess, mixing unrelated flavors can be unsatisfying. The trick is to choose one flavor or family of flavors to carry your message. Then, for accent, add small amounts of other herbs or bits of dried fruit or citrus peel, toasted almonds or walnuts, or whole spices. Use about three parts of your dominant ingredient(s) to one part of accent items. Crumble the leaves if necessary to mix evenly, but not enough to go through your strainer or tea ball.

Mint Mania

3 tablespoons peppermint leaves
1 tablespoon catnip leaves
1 tablespoon rose petals
1 tablespoon lemon verbena leaves

Orchard

3 tablespoons chamomile flowers
2 tablespoons lemon verbena leaves
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seed
1 teaspoon snipped dried apricot

Bistro

4 tablespoons toasted sunflower hulls
4 teaspoons fennel seed
4 teaspoons orange rind (colored part only)

Maytime

3 tablespoons chamomile flowers
1 tablespoon bee balm leaves
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons crushed coriander seed
2 teaspoons peppermint leaves

The recipes given here call for dried ingredients and yield six cups of tea. Use one tablespoon of dried herbs per cup, plus one for the pot. For fresh leaves or flowers, triple the amounts (seed measurements don’t change). Pour boiling water over the herbs, cover and let steep for one to three minutes. Herb teas are naturally pale. Sweetening with honey darkens them and adds body. Lemon juice bleaches the color; try rose hips instead. Peppermint, betony, and sunflower teas can take a little milk. Recipes courtesy National Gardening Association.

Washington State University