August 2013
The Herb Farm

A Few Herbs For Teas

Dried blackberry leaves steeped with stevia and dried lime peel make a relaxing evening tea.  

Experimentation is how discoveries are made and experimentation is how I have discovered what tastes good to me and what does not. Some things I truly enjoy in the hot summertime are iced tea in the afternoons and hot tea before bedtime.

Among my herbal tea leaf stock are many I grow right here on the farm.

Harvest while they are in season and be sure to get enough to offer friends when they come to visit.

Blackberry leaves are best harvested in late July to early September. Pick the leaf clusters from the primocanes as the floricane leaves tend to be a little too bitter for my taste. Immediately wash the leaves to remove any creatures or eggs and such. Pat the leaves dry with a lint-free cloth then place them in paper bags to dry. It is best to use large grocery-type paper bags. Don’t fill the bags completely and certainly don’t pack the leaves tightly -- about one-forth full is enough. Close the bag by folding the open end two or three times, leaving airspace above the leaves. Place in a cool, dry space to dry. Every few days, pick up the bag and shake it to tumble the leaves. After the leaves are dry, lightly crush them by hand and place them into an opaque container with a tight seal to keep out moisture.

    I use pineapple sage in teas, ice cream and baking cookies. The added benefit to growing this is the clusters of tubular red blooms that attract hummingbirds.

Sassafras tea is usually made from bark and roots, which I do from time to time, but sassafras leaves are also very tasty when dried and steeped as a tea. Harvest your sassafras leaves (for tea and file’) right now. Harvest the roots and bark in January. Take only the leaves that are whole and not rolled up by butterfly larvae. The Spicebush swallowtail, one of nature’s beauties, uses sassafras as its host plant.

After harvesting the sassafras leaves, wash them promptly, pat them dry then remove the leaf stems. Place them into paper bags and dry them the same as you did your blackberry leaves.

Bee balm or Bergamot (Monardadidyma) makes a tasty aromatic tea and is so easy to grow in the South. Harvest plenty of leaves now while the plants are actively growing and use the same drying and storage methods as previously mentioned. Fresh leaves can also be used, so use them while available, but dry some for later.

Pineapple sage (Salviaelegans) is a favorite of mine and it is harvested for recipes other than teas. But the harvesting method is slightly different than the other herbs that I have mentioned. The leaves of this salvia are more fleshy and might tend to spoil during the drying process. Air circulation is important to keep fungi from attacking your drying leaves. Harvest pineapple sage in stalks. Avoid the blooming stalks. Wash your harvest and tie the stalks together. Hang them in a warm, dust-free environment with good air circulation. Crush the dried leaves and store them in airtight containers.

Add Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) holly leaves for a caffeine kick to any tea.  

Pineapple mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, peppermint, catnip, Kentucky Colonel mint and many other mints are great dried, but much better when they are used fresh. They are popular for mixing with other teas or alone. They make great flavored waters, too.

Lemons? I’ve got some lemon herbs that make tasty teas!

I harvest lemon balm, lemon grass and lemon verbena, and dry them to keep a good supply; but I also use them fresh while they are in season.

Dried citrus peel teas are tasty, too. Save your lime, orange, lemon, satsuma and grapefruit peels. Remove as much of the pith as you can and cut into strips. Dry the strips in a food dehydrator or in a low temperature oven. When they are completely dry, chop or mince the peels and store for use in teas, baked goods or countless other culinary delights.

Sweeten it with stevia! Harvest the leaves to use fresh for infused sweetening. Stevia leaves are also sweet after drying. Treat them the same as the pineapple sage and hang the stalks in a warm, well-ventilated area to dry. Pulverize the leaves after drying then store in an airtight container.

To keep the powdered stevia completely dry, place a food-safe desiccant pouch in the container and place it in the refrigerator. If you don’t have a food-safe desiccant pouch, make one. Place a tablespoon of plain white rice on a 2 x 3-inch section of coffee filter paper, fold in half and stitch it closed. Place that in the container of stevia powder.

Sometimes a herbal tea needs a little kick! Your tea cabinet isn’t complete without leaves containing caffeine. Yaupon holly (Ilexvomitoria) leaves make a delicious black tea or additive to other teas for a caffeine boost.

Simply harvest the Yaupon leaves from bushes that have not been treated with pesticides that are not food safe. Wash the leaves and parch them in a low temperature oven then store them in an airtight container. Summer or winter, Yaupon tea really gets me going!

Gotta run, folks. It’s tea time!

We’ll see you next month.

Until then watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

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As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.