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7 easiest tea herbs to grow in your garden (#3 is my favorite)

By chadchaffin | Gardening

Dec 23

Succumbing to the promise of bagged herb tea often leaves me disappointed as the flavour never quite lives up to the scent – or, for that matter, to the blurb on the back of the pack. Homemade herb teas, on the other hand, are a different story. The flavour delivered by freshly picked leaves and flowers is richer and tastier than anything you can buy in the shops, while taste options range from chocolate mint to lemon and full-on liquorice, with many others in between.

As a group, the tea herbs are an easy-going bunch with a preference for a reasonable soil in a well-drained, sunny spot. They are pretty plants, too, pleasing to our eyes and to all manner of beneficial insects, making a tea garden a busy place, buzzing with life. There are dozens of plants to choose from and if you grow a selection of different flavours you can ring the changes, depending on your mood.

Leaves and flowers should be picked early on a fine day when the warmth of the sun has excited the essential oils that give the plants their characteristic scent and flavour. They are usually best enjoyed fresh from the plant; however it is worth drying some, quickly and out of direct sunlight, to keep for winter use.

Seeds can be harvested by cutting the mature flower spike, popping the flowerhead into a paper bag and hanging it upside down until it releases its cargo. Of course, what you grow depends on the flavours you prefer, but don’t be afraid to try something different. Who knows, you may discover a new favourite – and the really good news is, many of these plants look as good as they taste.

  1. Anise (Pimpinella anisum) and dill (Apium graveolens) are 2ft tall annuals with lacy umbels held aloft above ferny foliage. Both dill (yellow flowers) and anise (white  flowers) are grown for their seeds and leaves. Anise has a strong liquorice flavour while dill is fresh and bright.
  2. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, A. rugosa ‘Golden Jubilee’) is simply beautiful: a 4ft tall perennial with a good neat shape that adds a big splash of purple to the tea garden. Worth growing for the flowers alone, it  is for the leaves and stems that the plant is really prized.
  3. Mint (Mentha) is hard to beat for flavour. Apple mint (M. suaveolens) and pineapple mint (M. rotundifolia) add fruity overtones to summer cups, while chocolate mint (M. x piperata ‘Chocolate’) tastes like minty hot chocolate. It can be untidy, but the dark green leaves are pretty and the scent heavenly. Used to flavour sweets and cakes, peppermint (M. x piperata) is lovely alone or added to fruit teas. Like all mints, grow it in bottomless buckets to keep it contained.
  4. Bergamot and lemon bergamot (Monarda didyma, M. citriodora) are my favourite tea plants. At 3ft tall with a long flowering season, they are the stars of the border. Blooms come in shades of red, pink, white and purple, and the spicy leaves have been prized by Native Americans for millennia. They dry beautifully for use in winter cups.
  5. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) makes a deliciously scented, soothing bedtime drink. The plant grows to a rather straggly 2ft, and While it isn’t as pretty as the catmints that have been bred for the border, the scent and flavour are far superior. Pick individual leaves or cut whole stems to use fresh or dry.
  6. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) grows to 2ft and is the archetypal herb tea, with a delicate grassy flavour that goes well with fruity hints. Pick the flowers for drying when the petals have turned back to expose the central cone.
  7. Violets (Viola odorata) have a scent and flavour reminiscent of parma violets. Use the leaves and flowers to make a springtime tonic, or combine with fruity flavours for a refreshing summer tea.
  8. Wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) have tiny fruit that taste like strawberries and toffee. Use the leaves and fruit for a delicate strawberry-flavoured tea.

Others to try

To give height, grow climbers such as roses, blackberries or raspberries (a classic tea herb prized for its leaves). Or add some Eastern spice with a summer jasmine (Jasminum officinale). Also worth including in your mini tea plantation are varieties of lavender and pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) with their bright and spicy petals. Tiny lemon thyme and 2ft tall lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) taste like lemon sherbet, while borage combines well with mint and fruity flavours. And don’t forget liquorice-flavoured fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’), an obvious back-of-the-border choice at 6ft tall.

Credited Elizabeth McCorquodale from Amateur Gardening

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