I have been a keen vegetable gardener for years, but during the pandemic I turned my attention to creating a tea garden. My interest has continued because herbal teas (technically called tisanes) are super tasty, have healing powers, are easy to grow and create a sort of Zen feeling when growing, foraging, preserving, and enjoying.
Tea gardens and even “bartenders’ gardens” are currently on-trend. I started my tea garden with some basics but this year I am eager to learn more and expand. I got in touch with my friend and neighbour Ben Caesar who owns Fiddlehead Nursery outside of Kimberley. His expertise is perennial edibles. While talking with Ben I thought about three ways to approach the tea garden: foraging, perennials, and annuals.
Some of Ben’s picks and suggestions: Common perennial herbs enjoyed for tea include Bee Balm (bergamot), lemon balm, angelica, camomile, anise hyssop, sweet and bronze fennel, sweet Sicily, lavender, and the various mint varieties. Ben loves chocolate mint. I also have spearmint and peppermint which I enjoy in combination as a tea or used for mint jelly. Mint is a vigorous spreader as I’m sure you know, so it is best to create barriers to prevent their spread. I used old paper planting pots buried in the garden. Ben uses aluminum flashing buried vertically to 1 inch above the ground which works very well. Other perennials and annuals such as rosemary, thyme, sage, lemon verbena and coriander are also great additions to teas. And let’s not forget flowers! Rugosa roses are used both for petals and hips, echinacea flowers boost the immune system, cooked Elderberry flowers made into syrup are good as a cold tonic, marvelous blue mallow magically changes to pink with the addition of lemon juice.
From the natural environment, there are many easily found herbs and plants that are used for teas. Dandelion leaves, dried roots and flowers are more than a garden weed! Don’t spray! Dandelion is good for you! Stinging nettle is a tasty edible and immune system booster. Common sumac (not poisonous sumac) makes a pretty pink healthy tea. The basswood flower and wild mint (also called corn mint, river mint) are also good for tea. Wild blackberry or raspberry leaves and fruit add sweetness to tea, and many other plants can be foraged using a reputable foraging guide.
Use fresh herbs and plants or dry for later use. Your basic brew is 1 TBSP fresh chopped herbs or 1 tsp dried to 1 cup of boiling water stepped for 10 minutes.
Why not expand your tea garden with annuals, and perennials and add to the harvest some foraged herbs and plants. To find out more check out:
www.fiddleheadnursery.ca How to create an edible, perennial landscaping
www.richters.com Extensive information about medicinal and culinary herbs
www.ontarioculinary.com Ten things to Forage in Ontario: An edible timeline
If you already grow a tea garden, share your top picks with us! If you’re new to gardening, try a tea garden in a pot, on a terrace or in your veggie or flower garden. Plan ahead so when the spirt moves, you can put the kettle on and enjoy a wholesome and tasty brew.
Note: Remember that most herbs have medicinal effects and may have contraindications like avoiding catnip during pregnancy or avoiding specific herbs when taking certain medications. Check with a pharmacist or herbalist.