Most people think all teas taste about the same. But then, most people don’t know what it’s like to sit down after supper with a good book and a cup of steaming-hot tea … brewed from fresh-grown herbs!
I began making my own herb teas about two years ago and have since learned that fresh tea blends are about as far removed (taste-wise) from plastic-packaged orange pekoe as homebaked bread is from the store-bought kind. So, if you haven’t yet discovered herb teas for yourself, take it from me: You’re missing out on a real treat!
My favorite tea makin's are alfalfa, lemon balm, mint (all kinds), rose hips, rosemary, and thyme, although zesty, mineral-rich teas can be brewed from almost any edible herb, wild or cultivated. (Note: The key word here is edible. Do NOT brew a tea from any plant that you cannot positively identify as being non-toxic.)
Herbs for tea are not hard to grow. Most do well in a sandy loam fortified with a small amount of compost. (I use a 2:4:1 mix of loam, sand, and sifted compost.) If — like me — you decide to grow some or all of your herbs in pots indoors, you'll want to make sure those containers have holes in their bottoms for good drainage. Or, if you prefer, you can grow your "tea fixin's" right in your vegetable garden. (I've successfully raised thyme, lemon balm, summer savory, catnip, and parsley this way.) In this case, be sure to plant perennial varieties well off to one side so that — come fall — you won't "forget" and plow them under.
Around this time of year, many tea ingredients can be foraged. Here in western Montana, for instance, I go up into the hills every spring to gather wild strawberry, raspberry, and huckleberry leaves, each of which lends a delightful tanginess (not to mention vitamin C) to otherwise-mild tea blends. (An elderly lady I know told me that the pioneers used to dig under the spring snow to obtain wild strawberry leaves. From these leaves the settlers brewed a "spring tonic" that supposedly gave them extra pep!)
I also forage clover blossoms and alfalfa (both of which can be found in fields and along side roads) and wild mint (which often grows around ditchbanks). If you don't know how to identify these or other wild-tea ingredients, ask an old-timer in your area to show you what's what.
One "flavor ingredient" I like to use in my teas is citrus peel. I buy only organically grown grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes for this purpose (since the rinds of the agribiz citrus fruits sold in supermarkets are often coated with pesticides and/or coal tar dyes) ... then — after grating the peel finely I set the tangy tidbits out to dry on paper towels.
The list of possible tea ingredients is very long ( much too long to present in this limited amount of space). Just so you'll have some idea of the possibilities, however, here are a few of the many plant materials you can use to make delicious hot (and cold) teas.