Going out to dinner is perhaps the most popular gift given on Mother’s Day. This year, in the face of social distancing restrictions, that may not be a possibility. Why not take the opportunity to think outside the box and give Mom something different, her very own herbal tea garden.
An herbal tea garden can be something as grand as a formal garden plot or as simple as a potted windowsill garden. Herbs are easier to care for than most plants. Many herbs that one can grow for a tea garden are perennial and will return every year making this a gift that keeps on giving.
6 Herbs for tea that grow well in our climate:
Chamomile: Chamomile is a cool season, daisy-like flower that spreads over the ground and can grow up to two feet tall. In my garden I plant chamomile near the end of October and cover if a frost is predicted. Chamomile is an annual but will reseed itself and return when conditions are ideal for it.
To harvest for tea, snip fresh flowers and let them dry in a warm, sunny spot. To make tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of dried flowers and steep for 5 minutes and before straining.
Lavender: Lavender is an herbaceous perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet high in an upright habit. It loves full sun and does not tolerate soggy soil. In our climate English Lavender will give you the best results. When winter freezes strike, lavender should be protected with a cover. Stems will turn woody if Lavender is not pruned regularly after blooming.
To harvest for tea, cut the fresh purple flower spikes as they bloom then wash and hang to dry. Strip the flowers from the stem for storage. To make tea, pour 2 cups of boiling water over 2 tablespoons of dried flowers and let steep for at least 5 minutes before straining.
Lemon Balm: Lemon balm is a low-growing perennial member of the mint family. As with any mint it spreads handily and should be kept in check by vigorous pruning or being confined to its own pot. In the winter it will die back and reappear when temperatures start warming in early spring.
To harvest for tea, cut stalks of Lemon Balm at the base where they meet the plant then wash and hang to dry. Strip the leaves from the stem for storage. Tea can also be brewed from fresh Lemon Balm leaves. To make tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoon fresh or ½ tablespoon dried leaves and steep for at least 15 minutes before straining. Fresh leaves offer a better flavor than dried leaves.
Lemongrass: Lemongrass is a tender perennial that takes on the appearance of tall grass. In our climate it is hard to grow over winter outdoors. I plant it as an annual in my garden but it can be brought indoors for the winter if grown in a pot. When outdoors it prefers full sun and can grow up to 4 feet high.
Lemongrass can be harvested for tea when the green stalks are firm and pale yellow at the bottom. Cut the stalks at their base and trim off the sharp, grassy leaves which are not edible. Lemongrass can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator or cut into pieces and dried. I dry mine by laying them in a single layer on a flat tray in the sun. To make tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 stalks of sliced Lemongrass and steep for 10 to 15 minutes before straining.
Lemon Verbena: Lemon Verbena is a warmth-loving perennial that can grow up to 15 feet tall. It tends to die back in the winter if not protected and comes back when temperatures warm in the spring. Of the three lemony herbs that I have listed, this one has the strongest scent and flavor.
To harvest for tea, pick the leaves as you need them, harvesting the larger leaves from the base of the plant first. Leaves can also be dried by cutting stems at the base and hanging to dry. To make tea, pour 2 cups of boiling water over ½ cup of fresh or ¼ cup of dried leaves and steep for 10 minutes before straining.
Mint: Mint is a perennial that dies back in winter and is one of the first plants to reappear in the spring. Mint can be grown in full sun but benefits from partial shade in the summer. There are large varieties of mint that grow well in our climate including: apple, pineapple, chocolate, spearmint, and peppermint.
My favorite variety to use for tea and to grow in my garden is apple. Its leaves are rounded and have a bit of fuzziness to them. It is a vigorous grower and spreads like most mint. Given its spreading habit it is best to contain it to its own pot.
To harvest, cut sprigs of mint at their base where they meet the ground. Tea can be made from fresh or dried leaves. To dry mint, hang in a warm, shady spot and strip the leaves from the stems after dry to store. To make tea, pour boiling water over 1 cup of fresh or ½ cup of dried leaves and steep for 10 minutes or to taste before straining.
Herbal teas can be enjoyed hot or iced. Different herbs can be mixed together to make new and fun tea blends. For example, when brewed together Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena, and Lemon Grass make a delicious herbal tea with a delightful aroma. To brew tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over equal parts of the dried leaves of each herb and steep for 5 minutes before straining.
What better gift to give to Mom than a gift she can enjoy all year long. With just a little care she will be enjoying her herbal tea garden for many Mother’s Days to come.
Terri Meehan is the Founder of Southern Nevada Gardening Association a regional group. She is a garden mentor and local farmer in Pahrump. Send questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org