I don’t know about you, but as winter drags on and on (it seriously does feel like January 74th), I can’t help but spend the majority of my spare time dreaming up my spring garden. Most winter nights, you can find me with a glass of wine in one hand and a seed catalogue in the other, leafing through all of the colourful pages and fantasizing about the gorgeous varieties of flowers and vegetables I want to grow.
One of the most rewarding and productive parts of my little garden last year were my herb containers, both culinary and medicinal. And the best part about that is that I’ve been enjoying my dried herbs all through the winter, mostly in herbal teas.
Today, I want to share my top 5 must-have plants in my herbal tea garden, and hopefully inspire you to grow something this spring that you can use for months to come.
Top 5 Herbs for your Herbal Tea Garden
It wasn’t until I became a gardener that I fully learned to appreciate real, pure, fragrant lavender – which smells nothing like the synthetic, commercial perfumes that sometimes use the same name. Lavender is well known for its relaxing properties, but did you know that you can also add dried lavender to your favourite tea blend? It adds a delicious floral flavour and a deeply calming aroma.
Lavender can be a bit finicky to start from seed, so I prefer to buy organic starts from my local garden centre. English lavender is my favourite – it attracts beneficial insects to the garden, looks gorgeous whether planted in the ground or in a large pot, and, oh, did I mention the smell?
Harvest your lavender as soon as the tiny purple buds appear, before the flowers open. Closed buds will retain aroma and colour better, and also fall off the stem much easier once dried.
We all know that cats go crazy for catnip – it’s a powerful stimulant for them – but did you know that catnip acts as a moderate sedative for humans? Catnip (also sometimes called catmint) is my personal favourite herb to add to my night time “sleepy” teas. It’s gentle enough that it won’t make you feel overly drowsy, just relaxed and ready for a good night’s rest.
Catnip is extremely easy to start from seed. Follow the directions on your seed packet and harvest the leaves frequently for continuous growth. The leaves can then be dried and stored in an air-tight container for optimal freshness.
Last summer, I had a bit of a love affair with mint. At one point, I was growing peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and strawberry mint. I became obsessed with infusing them into my water during the summer.
There are so many amazing varieties of mint available – both as seeds and as plants at the garden centre. Feel free to experiment with as many varieties as you want – just be sure to keep them in their own container, as mint has a tendency to take over everything in its path!
Stems can be cut and dried as often as needed. Store the leaves in an air-tight container and enjoy the comforting, minty freshness well into the winter months.
I began drinking a lot of chamomile tea a few years ago to aid in the management of my anxiety, but, like so many other things, I didn’t fully appreciate these incredible little flowers until I began to grow them myself. A fresh chamomile flower smells like crisp, sweet apples, and there is absolutely no comparison to store-bought teas.
Chamomile is a totally fool-proof annual that grows well in most conditions. I had a small window box full of it last summer on my back fence, and I was harvesting about 1/4 cup of mature flowers every single day at the height of the summer. It was unbelievable.
Once flowers begin to appear, they can be pinched off, or cut off at the stem – whichever you prefer. Once dried, they will still smell like fresh apples, and you won’t believe the taste when you steep these whole flowers in hot water.
5. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm makes a fantastic base for almost any herbal tea. Its mild, citrusy flavour lends itself well to most other herbs, and its uplifting, calming effects are a welcome addition to whatever you’re in the mood for. It’s also flavourful enough to stand on its own as a herbal tea if you’re after something simple.
Easy to grow from seed, lemon balm grows beautifully in containers and thrives in part to full sun. Harvest, dry and store lemon balm much the same way you would mint or catnip.
Herb Storage Tips
Label, label, label!
You may think you’ll be able to remember what’s what based solely on appearance or aroma, but you’d be surprised how similar some herbs can seem when they’re just crusty, dry leaves. Labeling everything you harvest and store from your garden is a really good habit to practice.
Ensure dryness before storing.
Most herbs should be dry enough that they crack / crumble when bent in half. Herbs with residual moisture are susceptible to mould, and nobody wants a mouldy tea. I like to use my Nesco Dehydrator, but herbs can also be dried by hanging or spreading out in the sun.
Mason jars = life.
Whether you’re an urban gardener or a full-on homesteader, soon enough you will realize that mason jars are the best way to store pretty much everything in your kitchen. They’re see-through, air-tight, and come in a variety of sizes – you can never have too many mason jars.
Store whole when possible.
Storing whole, intact leaves will preserve freshness, flavour, and seal in every last bit of those aromatic and medicinal oils that the plants hold. If space is an issue, the dried leaves can be crushed and stored, but I personally prefer to crush them up right before I use them for maximum quality.
Growing your own Herbal Tea Garden is just as easy as it is rewarding. I hope this post has inspired you to add some new herbs to your garden this spring!
What are your favourite herbs to grow in your garden? Any that I missed? Let me know in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook or Instagram.