by Asha Kreiling:
Did you know that oolong, green, white and black tea are all made from the same plant? The Camellia sinesis plant is actually what defines tea: it is the “tea plant.” Other teas such as herbal varieties are made from brewing various flowers, leaves, seeds and roots, not the Camellia sinesis leaves.
I have been learning about different herbal and medicinal plants that can be used for making tea; with some experimentation, I have discovered some favorites. All of these plants for making tea can be grown at home and may even sprout without you planting them.
Stinging nettle tends to pop up in my garden pots unexpectedly, but I don’t complain, as it makes a delicious nutrient-rich tea. Stinging nettle has high levels of minerals, especially calcium, manganese, iron, potassium, phosphorous, silica, and vitamins A and C. To avoid getting “stung” when harvesting, I wear thick rubber gloves and use scissors to cut the stems. I put them directly into a paper bag to dry. Once dried, the leaves become brittle and are easily crushed for making tea. The stinging hairs on the plant become deactivated after they have been dried or cooked. Like any other tea, stinging nettle tea can be made by pouring boiling water over the leaves and letting them steep for a few minutes before straining the brew. It becomes a greenish color and has a deep plant taste that I really enjoy.
Chamomile is used in herbal medicine for its anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. It also can help as a calming aid for sleep, anxiety, and sore stomach. Easily grown at home, the plant’s flowers should be harvested at their peak and then dried whole. A few teaspoons of these dried flowers can be crumbled and brewed to make tea. Honey or agave can be added for sweetening, but chamomile tea has its own lovely mild flowery taste.
Fennel tea is used medicinally to treat babies with colic or adults with intestinal issues such as bloating or indigestion. I also have found that fennel tea helps me go to sleep. Only the seeds are used for making this tea: about a teaspoon of seeds are needed per cup. I crush the seeds with a mortar and pestle to release their essential oils before brewing. Fennel seed tea has a distinct licorice flavor, which has been said to reduce bad breath!
Lemon Balm is a very fragrant herb with a smell similar to lemony cleaning products. Its leaves make a delicious lemony tea with antispasmodic, antibacterial, antiviral, and calmative properties. I tend to use fresh leaves for making hot tea, but the whole stems can be harvested a few inches from the base of the plant and dried for later use.
Peppermint tea is one of my favorites. I drink it because I love its menthol smell and flavor, but recently I read that it has medicinal benefits for soothing upset stomachs and aiding in digestion. It also is said to ease headaches and stress. Mints can be very invasive plants in the garden, but with container gardening, I haven’t experienced any problems.
Catnip is good for kitties but also makes a wonderful tea for humans. Catnip tea has many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B, and C, calcium, iron, magnesium, and more. With strong calming and sedative properties, it can help relieve stress, anxiety, and insomnia. It is also credited with relieving gastrointestinal issues. The catnip plant propagates on its own very easily and can spread to distant parts of your garden. Both the flowers and the leaves can be used for a pleasant tasting tea.
Dandelions are considered weeds by many, but they are actually highly nutritious plants that can be eaten as food or made into tea. Dandelion leaves and roots contain high levels of vitamins A, C, D, iron, magnesium, potassium, silicon, etc. Dandelion tea is used as a gentle diuretic and for purifying blood, relieving digestive problems, and improving the skin. Check out this site for making dandelion root tea.