Tea, anyone?
Take advantage of
fresh herbs grown in your garden 



January 22, 2009

By Barb Henry,
Victoria County
Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County
Master Gardener
Photo Credit: BARB HENRY/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Herbal tea is usually made in smaller quantities for a cup or two. Useful brewing equipment includes an infuser ceramic cup with holes in its top, left, a tea cup with a lid, a stainless steel tea ball, a small ceramic tea pot or even one with a built-in infuser. Avoid metallic pots as the herbs can leach out metals from the pot causing contaminating reactions.
Regular teas? Or herbal tisanes? Steep a pot or cup of either, relax and enjoy. On these cooler winter mornings, and evenings, what is more comforting than a fragrant, warming cup of tea?

We are all familiar with the black teas most commonly found on the grocery shelves for these past many years. For a big part of my life, I was not aware that there was any other kind.

Many of us have discovered green tea, which has gained popularity in the last few years. But have you ever added a few freshly-crushed mint leaves to your cup of green tea? Yes, you can buy boxes of green tea bags with mint added, but they do not compare with mint fresh from the garden.

Tea - A Healthy Drink

The health benefits of drinking freshly-brewed green tea (hot or
Photo Credit: www.wikipedia.com
Common flavors like mint, lemon, orange, lavender and rose hips come from plants that can be grown in your own garden. Leaves from the fennel plant also make a stimulating drink.
iced) have been in the news a lot lately. Both black and green teas contain antioxidant flavonoids, which are believed to help remove free radicals from our bodies and strengthens the immune system.

Research has also shown that drinking tea in combination with a prudent diet moderately low in fat and saturated fatty acids, lowers blood lipids, reducing total and LDL cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol. For a full report see the USDA Web site at
www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2003/030930.htm. While both black and green teas contain caffeine, which some people seek and others avoid, both are available decaffeinated.

Tea Plants

Black and green teas both start with the same tea leaves. The difference is in the processing. True tea plants (Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica) grow mostly in the cool, fertile mountainous regions of China, Japan, India, Tibet and Ceylon. To develop "tea" quality leaves, the plants must have the altitude and mist, which provides just the right temperature, humidity and sunlight. Obviously we will not find "tea" plants growing in Victoria County.

There is also a red tea grown in South Africa called rooibos (ROY-boss). It is not from the "tea" plant but from the "red bush" plant and is caffeine free and considered herbal. It contains as many antioxidants as green tea, makes a lovely red beverage and is usually blended rather than pure.

Herbal Teas Just as Good?

The proper word for an herbal infusion is "tisane." In many countries, but not here in the U.S., it is illegal to refer to a product as "tea" if it is made from anything other than the leaves of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). Herbs can be brewed (or infused) and enjoyed alone or mixed with your favorite black or green tea. The aroma alone is often as enjoyable as the beverage.

Spearmint, peppermint, catnip, pennyroyal, bee balm, lemon grass, orange blossom, jasmine blossom, lemon verbena, chamomile, chrysanthemum, hibiscus, lavender, rose petals, rose hips, sage, cardamom, basil and even parsley are just a few of the herbs many of us are growing in our own gardens every year.

Often we fail to take advantage of these as teas (or tisanes). Some are very enjoyable alone, while others mix well. If you grow any of these plants, you may want to experiment and make your own teas from the fresh leaves and flowers. Be sure to use only herbs that have not been treated with pesticides.

Dried fruits and peels can be added for a great taste addition, as can some spices, like cinnamon. A handful of crushed mint leaves makes a delightful pale green tea with a heavenly aroma. Most herbs can be used either fresh or dried.

Most herbal teas contain no caffeine and offer a variety of subtle, healthy benefits. Chamomile and lavender teas are calming, mint teas are stimulating, cardamom sooths the digestion - as does ginger root - and rose hips contain large amounts of vitamin C.

Hibiscus flower is a prominent ingredient in many of the commercially prepared herbal tea blends. A recent report from the Agricultural Research Service, USDA states that "drinking hibiscus tea lowered blood pressures in a test group of hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults over a period of six weeks." Although more research is needed, data supported the idea that drinking hibiscus tea regularly may play a role in controlling blood pressure. To read the whole report, log on to the USDA Web site at
www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/081110.htm

Natural Does NOT Mean Safe

Please remember that plants, and therefore herbal mixtures, should not be considered completely safe just because they are natural.
There are some powerful poisons and pharmaceuticals in the plant world.

Although most herbs are believed to offer healthy benefits, taken in excess they can be detrimental to some individuals.
If you are taking any prescription medication or have food and plant allergies you should consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking more than an occasional cup of any herbal tea.

Now, put your feet up and savor the magical warmth, aroma and taste of a freshly brewed herbal tea. or should I say freshly infused herbal tisane?

Here's to your health.
Photo Credit: BARB HENRY/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Infusers help control steeping time as they allow for the removal of all the herbs or tea leaves from the water when desired.
BREWING HERBAL TEAS (TISANES)

Never use water from the hot water tap due to its lower oxygen levels.

Use water as pure as is available to you; filtered water is good.

Boil water for a short time before pouring because a lengthy boil depletes the oxygen like the water heater does.

Use the right size container with a lid for the amount of tea being brewed.

Preheat teapot and cup with hot water.

Use 3 tsp. of fresh herbs or 1 tsp. of dried herbs per cup, depending on preference. Crush fresh herb leaves to help release the oils and aroma.

Pour full rolling, boiling water over the herbs, but do not actually boil the herbs. (Green teas are the exception as the water should be just below boiling.)

Never stir or disturb the tea while it is steeping: Depending on taste, 5 minutes for herbal teas, 2 minutes for green teas, and 3 to 7 minutes for black teas.

Don't exceed steeping times as this will allow the tannic acids to leach out of the leaves.

Enjoy as brewed, hot or cold, or add a little lemon and honey, stevia, or other sweeteners or sugar to suit your taste.

Source: Barb Henry/Victoria County Master Gardener
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.