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Sustainable Life: eight herbal teas to make at home

Mia Swainson

Hold a hot cup of tea in your hands. Take a sip and let it warm your body from the inside.

Tea is a comfort to the soul and making your own herbal tea, straight from the garden is surprisingly simple. Homegrown tea gives you even more reasons to feel good about taking that sip. There are zero food miles and zero waste from your humble brew. To make each tea, take a small handful of leaves, fresh from your garden. Place them in a pot of boiling water and let them steep for 3 – 5 minutes. Take your first sip. Enjoy!

Here are my top eight herbal teas to make and grow at home in Canberra.

Lemon verbena

A rich, lemon flavoured tea. Lemon verbena leaves can be used fresh from the plant or dried. It’s known for being a mild sedative and for help with digestion.

Lemon verbena plants like full sun and rich soil. They’re frost sensitive, so it’s best to grow them in a pot or in a frost-free part of your garden. The plant grows into a small shrub.

Basil

Sweet, aniseed-flavoured tea. Basil comes in many shapes and sizes, all suitable for tea. There’s sweet basil that’s known for its essential role in Italian cooking. Thai basil that helps to create the unique South East Asian flavour. Then there’s India’s holy basil, or Tulsi, scientific name ‘Ocimum sanctum’. Holy basil is known for its role in Ayurvedic medicine, where it’s used to treat a wide variety of conditions from the common cold to digestive complaints. Holy basil is the best-known basil tea.

All of the basils like full sun and rich soil. They’re frost sensitive and turn overnight from lovely leaves into brown shrivelled mess. So, pick your basil before the frost hits and dry it inside for your winter brew.

Mint

Fresh, invigorating and… well, minty. Mint is a classic Moroccan tea. People drink it as a pick-me-up, to sooth an upset stomach and as a cure to bad breath.

There’s quite some diversity in the type of mints available. Think spearmint, Vietnamese mint and classic mint. I’ve found that ‘classic winter mint’, with its dark green leaves produces the best flavoured tea. Mint likes a spot with rich soil and full sun, but it will tolerate part shade. It sets out runners and can take over your garden in the summer time, dying back over the cold Canberra winter. To contain your mint, grow it in a pot or away from your veggie patch.

Lavender

Strong, yet soothing, lavender tea is known for helping you to relax and unwind. The distinctive lavender smell translates into the tea’s sweet flavour.

While different lavender species have a similar smell, their chemical compositions are distinct. Try English lavender for a soothing tea.

Lavender is easy to grow in Canberra. It prefers full sun and rich, well-drained soil; but is will tolerate part-shade and rocky clay soil. It’s not frost sensitive, so grow it anywhere in the garden.

Lemon grass

A zingy lemon tea that takes me to Asia. Lemongrass is used in Asian cooking, so drinking the tea gives me an Asia vibe. In the herbal world it’s known for a vast range of beneficial properties, including lowering cholesterol, improved digestion, healing the common cold and reduced arthritic pain.

Lemongrass grows best in full sun, with rich soil. It’s frost and cold sensitive, so grow it in a pot and bring that pot inside over Canberra’s cold winter.

Bay leaves

The deep, rich flavour of bay leaves makes them the perfect brew following a big meal. Bay leaf tea is known for soothing digestion and improving gut health.

Bay leaves come from a bay tree that can grow up to 5 meters tall. So, if you plant a bay tree, you’ll have tea absolutely any time! You’ll also have bay leaves for cooking and for gifting onto friends. Most people prune their bay trees and use them in hedging or as a topiary garden feature. Bay trees like full sun and rich soil. They’re sensitive to frost, but grow just fine in a frost sheltered garden position or in a pot near your home.

Lemon fruit

A few thick slices of lemon in a large cup of warm water is the way my father starts each day. There’s a zing and a lift from the lemon, a good start to your day’s hydration with the water and warmth that kick starts your body’s day. Lemon tea is known as an excellent detox. There are even celebrity endorsements and a special lemon tea detox diet – lemon tea is famous.

Lemons have been one of the more difficult trees for us to grow in our Canberra garden. They’re frost sensitive and like rich, well-drained soil as well as full sun. For years, our lemons have been confined to pots on the balcony. Finally, after ten years we have two established trees in the garden and a plentiful supply. Lemons fruit throughout the winter time, they’re just coming into season now.

Rosemary

Fresh and stimulating, with depth of flavour, rosemary tea is made with the leaves and twigs, either dried or fresh. Rosemary tea is known for improving circulation.

Rosemary is easy to grow in Canberra gardens. It prefers full sun and rich soil, but will tolerate part-shade and rocky, clay soil. It’s a perennial and is frost tolerant.

If you’re really into tea, experiment with combining your homemade goodness. Try lavender and bay for a strong and soothing combination, mint and lemon verbena for an uplifting tea or lemon rind and rosemary for a rich and zingy mid-morning cuppa. Dried tea leaves make a beautiful gift, especially if you package up the dried tea leaves in a glass jar with ribbon.

Now is a good time to harvest tea leaves. By drying tea leaves now, homegrown tea can give you and your friends warmth from the inside…. all winter long.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author