Monday, January 3, 2011

Herbs for Tea

This year consider the legendary uses of herbs and perhaps select a few to include in the scope of your garden. Selection should include herbs for making tea. Tea is second only to water as the most consumed beverage in the world. Herbal teas made from dried fruit, flowers or herbs that have been collected from the garden are lighter and more flavorful than traditional tea.

Legend says the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water one day in 2737 B.C. when some leaves from a tea plant fell into the water. The emperor drank the mixture and declared it gave one "vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose." In 400 B.C. the Greeks included herbal teas in their regime of wellness. By 50 B.C. the Romans were collecting and cultivating herbs and by 200 A.D., Galen wrote the first classification system that paired common illnesses with their herbal remedy. By 800 Monks had taken over the care of the sick and had herbal gardens at most monasteries. By 1500 herbalists were promoted and supported by Henry VII and the Parliament as apothecaries (drug stores of the time) were accused of giving substandard care. Charles Wesley gave his endorsement in 1700 when he advocated sensible eating, good hygiene and herbal treatments for healthy living.

In 1800 pharmaceuticals become popular and herbal treatments were designated for the poor. However as the side effects of drugs began to be documented, herbal remedies came into favor again. The National Association of Medical Herbalists was formed, and later renamed the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH.) By 1900 and the first World War, lack of availability of drugs increased the use of herbal medicines again. After the war pharmaceutical production increased and penicillin was discovered. Herbal practitioners had their rights to dispense their medications taken away and then reinstated. The British Herbal Medicine Association was founded and produced the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. People began to express the concern over the large number of side effects and environmental impact of the drugs of the 1950s so herbs once again gained importance. Herbs are an outdoor pharmacy provided to us by the Almighty. Simple to grow and easy to make, an herbal tea from the garden is a natural health drink.

Spearmint (shown above) would be a lovely addition to the herb bed. Used in ancient Rome, the ensuing drink made from dried leaves was said the ‘stir up the mind’. Since it is caffeine-free, an afternoon cup could be savored as valuable ‘pick me up’ that has no side effects.

Chamomile is another lovely plant. Originally from the Nile region of Egypt, it was believed to cure almost any ailment. It has remained a favorite as its true properties relieve anxiety and promote calm. It was the tea Mrs. Rabbit made for Peter as she gently tucked him into bed following his harrowing escape from Mr. McGreggor. In these stressful times a sweetly scented evening cup would be a wonderful way to end the day. The list of herbs and their medicinal qualities is endless… and as close as your garden.

Credit: Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter


  1. I was talking to a friend about Camellia sinensis last week, how it was necessary to allow fermentation time in order to get drinkable tea...

    Did some googling around, went to the american camellia society website... downloaded some pdf articles, and added the bush to my wish list...

    I think that we both have a habit of trying to cover too much ground, without diving into specifics about the individual plants...

    I think that separate blog posts about each individual (tea) plant with pictures from your garden, and links back to the above article would be worth reading.

  2. Thanks Stone. I have covered almost every plant I use for tea in older articles. I've been at the newspaper since 2003 so sometimes I give an 'overview'. Especially since it's so boring right now in the garden... house plants are just not inspiring to me! I need spring~

  3. Ok... How 'bout linking to those articles from this one for those of us that would like to have more information?