As most of you know or may have guessed, I’m a tea addict so I’m always trying new combinations of herbs for tea blends. Actually, my entire passion for herbs began with tea herbs when I impulsively picked up a copy of Adelma Simmon’s book “Herb Gardens of Delight” way back in the early 60’s. At the time, I was living in a city apartment and didn’t even have a garden, but that’s the way many dreams begin. If you can find a copy, get one! After reading the chapter on herbal teas, a concept totally unfamiliar to me since I’d only heard of “Lipton,” I ordered 4 plants from Adelma’s famous Connecticut herb farm, “Caprilands.” Rober’s lemon rose scented geranium, lemon verbena, lemon thyme and orange mint were my first herb garden, kept in pots on a city windowsill and they are still mandatory in my herb garden today. This massive lemon verbena is actually a descendant of that original plant from Adelma. When it gets too big for me to drag back and forth indoors for the winter and out for the summer, I take new cuttings. This orange mint is also a descendant of those original four plants. The very first tea I ever blended was Adelma’s recipe for “Orange Mint Tea” and it still remains one of my very favorites. The recipe is simple: 1 qt. dried orange mint, the grated and dried rind of one orange and 1 lemon, 8 tsp. of black or green tea, 1 tsp. ground cloves, 1 cup dried calendula petals. It’s delicious, although not caffeine-free. Orange mint does not taste like the citrus, but like bergamot. It is a true mint, however, not a fruit or a monarda. There are so very many mints (I once had 37 different ones!) that just mint teas and blends could fill a book! Now I constrain myself to the must-have mints: orange, lime, apple, peppermint and spearmint. Any scented geranium can be used for tea, but I prefer the rose, lime or lemon scents and Rober’s Lemon Rose (shown just above) is my absolute favorite. I simply drop a small leaf in a cup of green tea, quickly top it with a saucer and let it steep for 2 minutes. Done! Bigger leaves go into a teapot when I’m brewing more than one cup. Sweeten with a bit of honey if you must, but I prefer it plain. Another of my favorite teas is elderflower with a lime scented geranium. It’s almost like a warm, non-alcoholic Hugo! And if you like lemon, get a Mabel Grey scented geranium. It’s heavenly. Scented geranium leaves can be used fresh or dried, so the plant on my windowsill provides flavor for tea all winter, one way or another. Thyme is a traditional medicinal tea, but I’m not a huge fan of the flavor by itself. However, lemon thyme is entirely acceptable, especially when blended with other lemon-flavored herbs like lemon verbena, lemon balm or lemon grass. A cup in the cold of winter brings back summer memories of lemonade. The thyme in the photo is my favorite, “Lemon Mist” thyme.
Two years ago I purchased a fantastic tea in Germany, “Salbei-Honig-Vanille,” or sage, honey, vanilla. It is my favorite tea now, but I can’t go to Germany every time I want another box. So, I decided to replicate it using 2 c. of my own dried sage leaves, ½ c. honey powder, and snipped vanilla beans. The ingredients really need to age, and shaking every day helps spread the vanilla throughout the sage. If you want it sweeter, use more honey powder. Store it in a cool place, away from light. I use 1 tsp. tea mixture per cup of boiling water. You can see the crumbled sage leaves mixed with the honey powder, and the snipped vanilla beans below left. The finished product and a cup of the tea is on the right.
Sage is an excellent tea herb, known for improving mental ability and good health, especially as one ages. It is an easy-to-grow perennial, requiring only good drainage and lots of sunshine. It can be started quickly from seed, or from cuttings.
The flavor of sage can be strong, so you may prefer to combine it with mints, ginger, or other herbs to balance it for teas. Or, cut it with stinging nettle, lemon grass, raspberry leaves, strawberry leaves, or other mild but healthful herbs. I also like it with elderflower, but then I love elderflower tea by itself or with almost any other herb!
In summertime I just throw herbs in a gallon jar of water to steep as sun tea, but I’m also constantly drying herbs for the winter months. The upcoming cooler months are the perfect time to experiment with new tea blends, so be adventurous. Do keep a record of your trials, so you can duplicate successes, or revise blends to improve the flavor.