Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Herbal Teas - Winter Harvest

Hot tea, anybody? Not the dry mix that sat in some warehouse and was shipped around the world, packaged and stored, and handled. (Photo left to right: homegrown mint, lemon balm, horsetail, stinging nettle)

Herbs are easy to grow even in smallest of places, and with minimal gardening experience. Planting a batch of herbs makes a good first step in learning to grown your own food. It does not take too many plants to produce enough fresh leaves for herbal teas - even a balcony-sized garden can be quite productive; and those of us with more sizable gardens can produce enough to make fresh aromatic teas that last until the next season. 

The magic of herbal teas is in their gentle medicinal properties - as each one will offer something for the body; cleansing or calming, or aiding digestion, or supporting immune system. Some herbs, like nettle and oats, have so many beneficial properties, that they could be consumed continuously as gentle tonics to multiple body systems. Tea is also an amazing delivery system of minerals that we all need for optimal health. When fresh pot of herbal tea is made, minerals stored in the dry plant tissue become dissolved in water in ionized form. As you drink this aromatic concoction, ionized minerals enter your blood stream straight through your digestive system - and cleanse your blood vessels by interacting with free radicals. People who take mineral supplements as pills would actually get much better results by just drinking fresh herbal teas, as pills don't get absorbed by your body and must travel through your kidneys and liver before some small portion of their contents benefits your organism. 

Of course if  the tea is going directly to your bloodstream, it is essential that said tea is perfectly fresh and chemical-free. While it is possible to buy organic teas at a premium price, they are not necessarily fresh, nor have they been stored in organic warehouses or transported in organic shipping containers. Besides bringing many, many miles to your cup,commercial organic tea may also contain pollutants. There is no match for home-grown herbal tea when it comes to vitality and purity; unless of course you live in a very polluted environment. 

Most herbs are somewhat weedy, requiring simple growing conditions. A sample list of herbs to grow includes:
  • Oat Straw
  • Raspberry Leaf
  • Strawberry Leaf
  • Stinging Nettle Leaf
  • Alfalfa
  • Red Strawberry Clover 
  • Mint
  • Melissa (Lemon Balm)
  •  Lavender                                                        (photo: strawberry patch not only produces berries but also leaves for tea)
Oat straw is best planted from organic whole oats you can buy at the health food store (just a hand-full is enough) for relief from stress and nerves; dental and skeletal support, blood cleansing, endocrine system support, and blood sugar stabilization.  Oat straw is an annual grass, rather lovely (and your cat will be happy to chew on it too) - harvest seed heads when they are still green and milky on the inside. All herbs can be air-dried away from direct sunlight, and stored in glass jars. 

Stinging nettle may take over in some climates, so if growing this herb, choose the location very carefully. Harvest early in the spring to make soups (use like you would use sorrel or spinach)  or to dry for tea - before the flower heads emerge. Nettle helps with skin disorders, supports joints, it cleanses liver and alleviates allergies, treats urinary tract infections and much more. It is full of calcium, beta-carotine, potassium. The life force of this plant makes nettle tea pleasant tasting and very enlivening to the body. It is a great tonic for pregnant women, and women of reproductive age.

Alfalfa benefits your garden as a nitrogen-fixing plant that brings fertility to the soil. Find a source of organic seed (alfalfa is a crop that has been genetically modified at this point, so shop very carefully) - a few plants will produce a lot of biomass and flowers, which is what you will harvest for tea-making. Bloom time is when the harvest takes place. The tea tastes a little buttery and very pleasant; it brings vitamins, amino-acids, protein and minerals to your tea cup and blood stream.

Strawberry clover is a relative of alfalfa, and can be planted in similar fashion around fruit trees or amidst flowers. It is a perennial leafy plant, very lovely and good for the body. Harvest flowers as they emerge and dry, the plant will produce blossoms all season long. 
Raspberry and strawberry leaves are already present in many gardens, but are not viewed as a source of food or medicine. They are good for reproductive system and urinary tract and are full of minerals. Harvest leaves before fruit emerges.  

All herbs can be easily dried on a shaded window sill (I use cookie sheets for drying), or in the oven at the lowest setting (not ideal, but if you must). I dry herbs as they come from the garden, i.e. I don't pick off the leaves or handle plants beyond cutting them and placing on cookie sheets. Once completely dry, the herbs will "shatter" easily, which is when you can rub off dried leaves and separate them from stems in just a few minutes. Mix and match your herbs, and be well!

There are many herbal website, this is one that has a lot of good information on uses of herbs for healing.


cuniconic said...

Hi Arina! wonderful article, I will be planting my tea garden as soon as I can find my way around the city. For now, I am very curious: how safe is it to collect herbs/edibles from the roadside in the urban envrionment? I am thinking dog pee and idling cars, wayward late night drunks (vomit?). It seems like I could be building salads and teas with every morning stroll but I am wondering how and if I can clean these greens?

Arina said...

Not safe as you guessed - I would refine your walking routes to those that have less idling car action; everything else can be considered organic though not very savory. Find some community gardens or see if there is a Urban Harvest-type network in your area - these folks connect gardens with gardeners and harvesters via maps and community announcements.
In an urban environment anything can be polluted just because of air quality. Wash with plenty of water; identify carefully; go for it - I doubt there is much difference between buying produce that was sprayed on purpose vs. produce grown in urban environment. After all, all commercial produce is harvested by tractors and machinery that idles and puts exhaust out directly in the fields, on the plants and fruit. Enjoy.

Max said...

herbs are great medicines for human body and a wonderful way to unlock the medicinal qualities through herbal tea.

ahnn said...

This is wonderful. A great tea from a beautiful plant. It will be very enjoyable to prepare those.

Herbal tea